*Pogrom: “An organized, often officially encouraged massacre or persecution of a minority group, especially one conducted against Jews”. (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.)
On Saturday, 7 October 2023, on Shabbat and the celebration of Simchas Torah (Rejoicing of the Law), and 50 years since the Yom Kippur War, over 1000 Hamas terrorists broke through the border between Gaza and Israel. In a very carefully planned attack they tortured, raped, burned alive, beheaded and in other brutal ways murdered all they encountered. About 200 including the aged, infirm, handicapped, children and babies were kidnapped and dragged to Gaza to be hostages. One of the lucky four hostages to be released to date, a woman in her eighties, described how she was beaten by her captors when being dragged to Gaza. Young people attending an open air concert were not spared. 260 were murdered in cold blood.
The terrorists, proud of their achievements, videoed the massacre. One grabbed the mobile phone of a dead victim to boast to his parents in Gaza that he had killed ten Jews. His parents, in their reply, were very proud of their son’s achievements as if he had scored ten goals in a football tournament.
Many of the citizens in Gaza were delighted at the massacre and were pictured dancing in joy, desecrating the dead bodies of the victims and taunting the hostages. In one video they practically knocked each other down for the chance to stomp on dead Israeli bodies. It is not possible to express in words the horror of families of the hostages, witnessing the scenes captured and displayed by the perpetrators of this massacre.
In all, 1400, mostly civilians, were massacred and more than 200 taken hostage. What happened was nothing less than genocide* and the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.
The effect of this massacre spread around the world and many Governments including the UK, USA, Canada and Australia immediately unreservedly condemned the massacre and expressed solidarity with Israel in opposing the evil that is Hamas.
In contrast our foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta posted on twitter:-
Aotearoa New Zealand is deeply concerned at the outbreak of conflict between Israel and Gaza. We call for the immediate cessation of violence. The protection of all civilians, and upholding of international humanitarian law is essential.
It is interesting to compare this post with the New Zealand Government’s position following pogroms of Jews in Russia in 1891 when the New Zealand House of Representatives led by Sir George Grey passed a resolution for a petition to be presented to the Emperor of Russia to repeal the restrictive laws imposed on the Russian Jews.
Immediately after the attack, following consultation with the authorities in New Zealand, the Auckland Jewish Community closed Kadimah School (the only Jewish day school in New Zealand) and advised that the Auckland Hebrew Congregation Shabbat services would not take place at the Remuera complex that weekend. It is an indictment of the society in which we live that the Jewish community in Auckland felt intimidated enough to take these unprecedented steps. This did not follow any aggression by the Israelis. It was a reaction to the slaughter of Israelis which was followed by Hamas’ call to international Jihad against Jews.
Although the Jewish Community had expressed solidarity and sympathy with the Muslim Community for the dreadful massacre of 50 worshipers in two Mosques in Christchurch, the Muslim Community was openly aggressive in its support of Hamas.
Hamas has been, and is, openly hostile not only to the Jews in Israel but also to Jews throughout the world including New Zealand. Its charter which was in force when a majority of the Palestinians in Gaza voted in its favour clearly states:
The Day of Judgment will not come until Muslims fight Jews and kill them.
It also states:
The establishment of Israel is entirely illegal… …Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea.
The River is the Jordan River and the sea is the Mediterranean. In other words, Hamas which had the support of the majority of Palestinians living in Gaza seeks the annihilation of the State of Israel and the death of all its inhabitants.
It is hard to see what more Hamas can do to satisfy its supporters and the Government in New Zealand that both its military and political wings are terrorists. Consistent with its charter it has authorized and carried out the torture and slaughter of Israelis thus establishing that its charter means what it says and cannot be dismissed as mere rhetoric. In case anyone did not believe in the extent of the slaughter, the murderers recorded their deeds to boast to their supporters and terrorize their enemies.
Although years were spent in preparing for this massacre, Hamas did nothing to protect their Palestinian citizens from the attacks which they must have anticipated from the Israelis. Unlike the Israelis they did not build bomb shelters or safe rooms and unlike the British in World War 2, when Londoners were able to shelter in the underground during the Blitz, they have not allowed shelter in the hundreds of kilometers of tunnels built with reinforced concrete. Instead they endanger the citizens of Gaza and use them as human shields, by placing their rocket launches and ammunition near hospitals and schools. Even though Israel does its best to avoid civilian casualties, innocents do get killed. Hamas use the victims to further their narrative and with a complicit press, they gain public sympathy.
Last week, a rocket launched by Islamic Jihad aimed at Israel misfired and blew up in the carpark of a nearby hospital. Hamas immediately reported that an Israeli rocket had struck the hospital killing hundreds. Although Israel denied it was responsible for this incident the international press hastily published the Hamas version of events, blaming Israel. In the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to reporters:
What I have said to people publicly, is “Don’t assume it’s Israel. You have no proof that it’s Israel. Many people have made a clear case it’s not. At the very best do not start propagating another blood libel.”
The term blood libel refers to the false allegation that Jews use the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes. The Nazis made effective use of the blood libel to demonize Jews. Blood libels often resulted in pogroms against the Jews, one of the first of which occured in Norwich England in 1144.
Unfortunately, the Archbishop of Canterbury is entirely correct when warning journalists of the risks of starting another blood libel. With Hamas calling for Jihad against Jews throughout the world, including New Zealand, it is a sad possibility that a false accusation that Israel has bombed a hospital in Gaza could result in violence against the local Jewish community. Calls for genocide, including the cry, “Gas the Jews” could easily escalate to physical violence against person and property.
If the press is to avoid having blood on its hands it must be careful not to inflame a highly volatile situation and go down in history as causing a pogrom.
*Genocide: The systematic and widespread extermination or attempted extermination of a national, racial, religious, or ethnic group.
David Robinson is a Trustee of Jewish Museum of NZ Charitable Trust and is a former Associate Judge of the High Court.