Tuesday, May 21

Call it what it is: Evil.

One of the most moving experiences of my life was witnessing my father show my daughter the cupboard he hid in beneath the stairs in 1941 as German bombs rained down around his childhood home during the Blitz in London. He’d only been four years old. Not that that fact would have bothered Hitler. 

The Nazi regime was responsible for those attacks, yet the party had come to power because enough Germans embraced the belief in the 1930s that the Jews were to blame for most of Germany’s problems. Hitler’s chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, who perhaps more than anyone mastered the art of scapegoating the Jews, would lend his name to a phenomenon Yair Rubinstein would later call ‘Goebbel’s Gap’, the proposition that when a negative event occurs in the world it is only a matter of time before antisemitic conspiracy theorists will attribute blame to the Jews. Goebbel’s own refrain of “the Jews have only brought this trouble on themselves” is being heard once again around the world. Except now it is coming from the pro-Palestinian lobby while simultaneously images of hundreds of murdered Israeli civilians, women, children and babies – some beheaded, others burnt alive – play on a split news screen or social media news feed. This is a blatant case of cognitive dissonance, and it’s taking people far too long to work out the contradiction.

Nazi Germany was not the only regime which attempted to eliminate an ethnic group, but it was uniquely evil in its unparalleled systematic approach to the murder of six million Jews. Yet while many of us in school may have received at least some rudimentary lessons on the Holocaust, Kiwis know much less about the historical context for the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 and the complex challenges it has faced ever since. 

Currently media coverage of the brutal attacks on the democratic state of Israel, launched by the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist organisations under the patronage of the ayatollahs of Iran, has characterised Palestinians as ‘freedom fighters’. Such coverage shows a ‘progressive’ and revisionist predilection for false analogies and post-modern story telling where subjectivity becomes the whole picture. Media outlets such as Al Jazeera and MSNBC, with their ideological allegiances open for all to see unsurprisingly favour the Palestinian liberation narrative and focus on raw numbers of casualties and Palestinian funeral processions as if all of those affected were innocent civilian victims. Most of these reports fail to point out that Palestinian militants embed their operations deliberately within their own civilian centres to gain cover. Even though the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has superior weaponry and highly trained conventional forces, they are bound by military rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention. International reporters seem to avoid making a qualitative distinction between the indiscriminate nature of most Palestinian attacks on Israel – stabbings, suicide bombings and shootings in civilian settings such as markets, shopping centres and even playgrounds – and the IDF approach which is overwhelmingly focused on targeting combatants in more precise strikes with the aim of minimizing the chance of civilian casualties. The difficulty in conveying an accurate assessment of the conflict to the public is largely due to this media bias which for years has favoured the Palestinians, a trend which gained significant traction in once moderate news agencies like the BBC. 

In part this pro-Palestinian bias is due to journalists who are jaded by American military misadventures and weary of witnessing unwinnable wars. There is no doubt that millions of Muslims have suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past two decades. This major hangover from US foreign policy failures has unfortunately undermined Israel’s standing as an American ally especially when Netanyahu’s repeated accusations of Iranian nuclear ambition have gradually worn on the nerves of many dovish US Democrats. To many minds he was eventually dismissed as the incorrigible warmonger crying ‘wolf’ who was only too happy to manipulate Donald Trump’s ego for his own ends. Unsurprisingly none of the doves seemed to have considered what might happen if Netanyahu was in fact right about Iran.

But in terms of the International press corp the Israelis have also paid a price for their own counter-terrorism success. Until last Saturday they had worked diligently for many years at preventing vast numbers of attacks through a sophisticated intelligence network both online and in the field. Constant pre-emptive strikes made on armed militants in the West Bank have contributed to the appearance that Israel was being too heavy-handed in its treatment of the Palestinians. Even the IDF withdrawal from and military blockade of Gaza has somehow been portrayed by Palestinian apologists as an imprisoning of the Gazan population. The IDF has only run military operations into Gaza periodically in response to Hamas rocket attacks launched from within the Gaza Strip at southern Israel but the ‘siege’ image has stuck.

A further factor shaping media bias favouring Palestinians has been due to the way historic supporters of the Palestinian cause such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt have gradually relaxed their stance towards Israel as new relationships have been forged particularly since the Abraham Accords were facilitated by the Trump administration. This has led to a recasting of the Palestinians in the 21st century as humble resistance fighters deserted by their wealthy Arab brothers and left alone to rely on their slings and stones against an Israeli Goliath. Journalistically, it made for a great underdog story, but it failed to account for the real threat facing the Middle East – the massive influence of Iran as it funneled support to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza – just as Netanyahu had warned. Even now that the media are grudgingly accepting that Iran’s influence has been more substantial than first assumed, they are still seeking to portray the Gazan situation as one of helpless civilians caught between violent warring elites. There are major problems, however, with this characterisation. The most prominent of these is ideology.

While the Nazis developed a core ideology, it was an acquiescent, and often sympathetic, German population who allowed the state to grow into the monster we know as the Third Reich. The few who resisted paid for it with their lives or barely escaped. I recognise that many Palestinians feel trapped in Gaza, but if they really are the good people so many supporters declare them to be, why did they vote them in in the first place? And could they not have overthrown Hamas in the 16 years since? The population of Gaza is in excess of 2.3 million and the potential for a coup is not unrealistic. If instead it is the case that they are willing, but unable to do so, then surely the Israelis will be doing Gazan civilians a huge favour by defeating Hamas on their behalf. 

Of course, if many Gazans do indeed support Hamas, then this changes the moral equation. Public support for terrorist leadership will inevitably bring dire consequences for Gazans and their children. Or should Israel have to shoulder that burden instead?  Should Israel simply stand back and do nothing after suffering more than 1200 brutal murders of their own civilians? Should they just sit down and talk with the terrorist leadership who sent in Palestinian foot soldiers to decapitate Jewish infants? Such limp proposals from foreign political leaders such as the UN Secretary General calling for “a ceasefire and dialogue” are not just idiotic – they make a mockery of a stunned and wounded Israel and dignify the unbridled savagery perpetrated by Hamas on the 7th of October.

Last Saturday was the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. Yet before that shocking reality could sink in, Israeli air strikes on high rise buildings in Gaza quickly dominated the news feed. This kind of fallacious ‘what-aboutism’ is a shameless ploy used to misdirect the audience from what is now self-evident – Hamas militants slaughtered hundreds of unarmed civilians in a dawn raid by land, sea and air. Why did they target civilians? Because they were Jewish. Plain and simple.

I’m sorry, but despite what some people might think the Middle East stiĺl does not welcome tree hugging progressive liberal types. Virtually none of the surrounding Arab countries has embraced democracy in any comprehensive sense. Nor have any one of these countries – despite modernizing in technological respects – embraced equality for women, tolerance of minorities, and any true separation between Islam and the state. Yes, we should mourn the loss of every innocent life in Gaza and the West Bank. But there are causes which while never perfectly just, are still vastly more righteous than others. Israel, with all its faults, is still a bastion of democracy and freedom in the Middle East. Most Israeli Arabs know this well and actively choose to remain in the state.  There are even Palestinians in the West Bank who recognise Hamas has pushed the region over a precipice. They know that nothing good can come of the terrorist organisation’s latest actions.

But for those in NZ and elsewhere who hold that the Hamas attack somehow has legitimacy, they must answer the following:

Would you personally feel justified in killing civilians, abducting children and threatening to behead them if your demands were not met? Do you believe that raping and beating young women unconscious and stripping them naked before parading their bodies through the streets for mobs of men to abuse is a reasonable thing to do when you feel aggrieved? Consider the Israeli mother who just yesterday received a video recording from a Hamas terrorist murdering her son and his girlfriend. It was sent directly to the mother by the killer using the victim’s own phone. Today this has been happening to more Jewish families.

For years there have undoubtedly been injustices in the West Bank as Orthodox Jewish settlers have for religious motives encroached on Palestinian properties in an attempt to colonise the territory. This has been a major hurdle to the peace process, and sometimes served the political purposes of the more ardent Israeli conservatives. Yet because Israel is a democracy the settlements also happen to be a serious source of contention between political parties on the left and right because Israeli democracy allows for diversity of belief. There continues to be heated debate over the issue. The ultra-violent actions of Hamas in Gaza, however, are in no way a reasonable proportional response to the issue of illegal settlement or any other issue for that matter and simply betrays a greater motive on the part of Hamas – the complete expulsion/extermination of all Jews from Israel by any means necessary.

Hamas since the late 1980s has made abundantly clear its unyielding determination to create an Islamic state stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. The only obstacles are the nine million Israeli citizens (two million of whom are ethnic Arabs who have the same right to vote and same opportunity for political representation under Israel’s secular constitution as their Jewish counterparts). The sworn intention in the introduction to Hamas’ original charter of 1988 states “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” Until last Saturday, the more moderate amended view espoused by supporters of Hamas was that a two-state solution was the new objective. But this was clearly a lie and now there should be absolutely no ambiguity. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not exaggerating when he claims that from its inception Hamas has been ideologically akin to ISIS. 

As far back as 1941 it was clear that opposition to the growing Jewish population in the British Mandate was vehemently opposed by Muslim leaders. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in fact met with Hitler to discuss the potential expulsion of the Jews from Israel amidst a Nazi backed Arab uprising against British rule, a plan which never came to fruition after the stunning Allied victory against German forces at El Alamein in Egypt. Force and authoritarianism have defined Palestinian nationalism since the 1940s. But from Hamas’ inception in the 1980s the revival of religious fanaticism helped morph the nationalist movement into an even more virulent strand of antisemitism. After Hamas was democratically elected in 2006 the leadership conveniently pulled the ladder up from beneath them. With Iranian funding, weapons and expertise to keep them going they have not held elections ever since and the more moderate Fatah movement – the only realistic opponent to Hamas – have been suppressed in Gaza since 2007.

Unlike Hamas, Israel has consistently sought to follow internationally recognised rules of engagement. Yet it is of course up against Palestinian militants who deliberately use their own densely populated civilian centres as a shield for coordinating offensive operations, rocket bases and arms caches. The IDF and its intelligence agencies have decades of experience in infiltrating militant networks and are widely regarded by other militaries as being the world’s most sophisticated in their knowledge and handling of urban warfare. But in Gaza they can only accomplish so much without civilian casualties. Despite conceding the tactical advantage of surprise, the IDF have warned Gazan civilians to move out of the Northern and Eastern neighbourhood’s ahead of air strikes and possible ground operations. But as long as Hamas operate with such ferocity and ruthless disregard for their own civilian population the IDF will have to make tough but necessary decisions to protect their own civilian population inside Israel. 

For many Kiwis our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents fought Nazi aggression and in doing so helped bring an end to the Holocaust. NZ voted in the United Nations to recognise the modern state of Israel when it was created in 1948 and for much of the past 75 years consistently supported Israel’s sovereign right to exist, although with the rise of ‘decolonising progressivism’ political support for Israel has been in serious decline. Most young Kiwis do not know about the enormous coalition of majority Muslim nations that tried to wipe tiny Israel off the map in unprovoked invasions in 1948 and then again in 1973. Israel, alone and vastly outnumbered, has humiliated militarily its hostile neighbours numerous times and faced bitter Arab resentment ever since. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran a new stream of support began to be funneled by that regime to support the Palestinian cause culminating in this latest devastating attack. 

It is trendy to talk these days as though all war is avoidable and solely determined by small but powerful ruling elites. But the truth is that like Ukraine’s war with Russia, there are some fights that can’t be avoided and some enemies that will not negotiate in good faith. We in the West better learn to accept that Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian ayatollahs mean not just to harm Israel, but they ideologically detest the West. Islamism loathes the concept of human rights and flatly rejects the free and open society which NZ as a liberal democracy has proudly exemplified. Just two night’s ago on the steps of the Sydney Opera House which was supposed to have been lit up with Israel’s national colors, a large crowd of Hamas supporters chanted “Gas the Jews!” while the NSW police warned Jewish Australians to stay away. One lone Jewish man waving an Israeli flag was arrested and bundled off in bewilderment by police “for the sake of his own safety” while the pro-Hamas crowd were left to continue their celebrations. Such hatred and intolerance is much closer to home than many think.

I am not an Israeli but I stand with all those who oppose Hamas and the antisemitic hate espoused in the name of Palestinian liberation. I’d encourage Kiwis to think carefully before expressing sympathy for a cause they have spent little time getting to understand other than via the warped perspective offered by a heavily biased news media. Ironically, just as Goebbel’s Gap helps describe the resurgence of antisemitic conspiracy theories, it has also become a popular thing these days to call someone you disagree with a Nazi. This latter phenomenon is known as Godwin’s Law, a term describing what happens when people ranging from Vlodimir Zelensky to J.K.Rowling are absurdly compared to Hitler or his henchmen. Except this time such a comparison isn’t absurd. Hamas are Nazis, and Jews are facing a virulent form of hatred which has just flooded over Israel’s border but also reared its many ugly heads around the world. More than 1200 Jews young and old have been murdered in their homes, their playgrounds and a music festival by bitter and hateful armed followers of an antisemitic ideology. And, shamefully, around the world too few people are able, or willing, to call it what it truly is. Evil.