It is a general tendency among diaspora Jews to “support” Israel, and claim that criticism of Israel is somehow unfair or biased. In this article I would like to discuss what our reaction should be to the current situation. I want to start by a characterisation of the Israeli government’s position, that Hamas are the implacable enemy of Israel, and that Israel is defending itself by its current actions.
Hamas have over recent weeks fired thousands of rockets at Israel. Because of Israel’s sophisticated missile defence system, there have been very few Israeli fatalities, at the last count 3 civilians, one of whom was a guest worker from Thailand. Yet Hamas continue to fire rockets at Israel, why would they do this? There are two obvious reasons, one to demonstrate defiance to their own constituents, and secondly to provoke Israel’s reaction.
A general rule in military strategy is to try to do what your enemy does not want or expect you to do, rather than do exactly what they want you to do, so let us delve into Hamas’s motives in a little more detail to think why they might be doing this. Gaza has been blockaded by both Israel and Egypt, and it’s economy is in crisis. Because of the blockade, Hamas are deeply unpopular in Gaza, and in weakness they have joined with Fatah in a government of national unity. This has made them even more unpopular with their own supporters, who accuse them of selling out as joining the government means that they de-facto recognise Israel. Geo-politically Hamas are also in a terrible position, Egypt is now ruled by their enemy and they are a religious Sunni group whose main backers have been Shi’a, like Hezbollah and Iran, just as the Shi’a/Sunni conflict is starting to get really nasty.
So the one card that Hamas have left is their defiance of Israel, and hence the missile attack, which is to placate their own supporters. I have been asked what would I do in the situation? I would ignore the attacks. Furthermore they should have beam pictures of kids playing on the beach and families watching the missile attacks whilst having a BBQ back to Gaza. This would undermine any support that Hamas had left as it would have shown them to be totally ineffective to their own supporters; they are so pathetic that they couldn’t even provoke a reaction in Israel.
However, by attacking Gaza, Israel has played into Hamas’s hands, or the more likely alternative is that they will be replaced by a more extreme and effective organisation. Israel may be able to get rid of the “terror tunnels”, but these are not high tech weapons, like Iran’s nuclear facilities which will take years and cost millions to rebuild. The attack on Gaza will inevitably mobilise thousands of volunteers willing to kill themselves to defeat Israel, and will bring money and arms flooding into Gaza – Israel is attacking a hydra, when you chop of a head many more spring up in their place. The Israeli government does not seem to have any long term strategy except more of the same.
So why is the Israeli government pursuing this policy? If we take them at their word, to get rid of Hamas, then they are very stupid indeed. The alternative is that they have other reasons – what could these be? Like most governments, the Israeli government pursues a foreign policy for internal political reasons. So the most obvious reason is that it is placating its supporters as well. My proposed “turn the other cheek” strategy would be political suicide for Likud. But there are also probably political and military strategists within the Israeli establishment who are also students of military history and are far cleverer than me. They would know that attacking Gaza strengthens Hamas, so what gain would there be? Having Hamas as an enemy suits Likud, they don’t have to deal with them, they can build more settlements, they have a cartoon villain that they can attack when it suits them, etc. Having a moderate Fatah as a Palestinian government is far more tricky and plays to the left wing of Israeli politics.
However, ultimately this is a reckless policy, Israel has a new model enemy waiting in the wings – they are called IS (or formerly ISIS), a fanatical, highly effective organisation who are happy to chop children’s heads off for fun. Does Israel really want them in Palestine in a fight to the death?
Now I am not suggesting that Mr Netanyahu wakes up in the morning and says to himself “I think I’ll bomb Gaza today, this will help me defeat Labour at the next election.” The Israeli government is a coalition of different parties and interests, which together make decisions. Over the years, these decisions have had the net effect of strengthening Hamas and the right wing elements within Israel.
A common mantra I hear is that the Palestinian leaders do not care about their own people whereas Israel’s do. This is all very well, but Hamas is a monster that Israel has created. When I say that, I do not mean that Israel secretly supports them (although Israel did d this up to the late 1980s), but Israel’s policies, the current attack on Gaza being a case in point, incentivise Palestinians to support Hamas at the expense of Fatah and other more moderate parties.
The attack on Gaza is just the latest in a line of hawkish Israeli policies which has created and strengthened Hamas. Continuing these policies will end up with the same predictable results, a new extreme Hamas or an ISIS like organisation. Then pro-Israeli commentators will say “we can’t deal with these people, they chop off children’s heads for fun”. When this happens please re-read this blog.
I have criticised Israel’s long-term strategy, so it is incumbent on me to suggest another. Well there is a good and obvious model of how peace can be achieved: Northern Ireland. Today we have the scarcely believable situation of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness being in government together, and “never having a cross word between them.” This was achieved because successive British Governments, though I can barely believe I am writing these words, behaved with great wisdom and magnanimity. They listened to Republicans’ genuine grievances and had to make a number of painful sacrifices to achieve peace. With the possible exception of Rabin, who was murdered by an Israeli fanatic, I do not see the Israeli government ever having made these steps.
Now the situation in Israel is different from Northern Island in two major respects. Firstly, the IRA were never as extreme a Hamas. In the 1980s, The Irish Republican Army (IRA) assassinated the Queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten, the Northern Island Secretary, Airey Neave, and tried to murder the whole of the British government, when they placed a bomb in the hotel where the Conservative Party were staying. However, the British government – and remember this was the Thatcher government – probably the most belligerent we have ever had, never cordoned off and bombed the Falls Road (the place where the cowardly terrorists hid, without any concern for their own people). I bet if they had we would see a rather more implacable IRA then what we have now.
Secondly the Palestinian situation represents an existential threat to Israel, in a way that Northern Ireland never did to Britain. But the efficacy of the solution is not a function of the severity of the threat. What this means in plain English is that just because the situation is more dangerous far Israel, does not mean that Britain’s Northern Ireland strategy won’t work – what it does mean is that it is more difficult – but also more important – for the Israeli government to pursue than it was for the British government.
Professionally, I am a risk manager, and a number of studies have been carried out comparing organisations who fail with ones that don’t. They universally conclude that the organisations who fail do so not because of the severity of the external threats to them, but because of their poor decision making and inability to learn.
Since the first Intafada, or possibly before, the Governments that Israelis have elected, do not seem to have a clue about how to deal with the threat. They are typically tactically clever, but strategically stupid: they have learnt better military tactics but have failed to learn or adapt their long term strategy. Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results“.
Instead the Israeli government continues on its failed path, its strategy of attacking Gaza is therefore either recklessly stupid, or criminally insane, as it imperils the lives of Jews in Israel and worldwide. The main reason for the strategy it is pursuing is to strengthen Likud’s political position, not to protect Israel’s security. In these circumstances, any Palestinian child’s or Israeli soldier’s death is abhorrent and morally indefensible.
So I come back to my original question, how should my fellow diaspora Jews do?
There are a number of reasons why Jews rally around Israel, but one I hear often is because Israel provides a bedrock of security against Antisemitism. So whatever you do understand this: the institution that is chipping away at this bedrock more than any is not the media, nor those that want to boycott Israel nor even George Galloway, it is the Israeli government itself.
Displays of support for Israel, or making the case for Israel are displays of support for country and government bent on self-destruction. And this is before we consider the cruel irony of the situation; we, who on escape form a millennia of confinement to a ghetto have now created a prison for another people.