September 26, 2023
September 26, 2023

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After the Fog of War: An Early Assessment

It is far too early, to assess the impact of the latest war in Gaza, but still some preliminary thoughts are in order.

Antisemitism Panic:

Judging by what I have been reading in the press blogs and emails, it seems as if many Jews are in a panic about the rise in antisemitism. Once again, people are asking: Is this 1939? 1933? Even as distin­guished a student of antisemitism as my revered colleague Professor Deborah Lip­stadt is quoted as saying that this may be 1934. Permit me to dissent. Nothing funda­mental has changed—nothing.

In the United States, Judaism remains the most admired of America’s religions and Jews are accepted, respected and em­powered. The war in Gaza did not cause a spike in energy prices as we experienced during the Yom Kippur War or in the Oil Crisis in 1979. There was no drop in the stock market. It did not threaten global conflict as in 1973. So no instability was introduced into the American economy or society. Political support for Israel has been strong, and while there are genera­tional divides in such support, none of it translates into a reason to fear a dramatic rise in antisemitism. Support for Israel will be an issue on campuses this fall, and the divide between the Human Rights commu­nity and the supporters of Israel will en­dure and intensify.

In Europe, the problem remains three-fold. There is antisemitism “in Europe” but not necessarily “of Europe,” meaning that if the people living in Europe adopt Euro­pean values, including pluralism and toler­ance, then whatever their opinion about Israel’s practices in Gaza, they have no par­ticular problems with their Jewish neigh­bors.

However, a significant segment of Mus­lim populations living in European coun­tries dwell in these countries—some for generations—without acculturating to Eu­ropean values. They live “in Europe” but they are not “of Europe.” These non-Euro­pean Muslim minorities respond to events in the Middle East—as they did in 2001, 2002, and 2006—with an outbreak of vio­lence against Jews.

Two factors are different this time: The governments of Europe have condemned, often in very strong terms, antisemitism within their own countries, and they have generally been far more supportive of Isra­el than in previous conflicts and thus de­prived their local residents of the oxygen required to move opposition to Israel into license to attack local Jews.

What has not changed is that opposi­tion to Israel on the left has given an intel­lectual “moral” veneer to primitive hatred. These Muslim inhabitants of European countries are not being assimilated into the lands in which they dwell and thus their presence and their responsiveness to events elsewhere will persist. The problem will not go away, yet it is much larger than the Jewish question alone.

Fortunately, Muslim immigrants can­not find common cause with the other antisemitic elements in Europe—the far right—because the far right is deeply an­ti-immigrant. In France, for example, the younger Marine Le Pen has muted her fa­ther’s antisemitism in order to strengthen her position with the voters. (Some might see this as analogous to the moves of Sena­tor Rand Paul, though one must not equate former Rep. Ron Paul with Jean-Marie Le Pen.)

Parenthetically, this European prob­lem should serve as a warning to American immigration proposals for a guest-worker program or permanent-residence permits without a path to citizenship that would retain an ongoing non-Americanizing im­migrant presence in the United States. Such a policy is bad for America and even worse for the Jewish community.

Assessing the current situation is nei­ther an excuse for complacency or a rea­son not to vehemently condemn the ex­pressions of antisemitism. One of the most significant dangers we face is the routini­zation of such antisemitism and failure to disqualify the antisemites and their sup­porters from participating in the main­stream of European—or American—cul­ture. Politicians must have the integrity to condemn antisemitism despite the grow­ing presence of its supporters.

Problem for the Right Wing, the Left Wing, No Return to Status Quo Ante

The war has created a problem for Is­rael’s right wing as it demonstrated what security leaders of the IDF, the Mossad and the Shin Bet—past and present—have long argued: there is no military solution to the conflict, at least not one that is com­patible with Israeli values or with Israel’s willingness to sacrifice its young to reoc­cupy Gaza and thus more completely dis­mantle the infrastructure of Hamas.

In the recent war, Israel faced almost optimal conditions for a maximalist so­lution, if it was willing to pay the price. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority would not have been unhap­py to see Hamas thoroughly defeated. The United States and the European countries recognized Israel’s right to self-defense, and world attention was focused on the shooting down of Malaysian flight over the Ukraine, with the rapid gains of ISIS and President Obama’s decision to defend the Kurds. Gaza was a second-tier story for much of the past month. And Hamas was as isolated as it has ever been, as it is dis­covering in cease-fire negotiations. Even then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanya­hu and his even more Hawkish Minister of Defense refused to move the IDF back into Gaza, unwilling to sacrifice IDF sol­diers.

The war also demonstrated that the sta­tus quo, even the status quo ante, is unten­able and thus may call into question some of the political judgments preceding the war, including the severity of Israel’s reac­tion to the unity government of Fatah and Hamas, its judgment of Mahmoud Abbas and its lack of imagination and boldness in pursuing negotiations with him. The confluence of interests among Egypt, Sau­di Arabia and Israel should be tested as to whether it can yield political results.

The left-wing should also take no sol­ace from recent events as the furies of ha­tred against Israel and the Jews are intense, persistent and unyielding. The perceived rise in antisemitism comes as a shock to Zi­onists who believed that the foundation of an independent Jewish state would extin­guish the flames of Jew hatred. For more than 40 years we have seen that Israel can also fuel the fires of antisemitism.

Ironically, some French Jews are flee­ing violence at home to face enemy rock­ets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Perhaps Dias­pora Jews need another type of Iron Dome.


I have joined with other scholars of Holocaust and Genocide Studies to con­demn the statements equating Israel’s ac­tions in Gaza with genocide. On July 9, Pal­estinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech in Ramallah, accused Is­rael of “committing genocide.” On Aug. 1, on Al Jazeera’s English-language TV broad­cast, Fatah foreign affairs spokesman Nabil Sha’ath described the situation in Gaza as “a Holocaust.” Also on Aug. 1, Turkish Prime Minister—now elected President—Recep Erdogan accused Israel of “Hitler-like fas­cism.”

These comparisons are odious, espe­cially so since Israel has the power to com­mit genocide and even the provocation to do so, but however overwhelming the destruction in Gaza, Israel’s response has been measured. Its use of power has been both restrained and horrendous.

Erdogan, who has amassed significant power within Turkey and who aspires to play a larger role on the world stage, must be led to understand that such outrageous thinking will marginalize him and the country he leads. His isolation from the cease-fire talks was not only warranted, but required as a result of his utterances.

One may not condemn others without challenging our own.

I must also condemn the blog post of­fering a justification for genocide and the rabbi willing to justify the annihilation of Palestinians in Gaza, along with the pro­posals of the Deputy Speaker of the Knes­set who advocated ethnic cleansing in Gaza.

We Jews have been victims of ethnic cleansing many times in our history. We have been instrumental in outlawing eth­nic cleansing in the aftermath of the Sho­ah, and we must retain our opposition to it, especially when we have the power to impose such a solution.

By Michael Berenbaum

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