“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews. When the Jew will hide behind stones and trees, the stones and trees will say, ‘O Muslims, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’ ” —The Hamas Charter
“The conventional war of conquest was to be waged parallel to, and was also to camouflage, the ideological war against the Jews.” —Lucy Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews 1933–1945
It wasn’t the rallies with “Keep the World Clean” posters and chants of “gas the Jews.” Nor was it the glorification of Hamas paragliders by the Chicago branch of Black Lives Matter or, in New York and London, the tearing down of posters with the faces of Israeli children held hostage by Hamas. Not even the off-the-charts uptick in antisemitic incidents in Germany (240 percent), the United States (nearly 400 percent), and London (1,353 percent) convinced me.
It was, rather, one of those realizations that so many generations of Jews before me have experienced. A realization that they, like me, surely tried to push out of their minds until the reality became unmistakeable.
This war is not simply between Hamas terrorists and Israelis. It is a war against the Jews.
The insight began with the international media’s coverage of the conflict. Again, it wasn’t the press’s insistence on calling mass murderers “militants” or citing Hamas and its “Health Ministry” as a reliable source. For close to fifty years—as a student activist, a diplomat, a soldier, a government and military spokesman, and above all, as a historian—I’ve grappled with the media’s bias against Israel. I’ve long known that the terrorists are “militants” solely because their victims are Jews, and only in a conflict with Israel are terrorists considered credible.
Instead, it was the media’s predictable switch from an Israel-empathetic to an Israel-demonizing narrative as the image of Palestinian suffering supplanted that of Israelis beheaded, dismembered, and burnt. It was the gnawing awareness that dead Jews buy us only so much sympathy.
In fact, there is probably a formula. Six million dead in the Holocaust procured us roughly 25 years of grace before the Europeans refused to refuel the U.S. planes bringing lifesaving munitions to Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Fourteen hundred butchered Jews bought us a little less than two weeks’ worth of positive coverage.
Europeans, it’s long been said, never forgave the Jews for the Holocaust. Their guilt was collective and their antisemitism no longer socially acceptable. What a relief many of them felt when it became de rigueur to call Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians Nazi-like. Similarly, haters of Israelis can’t forgive them for being massacred by Hamas terrorists on October 7, and were relieved when, on October 17, they could go back to vilifying the “colonial apartheid state.”
October 17—that was the date of the al-Ahli Arab Hospital incident. Hamas claimed that an Israeli bomb hit the hospital and killed 500 civilians. Again, there was nothing new about Hamas blaming Israel for atrocities that never happened and counting as dead the many who didn’t die. What was unprecedented was the speed at which the world accepted this triple lie—not a hospital but its parking lot was struck by a Palestinian rocket, not an Israeli bomb, killing far fewer than 500. Nevertheless, reflexively, the world imputed evil to Israel.
Within hours of the al-Ahli bombing, both Israel and the United States revealed the truth behind it. Still, almost no one in the media apologized. A full week after the explosion, The New York Times was still bringing in “experts” to intimate Israel’s guilt. After all, the paper was subtly telling us, Israel is perfectly capable of bombing hospitals and, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, possibly bombed this one as well.
What was previously an inkling became, October 17, an epiphany. It marked the moment when I finally peered behind the headlines and recognized their ancient, vicious, core.
For many centuries, the term “innocent Jew” was an oxymoron. Jews were guilty by birth, by belief, and by ancestry. There is a religious tenet of Judaism, reenacted each year at Passover, that all Jews were present at the exodus from Egypt and when God gave the laws to Moses at Sinai. Twisting this is a Christian belief that all Jews were present at, and responsible for, the crucifixion. More than Pilate, more than Judas—a name not chosen randomly—the Jews were damned for deicide.
But killing God is only one of the sins for which Israelis—read: Jews—are being demonized in this war. Behind the reports of the deliberate Israeli bombing of Palestinian neighborhoods—reports that meticulously stress the number of children killed—lies the 144,000 children mythically massacred by the Judean King Herod.
Though understandably feeling vengeful toward Hamas and their allies in Gaza, the vast majority of Israelis do not want innocent Palestinians to die. Hamas, however, places its bunkers, rocket launchers, and headquarters in civilian areas. Though Israel warns these noncombatants to evacuate, Hamas tries to prevent their flight, sometimes at gunpoint. The goal is twofold: to kill as many Israelis as possible, and to kill Palestinians to win the sympathy of the world and so that Israel can be denounced internationally for war crimes.
Hamas’s strategy is clear. Yet much of the press prefers to ignore it. Instead, it repeatedly accuses Israel of seeking to inflict the maximum number of civilian deaths and especially of children. In the media’s rendering, Israel is the new Herod butchering Palestinian innocents.
Forgotten are the thousands of Gazans who followed Hamas terrorists through the ruptured fence into Israel where they joined in the mutilations and raping. Forgotten are the Gazans who beat and spat at a nineteen-year-old Israeli woman who was raped and paraded through their streets. Gone were Gazans who gave out candy and celebrated the slaughter of 1,400 civilians who were truly innocent.
Finally, there is the media meme that the Jews are responsible for their own suffering. This, too, has late Roman roots—in the belief that homelessness and oppression were the punishments due the Jews not only for killing God but then rejecting his resurrected son. Anyone being interviewed by the international press, as I am, repeatedly receives the question: “Doesn’t Israel, by opposing peace with the Palestinians, bear some responsibility for the Hamas attack?”
My response is to recall how Hamas opposed the Oslo process and every subsequent peace initiative, and that Hamas assassinated not only Jews but also the Palestinians who supported the two-state solution. I explain that the reason most Israelis now oppose that solution is because they know that Hamas would take over the nascent Palestinian state in a day. Israel bears much of the responsibility for tensions in the West Bank, I admit.
But the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is purely Hamas’s fault. As a deputy minister in the prime minister’s office, in 2017–18, I was tasked with improving living conditions in Gaza. I learned how Hamas used Gaza’s water pipes to make rockets and dug tunnels under the aquifer and drained it. I learned how Hamas diverted electricity to illuminate its underground bunkers and drastically limited the supply of basic commodities to the population, keeping it dependent on the terrorists. I learned that, when it came to Hamas, everything I knew about human decency was irrelevant.
These are my responses to the journalists. They listen but are seldom, if ever, convinced. Much of the press, I’ve learned, has internalized the ultimate antisemitic myth: that Jews just have it coming.
Accordingly, Noam and Yishai Slotki who, waking up to the news of the attack on October 7, instinctively put on their reserve uniforms and left their families to fight only to die and be buried side by side in Jerusalem—according to much of the media’s interpretation of this war, both Noam and Yishai deserved it. By the same token, Tamar Kedem-Siman Tov, a community activist, who, together with her husband and three beautiful children, was gunned down by Hamas, got her comeuppance.
The media is both a mirror and a disseminator of ideas, its two-way function incalculably amplified by the internet. So, the assumption of Jewish guilt and Palestinian innocence permeates the petitions signed by Hollywood stars and Starbucks workers that scarcely mention Hamas’s unimaginable crimes while emphasizing Israel’s imagined ones. So, the image of Jews as both child-killers and God-like in their powers translates into accusations that Israelis actually enjoy murdering women and children, deliberately targeting journalists, and crucifying the pure and powerless Palestinians. The notion that we Jews have it coming to us informed the letter, signed by more than 30 Harvard student organizations, claiming that Hamas’s barbarism “did not occur in a vacuum,” and that “the apartheid regime is the only one to blame.” Not coincidentally did UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres open his October 23 speech to the Security Council by asserting, “the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.”
When Hamas itself says its targets are Jews, not Israelis, who’s to question Hamas’s supporters abroad who fail to make that distinction? When a Hamas terrorist phones his parents from a ravaged kibbutz and boasts, “I killed ten Jews with my own hands!” who will wonder why a Berlin synagogue is firebombed? When the UN and other international bodies refuse to condemn the mass evisceration, immolation, and brutal incarceration of Jews in tunnels under Gaza, who will be surprised by the silence of actors, writers, artists, and college presidents? And who will be astonished when Diaspora Jews in increasing numbers say they feel more secure in embattled Israel than on the streets of London, Paris, or New York? Five years to the day after the massacre of eleven worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, who will be shocked if another diaspora community is targeted?
In an agonizing irony, Hamas and its supporters have succeeded where the Jews have long failed. Incontestably now, anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Hatred of the Jewish nation-state cannot be distinguished from hatred of the Jewish people. The war between Hamas and Israel, involving the largest and cruelest loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, is a war against Jews everywhere. To paraphrase Holocaust historian Lucy Dawidowicz, this is the second war against the Jews.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated erroneously that the date of the al-Ahli Hospital incident was October 19. It occurred October 17.
Michael Oren was formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United States, a Knesset member, and a deputy minister of diplomacy in the prime minister’s office. For more of his writing on Israel visit his Substack, Clarity.
A recent poll of 18- to 24-year-olds found that when asked, “In this conflict do you side more with Israel or Hamas?” 48 percent said Hamas. Read Stanford junior Julia Steinberg to understand how antisemitism, aided by social media, has infected Gen Z: Why My Generation Hates Jews.
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