Yachad may be right, that this particular war against Hamas is not forced, and that the Israeli Government should be pressing on towards a peace rather than fighting this war. We should never stop arguing for a two state solution because there is no other possible peace. Israel could do better in fighting for peace and it should do better in positiong itself in the public imagination as wanting peace. But it may still be true that efforts for peace could be defeated. Hamas was created in order to prevent a peace agreement, its constitution explicitly characterises peace negotiations as “un-Islamic”. Fatah has been offered a Palestinian state a number of times and has said ‘no’ each time. We hope that those Palestinians who are for peace will be successful in their struggle against the rejectionists, but we have to think about the possibility of them continuing to be unsuccessful.
Perhaps this war is not necessary, but one day Israel may have to defend itself against Hamas and Hezbollah, maybe ISIS too, maybe the Iranian state, maybe Syria and Iraq. If Israel has to fight in Gaza or in the cities of the West Bank, many civilians will, unavoidably, die in the fight.
We need to be absolutely clear on the moral, political and legal distinction between the deliberate killing of civilians on one hand and between collateral damage in war, on the other. Israel does not murder civilians, Israel is not a child-killing state.
Israel takes precautions to avoid civillian casualties. I believe it should take greater precautions than it already does. But compared to British and American actions in Syria, Libya and Iraq, the rate of collateral damage caused by Israel is low. Compared to current struggles in Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Congo, Libya, Egypt, the absolute numbers, as well as the proportions, of civilians killed is low. And of course for Hamas and ISIS, killing civilians is not something to be minimized, but on the contrary, terror is the key war-aim.
The danger of antisemitism in the diaspora is significant. We have seen antisemitic ways of thinking becoming more and more common in certain elite strands of western public opinion – Israel thought of as essentially evil, as illegitimate, as wanting to murder children, as being a key global barrier to peace, as being a keystone of global imperailism etc etc. This discursive antisemitism is manifesting itself, in small but significant ways on the streets; the CST reports spikes in antisemitic attacks which correlate with conflict in the Middle East; synagogues have been attacked in Paris, Belfast and other cities; there were murderous attacks in Brussels and Toulouse.
Antisemitism isn’t just a natural response to Israeli crimes and neither is it just a few hotheads. Hamas is explicitly an antisemitic organisation; it embraces the Protocols in its founding document and it says it wants to kill the Jews. Antisemitism is important in wider Middle Eastern politics. The Iranian state says the Holocaust was invented by the Zionists in order to provide a justification for Israeli crimes. Yachad rightly say that there are partners for peace in the Middle East; the corollary of this is that there are also Jew-hating political formations which fight for their perspectives. We must avoid infantilizing people in the Middle East by assuming that embracing racist politics is anything other than a political choice. And while we may understand how people in Palestine stumble into antisemitic politics, there is less justification for people in safe London and on our campuses.
What is missing from the Yachad statement is an awareness that Israel, and also Jews in the diaspora, may need to defend themselves. Yachad does not seem to be capable of playing a positive role in such a defence.