Most of us can agree, I believe, on at least two things involving Hamas’ horrific assault on Israel.
One, the decadeslong conflict between Israel and Palestinians is endlessly complex.
Two, the endless complexity does little to explain — and absolutely nothing to excuse — the barbarity of the surprise attack on Israel by Hamas, the group that controls Gaza and whose terrorist incursion is now rightly being called Israel’s 9/11.
And there’s maybe a third thing, too. After 9/11, if you remember, we experienced a brief moment of unity. I’m pretty sure we haven’t had one since, and I wouldn’t expect that to change now, even about the attack on Israel, even after the details of the atrocities have been revealed in their full horror.
In Israel, there is unity in grief and in blame. From what I’ve read, most Israelis blame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the country’s shocking intelligence failure that allowed Hamas to massacre Israeli civilians in numbers that are unprecedented in Israel’s history.
In America, there may be unity in grief and in outrage, but not in blame. It’s the political season, and so Republicans, starting with Donald Trump, are blaming Joe Biden for whatever is happening.
For supposedly being weak in the face of enemies — except, of course, when being strong in his support for Ukraine, which many Republicans oppose.
For having — in Sen. Tim Scott’s words — “funded these attacks on Israel.” Meaning that Biden released $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets as part of the exchange for release of American hostages. It turns out, though, not a penny of that money has yet reached Iran, which is, yes, a sponsor of terrorism, including that of Hamas. (See this nasty Twitter exchange on the topic between Lauren Boebert and Jason Crow.)
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And Trump, as you may have heard, is now calling for a new ban on Muslims. After 9/11, George W. Bush, in maybe his finest moment, asked Americans not to blame all Muslims for the acts of Islamist terrorists.
There isn’t exactly unanimity among Democrats, either. Although most on the American left have expressed support for Israel, there are, as you might have heard, some outliers on the far left. And among many progressives, there is the belief, with some evidence, that American policy under Biden and other presidents has been one-sided.
Where should the blame lie? It’s complicated.
I’m not exactly a foreign policy expert — if you want some deep background on the situation in Gaza, you might want to read here and here and here — but I haven’t seen a good explanation for what Hamas hoped to accomplish with its untethered killing spree, of which Israeli President Isaac Herzog wrote, “Not since the Holocaust have more Jews been murdered on one day.”
The simplest explanation for the invasion I’ve heard is that Hamas, which doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist, felt it was being ignored while Israel was negotiating with its Arab neighbors. But does that explain the massacres?
A further explanation could be that Iran pushed the invasion to scuttle a possible understanding between Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of them Iran’s enemies. American officials say they don’t yet have firm evidence of Iranian involvement.
In a White House speech Tuesday in which Biden once again renewed his “unwavering support” for Israel, he didn’t go for complexity. He put the blame for the terrorist attack on “sheer evil.”
He was angry, and not simply because politics demanded it. And not just because at least 14 Americans have been killed and certainly more captured. Who wouldn’t be angry at this point?
You can, as I do, think that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza have been a moral disaster. You can, as I have, think that we give lip service to the two-state solution but know that Netanyahu has no interest in pursuing one.
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Biden was clearly shaken by what he called the “stomach-turning reports” of babies being killed, of Israeli women stripped naked and paraded, of parents killed while trying to protect their children, of a Holocaust survivor among the dozens of people Hamas has kidnapped, of the uncertain fate of as many as 150 hostages.
If you’ve seen the reports from the music festival where armed fighters slaughtered at least 260 people, you understand.
If you’ve seen the horror at Kfar Aza, a kibbutz not far from the Israel-Gaza border, you understand.
If you heard Israeli Major Gen. Itai Veruv describe the scene in Kfar Aza — “It’s not a war, it’s not a battlefield. It’s a massacre,” Veruv said. Some victims were decapitated, he added. “I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’ve served for 40 years” — you understand.
“These were the homes of the people of pre-1967 Israel, democratic Israel, liberal Israel — living in peaceful kibbutzim or going to a life-loving disco party,” the Israeli writer Ari Shavit told New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.
So, yes, it was a provocation. The question is what should the reaction be in a time of rising antisemitism, in a time when misinformation is rife on social media. My grandchildren’s school has warned parents not to let their kids see horrifying videos on certain social media sites of hostages begging for their lives.
In Israel, they’ve called for a complete siege — although U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan doesn’t think the siege will come about — and have begun a massive bombardment. Some Israeli officials have also called for Gaza citizens to leave the area, but the borders are closed. There’s nowhere to run.
Most expect Israel, which has called up 360,000 reservists, to launch a ground attack on Gaza. But there is concern that the war could widen to include Hezbollah and factions in the West Bank.
There is no easy way out of this. You can blame Hamas terrorists, who with their actions have baited Israel into making a full-on attack, for that.
In his speech pledging full support for Israel, Biden also said he told Netanyahu that terrorists like Hamas target civilians and that democracies like the United States and Israel are “stronger and more secure when we act according to the rule of law.” That’s the same oft-indicted Netanyahu, of course, who has been desperately trying to weaken Israel’s Supreme Court.
You’d like to think everyone could agree with Biden on that. But then you’d have to believe that in America, we can agree on anything, up to and definitely including the rule of law.
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