It was a sad summer in Israel. Almost everyone I met commented how awful London must be, with its ‘anti-Semitism and the Muslim takeover’. I pointed out that ten times almost zero British anti-Semitism is still very little, and that Muslims number under 3 million, so are barely overtaking the 64 million Britons. The assertion that Muhammad was the most common boy’s name in Britain last year turns out to be the case – officially unadmitted – in Israel. It was clearly my interlocutors who felt surrounded, and were citing these ‘facts’ out of panic-induced projection.
European opposition to Israel, I felt it helpful to explain, was based on what the media showed them of civilian suffering in Gaza, rather than on dislike of Jews. The Israeli media, with the possible exception of Ha’aretz, chose to minimize that suffering, or to blame it on Hamas for using civilians as human shields. I asked why, since Hamas clearly benefits from civilian casualties, does Israel provide them with so many; and what people actually feel about 1700 dead bystanders, 20,000 destroyed homes and 500,000 homeless? I was told that Israel had the right to defend herself, and was asked what would Britain do if, etc, etc.
I agreed that many diaspora Jews feel embattled, but suggested that this is the price of unquestioning support for Israel. Accepting the Israeli claim to represent world Jewry means we can be blamed for Israeli policies, even if we do not vote in Israeli elections. If we did, other questions might be asked, such as whether Jewish yearning for the land outweighs Palestinian claims, or whether past occupancy gives right to sovereignty. If it did, Scandinavians might now rule York. It is true that some Palestinians deny Jewish links to Israel. But there are Jews who deny Palestinian links to the land. The national movements mirror each other.
I even dared to suggest that Israel has been emboldened by American support, and that this rests partly on the USA’s almost unmentionable treatment of her native Indians. How, I asked, does this resonate with the powerful second- or third-generation post-Holocaust feelings of most Israelis?
There will eventually be talks, I argued, perhaps even with Hamas. In the meantime Israel has the technological edge so need not bomb her way out of trouble. Bombing did not persuade the inhabitants of Hamburg and London to surrender, or to like their enemies more. If drones were used to prove that rockets are being fired from hospitals or schools, Israel could win the argument without shelling civilians. Listening devices could locate tunnels without invading. If one day rockets cannot be blocked, Israel will need the sympathy she lost this summer.
To survive, Israel must come to terms with her neighbours and explore common ground. What Israelis and Palestinians share most may be failed dreams, a sense of hurt and injustice and a lack of recognition. The Parents Circle – Families Forum, a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization of over 600 families, is one group that enables people to mourn together. Others must also make a start.
Dr Jeremy Schonfield is Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and John Rayner Reader in Liturgy at Leo Baeck College, London.
‘After Gaza’ is a special supplement with the Autumn/ Winter 2014 issue, featuring reactions and analyses of the summer 2014 Gaza conflict.