‘The Israeli deterrent had simply not deterred and the Israeli intelligence had not detected, the option of military assault had been seized by the enemy in an operation full of guile and conspiracy’. So wrote Abba Eban referring to the Yom Kippur war in his legendary autobiography written in 1977. Who said history does not repeat itself?
As I return from a two-day solidarity mission to Israel with fellow communal leaders, this was the unanswered question we asked. In due course the answers will emerge but for now there is complete dedication to defeat Hamas and secure the safety of Israeli citizens. The desperate plight of the hostages hangs like an omnipresent black cloud above the entire country. Their torment is the nation’s torment.
This is a war for the future of the country. Hamas has called for Israel’s annihilation and shown its barbaric and cruel savagery to the entire world so there can be no negotiation or compromise, it must be destroyed. This is also a war on behalf of the West for if these forces of evil are given succour, they will propagate a vision of society that is the antithesis of Western civilisation.
And this message is clearly understood by the leaders of the free world. From our Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition, to President ‘Saba’ Joe of the USA and a host of other western leaders who have voiced support and visited the country in recent weeks, we have heard the message that Israel has every legitimate right to defend itself.
Let there be no confusion, they are saying this is a fight Israel must win for the sake of our values and win they will. We felt and heard that determination from everyone we spoke to, from President Herzog to cabinet ministers, generals, commentators and citizens. They know it will be deeply painful for many months to come. There will be more tragedies and many deaths. Realpolitik suggests international support will fray and there is a very constant danger of war on multiple fronts.
But Israel knows there is no alternative.
Yet throughout the mission and all the sadness we encountered, one response shone through above all. It was a reflexive response, a response borne out of a spirit of chalutzim, of pioneering, of building a state after two millennia of painful nomadic exile and wandering.
More than bravery, it was a response of inspirational resolve; it came from leaders and taxi drivers, it came from families who had lost loved ones or whose family member was a hostage. It was a response that denies fear, a response that we will recover, we will fight back and rebuild our lives. It was a response of defiance and remarkable strength.
What impressed me above all was that throughout those two days during which we witnessed a nation’s agony, we heard much anger but not one single world of hatred. No baying for blood or desire for revenge to be meted out on other innocent civilians. For Judaism is not a religion of hatred or militancy, it is a religion that respects the sanctity of all life, of all religions and of all cultures. Those few who invoke Judaism to act wickedly bring shame on us all. Our moral code is to look after people, first of course our own, but then beyond to heal and to improve life for all. And that of course makes this conflict even more painful.
More than once we were asked – and how are you? We see the pictures of your streets, they said, we hear of your anxiety and fear. We hear that antisemitism has been normalised and has hugely increased, we worry for you. Am Achad – one people indeed.
So we returned from this mission, reinforced and determined. Determined that we will assist the 200,000 displaced persons from the north and south of Israel who have moved to the centre for an unknown length of time.
Our estimation is that around £20m has already been raised from our community, determined we will be part of rebuilding those communities in the South whose communities have been destroyed, determined to fight the justice of Israel’s war on every front and determined to stand stiff necked as proud Jews living in a country that we have made our home and that respects our right to live Jewish lives in full freedom.
We will not be cowed by those who wish us harm, antisemitism will not force us to change our way of lives or live in fear.
I know there is much anxiety in the community and we should remain vigilant, but there is huge collaboration with all the authorities as indeed there is throughout the community.
Our leadership bodies, the JLC, the Board of Deputies and the CST together with UJS, UJIA and BICOM have seamless co-ordination and clear strategies led by highly professional teams. We have learnt the lessons of the past and spent many years building strong relationships with those whose job it is to protect us and the wonderful CST manages our security in its customarily exemplary way. And contrary to how we may feel, extensive research tells us that most ordinary decent British citizens sympathise with Israel and detest the actions of Hamas.
So we are not alone, the leaders of the western world support us, our government and civic authorities have vowed to protect us and we expect them to enforce the law to its fullest extent.
We will stand with Israel during her darkest days and play our role in supporting the Jewish State knowing that we are fortunate to have one to defend where previous generations did not.
- Keith Black is the chair of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC)
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