Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 11 December 2023



Hamas’s Oct. 7 Attack Made Israel Stronger


I spoke to Israelis across the political spectrum. From leaders of the pre-Oct. 7 protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to senior officials in the war cabinet, I heard only commitment to supporting the government through the war. Politics isn’t dead in Israel. Protests demanding Mr. Netanyahu’s resignation have resumed, and profound disagreements bubble below the surface. But none of this affects the country’s determination to prosecute the war. Israelis from all political camps are determined to put national security first when the war ends.

Israeli military experts, including critics of the government, think the war is going reasonably well. Casualties are significant, and there is hard slogging ahead, but Israel is on course to inflict defeat on the deranged and misguided Hamas movement. It also is headed toward deeper integration into the Middle East. Arab leaders, who are moving the Arab and Islamic worlds into a brighter future than the fanatics can imagine, appreciate as never before the value of a strong Israel to their own security and prosperity.

Much can still go awry. Iran and its proxies have a vote in what happens next. America’s Middle East policy remains muddled, and the global struggle of revisionist powers against the American-led world system can intersect explosively with Middle East politics. But for now, Israel has rallied from the shock of Oct. 7 and is on track to re-establish deterrence.

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This isn’t the first time that the enemies of the Jews have unintentionally contributed to the rise of the Jewish state. The founder of modern Zionism was a secular and assimilated Austrian Jew named Theodor Herzl (1860-1904). He was driven to embrace his Jewish identity and the idea of Zionism by the realization that the irrational evil of Jew-hatred was an ineradicable force in modern Europe. Only when Jews built a state of their own could they be safe, Herzl reasoned. As he contemplated the factionalism that plagued Zionism from its beginning, he took comfort in the belief that the hatred of their opponents would bind the fractious Jews into a united people.

Jews in liberal Western countries initially scoffed at Herzl’s Zionism, but the grim course of 20th-century history vindicated his insights and recruited brilliant disciples and able campaigners into the Zionist camp. Decisions in the U.S. and elsewhere to slam the door on desperate Jewish refugees from the Nazis further strengthened the appeal of Zionism to the world’s Jews. Such decisions also brought to Palestine the committed Zionist recruits without whom the Jewish community there could never have won its independence or built a state. In perhaps the greatest instance of Jew-haters shooting themselves in the foot, vindictive Middle Eastern mobs and governments forced some 850,000 Jews to flee to Israel in the aftermath of its War of Independence. Those immigrants and their descendants feel no guilt for Palestinian dispossession and are skeptical of Arab intentions. They are a plurality of Israeli Jews today, and without them Israel could never have grown into the powerful state it is.

For Israel, bad Palestinian strategy is the gift that keeps on giving. Over the decades, Palestinian resistance movements have consistently been too weak and fragmented to threaten Israel’s survival. Nevertheless, their constant low-level threat led Israelis to develop the first-class defense and technology capabilities that make it an indispensable partner for countries all over the world.

The unspeakable barbarity of the Hamas attacks has again united and strengthened Israel while accomplishing nothing for the Palestinian people. The Jew-haters who overshadowed more peaceful and responsible demonstrators across U.S. streets and campuses have deeply damaged the Palestinian cause with centrist opinion. Such displays remind Americans that anti-Jewish bigotry and the ignorance it fosters threaten the foundations of American life. Based on what they hear from friends and relatives overseas, many Israelis believe that hundreds of thousands of new Jewish immigrants may head their way soon, migrants who will strengthen Israel’s Jewish demographic base and pull its politics to the right.

For all this, Israel’s worst enemies have only themselves to thank. The haters continue to build the Jewish state even as their barbarism frustrates the hopes of thoughtful Palestinians and those who wish them well.

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