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The new blood libel

The tragic, accidental killing of those aid workers has revealed the depths of Israelophobia.

Daniel Ben-Ami

Topics Politics World

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Israel’s unintentional killing of seven aid workers in an airstrike in Gaza on Monday was undoubtedly a calamity. However, the frenzied discussion of the tragedy suggests that, for many prominent commentators at least, there is more going on here than meets the eye. A new version of the blood libel has taken hold, and it is warping how the Israel-Hamas war is being discussed and understood.

Israel is erroneously accused of conducting a genocide against the Palestinian people – of attempting to eliminate them. The fact that Israel is fighting a war of self-defence – against an enemy, Hamas, that openly wants to destroy Israel, and mercilessly murdered and raped civilians on 7 October – seems to have been forgotten by many onlookers. There is also little recognition that Hamas is currently engaged in a vicious guerrilla war against Israel, using the extensive network of tunnels it built when it controlled Gaza between 2006 and 2023.

There should be no doubt that the killing of the aid workers was accidental. To deliberately engage in such an operation would be totally irrational from the perspective of Israel’s self-interest. Plus, there is no evidence that this was anything other than a horrendous mistake. It looks likely there was a degree of negligence involved. But to draw firm conclusions we will need to wait for the results of the considered enquiries conducted by Israeli forces, independent organisations and the media.

But anti-Israel activists have shown no such patience. For them, the strike merely confirms their prejudice that Israel is a uniquely bloodthirsty state. This is the contemporary version of the medieval blood libel – the deranged notion that it is in Jews’ nature to want to kill non-Jews, and children in particular. It dates as far back as 12th-century Norwich, when Jews were charged with the ritual murder of a Christian boy. It has frequently reared its ugly head in episodes of fevered anti-Jewish hatred ever since.

The current version of the blood libel is also reflected in the claim that, rather than defending itself against a mortal enemy, Israel is engaged in a genocide in Gaza. Indeed, the allegations of ‘genocide’ long predate the current conflict. They go back many years, if not decades, and are repeated regardless of the evidence. Since 1967, when Israel first occupied Gaza, Gaza’s population has increased from about 400,000 to over two million – a more than five-fold increase. These numbers rubbish the idea that Israel has set out to eliminate the Palestinian population.

But Israel’s critics are winning the propaganda war. On top of the ludicrous claims of ‘genocide’, you’ll see Israel painted as a global military behemoth, even though it is substantially outgunned by Egypt, Iran and Turkey. Nor is there much understanding that Israel faces a genuinely genocidal threat not only from Hamas, but also from Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, with the backing of Iran and Qatar.

The word ‘genocide’ may be overused these days, but it is an accurate way to describe the threat facing Israel. The political movements and countries which support Islamism – a totalitarian movement operating in the name of Islam – have openly pledged to destroy Israel and butcher its citizens. Israel is fighting an existential battle against an implacable enemy.

But the West does not have the stomach to support the fight against Islamism. Weeks before the killing of the aid workers, it had already become apparent that the Western powers, including America, did not want Israel to finish off Hamas. They have increasingly pushed for a ‘pause’ in the fighting, even though doing so would only allow Hamas to regroup and rebuild. Meanwhile, there are countless other examples of the appeasement of Islamism within the West itself.

The reaction to the tragic killing of those aid workers has revealed just how much Israel is up against. Western elites appear convinced that it is in Israel’s nature to want to kill innocent civilians. The success of this anti-Semitic propaganda, this rebranded blood libel, shows that Israel’s position has become even more vulnerable. Not only does it face implacable hostility from the Islamist movement, but it also enjoys increasingly meagre support from the West.

Too few in the West seem to understand the threat that Islamism poses. It is a contemporary form of totalitarianism. Israel may be on the front line, but Islamism is a menace to democracy and freedom everywhere – not to mention the real force for genocide in the Middle East.

Perhaps it’s no wonder our leaders cannot see this. Indeed, in their shared hostility to modernity, deep scepticism about the nation state, attachment to identity politics and aversion to liberal freedoms, the woke elites and the Islamists have a lot in common.

The task of understanding anti-Semitism – and the unhinged, anti-Israel form it now takes – is more urgent than ever. The fate of the Jews, and the fate of free societies everywhere, depends on it.

Daniel Ben-Ami is an author and journalist. He runs the website Radicalism of Fools, dedicated to rethinking anti-Semitism. Follow him on Twitter: @danielbenami

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World

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