The fury and rage of the anti-Israel protesters who took to the streets of London again this weekend should not be confused with a mass movement with strong public backing.
In its wisdom, the British public continues to have one overriding concern: for the plight of civilians in Israel and Gaza.
Those of us who support Israel’s tragic but necessary war against terror and oppose a ceasefire at this point should use this as the starting point for our engagement with the public.
We can – and we should – mourn the loss of innocent lives in Israel and Gaza. We can – and we should – support a comprehensive humanitarian aid package for the people of Gaza, with humanitarian pauses and corridors, and expanded, regular and fast deliveries of food, water and medicine. And we can – and we should – demand that our country stands unwaveringly by the side of the Israeli people as they seek to eliminate the terrorists who subjected them to brutal savagery.
What does this require in practice?
We need to robustly challenge the notion that there is an easy choice available between ceasefire and war. A ceasefire which leaves Hamas in power and its arsenal intact is nothing less than a recipe for endless war and terror for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Disarming Hamas and destroying its political and military leadership is the prerequisite of – and the only potential road towards – a future peace. To protect civilians, in Israel and Palestine alike, the Hamas threat must be ended.
Many of the calls for a ceasefire are well-intentioned but we need to be clearer: it is Hamas, not Israel, that is the enemy of peace. It is Hamas, not Israel, that has not simply opposed – but sought to destroy – every opportunity for peace over the past three decades. And it is Hamas, not Israel, that only last week pledged to wreak mayhem and bloodshed “a second, a third, a fourth” time. For Hamas, a ceasefire is nothing but a pause in which to restock, regroup and rearm.
Those who call for an immediate ceasefire must therefore answer two simple questions: do you accept that Hamas must be removed and disarmed and, if so, what is your diplomatic path to achieving that goal? Any plan for peace which leaves Hamas in place is neither serious nor credible, and we must say so.
There are, of course, a minority whose motives for calling for a ceasefire are less noble. Their interest in the plight of the Palestinians – which was strangely absent when Bashar al-Assad was bombing the Yarmouk refugee camp five years ago – seems only to arise when Israel can be portrayed as the villain. Many of those who call for a “global intifada”; share Hamas’ demand for an Islamist state “from the river to the sea”; and glorify, or seek to justify, the terrorists’ atrocities, consider themselves part of the left. They are not and the left must treat them as such. Their sympathy for mass murderers and their racism towards Jews must be called out clearly and consistently.
We also need to show the public with greater clarity the source of the evil which was visited upon Israel on 7 October: Iran. The Islamic Republic funds, arms and encourages Hamas and Hezbollah. It bears the ultimate responsibility for their crimes. And it represents a clear and present danger not simply to regional peace but to the security of the British people.
Through the (still) unbanned Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Tehran directs a network of ideological centres in the UK which propagate hate and extremism and threaten to radicalise the young. We have to expose and dismantle this network and we have to show why a victory for Hamas and Iran in Israel will simply encourage and embolden the Islamic Republic’s fanatical leadership into believing that the west does not have the will to resist its nefarious ideological agenda. Such a feeling of impunity would endanger us all.
Finally, we need to communicate a vision for the future. As a new LFI paper next week argues, out of this terrible tragedy, something better can arise. With Hamas gone, there must be an international effort to rebuild and revitalise Gaza, empower moderates, and return it to Palestinian Authority rule.
To lay the foundations for a two-state solution, practical steps – that do not require Israel to compromise on security – must be agreed to revive a reformed PA. These would include new investment and aid packages; a gradual expansion of PA territory in the West Bank; and freezing settlement construction in isolated settlements.
US-led diplomatic efforts to build on the Abraham Accords through a normalisation agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia should be accompanied in a mass investment in promoting a culture of peace. Officially sanctioned incitement by the Palestinian Authority must urgently addressed; Israeli extremists must be marginalised; and we must invest in an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace – a longstanding LFI goal.
Even at this dark moment, we must remember the words of Amos Oz: “A conflict begins and ends in the hearts and minds of people, not in the hilltops.”
Michael Rubin is director of Labour Friends of Israel