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The Great Shattering

I am Shabbat-observant, so I would have ordinarily spent this past Saturday and Sunday (as it was the two-day holiday of Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah) with family and friends, largely and blissfully ignoring the world outside my close-knit neighborhood.

But I have the Tzeva Adom (red alert) app on my phone that buzzes with every air raid siren in Israel, so when I had to move my phone off my nightstand in the middle of the night as Friday turned into Saturday in order to get any sleep, I knew that something was amiss. And when it became clear with one glance when I awoke on Saturday morning that what was amiss was not simply rockets but an unprecedented tragedy, I found myself doing something that I never do, which was spending the rest of that Shabbat and holiday frantically texting Israeli relatives and friends and spending much of my time glued to every possible news alert and every social media update from Israeli journalists and colleagues.

This weekend was shattering.

More Jews were killed on Saturday than on any single day since the Holocaust. Making it worse is that it happened in the place where Jews are meant to be in control of their own destiny rather than subject to the whims of those who hate them. The images and stories are horrific, compounded by the unbridled glee of Palestinians literally dancing on the dead bodies of Israelis. The Israelis desperately circulating photos of their missing husbands, wives, and children are immediately reminiscent to anyone who lived through it of New Yorkers in the days after 9/11, with the glaring difference that the possible outcomes in this instance are not life or death, but death or captivity by a brutal, misogynistic, religious fundamentalist terrorist group. If there is ever a situation that could be aptly described as a living nightmare, this is it.

Watch the footage of Hamas fighters hunting Israeli Jews for sport. Read my friend Amir Tibon’s story of hiding in the dark for ten hours with his wife and their three-year-old and one-year-old daughters as they heard gunshots all around them before being saved by Amir’s retired general father and some soldiers he luckily met up with on the road to Amir’s kibbutz. Gaze at the confused faces of Israeli Holocaust survivors—in their 80s and 90s, some with dementia—being paraded around for the second time in their lives by soulless captors, but this time in front of cellphone cameras. Look at the pictures of over 700 Israeli bodies strewn across streets and fields, or lying in pools of blood in their homes and cars, or the terrified faces of the hundreds of Israelis who were abducted and dragged back into Gaza to unimaginable fates.

Then watch the footage of Sunday’s Democratic Socialists of America rally in New York, where attendees cheered the cold-blooded murder of civilians and chanted “resistance is justified.” Read the morally bankrupt and borderline self-parodying statement of the 36 Harvard student groups whose opening line reads, “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” Ask yourself how anyone who has absorbed what unfolded can respond in that way if they have a rational or decent bone in their body, and if you come up with an answer, please let me know. Ponder the fact that Israeli human rights activists work towards securing the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and yet the seeming majority of self-proclaimed human rights activists in the U.S. appear to believe that Israeli Jews are not humans.

Regular readers know that I tend to resist binary conclusions, but there is a set of people who have proven themselves—and will likely continue to prove themselves—wholly and irredeemably without a moral compass, not fully supporting one side while at least empathizing with the other but instead cheerleading barbarism under an absurdist banner of alleged ideals. The slaughter on Israeli soil is going to alter American Jewish politics and change American Jewish calculations on the left, and my hope is that these groups that have denied humanity in a blanket fashion to grieving Israeli innocents find themselves unwelcome in every quarter of American Jewry.

While the reflexively anti-Israel revolutionaries are still ensconced in a post-1967 world in which Israel is a big bad monster, Israel has been brutally jerked back into pre-1967 psychological territory. What made the Six-Day War such a turning point was that fears of Israel being overrun were transformed instantly into a myth of Israel’s legendary prowess and capabilities, which over time jumped from the military sphere to the economic, scientific, and technological spheres. Yet, Israel is now facing questions about intelligence failures, military preparedness, and military capability failures, and whether it can fulfill the basic obligation that the state has to defend its citizens.

In an alarming number of ways, shocking Israeli weaknesses have been exposed. The overreliance on high-tech solutions failed as Hamas fighters flew over the smart fence on low-tech paragliders or simply ignored it by knocking it down with tractors. Israeli logistics failed as the IDF seemed unable to move enough units to secure the Gaza envelope when what was happening became clear, and as reservists were called up to gathering points and then left sitting there with no instructions rather than being taken to bases and deployed. The vaunted start-up nation economy seems far less impressive in the wake of reports of empty military supply warehouses and GoFundMe drives dedicated to buying soldiers helmets and bulletproof vests. Amidst all of this, there is still a government that has done little but sow chaos and division since it took power in December, leaving Israel as unprepared as it has ever been to meet the challenge of the darkest day in its history.

And the worst may yet be coming. What unfolded in Israel’s south has long been the nightmare of Israeli security officials, but in their nightmare, it was a more capable, better armed, and larger mass of Hezbollah fighters streaming over the northern border with Lebanon, backed not by thousands of unsophisticated homemade rockets but by tens of thousands of guided missiles. That scenario might still come to pass, and Israel’s ability to deter it took a big blow on Saturday. Iran and its proxies have been probing Israeli defenses for months, and the horrible success of Saturday’s operation is going to fuel the determination that Israel can be toppled over with an even harder push.

What is imperative now is reversing the impression of Israel in chaos. Despite a menu of exclusively bad options, the Israeli government has a series of hard choices in front of it about how to handle Gaza and Hamas, and those choices should absolutely not be made without a unity government. This is even more important in light of the fact that innocent Palestinians will inevitably be killed and harmed in the days and weeks ahead, and that too requires a gravity that the current government does not possess. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legacy and political future, which were cloudy before this week, are now irreparably tattered. This should theoretically make it easier for him to pave the way for Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz to join with him and jettison the incompetents and agitators whom he has empowered in their stead. It also means ending any talk of judicial overhaul, Haredi draft exemptions, and other enormously divisive policies that have driven the impression that Israel is too riven by divisions to handle its external foes.

Israel also needs help from the U.S. to discourage any Iranian adventurism and help keep other fronts quiet. The Biden administration, aside from strong rhetorical support, has lent a hand to backing Israeli deterrence by sending an aircraft carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean in a clear signal to Hezbollah. Continuing to ensure that Israel has a sufficient supply of Iron Dome interceptors and other munitions will help Israeli security in a challenging period, and there should be no remaining question about whether it is grossly irresponsible to hold up Jack Lew’s nomination as ambassador to Israel.

Israel has a difficult road in front of it. The number of things that went wrong in the lead-up to and during Hamas’ terror rampage point to systemic failures rather than small lapses. These will have to be interrogated, but more important than an immediate reckoning is an immediate course correction so that the scenes that are seared into people’s memories from the past few days become a historical tragedy rather than a warning about what is ahead.

This article was originally posted in Ottomans and Zionists.