Why the World Forgot About the Hostages
It is unfathomable that one of the worst hostage situations in modern history has become just another subplot during the Israel-Hamas war, but this is exactly what has happened.
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In the mere days after Palestinian terrorists infiltrated Israel on October 7th, massacring more than 1,000 people and abducting some 240 more, we saw “pro-Palestinian” demonstrations around the world, both online and offline, calling for more Palestinian terrorism against Israel, the annihilation of the Jewish state, and even the gassing of Jews.
There are American hostages, British hostages, French hostages, Thai hostages, Russian hostages — and people are marching, not in support of the hostages, but in support of the hostage-takers.
Mind you, these demonstrations occurred a good two-to-three weeks before Israeli ground forces entered the Gaza Strip. And, mind you, during these two-to-three weeks, Israel patiently held off on its real military response to give diplomatic negotiations a chance at returning all the abductees. I can only imagine that, when you’ve been abducted, two-to-three weeks feels like two-to-three years.
In Israel, and among those who cherish it around the world, we knew it was only a matter of days after October 7th that this unconscionable Palestinian attack, and the “thoughts and prayers” for Israel that came with it, would quickly turn into heavily biased and overwhelmingly one-sided empathy for the “poor Palestinians.”
Make no mistake: You can (and ought to) have simultaneous, equal compassion for both Israelis and Palestinians, but that’s not what happened. In many cases, relatively mild concern for Israel was replaced with profuse support for the Palestinians.
“On October 7th, as pictures of Hamas’ depravity went around the world, compassion not only stopped, it went into reverse,” wrote Howard Jacobson, a British novelist and journalist. “Yes, I know the argument: This had nothing to do with people, it was about an illegal State; you can hate Israel and love Jews, a fallacy that’s been reiterated countless times by people who claim the freedom to lie irresponsibly about Israel without being called to account as racists.”1
Back in Israel, our message stayed (and is still) unmistakably clear: Return all the abductees, immediately and unconditionally, if you want a ceasefire. Until this happens, we reserve the right to both diplomatically and politically (i.e. militarily) vie for their return.
To be sure, many diplomatic and political avenues were exhausted, which is why Israel’s entire active military and some 350,000 reservists largely remained sidelined. Meanwhile, the 240 abductees remained in Palestinian captivity.
With every day that has passed in this now 123-day war, the abductees have become just another subplot, an afterthought for many people, and even forgotten by several others, in spite of the abductees being one of the two main reasons why Israel is doing what it’s doing in Gaza.
How could one of the worst hostage situations in modern history become just another subplot, an afterthought, and even forgotten?
First, the State of Israel has never had a great “PR strategy” — in Hebrew what is called hasbarah, which is derived from the Hebrew word lehasbeer, to explain.
Surely, though, it is challenging to explain to the average casual onlooker that, before the founding of the State of Israel, Jews were told to go back to Palestine, yet after its founding, Jews are being told to get out of Palestine. Or that, now, the same pro-Palestinian demonstrators holding up signs saying “You don’t get to choose how we resist” are the same demonstrators who are trying to tell Israelis how to do so.
Those who represent Israel in the news media and on social media often try to explain Israel’s legitimacy. This approach actually plays into the hands of the people who try to delegitimize the Jewish state, since no other country in the world is focused on legitimizing itself. Additionally, explanations about Israel’s legitimacy go in one ear and out the other for people who never thought Israel was a legitimate country to begin with.
Other “pro-Israel” folks argue that, if you judge any state by the mistakes it makes, the whole world would be horrific. Again, this logic falls on deaf ears because so many people believe that Israel, in and of itself, is one massive mistake.
Then there are those who want to talk about “proportionality” and “international law” and “genocide” and all these other terms, even though the people who hashtag and throw them around, while attacking Israel, have no inkling of what they actually mean.
We could go on and on about the seemingly unlimited, yet very much accurate, arguments that we are all making in the news media, on social media, and in other places. But it is a mistake, at least for now, to try and tally up as many “pro-Israel” rebuttals as possible.
At the moment, I would advise anyone representing Israel in both formal and informal capacities to maintain and repeat two simple-worded messages:
We will absolutely consider a ceasefire when every single one of the 136 people who were kidnapped (including a one-year-old boy) has been safely returned to Israel.
Until this happens, Israel will do whatever we feel is necessary to safely return all of these abductees, which I am sure you would want Israel to do if your family members or children were taken captive.
Why simple? And why repetitive? Just ask Donald Trump how he of all people won the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and why he has a remarkable chance to retake the U.S. presidency in the election in November.
Another reason that the abductees have become just another subplot during the Israel-Hamas war is, of course, antisemitism.
To be sure, it is not antisemitic to wish Israel could try to eradicate Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza through different means. But it is antisemitic to scorn every single one of Israel’s actions and intentions, to disparage Israelis for what they do not do, to over-inflate accusations like “settler violence,” and to refuse to give legitimacy to the existential fears that drive our thoughts and actions.
Yet still, today, all over the world, all over social media and, more alarmingly, in the middle of major “liberal” cities, you hear thousands of people explicitly calling for more death to more Jews. Will only complete and utter Jewish extinction be enough?
“Of course not,” many people will tell you. “I just don’t like when Israeli Jews do what they do!” In other words, a classic gaslighting ploy to make it about “anti-Zionism” — a lame attempt to differentiate Israeli Jews from other Jews — which every educated Jew knows is the newer, more socially acceptable rendition of antisemitism.
And when we Jews try to defend their beloved, absolutely necessary, and also quite ordinary country, they continue to gaslight us with words like, “Oh, so you support the occupation.”
You do not have to love Israel and the Middle East’s complex realities — and the occupation is indeed a complex reality — to understand the Jewish state’s utmost necessity and admire the unbelievable nature of its creation and development. Again, if you judge any state by the mistakes it makes, the whole world would be horrific.
Yes, Israel has greatly changed since its founding in 1948, and the Palestinians’ complete refusal since the 1930s to peacefully share the land has naturally played a part in hardening what some might call Israeli “hardline” positions. In recent years, Israel’s policy to effectively enable Hamas as the governing power in Gaza must also be cause for concern.
However, you will not find in much of the news media, on social media, and in classrooms and other places these vital nuances, the historical missteps by both Israelis and Palestinians, and the grotesque institutionalized antisemitism still predominantly found within the Palestinian territories and throughout Arab and Muslim-majority countries — antisemitism that far predates the State of Israel.
“Ask what it takes for a feminist in London to applaud a rape, or a MeToo revolutionary in New York to dance a jig in celebration of the abduction of a woman and the mutilation of her baby,” wrote Howard Jacobson. “How many lecturers in human rights partied through the night after being shown the footage of Israelis denied their right to live?”2
“Surely, this is victim-blaming,” he added, “were the victims not guilty without trial of being Jews.”
“We ask ourselves how ordinary Germans could stand idly by in the 1940s. Today, we must ask: How can so many stand idly by and applaud?” The Daily Mail.
“Victim-blaming is a crime to so many progressives. Except when it comes to Jews.” The Guardian.