IDF forces in Gaza
IDF forces in GazaIDF spokesperson

David Herman is a freelance journalist. He has written for the Guardian, the New Statesman, Prospect and Standpoint, among others.

There are three very different takes on Israel and Gaza. The first, in no particular order, attacks Israel as a settler-colonialist state which has invaded Gaza, killed tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians, demolished Palestinian hospitals and committed war crimes. This is largely the view of the UN and related organisations, including WHO and UNWRA, most NGOs who have anything to do with Gaza and the 'West Bank', the majority of British mainstream news organisations, including, astonishingly, the BBC, even its flagship programmes. There hasn’t been a time in recent years when our leading TV and radio news programmes have been so consistently biased in their coverage of a major international news story.(ed. note: The UN has at last admitted that its figures were inflated by 50%).

These critics of Israel rarely mention the role of Iran or Qatar in supporting Hamas, the crimes of Hamas, Islamic Jihad or Hezbollah, downplay the massacres on 7 October and rarely suggest what Israel should have done differently after the Hamas atrocities in October or, indeed, what their own country would have done after a terrorist attack had killed more than a thousand of its own civilians and taken more than a hundred hostage over seven months. This includes leading Anglo-American politicians like President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, Foreign Secretary Cameron and many others.

The second group are those defenders of Israel’s right to defend itself after the appalling massacre on 7 October, who have consistently argued that Israel has acted out of self-defence, has done its best to minimise civilian casualties in Gaza, has produced devastating analyses of the casualty statistics produced by Hamas and supported by leading figures from the UN, many western politicians and numerous NGOS. This group includes Israeli politicians, Israeli spokesmen and women like Eylon Levy, Mark Regev, IDG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, Ron Dermer (Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs) and Fleur Hassan-Nahoum (Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem); leading British supporters of Israel, including Douglas Murray, Colonel Richard Kemp, UK Lawyers for Israel, especially Natasha Hausdorff, and a number of leading British and American journalists and commentators.

Less prominent is a third group, who are mostly Jewish, largely pro-Israel and consistently critical of Iran and Hamas. But they are also critical of Israel’s conduct in Gaza, its current government in general, especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, and above all, his Minister of National Security, Ben-Gvir and other right-wing coalition partners. They are also deeply pessimistic about Israel’s future, both short-term and long-term.

What is striking is that this third group has a much lower media profile, in the UK and in the US, than both the other groups, and are rarely represented in media debates about the current conflict. This is partly because of the assumption, shared by most of our news programmes and newspapers, that there are only two main parties to this conflict and that broadcast debates should only reflect the different views of these two sets of voices.

The key views of this third group can be summarised as follows. First, they are broadly sympathetic to Israel. They support the existence of the state of Israel and are critical of its enemies, in particular, Iran, Russia, Hamas and other Islamic terrorist organisations. They are critical of the UN, UNWRA and WHO, and are disappointed by the opportunistic criticisms of Israel from the Biden administration, which they sometimes see as motivated by electoral considerations (best summarised by Douglas Murray, when he defined Biden’s support for a two-state solution being Michigan and Minnesota, both of which are swing states with significant Muslim populations).

However, they are deeply critical of Netanyahu. These critical friends believe he should leave office as soon as possible and that he is a key factor in Israel’s unprecedented diplomatic isolation. They argue that any future inquiry into the atrocities of October 7 will find Netanyahu culpable for the incompetence which led to the deaths and hostages being taken. Above all, they argue that the current crisis was the result of an extraordinary failure in security and the astonishingly slow response by the Israel Defence Forces to the invasion by Hamas terrorists.

Secondly, there is a political critique of the current government, irrespective of the events on 7 October which brings us back to the make-up of the coalition. The highpoint of Israel’s international reputation, they argue, goes back to the days of a secular Labour government, led by Golda Meir (Prime Minister 1969-74) and Yitzhak Rabin (Prime Minister 1974-77, 1992-95). Since the assassination of Rabin in 1995, Israel has moved to the Right and has failed to deal with the settlers or the problems on the 'West Bank'.

Third, they root the current political crisis in a long-term demographic change in Israeli society, with the rising number of Orthodox Israelis and right-wing Israelis who experienced antisemitism in the Soviet Union or in North Africa and the Middle East. This demographic change, they argue, means that it is extremely unlikely that Israel will ever return to a liberal, secular, social democratic form of government, of the kind championed by public intellectuals such as the late Amos Oz.

Put together, these problems, some short-term, others long-term – the short-term problems posed by the personality of Netanyahu and his coalition government, the long-term move to the Right and the long-term demographic changes – have created a perfect storm for Israel. They have led to Israel’s diplomatic isolation and growing unpopularity, not just among the young in the West, but more immediately among Western politicians and public opinion, from Macron and Cameron to Blinken and Biden. This constellation of factors has led to a new pessimism inside and outside Israel, manifested in the anti-Netanyahu demonstrations in Israel, earlier in the year, but also in a longer-term pessimism about the inability of Israel to protect its borders and the shift to the Right in recent and future elections.

This mood of pessimism is symbolised (or exacerbated, ed.) by the length of the war in Gaza. Think of both the speed and the scale of the victories in 1948, 1967 and 1973. The current conflict has dragged on for more than seven months and still shows no sign of resolution (ed. note: the writer seems not to know that the IDF said right at the start that it would take a year and that was before it realized the extent of the tunnel system). You can criticise the media bias, the infantilism of young anti-Israel protesters on both sides of the Atlantic, the opportunism and weakness of Biden, but still be worried by the problems exposed on October 7 and since. And by the longer-term changes in Israeli politics and society. Perhaps it is time for our TV and radio news programmes and our newspaper and magazine commentators to listen more carefully to what these friendly critics of Israel have to say. Theirs may prove to be the most damning voice in the whole debate.

Reposted with permission fromTheArticle , which aims to be "a website which helps you make sense of the news through free access to exchanges of ideas, rather than echo chambers of prejudice. We have no ideological agenda and we promise never to tell you what to think. Our aim is simply to preserve the integrity of the free press in this country by embracing nuance and complexity – and showing the world in all its shades of grey. To read /TheArticle is to see a story from every angle with no abuse, no extremism - and proper editing."