October 7, 2023 — Miami
The following piece originally appeared in the Miami Herald.
Now is the time for moral clarity. Hamas is a terrorist organization. It is not a defense force. Its overarching goal and its very reason for existence, has always been the annihilation of Israel. Like other Middle East terror groups — Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthi militants in Yemen — it is funded, trained, armed, and supported by Iran. That is important to note.
This weekend’s violence was not some rogue attack. Iran has long been a destabilizing force in the Middle East, and its abiding hatred for the Jewish State was manifest in Hamas’ attack.
The world awoke this weekend to images of Iranian-backed Hamas terrorists indiscriminately attacking major Israeli population centers along the Gaza-Israel border. As of this writing, at least 200 Israelis have been killed, with at least 1,190 injured, many in critical condition. Inevitably, these numbers will go up. The terrorists stormed communities and homes, kidnapping and murdering civilians, including women, children and the elderly.
More than 3,500 rockets were fired into southern and central Israel, putting millions of Israelis at risk. Fifty years and a day after the 1973 Yom Kippur War started, Israel once again has gone to battle. The enemies are different, but the hate that drove today’s offensive is the same that Israel confronted a half-century ago.
For American Jews, this is not some distant issue. It’s personal. Despite differing views on Israel’s future, including on proposed reforms to its judiciary, what remains is a deep and abiding love for Israel as a place, a nation, a homeland. It is also family, given how many American Jews have relatives who live in Israel.
My own cousins in southern Israel have been called up for reserve duty and are sitting outside of their home, guarding their community against attacks. That Israel is under siege is even sadder given how eager it has been to build bridges to peace and regional stability.
For decades, my organization, American Jewish Committee (AJC) has been traveling across the Middle East and the globe, working to build trust and cooperation between Israel and its neighbors.
I have had the good fortune of taking dozens of Miami tech entrepreneurs and community leaders to Israel with Project Interchange, an AJC institute, to learn from Israel’s thriving tech and innovation sector, including best practices that can be replicated in Miami. We let them make up their own minds about Israel.
Almost all have come away impressed and energized. Progress to lasting peace in the Middle East has been nothing short of remarkable. In fact, Ted Deutch, AJC’s CEO, is in Abu Dhabi this weekend to help celebrate the third anniversary of the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.
Such accords would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. But in Israel they are fast becoming the new normal. Regrettably, the threat posed by Hamas and Hezbollah is not new. And we cannot let it become normal. No country should be asked to tolerate a barrage of thousands of rockets or an invasion by militants bent on murder and mayhem.
As Israel mounts its response, and as Hamas operates within civilian populations using the residents of Gaza as human shields, the world should not confuse the arsonist with the firefighter.