April 15, 2024

Update from Jerusalem (Here for Good)

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

It’s quiet this morning, in downtown Jerusalem.

I came here on Friday for a series of meetings, along with my colleague Michal Werner, our Jewish Community Foundation’s Associate Executive Director. The intent had been to visit our partners in Erez, Ofakim, Merhavim, Arad, Rishon LeZion, and Hurfeish. Plus we have a whole series of meetings scheduled in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with government officials, partner agencies, program directors, and more. We’re a Jewish Federation with lots of partners and friends and we wanted to come to listen, to share, to hug, and to show our solidarity and support.

Obviously, the plan has changed somewhat. But as I’ve said to a bunch of Israeli friends since we ran for the bomb shelter at 1:40am, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be right now than here. Truly. I think what we do, as a Jewish Federation, matters. It means something, and we’re here for good (in both meanings of the word). So we’ll see what we can do over the next few days, and we’ll be grateful for the opportunities to meet and to be present.

Alongside the hundreds of messages of support and love and solidarity that I got on my social media feeds this morning were a whole bunch of haters, losers, Jew-haters, bigots, anti-Zionists, and violently disturbed crazies. I know what you’re thinking – how can you tell the difference between them? After about 40 comments (reported, deleted) celebrating Iran’s missile attacks and calling for Jewish death and destruction, I gave up trying to discern. And since October 7th I’ve pretty much given up arguing with them too.  I will say that some of the most vile comments reminded me of why we (should) teach Holocaust studies (more extensively), and of why we have a Jewish State at all.

A few initial thoughts (but I’ll try to write more from here in the next few days). 99% of the aerial threats were shot down. Zero of the close to 200 drones and zero of the 30 cruise missiles got through to Israeli territory at all. 25 of the 30 cruise missiles were shot down by Israel. Of 130 ballistic missiles, only a small number got through. US reports that America shot down around 70 aerial attacks using naval and aerial power. Meanwhile Hamas has rejected the hostage deal outline presented to it by the mediators of the negotiations, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said on Sunday morning on behalf of the Mossad. The update comes more than a week after the meeting of the relevant parties in Cairo. “The rejection of the proposal by the three mediators, which included significant flexibility on Israel’s part, proves that Hamas leader [Yahya] Sinwar is not interested in a humanitarian deal and in the return of the hostages,” the PMO stated.

From a political perspective, many Israeli commentators are pointing out that Iran’s reprisal was a strategic error. For months Israel looked increasingly isolated, the US looked uncertain (from Israel’s perspective), and Iran was projecting power through proxies whilst preserving detente with Arab states. Last night changed that equation and has probably ruined Iran’s deterrence: Iran opted for a big attack rather than a symbolic one, but a big attack that was calibrated not to do much damage. That won’t deter Israel; on the contrary, it will make Iran look weak and ineffective. It also brought Western and Arab states together in defense of Israel, and it pushed Gaza down the global agenda (this is bad on several levels for us too, for example in negotiations to release the hostages). Israel is clearly seen as the victim; talk of restricting arms sales will be set aside.

Remember too: Iranians are not Arabs; the language of Iran is Farsi not Arabic; Iran did not launch a war on Israel, the Islamic Republic did – The majority of the Iranian people hate the regime and many have died fighting against it.

One more thing for now: on the night of 17th January, 1991, I was a combat rescue medic in the Israeli Air Force. It was something like 3am, and I was standing on a mountain ridge in the desert, watching scud missiles from Iraq fly through the atmosphere on their way to hit Israel. And I remember feeling angry, above all, that we were being attacked – once again – and that we would now need to defend ourselves.

So, as Yogi Berra said, it’s déjà vu all over again.
But we’re not alone and we’re not powerless. We have each other. We have allies and friends. We have Israel.

From Jerusalem, the eternal capital city of the Jewish People, shavua tov (yoter) – may it be a better week ahead.