Antisemitism is a mirror for the failings of individuals, social structures and state systems. Tell me what you accuse the Jews of, I’ll tell you what you are guilty of ‘ (Vassily Grossman)

We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.’ (George Orwell)

The New York Times (NYT), otherwise known as The Grey Lady, has fallen into disrepute of late. Long respected for its somewhat stodgy prose, moral integrity and depth of reporting (with some dissenters of course), the Lady has been seen by an increasing number of critics as a fallen woman, catering to the worst instincts of a perverse movement in history. 

In so doing, ‘truth’, ‘rationality’ and the very idea of honest discourse has been thrown out of the window in favour of obscurantism, subjectivity, character assassination and suppression of dissent. The consequences have been immediate and disastrous. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the USA and other Western democracies themselves and at the interfaces between the West and its enemies.

There has been blow-back of all kinds, not all desirable, but helping to stem the tide of irrationality and polarisation to some extent. Now, unexpectedly, out of the ranks of the NYT itself has been published ‘What Would You Have Israel Do to Defend Itself?’:  one of the most comprehensive and realistic analyses of the Israeli-Hamas war in the popular press  I’ve encountered in my fairly wide reading on the subject.

The writer is David Brooks, a respected columnist for the NYT and a widely accomplished author in his own right. This article is based to a considerable extent on the careful analysis and research which went into the NYT piece (which I urge everyone with access to the NYT to read). But before I begin let’s set the stage.

Summary of historical backdrop

In two previous articles (Daily Friend 25 October 2023 and 20 Jan 2024) I outlined some of the geopolitical and ideological background to the present conflict. It’s important to bear this in mind since it is either omitted entirely or grossly distorted in the propaganda (PR) campaigns that accompany the conflict.

To recap, briefly: in recent centuries, much of the Middle East has been under Muslim rule. The once powerful Ottoman Empire came crashing down a century ago, setting off tsunamis within Islam and the region. Along with the discovery of oil and the presence of key shipping routes through the region, the ME has been thrust into global politics with a vengeance. 

The specific story we’re concerned with is the impact of increased Jewish migration into ancient Palestine, driven by the murderous anti-Semitism spreading through Europe and inspired by the vision of a Jewish home in the land of its birth 3000 years ago. In so doing an unstoppable force encountered an unyielding Arab-Muslim resistance to an increased Jewish presence into a region in which Islam had been the dominant presence for centuries.

While Arab resistance was not unexpected, whatever possibility for co-existence to gain a foothold was sunk by the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood. As outlined in numerous texts (here and here) it combined a fundamentalist Islam with the fascist and Stalinist ideologies of 20th century Europe. Subsequently it incorporated radical anti-colonial and authoritarian social justice movements arising in elite Western institutions. Caught between the European holocaust and violent Arab-Palestinian rejectionism, Israel was forged in blood and steel, which brings us to the present conflict.

The Hamas-Israeli war

So far we have looked at the historical backdrop, but the current conflict is unique in a number of ways. It started with an Israeli failure of intelligence and preparedness of stupendous proportions combined with an assault by Hamas of almost unparalleled barbarity in modern times. This was a calculated attempt to simultaneously humiliate and intimidate Israel and to force it to respond with massive force upon a completely exposed and unprotected Gazan population. 

Both the assault and the consequent suffering of the Gazan population were part and parcel of the Hamas doctrine of warfare from the beginning. The Jews (not simply Zionists or Israelis) were cast as sub-human devils to be utterly obliterated by Islamic jihad. Both the Hamas fighters and the Palestinian civilian population were Jihadists whose collective duty was to embrace death in pursuit of Islamic supremacy. 

This was spelt out unambiguously in the 1987 Hamas charter, constantly reiterated by prominent imams and leaders, and reinforced in the Palestinian school curriculum. The doctrine was embodied in the 500 to 700 km of tunnels built under the Gazan population, mosques, schools and hospitals, and repeated in the words and actions of the assault teams. 

In the words of Brook in his NYT article:

Daphne Richemond-Barak, the author of Underground Warfare,” writes in Foreign Policy magazine: Never in the history of tunnel warfare has a defender been able to spend months in such confined spaces. The digging itself, the innovative ways Hamas has made use of the tunnels and the groups survival underground for this long have been unprecedented.’

“’n other words, in this war, Hamas is often underground, the Israelis are often above ground, and Hamas seeks to position civilians directly between them… Hamass goal is to maximize the number of Palestinians who die and in that way build international pressure until Israel is forced to end the war before Hamas is wiped out. Hamass survival depends on support in the court of international opinion and on making this war as bloody as possible for civilians, until Israel relents.’

The death and suffering of Gazans was built into the Hamas strategy from the outset, based on deep understanding and preparation of the psychological terrain and on sophisticated appreciation of modern propaganda warfare. 

Firstly, Hamas strategists understood the hold anti-Jewish tropes had on the subconscious of Western populations. Jews had been in the thick of Christian rejectionism for almost two millennia and from even before that in the religious schisms within the Jewish religion itself. Such a long history of conflict, marginalisation, violence, and expulsion is not readily expunged, and can easily be resurrected by skilled propagandists. 

Secondly, Hamas also understood that the prominence of Jews in the last two centuries in prestigious intellectual, commercial, scientific and professional domains would inevitably arouse antagonism amongst both established elites and amongst the frustrated masses. 

Thirdly, the last few decades have seen a calculated and systematic campaign in socialist and neo-socialist circles to associate Jews and Israel with an oppressor-white patriarchal-colonial class. This has been partly backed by Middle East money (eg. Qatar and Saudi Arabia) and directed at the elite institutions of the West.

There is much more to be said along these lines, but this captures the main elements. We also need to mention the massive influx of Muslims into the West over the last four decades or so, and the spread of the Internet and social media  which greatly amplifies propaganda directed at identity and moral triggers. These techniques have been ruthlessly employed both before the present conflict broke out and immediately after the 7 October assault. 

This PR campaign combined with rampaging mobs soon led to the capitulation of most of the Western media and political establishment. In the understated words of David Brooks:

Global public opinion is moving decisively against Israel. The key shift is in Washington. Historically pro-Israeli Democrats like Biden and Senator Chuck Schumer are now pounding the current Israeli government with criticism. Biden wants Israel to call off its invasion of the final Hamas strongholds in the south. Israel is now risking a rupture with its closest ally and its only reliable friend on the U.N. Security Council…

‘Hamass strategy is pure evil, but it is based on an understanding of how the events on the ground will play out in the political world. The key weakness of the Israeli strategy has always been that it is aimed at defeating Hamas militarily without addressing Palestinian grievances and without paying enough attention to the wider consequences.’

In my view this is partly true but unbalanced. Palestinian grievances have been ‘neglected’ largely because their rejectionist stance threatened the very existence of Israel. The Palestinian position was based on the “three No’s” of the Khartoum Arab League Summit in 1967: ‘No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel’. Such a negotiating strategy over the next half century left Israel resigned to simply managing, but not solving, an apparently intractable problem.

What Brooks does not adequately capture in his otherwise excellent essay, is the sheer expediency of the Western establishment. But for the hardihood of the Israeli people faced with an existential threat, the broad support of Diaspora Jewry and the brave outspoken voices of some Western allies, Israel would have found herself in desperate straits. I hope that those who have stood up against the brutal assault on Israel by world public opinion will be recognised amongst the Righteous at Yad Vashem one day.

To summarise, the thrust of Brooks’s essay: 

So where are we? Im left with the tragic conclusion that there is no magical alternative military strategy. As Cohen wrote in Foreign Policy: If the international community wants Israel to change strategies in Gaza, then it should offer a viable alternative strategy to Israels announced goal of destroying Hamas in the strip. And right now, that alternate strategy simply does not exist.’…

‘Maybe in the next few years they (Israel and Palestine) will do some difficult rethinking, and a new vision of the future will come into view. But that can happen only after Hamas is fully defeated as a military and governing force.’

That is a brave thing to write in the NYT (and be published) in this day and age. But Brooks also holds Israel partly responsible for the “humanitarian disaster” in Gaza and feels that it has not done enough to prevent it. Is that true and fair?

The humanitarian crisis

That the Gazans have suffered greatly in the last 5-6 months is indisputable.  But at the same time, we must be careful not to be manipulated by people who care nothing for Gazans but hate Jews and Israelis with a passion. So let’s look at this more carefully while acknowledging that accurate and unbiased data are difficult to come by.

Firstly, propagandists have for decades been touting Gazan suffering, which crumbles on closer inspection. First, and most obviously, Hamas has been exploiting and diverting aid for the purposes of waging an exterminationist war against Israel ever since it came to power in 2005-7. Everyone knows that, otherwise how could it have built its grotesque system of tunnels and acquired weapons?  Does the world expect Israel to facilitate its own extinction?

But at the same time, the propaganda machine grossly exaggerated and distorted the extent of Gazan deprivation prior to 7 October. In actual fact, Gazan quality of life statistics, and morbidity and mortality figures are significantly better than South Africa’s. Paul Morland in the Spectator spells it out:

The sheer growth of Gaza’s population tells an eloquent story. In 1967, when Israel occupied the Strip, its population was slightly below 400,000. By the eve of the current conflict it had risen five-fold. Really fast population growth occurs when a society gets improved healthcare and rising access to food and other resources.
   Gaza’s golden opportunity came after the Israelis arrived in 1967, accelerating the flow of many benefits of modernity. In the mid-1960s, around one baby in ten died in the Palestinian territories before he or she reached the age of one; by the late 2010s, this had fallen well over 80% to a level similar to other Arab countries such as Jordan and Egypt and equivalent to the level the UK reached in the early 1970s.
   ‘At 75 years, life expectancy in Gaza was better than experienced by several U.S. states. Males in Glasgow live only a few months longer than males in Gaza. By 2020, the average Palestinian in the West Bank and Gaza was living a whole two decades longer than had been the case when the Israelis had conquered the Strip in 1967.
    Illiteracy has been more or less banished and the share of those going to university has approached 50%; before 1967, neither the West Bank nor Gaza had a single fully-fledged university. Better-educated people are invariably better able to keep themselves and their offspring alive, which accounts in large part for the rising life expectancy.
    So, too, does the general availability of food in Gaza which, despite the propagandistic claims of Hamas, was plentiful before it instigated the current war. There were more than four overweight children in the territories for each underweight one. Beach resorts, five-star hotels and luxury-car dealerships graced Gaza prior to the present conflict. Poverty had more to do with the welfare and redistributive policies of the Hamas regime rather than any restrictions on the import of goods by Israel or Egypt.’

This took place even while Hamas was diverting large amounts of aid to preparation for war. Hamas had the chance to create a Singapore on the shores of the Mediterranean and to surpass Gaza’s past glories, but it chose to destroy Israel instead.  

And now, is the situation in Gaza as dire as depicted in much of the media in a torrent of images, videos and assertions of mass famine and genocide? Clearly there has been massive destruction of physical infrastructure. And equally undeniable has been the physical displacement of people, interruption of food supply and disruption of normal life. All this is tragic, but it is a calculated and unavoidable consequence of Hamas strategy which presented Israel with a choice between its own extermination and the destruction of the enemy. Has there been a case in history in which a nation has chosen suicide rather than destroying its enemy?

But it still begs the question whether the humanitarian disaster has been exaggerated for propaganda purposes. It’s difficult to access reliable, unbiased sources, and a double standard is baked into the question itself. Since when does a threatened country assume responsibility for the welfare of its enemy?

A glance at the 20th century World Wars in Europe and in numerous conflicts across the MENA region and elsewhere reveal equal or even greater destruction than suffered by Gazans despite the fact that civilian suffering was part of the Hamas strategy. As pointed out by John Spencer and Richard Kemp, both well-versed in the special problems posed by urban warfare, Israel has been unique in limiting civilian casualties. Spencer, as reported by Brooks, pointed out:

…Israel has done far more to protect civilians than the United States did in Afghanistan and Iraq. Spencer reports that Israel has warned civilians when and where it is about to begin operations and published an online map showing which areas to leave. It has sent out millions of pamphlets, texts and recorded calls warning civilians of coming operations. It has conducted four-hour daily pauses to allow civilians to leave combat areas. It has dropped speakers that blast instructions about when to leave and where to go. These measures, Spencer told me, have telegraphed where the I.D.F. is going to move next and have prolonged the war, to be honest”.’

Also open to debate is the responsibility of the Gazan population itself. Multiple polls reveal that support for Hamas runs at around 80% or more. Hamas civilians accompanied Hamas fighters into Israel on 7 October, and participated in the capture of hostages and the ransacking of the Jewish settlements.. The hostages including woman and toddlers were spat upon and mocked on entry into Gaza. The Gazans of 2005 voted Hamas into power it the first place. 

Granted it is not good for one’s health to openly oppose Hamas in Gaza, and the population, especially the youth, has been subjected to constant brainwashing.  Nevertheless, it is immoral to demand Israel to carry sole responsibility for the welfare of an enemy who have acquiesced in their role as human shields for the Jihadist programme. 

What is needed now is a coordinated campaign to stave off famine while ensuring the destruction of Hamas as a malign force in the region. It is essential to send a clear message to Iran and its proxies that the sacrifice of Palestinian Arabs as a  means of destroying Israel is not a viable strategy.


The Hamas-Israeli war is set in a global theatre in which the Islamist axis in the ME, of which Hamas is an integral part, is allied with the authoritarian opponents of the Western nations. Immediately following the 7 October assault, Western nations rallied to Israel’s side in a conspicuous display of solidarity with its ally. But that initial support rapidly dissolved in the face of a calculated propaganda campaign and the violence of activist mobs in Western capitals. 

In no time the Western leaders were equivocating, and now have joined Israel’s  enemies in blackmail and extortion. The first to join the mob was the legacy media, so-called, which was hardly unexpected. But soon after, Western leaders, and Biden especially, claimed that public opinion was firmly against Israel. They demand that Israel should stop or attenuate its military efforts to incapacitate Hamas while it takes care of the humanitarian needs of its enemies and prepares the ground for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Such abject capitulation and blackmail will not have escaped the scrutiny of friends and opponents alike. Nor is there good evidence that the activist mobs represent public opinion. On the contrary, in a recent Harvard-CAPS-Harris pollEighty percent of all respondents also said they support Israel more over Hamas, including 57% among those aged 18-24, about 70% for those aged 25-44, 80% of 45-54 year olds, 90% of those 54-65, and 93% of those over 65’

These are remarkable figures and one wonders why Biden feels that hobbling Israel will increase his electoral chances in November. What might be at work, however, includes activists within the Democratic Party or Muslim partisans in key states like Michigan bringing pressure to bear on Biden, whose electoral chances in November hang in the balance. 

Not surprisingly, however, a recent Gallup poll does show a softening of support for Israel amongst the youth and supporters of the Democratic Party, especially, in the face of relentless anti-Israel propaganda and images of the destructiveness of war. Europe is more confused and diverse. Figures from Oct–Dec show split opinions varying from country to country but probably labile, subject to news reports of casualties and suffering.  

These somewhat contradictory data reflect a powerful activist base in democratic countries pursuing a sophisticated propaganda campaign in the face of a divided and weak Western leadership. This did not start with the Hamas-Israeli war, but reflects trends in Western society over decades. The susceptibility of even Western democratic populations to mass propaganda is a threat to civilisation.

Summing Up

The conflict in the Middle East should be a wake-up call, not only to Jews, Israelis and Muslims but to the world. It demonstrates that the clash of cultures, ideologies, partisan ethnic passions and power-hungry extreme personalities can shatter the veneer of civilisation. It also demonstrates both the power of propaganda and, conversely, the capacity of ordinary people to keep their sanity. It reinforces the fact that the world is an entangled web and that an injury to one can easily become an injury to all. 

For myself and other allies, even critical allies, of Israel, the morality of the current conflict is clear. Hamas is a fanatical, necrophilic organisation which is a mortal danger to Israel and to Palestinians alike. The Islamist web from which it springs is a throwback to a violent age and is a threat to Muslims as well as to the rest of the world. The West has shown profound weakness and confusion in response to this challenge.  This reflects a deeper malaise within Western democracies that demands attention.

The situation requires clarity and determination. Hamas must be decisively defeated (see here). Blame for the human suffering is theirs alone. Eventually a way must be found around the fanatical extremists and opportunists preventing Palestinians from moving past the past into a future of reconciliation and cooperation. 

In 50 years, the Middle East can be a blasted desert or a thriving economic and civilised hub. And, what goes for the ME is true everywhere. 


After completion I sent a draft of this article to some thoughtful and knowledgeable friends for critical comment. Their response induced me to write this brief Coda. 

In preparing this article I’ve been conscious throughout I’m scratching the surface of much deeper issues. This is inevitable in almost all writing and, of course, especially for a general audience. Where one draws the line is always a trade-off. 

Beyond the partisan dimensions of the conflict, the Hamas-Israeli war is key to understanding the threats which face Western civilisation and humanity more broadly. Above all we must not let lies and violence win the day. There is no simple path to the truth but common sense: an acquired skill and sign of maturity. Be respectful of the facts and be careful with your sources. Be prepared to change your opinion but beware of veering with every shift in the wind. Inform yourself!! 

Lastly, here is a list sent to me by a friend of what I had missed. All true and so I pass it on to you the reader as sent to me, but with one comment included. 

  • No mention of the hostages held by Hamas – flaunting the ruling of the ICJ.
  • No evidence provided that Gazans are starving (My comment: It’s difficult to sift through the evidence but, if true, it’s due to deliberate Hamas strategy and self-preservation, UN ineptitude and criminal elements in Gaza.)
  • No mention of sales of humanitarian food parcels at bloated prices in Gazan markets 
  • No mention of the flawed ruling of the ICJ 
  • No mention of the obscene numbers of terrorist prisoners who Hamas want released in exchange for each hostage – blackmail as their normal business 
  • No outcry about the above from wealthy privileged exploitative countries.

[Photo: by István Kopeczny from Pixabay]

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

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Dr Mike Berger has a BSc and MBBCh from the University of the Witwatersrand, and a PhD in Biochemistry from Mayo Clinic/University of Minnesota in the United States. He was a Senior Lecturer-Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town, and latterly Professor and Head of Chemical Pathology at the University of Natal Medical School. He is a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa. In retirement, he has pursued Interests in neuroscience, evolutionary psychology and aligned disciplines in relation to politics and human collective behaviour. He has published extensively in South African popular media. Other interests and hobbies include writing, photography, cycling, history and literature.