Hungarian Conservative

The Political Implications of 7 October 2023

Post-colonial guilt trip? Pro-Palestinian protesters gather in London to protest the siege of Gaza, London, UK
Post-colonial guilt trip? Pro-Palestinian protesters gather in London to protest the siege of Gaza, London, UK
‘We must defeat, not pacify, the Palestinian dream of annihilating Israel. Defeat, not come to terms with nor even deter. But this may well turn out to be a historical turning point of history beyond Israel because it is a wake-up call for the West in general. The West has lost its immune system in a multicultural haze that has left it unable to see differences.’

This article was published in Vol. 3 No. 4 of our print edition.

Israeli Historian Gadi Taub Interviewed by David Martin Jones

Israeli historian, author, screenwriter, and political commentator, Gadi Taub is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Public Policy and the Department of Communications at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The prominent historian was interviewed for the Hungarian Conservative by David Martin Jones, Research Director at the Danube Institute.


What is the mood in Israel after the shocking events of 7 October and the intention of the Israeli government to launch an invasion to remove the terrorist group, Hamas, from the Gaza Strip?

I think the first thing to say is that we have been jolted back out of globalist Lala Land and back into history. We in the West have been deluding ourselves about many things, and one of them is that everyone is like us. In the sense, that is, that everybody in the end has the same view of life and is motivated by the same desires. So Israel assumed for a long time that Hamas could be tamed because—as Obama and US Democrats had lectured us—Palestinians, too, want a good life for their children. They want an education and sound employment, and we share that vision and we thought that enough aid, enough patience, and enough care for the well-being of Palestinians, which meant giving them quite a bit of Qatari money, would have them deterred because they would not easily give up what they have. Apparently, we were gravely mistaken, as this attack showed. Many Palestinians are willing to make huge sacrifices to fulfil the commandments of the Muslim Brotherhood that legitimates murdering Jews. I think the October orgy of violence and its reception in Gaza has convincingly demonstrated that. And I do not want to subject your listeners to the descriptions of the unbelievable human horrors they inflicted. But it turns out that we completely misunderstood our neighbours.

Dr Gadi Taub speaking at CPAC Hungary on 12 May 2023. PHOTO: Zoltán Máthé/MTI

I think that is right. For a long time, we have lived with this progressive delusion that the world is following a happy course towards universal human rights, progressive democracy, and some form of secularism. We consistently ignored what Islamists have been saying since at least 2001, and long before that, that they think we are infidels. We live in jahaliyya, a state of unregenerate ignorance, and we deserve whatever we get in terms of retribution. Hamas, it seems, paid close attention to what Islamic State did, and the shock their barbarism had upon a Western audience. Do you think this serves as an incentive to manage savagery even more brutally?

Yes. And you know, it is the Fukuyama paradigm that mutated and then collapsed because Fukuyama thought we would all be living in liberal democracies. But then progressivism evolved into a globalist human right, non-democratic regime, and the thinker who realized what was happening (and I think he is the most seriously underrated thinker in this first quarter of the twenty-first century) is John Fonte, who laid out and understood what we did not understand. So I think that this is not just a turning point in Israeli history or in Jewish history. It may well be a turning point in global history as well. The Jewish aspect is probably the most obvious. Israel was founded on the idea of ‘never again’ and by never again we did not mean that Jews will no longer die violent deaths. We were ready to die violent deaths because conflict is ongoing. We meant that we would not die on our knees begging. We would die as a sovereign people with our own military and our own weapons in our hands. I quoted in one piece I wrote an Israeli socialist historian. He was a child from the ghetto and he remembered Jews being hunted in the streets. And then, he said, ‘I saw my friends killed in wars. Some of them were under my command. And I thought to myself that they died like human beings, not like animals hunted in the street’. This was the promise of Israel. This is why the recent shock is extreme. And I think it changed our existential sense of reality in a very deep sense. It reminded us that ‘never again’ is not a goal arrived at, but a state that must be constantly maintained because it can be lost. We cannot bury the hatchet. Not in this region, and we must defeat, not pacify, the Palestinian dream of annihilating Israel. Defeat, not come to terms with nor even deter.

But this may well turn out to be a historical turning point of history beyond Israel because it is a wake-up call for the West in general. The West has lost its immune system in a multicultural haze that has left it unable to see differences. And we have been living with the Obama view of the Middle East, where these people preach against racism all the time, but they cannot identify actual virulent racism when they see it. Nor do they see their own biases. The soft bigotry of low expectations leads them not to take the views of indigenous peoples seriously. They look at Iran and they do not take them seriously. They hear them swearing death to Jews, Americans, the West, and infidels, but they keep dismissing it as if these people cannot possibly mean what they say.

This is the point. It is very obvious that the Islamists do say what they intend to do. You know, it is not rocket science to find out what their ideological intentions or their religious intentions are. But consistently, when you listen to the Western media, particularly what passes for BBC News these days, it is an immediate descent into moral equivalence. Hamas, the BBC asserts, did what it did not because they want to murder Jews because they think they are infidels and need to be wiped from the face of the earth, but because they were acting for the victims of the deprivation that Israel had imposed upon the Palestinian people. They had to ‘resist’ not for religious or ideological motives, but from their need to resist their victimization and because they had no alternative. This perspective not only gives credence to this form of second order motivation, it also assumes the media must be ‘neutral’ in presenting the news, which seems to mean accepting whatever Hamas says is going on in Gaza is absolutely accurate. This seems to me delusional and unsustainable.

Yes, because it is a ritual of purification. It is a narcissistic frame of mind and also let me point out it is a consoling frame of mind because if you think that all this violence that these victimized others commit is all your fault, then it is up to you to fix it. Then it is fixable. Then everything is OK. But it is not OK. We are going to have to smash Hamas. Nothing short of that will do because now the population centres of the Western Negev, which we call the envelope of Gaza, the surrounding area of Gaza, cannot be repopulated. If you think that beyond the fence are people who are willing to dismember children alive in front of their parents, it is not something that any state could tolerate. Progressives are, in a sense, decadent, as you say, and promote a perverse form of pacifism. They are not willing to admit that force can be moral and that you cannot be moral without using force. This is, you know, Ben Gurion, who was the founding father of Israel, who bequeathed us the sense that it is immoral to remain weak because if you are weak you cannot do good in the world and we have to contest this kitschy, pseudo-ethical progressive thinking, which assumes that when you are a complete victim, then you are completely innocent and thus moral, and then everything you do is fine and understandable.

‘We in the West have been deluding ourselves about many things, and one of them is that everyone is like us’

So one of the things that seems to have happened in the West is that the idea of a secular end of history thinking allied with this cult of the innocent victim and therefore ‘anything he does is probably our fault’ has led to a moral collapse. And the mainstream news services, whether it is CNN or the BBC, seem to have lost all moral coordination on this, and not even moral coordination, just basic, professional, journalistic standards. For instance, the recent alleged Israeli rocket attack on a Gaza hospital, which in fact was totally inaccurate. The rocket actually hit a car park and was fired not from Israel but from Gaza by Islamic Jihad. But BBC reporters did not even bother to fact check, so that not only is the West morally compromised, basic standards of journalism seem to have been abandoned in the pursuit of this sort of guilt-tripping narcissism.

Exactly, because it is more important to indulge in moral grandstanding than it is to do good in the world. I have encountered this in many forms. MEMRI, the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute, has compiled a report about radical Islam in mosques in North America. Not in the Middle East but in North America, in the United States and Canada. Almost nobody is willing to touch the report because 95 per cent of it demonstrates widespread anti-Semitism, some of it rabid, espoused in these mosques, and includes calls to murder Jews. And Jewish American communities will not touch it because people are so afraid to be called Islamophobic that they will not say the simple truth. I think it was Andrew McCarthy who remarked that Islamophobia is not really a phobia. It was a term invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to discourage any criticism of Sharia supremacist ideology, and that is what it is. People are so afraid in polite society that they have lost the instinct to protect their own communities. These people should have warned their flock that danger is looming on the horizon and they are doing nothing. And you know, the Obama administration did not allow you to blame ‘radical Islam’ for any violence it had committed; you had to use the euphemism ‘radical extremism’.

Yes, that is right. The idea that they were even radical is a misuse of the term ‘radicalism’ because you are really dealing with fanaticism, which is a very different source of motivation. So, the issue that you are coming to is one of the problems that Israel has, which is its dependence on the US and the way that—particularly under the Obama and Biden administrations—foreign policy there was an egregious opening to Iran. And Iran and Hezbollah are not going away, even if Hamas is completely emasculated.

That is indeed the larger problem and destroying Hamas cannot solve it. Hezbollah is the greater threat and beyond it, the real question is how to block Iran’s bid for regional hegemony. This goes beyond even its nuclear policy. A real victory of the forces of peace would begin with the US reversing its appeasement policy towards Iran. I have been told that I see this too bleakly, but in my view, President Biden’s rapid response to 7 October, and his, and Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s visit to Israel was not just an act of friendship, although it was that too. The urgency was at least also motivated by the need to prevent the conflict from spreading north, to Hezbollah, Iran’s strongest proxy in our direct neighbourhood, because that would have demonstrated to the world what a disaster the appeasement of Iran was. It would have most probably forced Biden to abandon Obama’s signature foreign policy ‘achievement’. So note what they have been doing. They have first of all refused to say that Iran is involved, although we have clear and obvious signs that Iran was involved, or had anything to do with the attack, although it clearly does. They have kept silent about this in order not to have it reflect on their Iran policy. And where is the link that connects Hamas and Iran? It is in the middle with Hezbollah, which is directly connected to Iran because they are a Shiite community in Lebanon, right on our border. So what the US did immediately after 7 October was to try to deter Hezbollah from joining the war. But here is where our interests and those of the US also diverge: the US Iran policy. Preventing Hezbollah from joining the war was also designed to save Biden’s appeasement of Iran from collapse. And that is not a good thing.

A memorial in support of the Israeli hostages abducted by Hamas on 7 October 2023 in Tel Aviv, Israel. PHOTO: Shutterstock

If Iran did not have the money and the political wiggle room that the Biden administration gave it, Hamas would have neither the materiel nor the confidence to wage such an attack on Israel. But now we have a temporary convergence of interests because the Americans have sent an aircraft carrier to deter Hezbollah in the north because they do not want this to mushroom into a full-blown conflict which may then include Iran, which would mean in an election year having to admit that their Iran policy has set the region on fire. In fact, they did not come here only to rescue Israel, as so many Americans and Israelis seem to believe. They came here to save their Iran policy too, and it is a shame that within these parameters, they forced us to allow so-called humanitarian aid into Gaza while Hamas are still holding our hostages. The Israeli position originally was no water until you return the hostages. If we loosen the siege, we are losing one of the most important levers of Hamas. And ultimately, Israel will have to strike at Hezbollah too. We cannot allow a force that much larger than Hamas on our northern borders.

‘But this may well turn out to be a historical turning point of history beyond Israel, because it is a wake-up call for the West in general’

Then there were also these repeated remarks you alluded to, about the rules of war, when you said that the media accepted the Hamas version accusing us of killing civilians. But we do not target civilians. In fact, according to the internationally accepted rules of war, these civilian deaths are a result of their war crimes, not ours. Hiding your weapons and combatants among civilians is a war crime, and doing so does not prevent the other side from waging war. The same rules allow you to attack any military target and if you hit civilians because they are human shields then that blood should be on Hamas’s hands. But we are getting warnings first from Biden, then from Obama, that the United States will not tolerate civilian casualties. They do not remember what they did in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the capital of ISIS, which was razed to the ground, costing the lives of something like 30,000 civilians. So, after 2,000 civilians here who Hamas deliberately sacrificed, Israel is getting reprimanded. So what do you do? What is the lesson these moral lectures are trying to teach us? That Hamas can savagely and intentionally murder any civilian that they want, torture them, rape them, dismember them, burn them alive, and then, if they, themselves hide among civilians they are immune? No, that is unacceptable.

You put that very well, but it seems that the critical perspective on the Israeli response is not going away. You know, you can trace it back to the Salman Rushdie case, when the whole idea of Islamophobia kicked off in the UK. It continued with the Prophet Mohammed cartoons in Denmark, and the Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015, and the progressive insistence that you have to understand the motives for the violence. That it is to do with victimization and that it is due to the insult to the Prophet, and you should be much more respectful to Islamic grievances, grievance settlement, and Islamic modes of behaviour. This is now endemic in the UK, for instance. You talk about mosques in the United States and Canada, but I suspect the rhetoric is far worse in Birmingham and in Finchley Park in London, where al-Qaeda and the Islamic State had bases, and also in London, and more generally wherever Hizb ut-Tahrir, the so-called non-violent wing of radical Islamism, is allowed to freely advocate the destruction of Jews and Israel, even though they say, well, we do not mean that in a literal sense. In fact, I think one of the Hamas leaders lives in a council house in London, but not under arrest, not under interdiction, and the Palestinian movement is kind of orchestrated, not out of the Gaza Strip, but increasingly out of London. And this seems to me to be part of our problem, that the West, as you said at the beginning, has lost its moral compass. But we seem to be going further down the road that we thought we had ended when Islamic State was defeated. What we see now is that nothing much has changed and all those jihadist elements are still around, waiting for the next incident that can create the basis for the apocalyptic conflict between Islam and the infidel.

I was most worried when the possibility seemed real that Jeremy Corbyn would be elected. I am not an expert on British culture, though you can say I am a dilettante Anglophile. Partly that is just a coincidence—I spent a year in Britain when I was a child because my father had a sabbatical, and ever since, I have liked British sweets. I eat Marmite, which is a rarity among the non-British. Then there was my father’s enduring interest in World War II that made Churchill a childhood hero for me, and that stayed because I still consider him the single most admirable statesman of all times. But all this is hardly enough to understand how the British spirit of liberty and its instinct for decency has decayed so abruptly. I have got just guesses and impressions to go by. And my impression is that because in World War II, Britain did not take part in the actual, direct extermination of Jews, and was not as complicit in anti-Semitism as some countries were, and it consistently stood against the Nazis, progressive Brits feel less guilty about criticizing Zionism. Instead, there is a feeling of guilt about colonialism. So these two together make for a toxic brew where you can disguise your anticolonial views as anti-Zionism, and therefore indulge your anti-Semitism in a way that seems impeccably moral. This is an abhorrent combination that sits well with one of the ugliest signs of the times, namely the way that the advocacy of human rights has become a code, a discourse structure, and the new vehicle for anti-Semitism. Because when you look at so many organizations that claim to be working for human rights, you only have to scratch the surface to find anti-Semitism: a double standard crafted specifically to condemn the Jewish state as uniquely bloodthirsty.

There was an amazing documentary series made by an Israeli NGO named Ad Kan (roughly translated: Enough). The series was called The Plant (or perhaps a less literal and more accurate translation should be The Mole). They planted this sweet Scandinavian girl with a hidden camera in a ‘human rights’ NGO—ISM (International Solidarity Movement). ISM arranged a flotilla to ‘break the siege of Gaza’ in which this girl took part. But as she went deeper into this organization it turned out that their finances came directly from Hamas. These people speak in the name of human rights but they are a front organization for the very murderers who committed the October 7 atrocities. So much for ‘human rights’. And you can see this in a less grotesque way in how these organizations operate on the international stage: they are consistently doing the exact opposite of what human rights should mean, that is, they practise double standards. Not all humans are the same for them because they have one standard for Jews and another for the so-called victims of oppression. And they formulate their blood libels about how Jews are bloodthirsty and kill children in the language of the Goldstone Report.

It is very interesting that that sort of slippage from human rights into human wrongs has become so abundantly evident. I suppose that part of the problem also is that along with NGOs, the media has a lot of culpability in all this and the way in which the mainstream media has changed. I never remember BBC reportage being so inept, mediocre, and slanted. But one of the things about both BBC and CNN coverage is that they get huge access to the Gaza Strip, so they will perpetually be putting out images of children and women screaming and suffering, and always attributing the suffering to Israel, not to Hamas. I mean, how can Israel or those who are obviously sympathetic to what Israel is standing for do anything about this?

This is a very thorny question, and I do not have a proven recipe to solve it. But my sense is that once you get into the apology game you are in trouble, and Israel has been trying to act far more scrupulously than international law permits, which has virtues but also a downside. Many Israelis are furious at our politicians for risking the lives of our own soldiers who go out of their way to protect the people that Hamas is cynically using as human shields. Then there is also the position of permanent apology—a path that once you start on, you are often savaged because then the issue never goes away. I do not know what would have happened if in the immediate aftermath of the slaughter of 1,400 Jews Israel had bombed Gaza mercilessly, Bomber Harris style. People may have still been in the zone where they would understand a wild reaction. But if you are both moral and calculated, and your adversary knows you are both moral and calculated—what is more, your adversary is not committed to any moral norm, and also indifferent to the lives of its own citizenry—then you are in a more complicated position. Richard Nixon had an argument that he called the madman theory. He said the other side needs to think that you are unpredictable and wild, and therefore the other side would be put on notice. We are not putting the other side on notice. To this day, we are distributing leaflets before we bomb. So what we can still do is to be methodically persistent. Slowly, and thoroughly exacting such a price as would make others think twice before attacking us. Deterrence is not retaliating proportionally. It is about retaliating disproportionally. So clearly disproportionally that your adversary will not easily try you again.

I understand that but it seems to me that the madman theory works if you are a superpower, but also, if you consider the power you confront, in the US case Russia or China. You do not have the same kind of Western sympathy for whatever Nixon was doing in the Cold War. In the case of Israel, you have the problem that you have got a Western constituency, particularly an elite in the universities and in the mainstream media, that would immediately say the madman theory just shows how bad and mad Israel is. I am not sure whether the madman theory sells. We are in an information war, and unless you know how to control the information and how the information is managed and presented…this is now central to how you conduct this new kind of war.

I do not have a good answer to that. And I have been in the information war for a quarter of a century since it dawned on me that what was then called ‘post-Zionism’, the local version of postcolonial theory, was going to undermine the things that we have talked about—our moral compass, and our confidence in the basic justice of Zionism, which is the right of the Jewish people to be, as our Declaration of Independence says, like all peoples, master of its own fate in their own sovereign state. Yet still, even a small country can apply the madman theory in measured doses, as contradictory as that may sound. It can, for example, cause a whole lot of embarrassment or even trouble to a superpower in our region. So—I am not recommending this, just noting the possibility—if Israel hints that it could drag the region into a war, and drag its allies into it too, if you think of Israel as slightly mad, or mad with anger, then the bluff can be more effective. And, of course, if God forbid, a second holocaust becomes imminent then Israel may indeed be pushed to extremes.

But under normal circumstances you are right. We cannot just ignore the information war, and we have to fight it in the media as well as in academia. You can see how far it has gone now when the President of Harvard University protects the right of students to support murderous Hamas. This is a Nazi ideology. Like Nazism, it is focused on killing Jews as an ideological commitment. And this goes under freedom of speech protection. A MAGA demonstration would be kicked off campus because Donald Trump is unacceptable but Hamas head Yahya Sinwar is not. The big question is whether this post-colonial guilt trip will collapse before the West does or itself will collapse the West.

Absolutely, I think that is a crucial issue. So then if we could just sum up, what do you think the West can do going forward to try and give Israel the support that it needs in this chilling environment?

I think we have a chance with this war to make the point that moral relativism ends with this: giving aid and comfort to people who do not just abuse your tolerance, but also burn gays, treat women like chattels, finally come back to dismember your children alive in front of their parents. You cannot, in the name of liberalism, give up your own standards. Multiculturalism as a political framework of reference makes no sense. It is a contradiction in terms. Societies need a shared culture to hold them together, and they must be ready to defend their culture and their values. If your conclusion from the Charlie Hebdo episode is new laws against blasphemy instead of new laws protecting the freedom of religion and stricter laws against violence and terrorism, then you are in deep trouble. I think this war and these horrors are an opportunity to look at this dangerous regime in Iran, the retreat of the West from the Middle East, and the idea that the US can de-escalate tension by appeasing Iran, and remember: appeasing Nazism did not work. Iran may soon have a nuclear weapon. I believe this is not going to be an Israeli problem alone because there will be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and that will affect everybody. Europe is not that far and America is not that far either. The world is small. So I am hoping that we would wake up from the idea that when there is such a rogue state with a racist murderous ideology, we can somehow make do with containing it. We cannot. We need to neuter its power.

‘We must defeat, not pacify, the Palestinian dream of annihilating Israel. Defeat, not come to terms with nor even deter. But this may well turn out to be a historical turning point of history beyond Israel because it is a wake-up call for the West in general. The West has lost its immune system in a multicultural haze that has left it unable to see differences.’