OpinionOctober 7

American Jewish leaders’ inexcusable failure

Like the Israelis, they were inexcusably caught unprepared for the predictable fallout after Oct. 7.

A pro-Palestinian rally in Washington, D.C., one day after the terrorist attacks by Hamas in southern Israel, Oct. 8, 2023. Credit: Ted Eytan via Wikimedia Commons.
A pro-Palestinian rally in Washington, D.C., one day after the terrorist attacks by Hamas in southern Israel, Oct. 8, 2023. Credit: Ted Eytan via Wikimedia Commons.
Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

We all know that Israeli intelligence failed the people on Oct. 7, and most officials have acknowledged their responsibility. After the war, an investigation will determine what happened and who is culpable. The officials with integrity will resign; others should be forced out.

Here in the United States, there was no reason to expect that Jewish communal leaders would know any more about Hamas’s intentions on Oct. 7; nevertheless, like the Israelis, they were inexcusably caught unprepared for the predictable fallout. This may have been the greatest failure of Jewish leadership in history. Yes, even worse than during the Holocaust when no one could have imagined the Final Solution.

It’s unlikely that there will be an investigation here or that any Jewish leaders will own up to their responsibility; nevertheless, their actions should be scrutinized, and many should either resign or be fired.

Yes. J’accuse.

In December, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Jewish Federations of North America, Anti-Defamation League, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and the American Jewish Committee announced the 10/7 Project to promote “continued bipartisan support for Israel by pushing for accurate and complete coverage of the Israel-Hamas war.”

This is precisely the initiative the Jewish community needed—on Oct. 6. Incredibly, it took 60 days after the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust for Jewish leaders to recognize the need to work together to respond to what by then had become a tsunami of antisemitism on college campuses, and media coverage of the conflict had turned from sympathy for the victims to a virtual pogrom.

Israel’s detractors had a full two months to shape the narrative. By the time the 10/7 Project began, it was too late. It is still needed to fight against the disinformation campaign waged by Hamas and its allies, and the media’s abandonment of journalistic standards in its one-sided coverage, but it is a Sisyphean task.

On what do I base my accusation?

In 2005, I made a presentation to a pro-Israel organization where I argued the community needed to be prepared in advance to address issues that could arise in the future. No. 2 on my list of the top 10 issues for the future was “The IDF re-enters the PA.” Here’s what I wrote:

Once Israel redeploys from Gaza, the world is going to expect Israel to stay out and will inevitably protest if it crosses the frontier. Given the Palestinian Authority’s record to date and the radicals’ expressions of their continued commitment to the armed struggle, it Is likely that Israel will be impelled to either take preemptive or retaliatory action against Palestinians operating in Gaza or other territories it may evacuate. A strong case needs to be made in advance to explain the need to retain the right to self-defense.

In subsequent years, I revised my top 10 list and “Reoccupy Gaza” rose to the top. Other concerns included Hezbollah taking over Lebanon, Israel attacking Iran and Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

In 2008, I circulated a paper: “War Gaming: The Public Relations Front,” and argued that, like the Israeli Ministry of Defense or Pentagon, Israel’s supporters needed to prepare for future engagements. Some may never occur, and the plans stay in a drawer, but others are more predictable. I outlined, for example, the issues likely to arise from a conflict with Hamas and argued that we needed answers to questions about civilian casualties, proportionality and humanitarian crises.

I noted that the PR strategy must be prepared assuming the media’s bias. Based on prior experience, the media could be expected to:

  • Ignore Israeli casualties and focus on Arab victims.
  • Accept fabricated Arab statistics.
  • Interview unreliable Arab sources.
  • Air stories without researching their accuracy.
  • Focus on dramatic photos and stories without context.
  • Use “fixers” with political agendas.

Some of the charges that could be expected to be lodged against Israel included:

  • Disproportionality.
  • Interference with the freedom of movement of Palestinians.
  • Provoking a refugee crisis.
  • Denying health care to those in need.

Does any of this sound familiar?

We had multiple opportunities to plan but did not, before operations “Cast Lead,” “Pillar of Defense,” “Protective Edge” and “Guardian of the Walls.” Afterward, I reiterated my views in War-gaming’ hasbara’, published by JNS in 2021. I wrote that it was inevitable if another conflict occurred:

  • The Palestinians (or Hezbollah) will immediately disseminate lies about what is taking place.
  • Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International will “investigate” and publish their own distortions of Israeli actions.
  • The media will not verify information and disseminate anti-Israel propaganda as fact.
  • Israel will be denounced by the United Nations, “progressives,” anti-Israel organizations and Israel’s detractors among faculty, students and celebrities.

I concluded, “I have no illusions about how Israel will fare in the media no matter how well-equipped we are for the PR battle, but being prepared will give us at least a fighting chance of shaping the narrative.”

By happenstance, a friend interested in developing a proactive plan for the American Jewish Committee contacted me in September, and I laid this all out.

I am neither soothsayer nor genius to have recognized what should have been obvious to the leaders of the Jewish community. They failed us and Israel. They should be held accountable.

In the meantime, the 10/7 Project should be prepared for the next crises—an all-out war in Lebanon and an attack from or on Iran.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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