The Reverse Floyd moment
The psychological toll of the October 7 pogrom
In August 1938, 15-year-old Henry Kissinger left his native Germany to escape the Nazis, first stopping in London and then to New York where he would live until joining the US Army in 1943. Kissinger’s family were of course among the lucky ones, and the memory of the civilised world’s failure to help Germany’s, and Europe’s, Jews has haunted us ever since.
The Holocaust is rightly described as history’s greatest crime, even if it’s not a competition, and it hardwired into Europeans a taboo about anti-Semitism that has remained since. And then came the October 7 massacre.
I think I was more disturbed and upset by what happened in Israel than by any news event in my life. Again, it’s not a competition, and there have been many atrocities in this century, but there was something so bestial and cruel about the killings that made it even more shocking than 9/11. It was like a little window into genocide — and anyone who still thinks that Hamas wouldn’t kill every Jew in Israel is deluding themselves.
I have happily avoided having too much of an opinion on the Israel/Palestine question for many years and could quite happily go many more without adding to the world’s abundance of viewpoints on it. Although I’m not Jewish, I endorse Martin Lewis’s view that I just wish for peace and an end to the suffering (I just don’t think it’s ever going to happen).
Clearly a lot of people in the West feel strongly about the subject, however, and while I was shocked by the massacre of over 1,000 Israelis, I wasn’t that surprised, if I’m honest, by some of the responses.
There were numerous academics and commentators gloating over the deaths, there were people taking part in pro-Palestinian protests with indecent haste, some shouting hateful and violent slogans; and then there was the failure of so many English-speaking institutions, such as Harvard, the FA or the Scottish government, to make the little gestures of humanity we’ve become used to with other tragedies.
Even if one is critical of Israel, and many Israelis and diaspora Jews are, the unwillingness to show the sympathy we express towards other victims of tragedy fills one with a sense of deep unease.
It’s perfectly possible to support the Palestinian cause while still expressing disgust at mass murder; William Dalrymple, author of the brilliant Middle East travelogue From the Holy Mountain, did just that.
Others, however, could barely disguise their glee, the most grating perhaps being a post by the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matters, deleted but already seen by seven million people. BLM, which as many will remember was a group our institutions were lining up to show support for after the death of one man three years ago, chose to display their sympathies for Palestine with an illustration of a paraglider, the same vehicle used by Hamas terrorists as they swooped down on a music festival, killing 250 innocent young people. It feels inexplicable.
I don’t think those of us who aren’t Jews can appreciate the terrible fear of being hunted down, and that longing for a sanctuary, something Ben Judah writes about here. But it must be even more disturbing to know that so many would cheer it on, people you might walk past in the street, or work with, who you might even consider your friends.