In the wake of my recent journey to Israel, marked by the tumultuous period from October 7 to October 12, I find myself compelled to share a personal insight into the complexities surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict. Having returned to Montreal, my reflections extend beyond the borders of Israel, aiming to illuminate the profound implications this ongoing conflict holds for the global Jewish community.
To comprehensively understand the current situation, I have been keeping myself updated through various channels of information. I have been actively participating in synagogue services, engaging with local events, and closely monitoring diverse sources, including traditional mediums such as radio and television, as well as contemporary platforms like WhatsApp, Zoom, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Substack, and ChatGPT.
As I returned to my Montreal synagogue, a palpable concern for the outbreak of conflict in Israel became evident. Regular prayers for the safety and well-being of Israel *1 took on a new urgency, with an additional prayer for the recovery of hostages *2 introduced on October 7. This prayer has resonated across synagogues globally, becoming a poignant expression of solidarity in the face of adversity.
The discourse within the synagogue community further heightened as Rabbi Poupko addressed the alarming surge in anti-Jewish sentiments. This trend manifested before the Israeli Defense Forces intervened in Gaza. The pressing question emerged: How do we navigate and comprehend this troubling phenomenon amid geopolitical tensions?
The aftermath of the attacks on Israel witnessed an unsettling celebration by some Palestinians and their supporters worldwide. This celebration escalated into violent attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions, leaving a trail of defaced buildings, vandalized businesses, and instances of persecution against Jewish and pro-Israel students on university campuses. Tragedy struck with the heart-wrenching murder of a Jewish man during a Palestinian protest in Los Angeles, highlighting the gravity of the situation.
In Montreal, the repercussions unfolded with a Molotov cocktail targeting a synagogue and two Jewish schools, while tensions at Concordia University reached a boiling point, resulting in an altercation between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students, requiring police and ambulance intervention.
These recent events underscore the urgent need for societal unity against hate and discrimination. It is imperative that we actively engage in discussions, promote education, and advocate for understanding among diverse communities to counter the alarming rise of antisemitism.
Historical Roots of Antisemitism
Understanding the challenges facing Israel and the global Jewish community requires an exploration of the historical roots of antisemitism. Antipathy towards Jews originated in supersessionist ideologies within both Christianity and Islam, the junior cousins of Judaism.
Christians, the followers of Jesus, were Jews who broke with traditional Jewish Torah practice but incorporated the Hebrew Bible into their religion. The Catholic Church is the successor to the “Roman” Church. In the fourth century CE, the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. In 380 CE, the emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, making Christianity the Roman Empire’s official religion. It is often said that at the beginning of the fourth century, you could be killed for being a Christian, and at the end of the fourth century, you could be killed for not being a Christian. The Catholic Roman Church is the heir to this tradition following the collapse of the Roman Empire.
During the Enlightenment, when the Protestant Church was born to counter Catholic domination and foster a more individual and “rational” approach to the Hebrew Bible, influential scholars like Voltaire and Marx continued the vilification of Jews and Judaism, contributing to the development of “scientific antisemitism” in the nineteenth century. This led to the ideologies of communism and Nazism, fostering social animosity. Marx, for instance, falsely depicted Jews as oppressors of the working classes. This narrative fueled the rise of the Communist Party and also the Nazi Party, leading to the tragic persecution of Jews in Communist Russia and Nazi Germany.
Islamic antisemitism, evidenced in historical attacks on Israel, has deep roots tracing back to Muhammad’s vision of Islam as the sole global religion. Throughout history, Muslim armies achieved dominance in regions like Medieval Spain and Muslim India, and their advance into Europe was only halted in 1683 at the Battle of Vienna. Despite historical setbacks, the influence of Islamist ideology endures, supported by figures such as the Ayatollahs of Iran, who finance insurgencies in Africa and the Middle East. This poses a threat to various nations, including the UK, France, Germany, the U.S., Canada, Yemen, Sudan, Syria, and Turkey.
For those seeking insights into the particular history of Gaza, I recommend watching the YouTube video “Gaza in Jewish History, from the Bronze Age to the Present” by Harry Abramson. The footage offers valuable perspectives on Gaza’s history, from ancient times through historical periods right up to the present.
The breaching of the Israeli border and the unprovoked, brutal attack by Hamas on October 7 on Israeli communities living along the border prompted Jewish people worldwide to unite swiftly. I was among 200,000 individuals at the Washington, DC Mall, specifically at the Lincoln Memorial, who gathered from all corners of the U.S. and Canada to condemn the actions of Hamas. They openly declared their intention to repeat the October 7 attacks, to annihilate Israel, and to continue holding over 240 hostages. Our collective stand aims to support the Israeli effort to recover all hostages. Simultaneously, we strive to permanently eliminate the power of Hamas in Gaza, preventing them from orchestrating any future attacks. To this end, we remain determined and strong.
The Washington event had an intense but joyous atmosphere, marked by a collective determination to condemn the violence of Hamas and support those affected. Various voices spoke eloquently, including Jewish and non-Jewish politicians, representatives from Black, Christian, and Iranian communities, as well as families directly impacted by the hostage situation. A comprehensive 2.5-hour transcript of the rally is available here.
The following week, I attended a rally organized by pro-Israel students at Concordia, protesting violent Palestinian activities on campus. One speaker, Julia Langleben, a McGill student, passionately shared her experiences and described the intimidation faced by pro-Israel students since October 7. You can watch her talk here. The Montreal Gazette reported on the event; you can read about it here.
Additionally, a protest demanding the release of hostages held by Hamas took place on the steps of Place Des Arts in Montreal.
On December 4, amidst a snowstorm, I joined over 16,000 individuals in Ottawa to voice support for Israel and call for the release of hostages held by Hamas. Again, in addition to Jews from all parts of the country, politicians, community leaders, individuals representing the Ukrainian, Persian, Black, and Christian communities, religious leaders of all faiths, and family members of hostages raised their voices in support of Israel and its predicament. Coverage is available here.
Voices of Support: Diverse Perspectives on Israel in the Current Conflict
In the ongoing Israel/Hamas conflict, various notable voices provide unique perspectives:
- Mosab Hassan Yousef: The eldest son of Hamas co-founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, Mosab defected from the terrorist organization in 2005. His 2010 book, “Son of Hamas,” offers a firsthand account of his experiences, revealing atrocities committed by Hamas against prisoners in Israeli jails. He shared his insights with the University of Michigan students on November 29, 2023. Watch the discussion here. In the book, he reports that he “first saw the light” after a stint in an Israeli jail during the mid-1990s. At Megiddo Prison, he witnessed Hamas inmates leading a brutal year-long campaign to weed out supposed Israeli collaborators. During that time, he said, “Hamas tortured and killed hundreds of prisoners.” He recalled vivid memories of needles being inserted under fingernails and bodies charred with burning plastics. Many, if not all, had nothing to do with Israeli intelligence. “I will never forget their screams,” he continued. “I started asking myself a question: What if Hamas succeeded in destroying Israel and building a state? Will they destroy our people in this way?”
- Douglas Murray: An esteemed academic and scholar, Murray contributes a well-researched perspective on the geopolitical dynamics of the Israel/Hamas conflict. He founded the Centre for Social Cohesion in 2007 and discussed current deaths in Gaza during an interview with Piers Morgan on Sky News. Watch the interview here.
- Niall Ferguson, John Cochrane, and Stephen Kotkin: Esteemed scholars in their respective fields, they shared valuable insights on the geopolitics of the Middle East in a discussion at Stanford’s Hoover Institute. Their conversation reviewed the challenges posed by the war and discussed possible outcomes. Watch the entire debate here.
- Brigitte Gabriel: An American citizen of Lebanese Christian origin, Gabriel founded the NGO Act for America after seeking refuge in the U.S. following the Islamic takeover of Lebanon. Her mission is to raise awareness about the challenge of Islamism in America. Watch her perspective here.
The Price of Peace
Amidst the ongoing conflict in Gaza, the toll on human lives and the impact on all communities are stark. However, the Israeli cost of war is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media.
Today, on December 22, the IDF announced the deaths of two more soldiers killed during the fighting in the Gaza Strip, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 139.
1- Lt. Shai Ayeli, 21:
- Cadet in the Bahad 1 officers’ school’s Gefen Battalion.
- He previously served in the Air Force’s Unit 669 and is from Ashkelon.
2- Sgt. First Class (res.) Tal Shua, 31:
- Combat Engineering Corps’ 7071st Battalion, from Beersheba.
- Israeli hospitals are currently treating over 10,000 seriously injured individuals.
In response to the brutal attack on October 8, Israel had to immediately mobilize to comfort survivors, bury the dead, and relocate hundreds of thousands of evacuees from the southern border to central Israel and Eilat. Facing the Hezbollah threat from Lebanon and Syria, communities near the northern border were also evacuated.
The call for immediate action led to the mobilization of 300,000 reserve soldiers. This created a logistical challenge of equipping, housing, and feeding this massive force. Volunteers from Israel and worldwide joined forces in a remarkable display of solidarity. An additional 300,000 Israelis returned to serve in the army, and global volunteers provided hands-on assistance all over Israel, with some even harvesting crops that had been left untended due to the crisis.
The response extends beyond the workforce, with millions of dollars swiftly collected from the general public, surpassing $60 million and reaching over a billion in the first month. This war’s motto is “Byahad Nenatzayach” – “United, we will be victorious,” reflecting the imperative to overcome a ruthless enemy that, for ideological reasons, refuses to accept the existence of Israel as a cooperative neighbour.
As we listen to the constant requests for humanitarian aid for Gaza, we must bear in mind that Hamas initiated this war and has never cared for its civilian population, squandering all resources previously provided on building massive and expensive attack tunnels and training children to kill Jews. This is what is fueling the current war.
In a year-end press conference on Wednesday, Secretary of State Tony Blinken laid bare the hypocrisy of those who call for a cease-fire and who place the onus only on Israel to end the war in Gaza.
“One of the things that’s striking to me is that, understandably, everyone would like to see this conflict end as quickly as possible, but if it ends with Hamas remaining in place and having the capacity and the stated intent to repeat October 7 again and again and again, that’s not in the interests of Israel, it’s not in the interests of the region, it’s not in the interests of the world. What is striking to me is that even as we hear many countries urging an end to this conflict… I hear virtually no one demanding of Hamas that it stop hiding behind civilians, that it lay down its arms, that it surrender. This would be over tomorrow if Hamas were to do that.”
A Call for Peace
As we embark on the joyous holiday season, let us reflect on the timeless message of Chanukah, which transcends all faiths. It highlights the idea of breaking free from oppression, representing the victory of freedom over both physical slavery and harmful ideologies.
Judaism and Israel have consistently aspired to preserve our way of life and actively collaborate to foster global harmony. Israel, demonstrating its commitment to humanitarian values, has consistently been at the forefront, extending aid to any nation grappling with natural or artificial disasters.
Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and whatever religion you practice, may we all contribute to increasing peace and harmony in our shared world. May we all witness the freeing of our hostages and the achievement of everlasting peace in Israel and worldwide. Hashta b’agala oo’bzman kariv – Speedily and soon in our present time!
- Special prayer for the safety and well-being of our soldiers and hostages.
Rock of Israel,
And its Redeemer
The State of Israel
et Medinat Yisrael
The beginning of the flowering
of our redemption
with the fullness of your compassion
and spread over Her
the cover of your peace!
2. A special prayer for the recovery of our hostages.
the entire Family of Israel.
kol beit Yisrael,
delivered into distress,
Hanetunim betzara, betzara
Whether on sea or on land
bein hayam oo’bein hayabasha
May God shower compassion
on them, and remove them from distress to relief,
vhotziam mitzara l’rvaha,
from darkness to light and
mi afela l’ora,
from oppression to redemption,
Now, speedily and soon!
Hashta b’agalh oob’zman kariv!
3. Dr. Abramson, a Jewish history and thought specialist, serves as Dean at Touro University in Brooklyn, NY. Holding a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, he has a rich academic background and shares a video on the history of Gaza from the Bronze Age to the present.