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Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images
The Middle East The Biggest Winner in the Lose-Lose “Operation Protective Edge”

In the topsy-turvy universe of Middle East politics, nothing succeeds like failure on the battlefield and nothing fails like military success. So who won the Gaza war?

Published on September 4, 2014

After weeks of following the combat in Gaza, pundits are now turning to the question, “Who won?” Hamas claims points just for surviving, despite the massive hammering its leadership and its constituents endured, and some say Israel, whatever its battlefield gains, lost the “cognitive war”—big time. In the topsy-turvy universe of Middle East politics, nothing succeeds like failure on the battlefield and nothing fails like military success.

Among the ancillary players, there are losers all around. Journalists’ credibility has been dangerously damaged. The UN Human Rights Council and Rights and Works Agency were embarrassingly partisan; Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama, astonishingly clueless and blundering; the intellectual Left, shamefully right-wing in its embrace of anti-Semitic discourse. Many analysts agree that Operation Protective Edge (OPE) has produced only losers and bigger losers.

Yet one group did emerge from OPE a winner: European jihadis. As Israel pounded an enemy that hid behind civilians, demonstrators spilled out into the streets of Western and Muslim cities the world over to protest the “Israeli genocide of the Palestinians,” even as they shouted “Death to Jews!” and “Jews to the ovens!” and used the Twitter hashtag #Hitlerwasright. Shops were ransacked, and Jews were refused medical services and attacked in riots. Jewish businesses were boycotted. In Germany, the cry was heard: “Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the Gas!” In France, it was “Death to Jews! Slit Jews’ Throats!” While the news media downplay the violence and hatred, and the police and judiciary resist it half-heartedly, European Jews are packing their bags.

So Jihadis get a quadruple win. They depict Israel as the Dajjal (Antichrist) to Western audiences; roam freely through the streets of Western cities, carrying metal bars and yelling jihadi slogans; accelerate the expulsion of Jews from Europe; and keep post-Christian Europeans thinking this violence only targets Jews, and only because of Israel. For jihadis, these past weeks confirm what they have long believed: that this is the Muslim century in which, among others, Europe joins Dar al Islam.

How did this happen? How did it get so bad before we noticed it? Are we observing changes of civilizational magnitude?

The story of this episode of Jew-hatred, whose rage is not yet spent, begins in 2000 and continues apace during the aughts and well into the teens. Ironically, the Palestinian asymmetrical war strategy, designed to fight Israel, turned out to be an even greater boon for global Jihad. The spectacular success of Palestinian war propaganda, delivered to the West as news by journalists, activated a violent “Muslim Street” that stormed onto the stage of European civilization.

When the Palestinians started the “Al Aqsa Intifada” in late September 2000, they could count on journalists to blame Israel for the violence and present the Palestinians as hapless victims. These journalists saw their job as standing “shoulder to shoulder” with the Palestinians, or “leveling the playing field” by recycling as news Palestinian “lethal narratives” about the IDF deliberately targeting civilians, especially children. They didn’t anticipate, however, the explosive impact those lethal narratives would have on Western society, especially in Europe—the way they would systematically promote global Jihad.

The most dramatic example of such lethal journalism came on September 30, 2000, when France2 aired footage (following instructions from the Palestinians) purporting to show the IDF targeting and killing a Palestinian boy who died in his father’s arms. This particular lethal narrative had an immense impact. It immediately triggered violent riots among Israeli Arabs and the murderous attacks of the Oslo Intifada among Palestinians. Osama bin Laden rapidly exploited the story to recruit for global Jihad. As war propaganda inspiring hatred of Israel, no image could compare for emotive power, a veritable icon of hatred.

Stranger than the Jihadi reaction to this image but no less powerful, Europeans seized upon it as a “get-out-of-Holocaust-guilt-free” card. “This boy’s death”, opined a prominent news anchor, “erased, replaced the image of the boy in the Warsaw Ghetto.” It is hard to imagine a more staggering case of moral disorientation; dubious video footage of a boy caught in a crossfire started by his own side somehow trumps an image symbolic of the deliberate murder of a million children by the Nazis. And yet, on the wings of this secular substitution theology, Zionazism entered the public sphere: Israelis become the new Nazis, and the Palestinians the new Jews.

Europeans, especially the French, reran the image repeatedly, “l’image choc” of the Intifada. But even as they did so to satisfy their own needs, they waved a flag of Jihad in front of their immigrant Muslim populations. In the first week of the violence that became known as the al Aqsa intifada, for example, Parisian “Leftists” and Muslims from the suburbs met in Place de la République to protest the murder of Muhammad al Durah. There, under a banner equating Israel to the Nazis, for the first time since the Holocaust, the cry “Death to Jews” was heard in a European capital.

In the coming weeks, months and years, stoked by a constant stream of pictures and stories about Palestinian suffering, the “intifada of the suburbs” imported the violence of the Middle East to Europe, especially to the ZUS (zones urbaines sensibles), where furious and aggressive Muslims targeted a largely defenseless Jewish population. Starting quite specifically in early October 2000, the “new anti-Semitism” began to “rise from the muck” in France and throughout Europe.

Subsequently, each new outbreak of violence between Israel and its most implacable Jihadi enemies—Fatah, Hamas, Hizballah, Islamic Jihad—has led to a wave of lethal journalism. That in turn has sparked widespread protests the world over, in which vituperation against Israel readily spills over into Jew-hatred. In 2002, after weeks of false but ubiquitous media reports of a massacre at Jenin, Westerners wearing mock suicide bomb-belts and carrying pictures of Sharon with a swastika on his forehead marched through the streets of Europe. In 2006, during the Lebanon war, Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder wrote a supersessionist screed against “God’s Chosen People”, and American professor Judith Butler welcomed Hizballah and Hamas into the embrace of the “global progressive left.” In 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, members of the German Die Linke party marched in a gender-segregated march, shouting Allahu Akhbar, and Death to Israel, while British protesters rallied to the cry, “We are Hamas”, and drove British police through the streets of London. And now, 2014.

So rapidly and powerfully did this street presence of protesters appear that by 2003 some began to speak of the emergence in the West (especially in Europe) of a Muslim Street, possibly stronger and more intimidating than the famed and intimidating “Arab Street.” Nor was the Muslim Street limited to anti-Israel demonstrations. In February 2003, some 6–30 million people worldwide participated in protests against U.S. President George Bush’s plans to invade Iraq, described by participants as “the largest peace rally” in history.

But Jihadis joined the “peace” movement and turned the demonstrations into war rallies, a development that stunned some observers into a disturbing realization. Seduced by the vision of a global progressive Left leading the world as a counterweight to American imperial hegemony, secular, anti-imperialist progressives had welcomed the support of the imperialist global Jihadis, with virulent anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism working in tandem.

By the mid-aughts, the Muslim Street went solo, buoyed by its enthusiastic welcome to the “anti-war” rallies against Israel and the United States. The Ramadan Riots of November 2005 in France sparked open hostilities with a neo-tribal Jihad for control of the ZUS—no-go zones in the heart of Europe, increasingly “lost territories of the Republic.” The Danish Cartoon Scandal, ginned by radicals with a forged cartoon of Muhammad as a pig, took the globe by storm beginning in September 2005. In the London demonstration in front of the Danish Embassy in February 2006, we see for the first time the Jihadi Muslim Street formally protesting, under police protection. One man wore a fake suicide vest (only months after the London transport bombing in July 2005); speeches resounded about conquering Denmark and raping their women; and men carried signs with messages like: “Europe you will pay, your extermination is on the way”, and “Islam will dominate the world.”

In hundreds of similar incidents all over Europe, the Muslim Street has grown bolder with each passing year. The anti-Jewish pogroms of 2014 represent the most openly aggressive of the manifestations of this Street in Europe today, and coincide with the most openly Jihadi discourse. “Never before,” editorialized one paper, “have the sympathizers of Islamic terror appeared so openly in Germany.” Amsterdam presided over a pro-ISIS rally, with demonstrators shouting “death to Jews!”, even as those same Jihadis slaughter infidels who refuse conversion to Islam. In Norway, Jihadis threaten their host country with “another 9/11” if they don’t create a separate Sharia-ruled section of the Oslo where Muslims need not “live with dirty beasts like you.”

I suspect that these successes took most Jihadis by surprise. Only a true believer in 2000 could imagine that the West would so extensively indulge open Islamist aggression and cooperate so readily with broader Muslim demands to silence criticism. Even the most optimistic Jihadi did not expect his progressive allies—UN and human rights NGOs, post-colonial academics and journalists—to open up the gates of the global public sphere to their war narrative and to keep that invitation open so long.

If few of those who indulged in Zionazi Jew-baiting realized it was not cost-free, fewer still showed awareness of the catastrophic price tag. No one dared link it to the ever more aggressive Muslim presence in the public sphere. After 9/11 European cities saw more Muslim women wearing hijab, more confrontations in children’s parks, more clashes between Jihadi discourse and the erratic objections of civil society, more Muslim public prayer that claimed main thoroughfares on Friday afternoon as temporary Sharia zones. And meanwhile, conspiracy theory, genocidal hatred, and blood libels intensified; the media’s lethal journalism fueled a grand narrative of Jihadi victory over not just the Jews, but all opponents of the true faith.

The balance of cultural power shifted dramatically. Every cycle of lethal journalism provoked aggressive public protest, pushing violence to new levels. Europe’s extensive civic strength crumbled like a cultural Maginot Line: Muslim hate speech flourished, transgressing boundary after boundary with only desultory resistance. The wave of suicide bombings that began in 2001 in Israel elicited dismissive responses: “What choice do they have?” or “It’s an act of despair.” By mid-decade, the first round of books appeared warning that Europe was collapsing culturally before the onslaught.

But the intelligentsia waved away such warnings as alarmist, right-wing, racist, Islamophobic war-mongering. They marginalized the voices of admonition, even as they mainstreamed the voices of Jihad. Nor was this merely an initial misjudgment, later to be corrected by acknowledgment of the realities. The Western denial and dissembling of Jihadi ideas and activities, effected by the very targets of that campaign, represents one of the more astonishing elements of this young and already momentous century.

There results a cultural form of congenital analgesia, where the nerves don’t inform the brain of the body social’s pain. Agents of invasion arrive under cover of silence provided by their intended victim, even as that victim attacks those who warn it of danger. One can understand the pessimistic prognoses of close observers: this is a virulent form of auto-immune disease.

Westerners have tended to think of Hamas as a regional group, a Palestinian political movement. Hamas sees itself, however, as part of a larger effort to bring the whole world into Dar al Islam. Its policy debates about a hudna with Israel pit those who want a respite to rearm against those who think that a rising Gazan death toll will further strengthen the global Jihad. The greater the suffering, the greater the inspiration to Jihadis the world over, and the more self-destructively Westerners respond.

Such a sacrifice, a national martyrdom, would in their minds break down the last restraints on Jew hatred, a prelude to the messianic global Caliphate. ISIS gives us a view of the abyss. Any serious Hamas Jihadi, despite claiming to speak for the Palestinian people, would willingly sacrifice them all for the sake of the global Islamist goal.

In order for this insanely destructive path to succeed, however, the news media has to continue to blame Israel and pass over in relative silence the dastardly behavior of Hamas. To stop doing so will be difficult; it means challenging Hamas intimidation, and “supporting the Israeli narrative”, apparently so dangerous a thing for journalists to do, that they have voluntarily adopted the prohibition. It also means turning off the spigot of lethal narratives about Israel, renouncing the appetite for moral Schadenfreude. As long as the West blames Israel for their suicidal and genocidal desires, these apocalyptic warriors will continue to get their own people killed (and even kill them), all for the greater glory of the global Jihad, especially in the West.

This does not mean one has to adopt the Israeli narrative (there are actually many) as “true”; just that one must question the Palestinian one, and cease disseminating their malevolent war propaganda as reliable accounts in the very Western public sphere that the Jihadis target for destruction. The belief that the IDF deliberately kill children, or that Israel is a racist society, is an astonishing reversal of any fair assessment of Israel compared to other nations. It’s long past time to sober up from the moral inversion that, for the past 15 years has done so much damage to civil society worldwide.

Richard Landes is a professor of history at Boston University, currently writing a book entitled They’re So Smart Cause We’re So Stupid: A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century. He blogs at The Augean Stables, where a longer, more amply linked version of this article can be found.
  • Maynerd

    Bravo Professor Landes. Thank you for calling out the toxic brew of the anti-western leftists and the nihilistic Islamofacists.

    • Andrew Allison

      I think that the thrust of the article was the utter mendacity of the so-called “journalists” reporting on the conflict. One can only hope that Prof. Landes is right that ” Journalists’ credibility has been dangerously damaged.”, but I fear that it’s wishful thinking. The Third Estate has morphed into a Fifth Column.

  • lord acton

    The jihadis are getting out in front of their media barrage. The barbaric and naked violence of Boko Haram and ISIS is proving to be too extreme for the media to obscure with their P.C. smoke screen. Recent events in Rotherham are the tip of a very large iceberg that might awake the feminists that women are at least one wrung down the “liberal’ food chain from muslims. [people of color > ethnic minorities > religious minorities?; Muslims > women > homosexuals? - it is hard to keep track of who trumps who in the mind of the liberal elite. We of course know that white men are at the bottom. But the rape epidemic in European cities has shown Western women how much the politicians value them].
    I will close this rambling comment with the observation that being in front of the barrage is not a winning place to be.
    Peace be upon them.

  • wigwag

    This may be the single best essay that I have ever read at the “American Interest;” unfortunately it is also the most frightening.

    During the last presidential election cycle, Newt Gingrich warned that the West needed to confront the reality that it faced a long and grueling conflict with radical Islam. He was derided for his prognostication by the liberal-left as well as the isolationist-right. Even neoconservatives and George W. Bush-sympathizing GOP stalwarts were reluctant to endorse Gingrich’s views. It is now increasingly obvious that the former Speaker of the House was prescient.

    It is often forgotten, but the struggle between the Western world and the Islamic world is not new; it’s ancient. It’s a war that has literally been fought for centuries. The difference is that for most of this history, the conflict was between Christian society and Muslim society. While Islam is resurgent, Christianity is in extremis; at least in the West. Western intellectuals who once cut their teeth steeped in a Christian heritage, now emerge from the womb and almost immediately begin to worship at the alter of multiculturalism. In fact, these intellectuals (many of whom are journalists or, even worse, professors), believe that all cultures have equal value, except for the culture which nurtured them, which of course, they despise.

    The Islamists have reason for optimism; it is far from clear that the multiculturalists who rule the West will prove to be anywhere near as potent adversaries as their Christian forebears. On the other hand, there is reason to believe that Western liberalism won’t go down without a fight; political parties like Nigel Farage’s UKIP and Geert Wilders PVV are springing up all over Europe. Of course in some cases the supporters of these political parties are as bad as the Islamists (See Greece and Hungary) and in other cases it’s hard to know what to think of them (see Marine Le Pen in France). Its an open question about whether the emergence of these parties is simply too little, too late.

    Americans need to think about what all of this means for the United States. It is time to come to grips with the fact that the trilateral coalition that won the Cold War is dead. Japan ceased to be useful during its decades-long malaise and its recent attempts to revivify itself seem to be faltering. In all likelihood, Europe is poised to share the Japanese fate. The European population is imploding and European elites are no longer willing to defend enlightenment values; at least when those values are being attacked by Islamists. European economies are increasingly sclerotic and Europe is no longer willing to spend even two pennies out of every dollar of GNP for self-defense.

    The great news is that the United States remains an antidote to all of this (as is Israel), The United States is one of the few nations which has successfully integrated its Muslim minority. American Muslims are overwhelmingly loyal, productive and proud U.S. citizens; the situation couldn’t be more different than in Europe. Ironically, Israel has integrated its Muslim minority more successfully than most European nations have (india has done a reasonably good job as well). While European nations allow their Muslim minority to trample the values on which those societies were built, and while Russia and China integrate their Muslim minorities by force of arms, American society, Israeli society and Indian society are still vibrant and self-assured enough to welcome Muslims into full citizenship if they play by the rules. America’s great challenge over the next few decades is to chart its path as a light unto the nations in a world where its European and Japanese allies have been emasculated.

    While the United States has suffered from two successive failed presidencies (at least in the foreign policy arena), things are almost sure to get better. Whatever one thinks of Hillary Clinton, its a good bet that she will be a much better leader than Barack Obama. In the unlikely event that a Republican is the next American President, with the exception of Rand Paul, all of the GOP contenders would be better leaders than Obama.

    As for the Jews, just as they have been scapegoated in Europe for centuries, history seems poised to repeat itself. European Muslims want Jews reduced to dhimmi status or killed. The European left would be happy to be rid of them. The time has come for Europe’s Jews to plot their escape while they still can.

    As for Europe’s multicultural leftists, they would be wise to remember Martin Niemoller’s old adage,

    “First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist,
    Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist,
    Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

  • Anthony

    After Operation Protective Edge: self healing in Gaza (Sarah Algherbawi). Has Gaza accelerated and solidified the polarization of the two communities?

  • Roseliya

    Thanks Richard – great article & analysis of the enormous win that Western anti-semitism and lethal journalism give to Jihadis, and the catastrophic price tag that the West pays for its continuing 2000 years of Christian hatred of Jews & Israel.
    Because of this article, I finally found another article of yours: “Open letter to Jostein Gaarder”, which I think is the best analytical response to Christian anti-semitism that I have ever read. A breath of fresh air!

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  • Trev

    Gearing up for Armageddon.

    “For behold, in those days and at that time,
    When I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem,
    2 I will also gather all nations,
    And bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
    And I will enter into judgment with them there
    On account of My people, My heritage Israel,
    Whom they have scattered among the nations;
    They have also divided up My land.
    3 They have cast lots for My people,
    Have given a boy as payment for a harlot,
    And sold a girl for wine, that they may drink.

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