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‘We’ll Be Seen as Losers if We Don’t Complete the Job:’ Israeli Historian Benny Morris Addresses the War Against Hamas

Israeli troops on the ground in Gaza. Photo: IDF via Reuters

“I dislike Benjamin Netanyahu intensely; he’s a crook,” the Israeli historian Benny Morris said, when asked about the future direction of the present war triggered by the pogrom executed by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. “But he’s right that the war should continue until Hamas is crushed, if only because around the region, we will be seen as losers if we don’t complete the job.”

That observation about Israel’s prime minister, offered during an extensive telephone interview with The Algemeiner on Thursday, underlines the near impossibility of neatly slotting Morris’ views into any particular camp. One of Israel’s leading public intellectuals, who is a Cambridge University graduate, a former professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and the author of the seminal study The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, first published in 1988, Morris expresses opinions associated with the left at one moment, and with the right in the next. Ideological partisans might regard this as a contradictory; more flexible thinkers, perhaps including Morris himself, would see this as a net positive, reflecting both the Middle East’s complexity and the futility of reducing national and political conflicts to mere slogans.

For Morris is an opponent not just of Netanyahu and the right-wing coalition gathered around him; he remains, in principle, a supporter of the two-state solution as well as a longstanding critic of Israel’s presence in the West Bank. On the other hand, he doesn’t articulate any faith in the willingness of the Palestinian factions to reach a permanent settlement with Israel, and he believes that the true villain of the piece is the Iranian regime, which this week has again been trumpeting its ability to assemble a nuclear weapon, and which continues to support terrorist organizations committed to Israel’s destruction, from the Houthi rebels in Yemen to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“What is certain is that Iran has forged with its proxies a circle around Israel, an alliance of anti-Israeli and anti-western forces,” Morris remarked. “Above and beyond all of this is the Iranian nuclear threat, which is certainly on the minds of Israelis, and also on the minds of American leaders and generals. This is the main threat, way beyond the threat posed by Iran’s proxies.” He makes no secret of his view that Israel should neutralize Iran’s nuclear ambitions as soon as possible. “It’ll be more expensive to do it later,” he argued. “If the Iranians acquire a nuclear arsenal, the region will probably come under Iranian domination.”

Morris is a little more sanguine when it comes to Israel’s other adversaries in the region. The conservative Arab Gulf states, some of whom signed up to peace treaties with Israel through the so-called “Abraham Accords” of 2018, will continue, according to Morris, balancing their need to pay “lip service” to the Palestinian cause with the imperative of retaining the protection and goodwill of the US, still Israel’s main ally. “Without America, countries like Bahrain or Qatar risk being dominated by the Iranians,” he said.

Turkey — the focus of of Morris’ 2019 book, The Thirty Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities 1894-1924, co-authored with his fellow historian Dror Ze’evi — is similarly unlikely to escalate tensions with Israel on the military front, even as its Islamist leadership engages in a fresh round of political demonization of the Jewish state. “Turkey, like Russia, is a dictatorship with the trappings of democracy,” Morris said. “They hold elections, but these are meaningless.” He nevertheless regards Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a shrewd operator who makes strategic calculations, despite his evident detestation of Israel. “Turkey has other axes to grind — the Kurds, northern Syria, potentially Iran, so they have had the sense to remain outside the conflict,” he said. “I think that will continue.”

Further afield, Morris doesn’t see a significant threat from US rivals China and Russia, at least not immediately. “China is not in the game at all. China is interested in expanding in the Pacific Rim,” he said. Given its military backing for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad during that country’s torrid civil war, Russia is a more likely candidate for involvement in the Middle East, but Moscow is for the time being hampered by its ongoing aggression against Ukraine as well as the robust sanctions imposed by western powers. “The situation [for the Russians] is not as it was during the Cold War,” Morris said. “Today, they are not as involved and their interests are not as bound up.”

With the US maintaining its role as the leading outside power in the region, talk of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been revived, causing tensions between Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden’s Administration. Morris believes that a Palestinian state alongside Israel is theoretically the correct solution, but he doesn’t see a “roadmap” —  the phrase much used by successive US administrations in their peacemaking efforts — for getting there.

“The problem is that the occupation is immoral and bad,” he said. “It was forced upon us, but we didn’t do enough to get out of it.” Meanwhile, in the wake of the Hamas atrocities, Israelis have become hardened. “The Israeli public is staunch in its desire to destroy Hamas and pay them back for what happened,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of revenge, it’s understanding that without that, Israel will appear weak.”

As Morris explains it, the dilemma for Israel revolves around how to withdraw from the West Bank without turning it into a Hamas stronghold. Israel has been able to weather two decades of rocket and missile attacks from Gaza, but similar salvos from Ramallah, which is just a short drive from Tel Aviv, would amount to an “existential threat,” Morris said. “In the West Bank, there is no way of assuring the benign nature of a Palestinian state,” he said. “The want all of Palestine. That’s the essence of the problem.” Additionally, Morris has little faith in international guarantees, citing Hezbollah’s refusal to move its armed forces north of Lebanon’s Litani River, as part of a broader disarmament process envisioned by UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of Aug. 2006, as an example of the difficulty of implementing compromises that are not enforced.

“The sense among Israelis is that, along with the rapes of Oct. 7, Israel itself was raped,” Morris said. “The world didn’t seem to care about that, and there was an instant rise in antisemitic abuse and anti-Israel rhetoric even before the military response.” The political context is also changing, he observed. “The further away the western world gets from the Holocaust, particularly the younger generations, they less they know and care about World War II,” he said. At the same time, “Islam contains a large antisemitic element” that stems from the bombastic accounts in the Qur’an of the battles in the seventh century between the Jewish tribes of Hijaz and the prophet Muhammad and his followers. “There’s this inherent anti-Jewish element that’s been reinforced by Israel’s existence in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries,” Morris said. “Israel is an innovation in that sense  — a Jewish state projecting power at the Muslims. That was not the situation for 1400 years since the rise of Islam.”

Israel’s future moves in this environment will be largely determined by its government. Morris does not believe that elections, which are not due for another three years, will be called early, blaming that on the “combination of crooks and cowards supporting Netanyahu.”

New elections will be elusive because those Knesset members supporting Netanyahu fear the loss of their seats, Morris said. “Most liberal and left Israelis would love to see an election now, and if one was held, Netanyahu would lose large,” he stressed. “But he’s not going to resign, and his allies aren’t going to abandon him.”

Morris is an admirer of Biden, whom he regards as “an old-style real Zionist who admires and respects Israel but doesn’t like Netanyahu.” He dreads the prospect of former President Donald Trump returning to the White House following November’s critical election. “I don’t trust Trump further than I can see,” he said. “He has no morals and he doesn’t care about Israel as [Bill] Clinton and [George W.] Bush did.” Asked about Trump’s decision while in office to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Morris was cynical, asserting that the “embassy should be in Jerusalem, because it’s Israel’s legitimate capital. So that made sense, but it didn’t turn [Trump] into an Israel-lover.” A Trump victory in November would be “very bad for Israel,” he emphasized.

Benny Morris will feature on an online panel titled “Hamas and the Origins of Islamic Antisemitism” sponsored by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research on Monday, Feb. 26. To register for this event, please click here.

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‘Looming Disaster’: Hamas Releases Video of Operatives Shooting at Israeli Community From West Bank

Palestinian fighters from the armed wing of Hamas take part in a military parade to mark the anniversary of the 2014 war with Israel, near the border in the central Gaza Strip, July 19, 2023. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Hamas has begun releasing videos of its operatives opening fire from the West Bank into Israeli villages, raising fears the Palestinian terror group will eventually try to stage a significant attack in the territory.

On Wednesday, Hamas terrorists in the West Bank city of Tulkarm opened fire into the Israeli village of Bat Hefer, which is in Israel proper. They staged the attack from the top of a hill. This is not the first time it has occurred. Last month, terrorists in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — the armed wing of Fatah, the political party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — fired into the Israeli community as well.

NEW: Hamas terrorists in the West Bank opened fire on houses in the Israeli town of Bat Hefer at 7am as children were preparing to go to school

— Eitan Fischberger (@EFischberger) May 29, 2024

Yoav Zitun, a military correspondent for Ynet News, reported that Hamas is paying people in the West Bank between 500 and 1000 shekels who take a video of themselves shooting into Israeli communities and distribute the footage.

Seth Frantzman, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, responded to the report on X/Twitter, writing it “reminds me of the Great Return March antics of Hamas that paved the way to Oct. 7.”

For the march, Hamas mobilized more than 40,000 people to try and breach the fence between Gaza and Israel to attack its citizens. Rioters lit fires, threw stones at the Israel Defense Forces, and attempted to plant a bomb on the fence and breach it. Hamas paid people between $200 and $500 if they were injured and $3,000 if they were killed.

Terrorist attacks from the West Bank against Israeli targets have been on an upswing. Last month, terrorists shot from within the West Bank into the Israeli kibbutz Ma’ale Gilboa.

Beyond shooting attacks, a terrorist killed two Israeli soldiers in Nablus in a ramming attack this week.

The terror incidents in the West Bank began to increase more than a year ago, but they have continued to occur since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

Frantzman called the situation a “looming disaster.”

“The rising attacks in the West Bank using the masses of stolen weapons will eventually become more sophisticated and can lead to an Oct. 7-type event because Israel has ignored security in the West Bank as it did at the other borders and allowed terror groups to exponentially grow over the last years,” he wrote.

The concern has been made more acute by the fact that the Palestinian Authority, which controls the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, is increasingly weak. In certain cities, such as Jenin, terrorist groups have effectively made the PA police obsolete and now have a significant ability to operate.

This is compounded by the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to take punitive measures against the PA, which could make it more likely to collapse and create a vacuum for terrorists to assert greater control.

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Jury Finds Donald Trump Guilty on All 34 Counts at Hush Money Trial

Former US President Donald Trump appears in Manhattan Criminal Court, May 30, 2024, in New York. Photo: Seth Wenig/Pool via REUTERS

Donald Trump became the first US president to be convicted of a crime on Thursday when a New York jury found him guilty of falsifying documents to cover up a payment to silence a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.

After deliberations over two days, the 12-member jury announced it had found Trump guilty on all 34 counts he faced. Unanimity was required for any verdict.

Trump watched the jurors dispassionately as they were polled to confirm the guilty verdict.

Justice Juan Merchan set sentencing for July 11, days before the July 15 start of the Republican National Convention expected to formally nominate Trump for president.

Merchan thanked the jurors for their service. “Nobody can make you do anything you don’t want to do. The choice is yours,” Merchan said.

The verdict plunges the United States into unexplored territory ahead of the Nov. 5 presidential election, when Trump, the Republican candidate, will try to win the White House back from Democratic President Joe Biden.

Trump, 77, has denied wrongdoing and was expected to appeal.

“This was a disgrace. This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who is corrupt,” Trump told reporters afterwards.

“The real verdict is going to be Nov. 5 by the people,” Trump said, adding: “I am a very innocent man.”

He faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison, though others convicted of that crime often receive shorter sentences, fines, or probation. Incarceration would not prevent him from campaigning, or taking office if he were to win.

Trump will not be jailed ahead of sentencing.

Opinion polls show Trump and Biden, 81, locked in a tight race, and Reuters/Ipsos polling has found that a guilty verdict could cost Trump some support from independent and Republican voters.

A source familiar with the Trump campaign’s inner workings said the verdict was expected to prompt him to intensify deliberations on picking a woman as his vice presidential running mate.

Biden’s campaign said the verdict showed that no one was above the law, but noted that Trump still would be able to run for president.

“There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box,” the campaign said in a statement.

The jury notified the court they had reached a verdict at 4:20 pm (2020 GMT) and read out all 34 guilty counts shortly after 5 pm.

Trump‘s fellow Republicans quickly condemned the verdict. “Today is a shameful day in American history,” House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson said in a prepared statement.

The jury found Trump guilty of falsifying business documents after sitting through a five-week trial that featured explicit testimony from porn star Stormy Daniels about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in 2006 while he was married to his current wife Melania. Trump denies ever having sex with Daniels.

Trump‘s then-fixer Michael Cohen testified that Trump approved a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 election, when he faced multiple accusations of sexual misbehavior.

Cohen testified he handled the payment, and that Trump approved a plan to reimburse him through monthly payments disguised as legal work. Trump‘s lawyers hammered Cohen’s credibility, highlighting his criminal record and imprisonment and his history of lying.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche asked Merchan to throw out the guilty verdict, arguing that it was based on the unreliable testimony of Cohen. Merchan denied his request.

Trump‘s near-certain appeal of his historic conviction on criminal charges in New York is likely to focus on porn star Daniels’ salacious testimony about their alleged sexual encounter as well as the novel legal theory prosecutors used in the case, but he faces long odds, legal experts said.

Falsifying business documents is normally a misdemeanor in New York, but prosecutors in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office elevated it to a felony on grounds that Trump was concealing an illegal campaign contribution.

Trump complained that he could not get a fair trial in his heavily Democratic hometown.

The case was widely regarded as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions Trump faces. Jurors heard testimony of sex and lies that have been public since 2018, although the charges themselves rested on ledger accounts and other records of Cohen’s reimbursement.

It was known as the “zombie case” because Bragg brought it back to life after his predecessor opted not to bring charges.

This case was also likely to be the only one to go to trial before the election, as the others are delayed by procedural challenges.

If elected, Trump could shut down the two federal cases that accuse him of illegally trying to overturn his 2020 election loss and mishandling classified documents after leaving office in 2021. He would not have the power to stop a separate election-subversion case taking place in Georgia.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all the cases, and has portrayed his various legal troubles as an effort by Biden’s Democratic allies to hurt him politically.

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Iran’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Welcomes Anti-Israel Campus Protesters to ‘Resistance Front’

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech in Tehran, Iran. Photo: Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS

Iran’s so-called “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, applauded the anti-Israel protesters who have thrown university campuses across the US into chaos over the past several weeks, declaring them part of a new “branch of the Resistance Front” against the Jewish state.

“Dear university students in the United States of America, this message is an expression of our empathy and solidarity with you,” Khamenei wrote in an open letter published on Thursday. “As the page of history is turning, you are standing on the right side of it.”

Rehashing antisemitic conspiracies of Jewish control, he derided “the global Zionist elite” for speaking against the campus demonstrations.

“The global Zionist elite — who owns most US and European media corporations or influences them through funding and bribery — has labeled this courageous, humane resistance movement as ‘terrorism,’” Khamenei wrote. “You have now formed a branch of the Resistance Front and have begun an honorable struggle in the face of your government’s ruthless pressure — a government which openly supports the usurper and brutal Zionist regime.”

Khamenei also praised students in other countries who have launched anti-Israel demonstrations on campuses, noting the leading role that faculty have played in fostering and supporting the unrest.

“Besides you students from dozens of American universities, there have also been uprisings in others countries among academics and the general public,” he wrote. “The support and solidarity of your professors is a significant and consequential development. This can offer some measure of comfort in the face of your government’s police brutality and the pressures it is exerting on you. I too am among those who empathize with you young people, and value your perseverance.”

Khamenei’s letter came amid an outpouring of praise for the anti-Zionist students by Islamist terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

“While we support the assassination of the infidel Zionists and the beheading of them, we also appreciate and value the movement of Western demonstrators and sit-in students from Western universities, who through their sit-ins and protests expressed their rejection of the genocide taking place in Gaza,” al-Qaeda leadership wrote in a recent communique

Hamas and Hezbollah, both backed by Iran, have also cheered the protests.

“Today’s students are the leaders of the future, and their suppression today means an expensive electoral bill that the Biden administration will pay sooner or later,” Hamas official Izzat Al-Risheq said in a statement last month.

Naim Qassem, the deputy head of Hezbollah, also praised the protesters during an interview with Al-Manar TV earlier this month.

“We appreciate and value this very much. Perhaps in the future, there will be cooperation among the youth of the world — in America, France, Britain, Germany, and all the activists,” he said. “The [campus protests] are important, especially because they will have an impact on US elections. They will have an impact on the American position.”

Earlier this month, when some universities suspended students who had occupied sections of campus and refused to leave unless school officials agreed to condemn and boycott Israel, the Iran-backed Houthi militia, a terrorist organization that has repeatedly violated freedom of the seas by attacking international shipping vessels passing through the Red Sea, offered to admit the disciplined students as transfers to Sanaa University, an institution it administers.

Some anti-Zionist student groups have reciprocated the admiration.

Last week, Columbia University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) endorsed Hamas, the latest sign of its growing extremism and willingness to embrace Islamic extremism and antisemitism.

“The Palestinian resistance is the only force materially fighting back against isr*el [sic],” the group said in a series of posts shared by Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus, a social media account which exposes antisemitism on college campuses. “There is no way to eliminate the resistance without ending the occupation. When you see a video of a young palestinian [sic] boy traumatized in a hospital talking about how iof [the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF] shot his pregnant mother in cold blood in front of his own eyes, do not question how he chooses to resist years later.”

Campus Reform, a higher education watchdog which first reported Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus’ posts, noted that Columbia SJP has added an “inverted red triangle” to its social media biography, further indicating its support for Hamas. The Palestinian terrorist group has used an inverted red triangle in its propaganda videos to indicate an Israeli target about to be attacked, and anti-Israel protesters on university campuses have been using the symbol in their demonstrations.

Columbia SJP, a group that has re-formed under multiple names since being suspended by school administrators during the fall semester, was central in staging a slew of riotous demonstrations in which anti-Zionist activists verbally assaulted Jewish students with antisemitic epithets, clamorously expressed support for terrorism and Hamas, and caused thousands of dollars in damages to school property.

The anti-Zionist student movement’s support for terrorism and anti-American ideologies has been expressed before.

Footage of the protests which erupted on college campuses at the end of spring semester showed demonstrators chanting in support of Hamas and calling for the destruction of Israel. In many cases, they lambasted the US and Western civilization more broadly.

“Yes, we’re all Hamas, pig!” one protester was filmed screaming during the fracas at Columbia University, which saw some verbal skirmishes between pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist partisans. “Long live Hamas!” said others who filmed themselves dancing and praising the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas terrorist organization. “Kill another solider!”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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