The Moral Corruption of Victim-Blaming

Family and friends of fallen IDF soldier Amit Zur, who died in a battle with Palestinan militants, react during his funeral on October 10, 2023, in Eliayachin, Israel. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

Within hours of the slaughter in Israel, the question of Israel’s “massive intelligence failure”—as many have called it—came to dominate a lot of the media coverage and conversation. 

On one level, this is entirely defensible. Israeli officials acknowledge the obvious fact that it was, with the arguable exception of the surprise invasion that launched the Yom Kippur War, the worst intelligence breakdown in Israeli history. Israeli citizens are talking about it openly, including those I’ve spoken with. 

But there is something about the way some people talk about Israel’s inability to detect or prevent these attacks that is deeply troubling and speaks to the moment we’re in. It resides in the gray area between “they should have known” and “it serves them right.” In other words, talking about intelligence failures can be a way of blaming Israel: Of course Hamas wants to send monsters to slaughter parents in front of their children or children in front of their parents,  rape women, abduct grandparents and parade them as trophies. It’s the geopolitical equivalent of figuratively (and one might say literally) blaming rape victims for not being careful enough.   

For the intelligence-failure obsessives, writes John Podhoretz, the editor of the Jewish-American journal Commentary, it’s “as though Israel somehow summoned this evil upon itself and therefore what we should talk about is what Israel did wrong.”

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