Israeli Ambassador: a civilizational war is going on, a war between light and darkness, evil and good
Interview with Yacov Hadas-Handelsman
Israeli Ambassador: a civilizational war is going on, a war between light and darkness, evil and good

Photo: András Veres

2023. 12. 21.
A battle of civilizations unfolding in the world, the West should invest in the "industry of life" and not the "industry of death" and realize that what begins with the murderous hatred of Jews does not necessarily stop there. We sat down with the Israeli Ambassador to Hungary, Yacov Hadas-Handelsman for a special interview to take a look back at the historic events and phenomena of 2023.

2023 was a very hard year for not just Israel, but for Jews all around the world. As I start this special interview, I would like to look back at the major events that took place and how they affected the people of Israel and the Jews worldwide, as well as Israel's international standing. Can we say that this year was historic for the state of Israel and if yes, why?

I wish it wouldn't be like this, but yes, last year was in a way historical for Israel and for the Jewish people because of the events of the 7th of October. These were not mere terror attacks.

It was something that nobody anticipated, it struck everyone, even in Europe. It is important to note that they didn't differentiate between their enemies. They killed Jews, but they raped, tortured, and killed Israeli Arabs and foreigners as well, who have nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. People from Thailand, from the Philippines, who came to make a living as farmers in the kibbutzim, and African students from Tanzania and Asians from Nepal, agriculture students, who came on scholarships to practice in agronomy.

Photo by András Veres

Recently, in one of the headquarters of Hamas in Gaza, our forces found a lot of GoPro cameras. One of them depicted the catching and executing of a student from Tanzania, who for two months was considered as missing. Last week, our soldiers managed to track the remains of his body. Hamas released the footage of how they caught him on the road, while he was on his way to work on his bicycle. They abused him. He looked frightened like a sheep that is caught between the jaws of a lion. Next you could see how they throw him on the ground, and someone pulls out a handgun to shoot him in the head.

I would like to stress, that this is not political dispute. This is a civilizational war. It is a war between light and darkness, evil and good.

It is not undeniable; they knew exactly what they were doing.

Hamas kept humiliating and abusing the hostages. We know because we have the stories of those who are released. People had to undergo there and are still undergoing a lot, from starvation to rape. People who were there for 50, 60 days took a shower only once and they say that the terrorists wanted to humiliate them, to show them who they are that you are nothing.

Most of the people they slaughtered and are very liberal, socialist-oriented people, supporting of peace. Many of them were helping, reaching out to the Palestinians.

Last year, as a policy in trying to calm things down, Israel allowed up to 20,000 Palestinians to come for daily work to Israel. Most of them work in the affected kibbutzim. Apparently, some of them misused the opportunity to gathered information, and they gave it to Hamas.

Kibbutz Beeri after the October 7 massacre.    Shutterstock/Roman Yanushevsky

October 7 is also historical, because if you look since the Holocaust in 1945, never in one day so many Jews were murdered.

So, this is Israel, but look at the implications on the Jewish lives almost in the entire world.

This has nothing to do with Hamas and the situation in Gaza. This is an attitude, a trend today especially among the Western young guys in the top universities. The presidents of the Ivy league Universities, who testified in front of the Congress recently, when asked about the disturbing antisemitic, hateful calls for the elimination of Jews, kept talking about the importance of freedom of speech. In the name of freedom of speech, the three ladies couldn’t even say yes or no to the very clear question whether calling for genocide of the Jewish people violates the policies of the universities. But having said that, the other side is denied the right of freedom of speech.

People are afraid, maybe the only place today where a practicing Jew could walk on the street with the traditional dress outside Israel is Hungary.

But the world should realize it's not only about us. We first, then you, and the others. They don't tell the difference. There are people in London, in New York, who speak on rallies, saying they want everyone to see the light, to become Muslims. One of them said in New York: we must work and penetrate each single household in America and make them see the truth. We will not sit back and relax until everyone sees the light.

I wonder how they expect you and me to see the light if we don't want to see that.

Another dangerous problem is the level of discussion and public discourse. Nobody checks the facts anymore. There was a survey conducted in America in the Ivy League universities among people who participated in the anti-Israel or antisemitic demonstrations. 47% of the people questioned couldn't tell the name of the river or the sea that they are referring to, when they are chanting: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. It is a clear danger for humankind. What kind of people are we emerging into? Nobody is thinking, they are like a herd of cows just following a bull. Whatever he does, if he jumps over the cliff, they will jump with him. They don’t know history, they don’t know anything.

Shutterstock/Syndi Pilar

We are not talking about the traditional European Christian antisemitism, but about the new antisemitism. I think that this is a problem of our civilization, a fight between two forces, and there is a zero-sum game: it is either us or them. The world should take notice and see what's happening now. Groups of terrorists are threatening the entire world. You have Hamas, then you have Hezbollah. Now you have the new guys the Houthis in Yemen, who have become the modern pirates. What is the common denominator? Not that they are all Shiites because Hamas are Sunnites. But the common denominator is a country named Iran that is sponsoring this. People are starving in Iran, but they sponsor this kind of subversive activities, which endanger the peace of the world.

So what do you think why is that many Western countries, and also the EU, are still sending money to these organizations indirectly, and funding their terror?

It's a long ongoing struggle between us and the international community. Now, you can see what was invested in Gaza for the last 18 years. Why I say 18 years? It was in August 2005, we pulled out of Gaza. 10,000 settlers were forced to leave, for many people in Israel, it's still a trauma. We gave back everything to the last inch. Tens of millions of dollars were donated for Gaza to give them a chance for a new start. The Palestinians were given opportunities, greenhouses with a technology to grow all kinds of lettuce on a bedrock, a non-soil bedrock. It was an Israeli patent.

Shimon Perez said that Gaza could turn into Singapore of the Middle East.

But it took the Palestinians three hours to destroy all the infrastructure, only because it was Israeli. They took out all their frustration on this. I was astonished to see to what extent the entire Gaza Strip is turned into a fortress, most of it underground. They have invested good people's money, maybe even your money because you pay taxes, right? So in theory, it's not only let's say German money, it's also Hungarian money that was misused to build tunnels instead of helping the population. The IDF soldiers are astonished by the number of weapons and ammunition they keep digging out there and they are certain that they haven't covered half of it because still have to work.

What they've been investing in? In the death industry instead of the life industry. God wants us to live.

The Quran doesn't say that you should be shahid, kill yourself and kill others. The International Community has some serious questions they have to ask themselves.

Photo by András Veres

Looking back at the beginning of the year, there seemed to be a lot of division within the Israeli society. Once I had an interview with a military strategist from Israel. I asked her, was the biggest threat Israel is facing today? She didn't mention Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas or ISIS. But she said that this internal fight between us. Seeing after October 7, the country came together and they really focused on two goals, eliminating Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and bringing back the hostages. Two months passed. Is national unity still there? Is there a chance that Israel’s enemies will open more fronts thinking the Jewish state is weak?

Well, internal debates, as long as they take place in a civilized manner, are a part of democracy and indicates it’s strength. We talk about the Jewish state, Jewish people, all the clichés and the jokes about the three synagogues for two Jews and things like this. Survival, democracy and a vibrant society. Sometimes it goes to extreme, that is true. Was it misinterpreted by our enemies? Yes. Because people don't understand what democracy is all about.

Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas, thought that all the stars aligned, because it's a Jewish holiday and big part of the army is on leave. He was also certain that since many Israelis signed refusal letters, they are destructing their own backbone, which is the army.

Sinwar was wrong.

The anti-government demonstrators were among the first to run to the Gaza area and help.

How could they be there so early? Because they are very well organized as a civil organization, and they were making all the preparations for that evening demonstrations. The moment they heard that something like this happened, they just threw out all the billboards, rushed with their vans to the kibbutzim, and they were the first to fight.

Ultra-Orthodox, suddenly they knocked on the doors of the recruiting office they want to join.

Also there was a survey one month after the war started, measuring to what extent the Israelis support the war. 94-96% of the Jews were in support the war, of course, but the fact that over 70% of the Israeli Arabs supported the war, is surprising. Never did we have such kind of a result. The Israeli Arabs were not stupid, they understood exactly what's happening. They saw arab people begging for their lives, and they were slaughtered or kidnapped by the monsters.

Shutterstock/Vered Barequet

Again, I don’t see any problem with arguing all the time, we do, we like to argue sometimes even for the sake of argument, wasn't it? Thousands of years in struggling to survive taught us to do this kind of thing. But they misread us. The very same way that in Europe they misread Hamas.

To sum it up, from a domestic Israeli point of view, debate is needed. The proof is in the pudding,that it didn’t really weakened our society.

It has already been two months since the attack. Do you think the elimination of Hamas and returning the hostages are still achievable goals?

I think that they are, as long as the world doesn't stop us. We try to do it the slowest to maximize the efforts that uninvolved are not hurt. You need time in order to work like a surgeon. It is easier said than done. It is a war.

In Gaza, it is very, very difficult to define who is involved and who is not, because some of the hostages, for example, they were kept in prison by private families who are Hamas sympathizers, or they pay them. Some others by some local militias. On the 7th of October first came the Nukhba, the elit unit of Hamas then came the Izz ad-Din brigades, and then came the mob. You can see it with the donkeys and then they were looting everything, including human beings.

Everything portable was looted, and the rest burned down.

We have a problem. You can fight the Hamas military leadership, eliminate it, destroy the old infrastructure, and deprive Hamas of all the weapons, but the idea will remain. We cannot prohibit people to think about something. But at least Hamas will cease to be a threat.

Talking about the hostages, some of the families of the hostages recently visited Hungary. What did it mean to them? What was the experience like for them? We talked a lot about the negatives. But there are also some positives, as Israel and the Jews receive support from some directions, especially from Evangelical Christians.

First of all, I told these people that from my point of view they are heroes. I wouldn't wish even for my enemies to be in the position they are in right now. It's not easy and this is an understatement.

But they are determined to leave no stone unturned to maybe find the connection that can help them to bring them back alive. They came to Hungary because the two people we're talking about are also Hungarian citizens. The desire is that the government could use its own connections to bring them back because it's not only a matter of Israelis, but it's also a national interest.

The relatives of the hostages were overwhelmed by the level of support from the president, the support expressed by physical hugs by people. Support in the streets, the way people approached them. They realize that people are sympathizing with them.

Now, there is a proverb, which sometimes tends to become a cliché that a friend in need is a friend indeed. But you know some clichés are more than clichés. Hungary demonstrates it.

Everybody, the political parties. The one issue that I see can unite both parts of the political equation is this.

Relatives of the Israeli-Hungarian hostages visiting Faith Church   Photo by: András Veres

We really appreciate what this country is doing for us, the government, the public, and also the churches. We are used to enjoying the support, coming especially from the Bible Belt in America. But people were surprised to find this kind of support in the heart of Europe. So it's not something which is usual and we don't take it for granted.

It was very impressive when Faith Church came to me and said they wanted in 24 hours to stage a sympathy demonstration. I said no, you must wait another day because the day because I was already dedicated to something. But

within 48 hours, it brought together a demonstration of about 6,000, 7,000 at the shoe monument.

People came from all over, they were holding the names of the communities where they come from. It doesn't remain unnoticed, we see it. And we are thankful because we don't take anything for granted. And the government sometimes is sticking out its neck for us in Europe, even though it's not the most convenient time for the government there.

And I saw many posts about bringing this holiday in the context of all the horrible events that took place on October 7th. And it wasn't an easy time in the time of the Maccabees either and they needed a miracle as much as today's Israel needs a miracle. What do you expect for the next year? What gives hope for Israel?

Sometimes miracles do happen, against all odds. I don't compare our situation to the Maccabean situation. They were a minority in a country that was occupied by foreign power, and most of them also collaborated with them in a way. Our situation is different. No doubt that militarily speaking, we can achieve the goals.

Question is what next? I don't know. First of all, the war will not be finished before the end of this year, it will continue into the next one. Hamas is trying to play on time. We have a problem with it because nobody knows what's happening in the hostages.

We can achieve our goals, but another question is what the political framework would be to reconstruct and rehabilitate Gaza. It's trickier.

What is Iran preparing? They are constantly pushing Hezbollah to launch a full-scale war. They are deterred by us because they see what's happening in Gaza and Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, knows exactly that it will happen, if they escalate. Americans also deter Iran. It's not for nothing that President Biden has sent two big aircraft carriers and their own flotillas, and there's a third one on standby and so on. He said: “Don't.”


He means what he says, and he says what he means in this case.

Question is whether the Iranians will be misinterpreting his message or not. They are very clever. But clever people are not immune for making mistakes.

I hope they don't make the mistake because if this happens, it will turn into a regional wall.

Another issue is the Houthis, who are bringing the biggest part in the world transport into standstill, shooting at vessels. Four out of the five big shipment companies have decided to stop navigating through the Red Sea. It's a big blow to international trade. How long can the Americans keep quiet and not do something? They have now reestablished their international marine force that protect the strait. Before, it had to be established to defend the international maritime transportation from Somali pirates. Now we have exactly the same from the other side of the strait, but this time, they are supported by Iran, they get the best weapons that they are producing. This could explode and easily turn into something much bigger than it is now.

Quds Day rally in Teheran   Shutterstock/saeediex

In Israel, there will be a lot of debate in the coming years. It shortly will be thoroughly investigated what happened. I was still a school child 50 years ago when something similar happened during the Yom Kippur War. I can remember the aftermath of it. The state inquiry committee, the political changes and so on. Today, the atmosphere and the environment completely different than before. Everything is open, so it's much more difficult to hide things.

I do hope 2024 will be better, but we shouldn’t forget that still there is a world energy crisis and a climate change, nothing has changed.

Our civilization is in danger. It is threatened by a different kind of civilization even worse than ISIS.

As an American comedian, Bill Maher said recently, that it's very nice to call others to negotiate and reach a certain result. But it's a little bit difficult to negotiate with someone that says that yesterday today and tomorrow, my goal is to kill you all and “clean” this country.

I am not too optimistic, but realistic. The West has to understand that it cannot give excuses anymore, sit back and relax and say: okay, it's your life, and this is it's ours.

People that you have let into your home, have taken over and they're holding you too, in a way, as hostages.

Europe and America have to pull their act together, to stop this kind of phenomena which is taking over all of us. You cannot let people celebrate murder, rape and chopping people's heads on the streets and on the universities for example. You cannot let them say: it depends on the context.

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