What I saw on a recent trip to Israel

by Shawn Steel | Orange County Register

PUBLISHED: December 10, 2023 at 8:00 a.m. | UPDATED: December 10, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.

Documenting the devastation in Kibbutz Nir Oz
Documenting the devastation in Kibbutz Nir Oz

The horror at Kibbutz Nir Oz is impossible to describe.

Two months after the October 7th terrorist attacks, I joined a delegation of Republican leaders on a 4-day trip to Israel. RNC Committeewoman Leora Levy, herself a refugee from Cuba whose grandfather escaped the Nazi takeover of Lithuania, organized the trip to express Republican support for Israel following the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust.

And when we walked through the scarred and burned-out streets of Kibbutz Nir Oz, the Holocaust is the only parallel that describes the extent of human suffering experienced on October 7th. Nearly half of the residents of this Israeli neighborhood were either brutally killed or kidnapped by Hamas terrorists. Many were burned alive in their homes. Those who ran were shot or kidnapped.

On Day 2, we visited under military escort the bulldozed remains of Sderot, where Hamas gunmen brutally killed 30 Jewish police officers and civilians in a surprise attack. Later in the day, we visited the Re’In festival grounds, where 300 people were indiscriminately slaughtered without warning in a frenzied chaos of torture, rape and murder.

On Day 3, our delegation visited the once-thriving villages of Upper Galilee that have now been evacuated due to relentless rocket attacks from Iranian-backed Hezbollah. We were honored to meet with members of the Israel Defense Forces stationed along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.  Most of the soldiers are reservists, who have left behind their families and jobs to answer their nation’s call.

On Day 4, just minutes before our first meeting in Jerusalem, two Hamas terrorists stopped their car in front of a bus stop and opened fire on helpless civilians. Three innocent Israeli civilians were killed and five others were wounded. Tragically, Yuval Doron Castleman, who previously served in the Israeli security forces, was also killed by friendly-fire when he bravely rushed at the terrorists with his firearm. At the time of the attack, we were just miles away, meeting with wounded IDF soldiers and grieving parents at Hadassah University Hospital, a nonprofit that has served patients of every race, religion and ethnicity since 1931.

“You couldn’t grasp it all,” U.S. Army medic Andrew Kiniry recalled of his experience arriving at Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945. “I can’t really describe it, to tell you how horrendous it was to see these people treated like animals. Even worse than that.”

That’s exactly how I felt as we visited, under military escort, several of the Hamas slaughtering grounds.

In addition to expressing solidarity with Israel, this trip was essential in providing firsthand accounts that can confront the growing threat of antisemitism in American politics. Since the Holocaust, antisemitism has unleashed twin attacks on history and the Jewish people. One flank, Holocaust denialism, attempts to rewrite history to deny that the Nazi genocide ever happened.

Holocaust denialism is no longer relegated to the fringes of society, and it’s most prominent on progressive college campuses. A 2020 nationwide survey found a “worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge” among adults under 40. Nearly 40 percent of millennials and Gen Z did not know 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

From fake Facebook posts to AI-generated videos, we are seeing similar forms of historical negation about October 7th. Even supposedly reputable mainstream outlets, such as the New York Times and BBC News, falsely blamed Israel for the attack on al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza.

When antisemites aren’t denying the Holocaust, they’re celebrating the murders of Jews. Numerous progressive activist groups, including college Democratic clubs, chapters of the Democratic Socialists for America, the Oakland teachers union, and members of Black Lives Matter celebrated the terrorist attacks. In a since-deleted tweet, BLM Chicago declared, “I stand with Palestine,” accompanied by an image of a Hamas paraglider. Democrat Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan is rallying progressives under the antisemitic slogan “from the river to the sea,” which calls for the eradication of Israel.

Unlike any of its prior wars, Israel is faced with a real threat to its existence. There is a fervent ideology, sweeping the Middle East controlled, organized and financed by Iran. Those forces would rather die than allow Israel and its democratic values to succeed. Israel is united in confronting this existential threat, and America must continue to stand with her.

Shawn Steel, a member of the Republican National Committee, recently returned from a 4-day trip to Israel as part of a Republican delegation organized to show support for Israel.