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Author, journalist J.J. Goldberg explores roots of Israel-Hamas war at annual Day of Learning

As Israel’s war with Hamas grinds toward the half-year mark, noted journalist and syndicated columnist J.J. Goldberg shared an overview of the conflict’s historic and geopolitical roots before an overflow local crowd at the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples’ annual Day of Learning.

More than 250 attendees filled the Nina Iser Jewish Cultural Center’s Schiff Hall for the ninth annual event, which explores topical issues through a Jewish lens. The session on Monday, March 11 was co-hosted by the Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council and its Israel and Overseas Committee.

Goldberg, a former editor-in-chief of The Forward newspaper, U.S. bureau chief of The Jerusalem Report and managing editor of The Jewish Week, offered a wide-ranging assessment of Arab-Israeli relations in the Middle East, from the Balfour Declaration issued by the British in 1917 in support of a Jewish state to the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack that sparked the current violence.

Goldberg shared some uncomfortable truths with the pro-Israel audience, comparing a 1947 United Nations map that initially promised more land to the majority-population Palestinians with the 1949 armistice agreement that provided Israel with more land after it had won in its war for independence one year earlier.

“In fact, there were massacres,” Goldberg recounted. “There were a number of cases where the Israeli army came in to capture a village and then large numbers of people in order to scare the other guys…  away. It’s something that happens in wars and international conflicts – but it’s not something that Jews like to think of ourselves as doing. (But) Israel is much more innocent of that sort of behavior than in any other country.”

“Goldberg’s academic outlook, informed by decades of reporting and analysis, was a welcome approach to a complicated, convoluted conflict too often defined by emotion,” said Dr. Nat Ritter, Federation Board Chair.

“The current war in Israel can only be understood in the context of the region’s history, culture, politics and geography,” he said. “The Day of Learning provides just that opportunity – an afternoon in which we can take a deep dive, as a community, and critically engage with some of our seemingly most intractable conflicts in hopes of forging a better path forward.”

Goldberg, who is based in New York, also offered a more contemporary assessment of Israeli politics, notably a rightward cultural and political shift in which the prospects of a two-state solution seem less likely than ever.

“The generals have become the voices of opposition to the government,” he said.

A question-and-answer session with audience members followed Goldberg’s presentation, moderated by community members Jeff Margolis and Steve Schreier. Beyond the current war, the conversation ranged from insights into the U.S. evangelical community’s strong support of Israel to the threat of nuclear war posed by Iran.

For his part, Goldberg avoided making predictions on how the war in Israel would unfold. So should most prognosticators, he said.

“If somebody would ask me know what will happen tomorrow, I don’t know that anyone does,” he said.

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