columnAntisemitism

Pro-Hamas Jews are Jews for antisemitism

The presence of Jews among those demonstrating for Hamas and supporting the surge in antisemitism doesn’t vindicate the “pro-Palestine” cause.

Protesters in Los Angeles, many of them Jewish, participate in a rally to demand an immediate ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, as well as an end to U.S. military aid to Israel, Nov. 15, 2023. Credit: Ringo Chiu/Shutterstock.
Protesters in Los Angeles, many of them Jewish, participate in a rally to demand an immediate ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, as well as an end to U.S. military aid to Israel, Nov. 15, 2023. Credit: Ringo Chiu/Shutterstock.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

One of the standard talking points of those seeking to rationalize and even justify the efforts of those supporting the survival of Hamas and the defeat of Israel since the Oct. 7 massacres is the fact that many Jews are among the ranks of these “critics” of the Jewish state. So, when observers point to the blatant antisemitism that has become a feature of the pro-Hamas, anti-Israel protests that have proliferated on North American college campuses and elsewhere in the last six months, those backing the demonstrations simply say they can’t be against Jews because Jews are among the participants.

The fact that a small sector are either lending tacit or overt support to the cause of those who wish to destroy the one Jewish state on the planet are themselves Jewish doesn’t absolve those who support this despicable cause. A Jewish student donning a Palestinian keffiyeh and chanting against Israel in the name of “Palestine” to fit in with fashionable opinion, or the public intellectual speaking out “as a Jew” to denounce the Jewish state’s right to defend itself or even to exist can be useful for those who traffic in Jew-hatred. Individuals who want to engage in antisemitism without having to be held accountable for spewing bigotry or even endangering Jews are glad of the cover these useful idiots provide. 

Jews disagree on just about everything, including their religion, history and Israeli policies. There is a vigorous debate going on in Israel about whether the current government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should continue in office, in addition to whether the war against Hamas is being pursued with sufficient vigor or how much the country should concede to obtain the freedom of the remaining hostages being held by terrorists in Gaza. Those arguments will ultimately be resolved, as is the case for any democracy, at the ballot box the next time the country holds an election. American Jews also differ on a host of issues.

Turning against their own

It is natural for a small people to embrace a “big tent” philosophy to include as many people as possible. But there is nothing legitimate about Jews who provide cover in one form or another for antisemites, and even worse, an organization like Hamas, whose purpose is Israel’s destruction and the genocide of the Jewish people. Those who act in this manner don’t have the standing to confer authenticity to a cause that has none, and which, at its core, is steeped in intolerance for Jewish rights or safety.

The phenomenon of people who turn against their own and support their enemies is hardly unique to the Jews. Whether their motivation is their loathing for their countrymen or because they have been seduced by some ideology, such betrayals are a universal theme. However, due to the small number of Jews in the world (a population currently estimated to be 15.7 million souls, a figure that is still smaller than the 16.6 million that were believed to be alive in 1939 before the mass slaughter of the Holocaust), such betrayals have a disproportionate impact and receive far greater notice in a world where antisemitism is still a potent force.

That is the context for any discussion about the role of Jews in the “pro-Palestine” movement.

Jewish students are certainly present among the college mobs chanting for Israel’s destruction (“from the river to the sea”), supporting terrorism against Jews around the world (“globalize the intifada”) or merely identifying with the Oct. 7 murderers (“We are all Hamas”). Some of the professors who have rushed to their defense are also apparently Jewish, such as the signatories of this letter from Columbia University faculty speaking out in favor of the pro-Hamas demonstrators on that campus.

The same is true of public figures who have been leading the effort to demonize Israel’s efforts to eradicate the Hamas terrorists. New York Times contributor Peter Beinart, who once styled himself “liberal Zionist” but now advocates for Israel’s elimination, makes much of his alleged Jewish piety. Others on the far left don’t make such claims but still cite their Jewish heritage when supporting those who oppose the Jewish state’s existence. Perennial far-left presidential candidate Jill Stein of the Green Party is someone who falls into that category. Her recent rant on X in which she said that Jews can go back to Poland, alleged that the Israeli army was attacking pro-Hamas American college students on their campuses and said that only 0.1% of Jews support Zionism illustrated both her ignorance and how untethered her views are to reality.

Nevertheless, the attention these figures get from the mainstream media, in which publications like the Times or NPR claim that the Jewish element in antisemitic demonstrations on campuses are as representative of the Jewish community as supporters of Israel, demonstrates how they are being used.

The assertion that Israel’s actions are so egregious that a sizable percentage of American Jews no longer support it or have altogether embraced the cause of anti-Zionism is a key talking point for those seeking to isolate and demonize the Jewish state.

Rooted in falsehoods

Part of the problem is that the premise of such arguments is rooted in falsehoods. Israel is not conducting a genocide in the Gaza Strip, and owing to the large number of children there never has. It has done more to avoid civilian casualties in its war on Hamas than any modern army has ever done in urban combat. Nor should anyone believe the fraudulent totals of Palestinian casualties put forward by Hamas.

It is equally false to allege that most American Jews no longer support Israel. While opinions may differ on Netanyahu or specific government policies, polls continue to show overwhelming support for Israel in its war on Hamas.

Opposition to Zionism from certain elements in the Jewish community has existed since the birth of the modern movement in 1897. Before 1948, many prosperous Jews opposed a Jewish state because they wrongly thought that its existence would lead to their being deprived of their rights as Americans. Adherents of Reform Judaism in the 19th century embraced a vision that essentially eschewed any sense of Jewish peoplehood. And ultra-Orthodox Jews opposed Zionism because they believed that the creation of a Jewish state must await the coming of the Messiah. The Socialist Bundist movement believed in the creation of an autonomous Yiddish-speaking Jewish existence in Europe and hoped that a Communist revolution would enable that by ending all forms of prejudice.

Those positions have been marginalized since the Holocaust and the rebirth of a Jewish state in 1948 with the creation of Israel. Once Zionism stopped being merely a proposal and became the idea associated with the existence of an actual country where Jewish refugees from the Holocaust, and the Arab and Islamic world, had found shelter, all of the arguments against it collapsed. Since 1948, anti-Zionism has become indistinguishable from antisemitism simply because reversing not just the idea but the entity would necessitate another Jewish genocide. And it would also mean depriving Jews of rights denied to no other people on the planet.

The fears of the assimilated about the success of Zionism have long been exposed as self-serving fantasies. The Reform movement shifted in the 20th century to a position of support for Israel and Zionism, as well as a more traditional view of Jewish peoplehood. The hopes of the Bundists were crushed by Soviet antisemitism and the destruction of European Jewish civilization by the Nazi war on the Jews. And though a tiny fragment of haredim still oppose Israel and show up at pro-terror demonstrations to voice their puny support for those attempting to kill fellow Jews, they are unrepresentative of the larger ultra-Orthodox world, which has made its peace with Israel and has grown exponentially because of its existence.

Today, Jewish anti-Zionism is largely the preserve of ideological extremists on the far left. Their positions mimic the toxic myths of woke ideology like critical race theory and intersectionality, which falsely claim that Israel and Jews are “white” oppressors. (Those who know the facts understand that the majority of Israelis are Mizrachi.) Others advocate what they call “Diasporism,” an ideology that glorifies Jewish weakness and homelessness, and deplores efforts of Jews to defend themselves or have what other peoples take for granted, such as the right to live in peace and security with defensible borders in their ancient homeland. Curiously, while these anti-Zionist seekers of marginality and exile think that being homeless is somehow good for the Jews, they don’t think the same is true for Palestinian Arabs. While they decry even the most liberal concepts of Jewish nationalism, they are strong supporters of “Palestinian self-determination” and statehood, despite that cause being rooted in the belief that the same right should be denied to Jews.

Such intellectual arguments are risible and clearly anchored in an attempt to revive Marxism. But just as most of the anti-Zionist talking points emanating from the left is an echo of Soviet disinformation and propaganda that was used to promote the libelous “Zionism is racism” campaign of the 1960s and 1970s, it is equally true that Diasporism is being exploited by supporters of Hamas, as well as those who engage in open antisemitism.

Trafficking in blood libels

That is exactly what the activist groups Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow are doing. Both groups have gained popularity on campuses and have largely stolen the thunder of liberal Zionist groups like J Street, which tried to balance their vicious opposition to Israeli policies with at least theoretical support for the existence of the Jewish state. The two groups are not only openly opposed to the existence of a nation of 7 million Jews; they also traffic in blood libels about it and its supporters. Yet they are often cited as not only representative of Jewish opinion by the mainstream media but treated as credible and even idealistic voices.

One may be sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian Arabs as a result of their leaders’ decisions to repeatedly reject peace offers that would have given them a state since 1947. They have repeatedly waged wars that caused more suffering to themselves than to the Jews. But when sympathy with a people that is suffering because it chose war and terrorism crosses over into support for genocidal Palestinian fantasies about erasing the last 75 years of history, it ceases to be advocacy for those in need and becomes a form of enabling violence. And that is what Jewish supporters of the “free Palestine” movement are doing.

Simply put, if you advocate for the destruction of Israel and oppose the defeat of a terrorist group that committed unspeakable atrocities on Oct. 7—and continues to seek a goal of Jewish genocide—then it doesn’t matter if you claim to have Jewish heritage. Those who do so can conduct public prayers or otherwise cloak their beliefs in a veneer of Jewish practice or heritage. But if the only point of your Jewish identity is to provide cover for those who commit violence against Jews and who believe they should be denied rights denied to no one else, then you are just as much of an antisemite as any other supporter of such toxic causes, whether “pro-Palestine” or neo-Nazi.

In the current context when Israel and the Jewish people are under siege from a surge in antisemitism that was provoked by the Oct. 7 crimes committed against Israel, a Jew who embraces the anti-Zionist “pro-Palestine” position is siding with the enemies of their own people.

Throughout history, such betrayers have always afflicted the Jewish people. However, only in our current era have they done so while masquerading as defenders of Jewish ethics that somehow erase basic elements of Judaism, like love of the land of Israel or even the right of Jews to defend themselves against the murder, rape, torture and kidnapping that Hamas perpetrated on Oct. 7 and that so many college students are now defending. They lend no legitimacy or credibility to the cause of leftists and Islamists who seek the destruction of the Jewish state. Jews may disagree about the government of Israel, but those who have joined pro-Hamas demonstrations can’t hide behind their Jewish origins. They are not Jews for justice or human rights. They are Jews for antisemitism—and should be treated with the contempt that anyone who sides with the murderers of their own people deserves.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

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