In the past week, anti-Israel protests on college campuses and in the streets of major cities have continued and grown in size. In Europe, the numbers of those expressing “solidarity with Palestine” are even greater as hundreds of thousands marched as Israel began its ground offensive inside the Gaza Strip.
The images of massive throngs of individuals waving Palestinian flags and yelling insults about Israel and Jews have been widely published and broadcast. So, too, have accounts of incidents in which Jews were subjected to intimidation or worse in public venues as aggressive opponents of Israel, who claim to be defending the Palestinian people, vented their spleen and sought to chase those who disagreed with them from public spaces.
Incidents of antisemitism are skyrocketing in the United States and are even becoming more brazen and violent in Europe, where Jews already had good reason to fear being publicly identified with their faith. Just as frightening is the way that online threats against Jews have not merely metastasized but are now leading to specific threats against Jewish communities and institutions.
Yet opinion leaders and influencers on social media are telling us not to believe our lying eyes and ears when we see the mounting evidence of antisemitism. Drawing conclusions from the behavior of the people screaming that “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” carrying posters about throwing the Jews in the trashcan or ripping down posters of Israeli kidnapping victims is mistaken. Such people, we’re told, are just expressing the natural sympathies that humanitarian-minded citizens have for oppressed Palestinians. If you think that’s support for Hamas, then that’s your latent Islamophobia showing. And if you believe such people ought to be held accountable, then you’re promoting cancel culture and trying to shut down freedom of speech.
Support for ‘Palestine’
Compassion for Palestinian residents of Gaza, whose lives have been both disrupted and placed in danger by the war Hamas launched on Oct. 7 with its barbaric cross-border terrorist attacks on communities in southern Israel, is understandable and even commendable. Civilian casualties, however, are the inevitable and intended outcome of Hamas terrorism. Even leaving aside the issue of Hamas’s popularity, people in Gaza are not dying for a “free Palestine.” They’re dying to protect a group that has run their coastal enclave as an Islamist tyranny since 2007, and whose avowed goal—made manifest by the Oct. 7 atrocities—is to destroy the state of Israel and slaughter its Jewish population. Nor are the protests merely an expression of sympathy for the plight of those people who are, through no fault of their own, trapped in a war zone.
As the flags, placards and speeches at these events make abundantly clear, the focus is on depicting Israel as not merely responding “disproportionately” to the attacks on its citizens inside its own border, as ridiculous as that allegation may be. Rather, their purpose is to rally support for “Palestine.”
Defining what exactly “Palestine” is remains an important question. According to Palestinian Arabs, it consists not merely of Hamas-governed Gaza and the territories of Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”), whose Arab population is governed autonomously by the Palestinian Authority led by the Fatah Party; that area west of Jordan has been considered disputed land since the 1967 Six-Day War. Rather, they view the whole of Israel as well as those territories to be Palestine. And when they say it must be “free,” they mean the eradication of the State of Israel, something that could only be made possible by the genocide of its Jewish population.
Support for this concept stems from a belief buttressed by the spread of critical race theory and intersectional teachings, which falsely view Israel as an expression of colonialism and imperialism in which “white” oppressors have victimized “people of color.” These ideas link the struggle for civil rights in the United States and against apartheid in South Africa with a desire to wipe the one Jewish state on the planet off the map.
As no less a personage than Karen Attiah, the global opinions editor of The Washington Post wrote this past week, support for Hamas on the left, and specifically among African-Americans, stems from their belief that Israel must be “decolonized” along with every other vestige of Western civilization.
Erasing the very idea of Jewish rights, in addition to thousands of years of history and faith, Attiah insists that Jewish liberals need to get over the idea that their erstwhile minority allies are abandoning them. If there is “solidarity with Palestine,” it is because the very existence of Israel is a crime. She then goes on to re-circulate the blood libel that Israel helped train the police in Ferguson, Mo., to kill African-Americans. She also complains that it’s wrong to accuse people who want to eliminate Israel of being antisemites, even though the Jews are the only people that “progressives” wish to deprive of their homeland and deny the right to defend themselves.
In this same way, a letter signed by numerous members of the faculty of Columbia University defended students supporting Hamas and the destruction of Israel. It also referred to the unspeakable atrocities of Hamas on Oct. 7 as “a military response” and “an occupied people exercising a right to resist violent and illegal occupation.”
What is going on at college campuses and demonstrations is the full-throated expression of an antisemitic movement that seeks the end of Israel. As the demonstrators keep telling us, if that means that 1,400 Israeli men, women and children, must be slaughtered, Jewish women must be raped and tortured, and infants and children abducted, then that is so much the worse for any of these “occupiers.”
This has nothing to do with alleged Israeli misdeeds. The contention is that if Palestinian “rights” are to be respected, then Jewish rights can be erased and Jewish lives don’t matter. Unlike past versions of antisemitism that didn’t bother dressing up hate in the costume of human-rights advocacy, contemporary Jew-hatred masquerades as progressive values, and is championed in prestigious academic and journalistic venues by those respected by society.
If liberal institutions like the Post and the faculty of Columbia have no compunction about justifying loathing Jews, why should we be surprised if Jewish students are being locked in libraries at Cooper Union College or threatened with violence at Cornell University? What’s so shocking, then, when mobs in the streets of New York, Chicago, London and other major cities are yelling for Jewish blood? And if their counterparts in places like Dagestan in the Russian Federation riot and hunt for suspected Jews in airports?
So, let’s stop pretending that the “Palestine” protests are about human rights. If they were, they’d be protesting Hamas’s terrorism. If expressing compassion for Jewish victims and, say, demanding the release of babies and grandparents being held hostage is too much to ask, they could criticize the terrorists’ use of human shields. That includes Hamas terrorists situating its military headquarters underneath a hospital, hoarding supplies inside Gaza while demanding that the world give more to aid Palestinians and refusing to let civilians under its rule escape the fighting.
But they don’t do any of that. Instead, they threaten Jews, tear down posters of kidnapped Israelis and express their support for replacing Israel with “Palestine.”
Antisemitism and cancel culture
Nor should we treat this public expression of antisemitism as merely something about which decent and honorable people ought to sit down and discuss. There is no wiggle room here.
The idea that there is something wrong with publicly exposing those who engage in antisemitism is bizarre, especially coming from those in the academy who have done their best to drive conservative critics of their toxic theories from the public square. Cancel culture is about demonizing and penalizing those who engage in normal political debate. Opposing it has never meant justifying and defending actual racism like those who are neo-Nazis or members of the Ku Klux Klan.
That’s why the doxxing of Harvard students who support the destruction of Israel and who back Hamas terrorism isn’t wrong. Reasonable people would never excuse anyone who suggested lynching African-Americans. Yet that is what is being asked for by those who are cheering on or justifying the pogroms against Jews in Israel. Indeed, Harvard even seeks to protect their right to be hired at the country’s most prestigious law firms and corporations—something it would never do for those who call for the murder of any other minority.
In a saner era of American public life, those who rationalize Hamas slaughter as “decolonization,” as Attiah does, wouldn’t be editors at The Washington Post. They’d be driven to the margins of American society where they could advocate for whatever variant of antisemitism they like.
The same could be said of the Daily Wire’s Candace Owens, who described the pro-Hamas demonstration in London as proof that “people are not accepting the media narrative about what is happening in the Middle East despite the insistent rhetoric from government officials.” But what else did we expect from a defender of Kanye West’s antisemitism, whether she calls herself a conservative or not?
The ability of Harvard’s Jew-haters to go on to glittering careers, or the ability of Owens and Attiah to retain their influential perches, isn’t the real question. It’s whether society has now gone so far in accepting the demonization of Israel and Jews that there is no penalty attached to public expressions of Jew-hatred, whether they pose as sympathy for Palestinians or not.
What does matter is whether moral people are willing to go along with the pretense that demanding Israel’s eradication and the murder of its population is acceptable discourse. What is needed is for all people of goodwill—no matter where they sit on the political spectrum, no matter their faith or background—to denounce these vile ideas as hate speech. What’s more, they should demand that those who support this hatred be given the opprobrium and shunning that would be their fate if they were avowed Nazis, rather than merely those who support Hitler’s Islamist successors.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.