On October 30, a long list of faculty from Columbia University and Barnard College added their names to an open letter argued that Hamas’s murders, rapes and kidnappings of Israelis and foreigners in Israel – mostly civilians – were a “military response by a people who have endured oppressive and unrelenting state violence from an occupying power for many years.”
The open letter is just the latest episode in a larger uproar of cruel stupidity from the Western left since the atrocities of October 7th.
Protesters celebrated the massacre of young concertgoers in New York. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) explained The slaughter of civilians was a “direct consequence of the Israeli apartheid regime” and “not without reason.” An open letter from a “Coalition of Palestinian Solidarity Groups” at Harvard University announced that Israel “bears full responsibility for all the violence that is unfolding” and stated that “the apartheid regime is the only culprit.”
There are some telling assumptions behind the complete refusal to condemn an explicitly genocidal organization that has just committed the largest mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust. These assumptions – obscured by the language of false anti-imperialism and humanitarian concern – help explain why otherwise decent people can excuse (and even condone) the worst crimes imaginable.
There are two main reasons why so many left-wing activists, students and professors are unable to acknowledge that Hamas has committed terrible atrocities in southern Israel.
First, there is the merger of Hamas with the Palestinian people as a whole. The October 30 letter asks readers to consider whether the pogrom in Israel was “just a volley in an ongoing war between an occupying state and…” the people it occupies, or as occupied people Exercising a right to resist violent and illegal occupation” (italics added). This is a grotesque denigration of the majority of Palestinians who face endless humiliation and deprivation but would not dream of expressing their discontent by shooting children and grandmothers.
Allowing the most extreme members of a movement or society to serve as its representatives is not only a deep insult to many innocent people, but also a political disaster.
“This conflation of Hamas with ordinary Palestinians is, ironically, exactly what the most virulent anti-Palestinian voices in Israel and on the right are doing.”
As Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced On the “complete siege” of Gaza, he said: “We are fighting people and acting accordingly.” Cutting off food, water and electricity to everyone in Gaza is a brutal form of collective punishment – and one that is much easier to rationalize if the people of Gaza are dehumanized and treated as if they were indistinguishable from Hamas.
The left should devote its political energy to drawing a clear line between Gazans who only want to protect their families and the theocratic gang that has intentionally put those families in mortal danger.
But many self-proclaimed friends of the Palestinians do the opposite.
It is bad enough when leftists view Hamas as the authentic voice of the Palestinians, but it is an ugly and dangerous travesty when they heap praise on the organization. That’s what former British Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn did when he described Hamas as “an organization dedicated to the welfare of the Palestinian people and bringing about long-term peace and social and political justice throughout the region.”
The second reason many on the left refuse to hold Hamas accountable for the horrors it inflicted on Israeli civilians on October 7 is the long-standing left-wing belief that anti-Western terrorist organizations have no agency.
Recall the language in the letters and statements above: The attack was a “direct result of Israel’s apartheid regime.” Israel is “totally responsible” and “the only one to blame.”
It is one thing to claim that the attack was a “military response” — a ploy to reframe the slaughter of civilians as self-defense. But it is something entirely different to completely absolve Hamas of responsibility for its actions.
This reflects a core belief of much of the left – that victims of oppression are not self-determined people capable of making their own decisions. Just as victims of systemic racism cannot themselves hold racist views (so the argument goes), victims of what the left has called the “settler-colonial” enterprise could not possibly be genocidal imperialists.
Some on the left don’t even believe Hamas can be held responsible for the oppression of other Palestinians – like British activist Owen Jones recently explained: “It wasn’t actually Hamas that introduced the law banning homosexuality in Gaza. Guess who it was? The British Empire.”
The left privileges the status of victim over all other aspects of identity. But in the case of Hamas, one need only read its charter — a horror show of anti-Semitic paranoia and annihilation fantasy — to see that the group’s obsessive hatred of Jews is a far more important motivating factor than the restrictions imposed on Gaza.
Millions of Palestinians do not fire rockets at civilians or riot at music festivals and kibbutzim, and many resistance movements throughout history have been nonviolent. Human behavior is not a product of a single variable like victimhood.
The two main reasons for the outbreak of moral confusion on the left after October 7th are directly related.
In the minds of many protesters and activists on campus are Hamas and the Palestinians are interchangeable. They are all just victims with brown skin and can therefore be randomly divided into groups. The best of them are no different from the worst. (This conflation of Hamas with ordinary Palestinians is, ironically, exactly what the most virulent anti-Palestinian voices in Israel and on the right do.)
This isn’t even the gentle bigotry of low expectations – it’s just bigotry, and it will only harm the people it claims to defend.