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The Oldest Hatred Roars Back
The paroxysm of antisemitism since the 10/7 attacks is a reminder of why Israel is essential.
OCTOBER 7 WILL BE REMEMBERED AS A DATE that wrenched history in a new direction. The previous day, Israel was struggling with the deep internal divisions that had brought protesters into the streets for nine straight months. The greatest threats to Israel’s future, it seemed, were domestic. On the international front, Israel was poised to sign a landmark peace treaty with Saudi Arabia that would functionally mark the end of inter-state conflict between Israel and its near neighbors. (Iran is another matter.) The Palestinian issue was relegated to the back burner, with hopes that all Palestinians, not just the Palestinian Authority, would eventually accept Israel’s right to exist, as the Arab states had done, and accept a two-state solution. Jewish Americans felt safe and rabbis joined vigorously in condemnation of the Netanyahu government for, among other things, forming alliances with Israeli extremists.
In one day of savagery, Hamas shattered that reality. The upwelling of antisemitism around the globe and especially in the United States mocks the naïvety of those who imagined that the oldest hatred was mostly in the past, that Israel could be a normal nation, or that a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue could be realized in the near future. American Jews, stunned by the worst mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust, are reeling from the lack of basic decency shown by many progressives. If your ideology blinds you to the crimes of rape, arson, kidnapping, and mass murder, what is there to discuss?
No more hiding behind “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism.” This moment, for all its horror, is at least clarifying. Jewish schools and synagogues are closing around the globe. Vandals stenciled Stars of David on the doors of Jewish homes in Paris. What has Zionism to do with that?
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Criticizing the Israeli government, or even generally taking the side of Palestinians over Israelis, is not anti-Zionism. No, anti-Zionism is dehumanizing hatred of Israelis and Jews. It’s the denial of Israel’s right to exist and the hunger to punish, harm, or kill Jews wherever they may live. It is indistinguishable from antisemitism. This may cause some soul-searching on the part of the small number of Jews, such as those affiliated Jewish Voice for Peace, an adamantly anti-Zionist group that employs most of the tropes popular on far-left sites: apartheid, ceasefire, oppression, boycott. As a piece in Jewish Currents put it, “many avowed anti-Zionist Jews found [after October 7] they could not join solidarity protests because they needed something the protests could not provide: a space to grieve the Israeli dead.”
The anti-Zionism of Jewish Currents is not that of other so-called anti-Zionists. Raw, Jew-hating anti-Zionism can be found in statements like that of Columbia professor Joseph Massad praising the “resistance’s remarkable takeover” of Israeli bases and checkpoints and calling the 10/7 attack “awesome” and “striking.” We see it in statements from Students for Justice in Palestine calling the terrorist attack a “historic win” for the “Palestinian resistance.” We see it in the mob in Sydney, Australia that gathered to celebrate, yes celebrate, the mass murder with cries of “Gas the Jews.” We see it in the mob at Cooper Union shouting antisemitic slogans at a group of Jewish students who were barricaded in the library for their safety.
At Cornell, police have been called to guard Jewish students in their dorm after threatening messages appeared on the college forum. One post from a student identified as “kill jews” read “Gonna shoot up 104 West. Allahu akbar! From the river to the sea. Palestine will be free. Glory to Hamas! By any means necessary.” Another post, from someone styling him or herself as “Hamas soldier,” warned “watch out pig jews. Jihad is coming. Nowhere is safe. Your synagogues will become graveyards. Your women will be raped and your children beheaded. Glory to Allah.” Both commenters were clear about their targets: not Israelis, but Jews.
Even the semantic debate about the severability of anti-Zionism and antisemitism seems antique now. We are in a new era. People who revel in the murder and torture of Jewish babies are not going to be shamed by the accusation of antisemitism. They embrace it, and so do their apologists.
The depravity of Hamas’s useful idiots is matched only by their ignorance. In Philadelphia last weekend, I passed a pro-Hamas demonstration. One protester’s sign read “Free Palestine” and was decorated with a hammer and sickle. The cross-cutting inconsistencies here are legion. Hamas is an Islamist movement that believes in strict adherence to sharia law, persecutes homosexuals, and represses women. But they are the oppressed, according to the moral hierarchies in vogue on the left. The protesters also decry Israel as a “settler colonial” state. Sorry, that’s rubbish.
There have been Jews in Israel since Biblical times (and Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority for hundreds of years), but the modern settlement of the land began in the 1880s when Jews from Europe arrived, inspired by the Zionist idea. They were not colonists for any European power. They were fleeing European persecution. Several more waves of migrants came in the following decades, especially after the severe pogroms of the early 1900s. They did not push anyone out of their homes or land. They purchased land legally and openly.
History is complicated. There was an imperial power in charge at the time—the Ottoman Empire, which at its height extended across North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, and southeastern Europe. Besides, the major powers, including everyone in the U.S. government except Harry Truman, opposed the creation of a Jewish state. David Ben-Gurion was grateful for Truman’s diplomatic recognition, but for weapons to stay alive, Israel had to turn to the Soviet Union. Stalin supplied tanks and other weapons from his client state, Czechoslovakia, to counter a U.S. arms embargo. Stalin changed his mind a few years later and became an enemy to Israel (and Soviet Jews), but his initial enthusiasm was key to Israel’s survival in 1948 and should cloud the brains of protesters decrying “settler colonialists.” (The Soviet Union was itself an empire, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Israel is also routinely accused of genocide, which is satisfying for the kind of person who thinks, Why can’t they shut up about the Holocaust? But it’s a lie. Even more than the United States, Israel is painstaking about avoiding civilian casualties where possible. It’s the reason that Israel has for sixteen years absorbed thousands of missiles fired over the border into southern Israel with only limited responses. They built the Iron Dome system and safe rooms instead of attempting to destroy Gaza. But the rule cannot be that Hamas can target Israeli grandmothers, families, and babies for kidnapping, rape, death, and dismemberment but Israel cannot pursue them because they hide among their own civilians. That would amount to surrender to terrorism.
The Hamas apologists who point to the suffering of Palestinian civilians are not wrong about the suffering—though they cannot concede the responsibility of Hamas for starting this war with their inhuman attacks. A pre-10/7 poll of Palestinians in Gaza found that 62 percent wanted to preserve the ceasefire. In any case, Gazans haven’t been given a vote since 2006, so Hamas’s claim to legitimacy is essentially nonexistent.
There is also a strange selectivity among Hamas apologists in their concern for civilians. They overlook the glaringly obvious moral distinction between intentionally targeting civilians and collaterally harming civilians who are near legitimate military targets. Hamas makes war on Israeli and Palestinian civilians, in the first case through the most vicious violence imaginable and in the second through using them as human shields for missiles and terror headquarters. Yet their apologists give them a pass for both. And the apologists display notable indifference to what is happening to the civilians in other parts of the world: in Yemen (15,000 killed), or Nagorno-Karabakh (100,000 Armenians ethnically cleansed and forced to flee their homes), or Burma (25,000 Rohingya killed, 18,000 raped), or Syria (306,000 civilians killed including 30,000 children, 12 million forced to flee their homes). It’s almost as if it doesn’t matter how many people suffer and die—that doesn’t disturb the sleep of Hamas’s defenders. What matters is whom you most hate. Israel and Jews top the list.
There was a time when respectable observers who sympathized with the Palestinians would emphasize their desire for “two states for two peoples.” No longer. The protesters and Ivy League professors who proclaim their support for a “free” Palestine “from the river to the sea” are not asking for a tame, two-state solution. The river is the Jordan. The sea is the Mediterranean. What lies between is Israel. Hamas has never made a secret of its rejection of the two-state idea. The slogan envisions at least massive ethnic cleansing, and after 10/7 only a fool would imagine that genocide is unthinkable. There would doubtless be cheers in Paris and Sydney and Dagestan if it came to pass. And that only underscores the original Zionist raison d’être. There must be an Israel because the world’s oldest hatred will never die.