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Support for terror: explaining the inexplicable



The origins of all wars are contested. Israel’s “Operation Guardian of the Walls” is no exception. Relying on the logic of cui bono – or he who stands to gain – some attribute a Machiavellian role to Prime Minister “Bibi” Netanyahu. It cannot be gainsaid that shortly before the conflagration, there were signs that an alternative government was in the making.

Other commentators blame the war on Israel’s short-sighted behaviour: over-zealous action by security forces at the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan and the mishandling of a complicated legal case in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to not hold long overdue Palestinian elections is also cited as a proximate cause.

The broader context of course is the plight of the Palestinians.

Whatever the cause, Hamas saw an opening, and has done its best to show that it’s the protector of Al-Aqsa and the authentic voice of Palestinian aspirations.

Contestation around causation and the apportionment of blame is predictable. What’s astonishing, however, is the substantial support for Hamas (and Islamic Jihad) in the West. Both these movements oppose democracy and all that’s valued by human-rights activists. Each has a track record of terror. Ask Fatah – or at least those members who survived the bloody Hamas military coup in Gaza in 2007.

Yet, in spite of Hamas’s odious tactics that include the placement of artillery in schools, mosques, and close to apartment buildings and hotels housing journalists, tens of thousands in many Western cities are happy to march in support of this terror movement. Who cares about the indiscriminate firing of rockets at Israeli civilians?

Protestors are seemingly oblivious to the medieval worldview and visceral Jew-hatred of Hamas. Not even its blatantly antisemitic founding charter – which amplified global Jewish machinations and included a reference to the notorious fabrication, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, raises doubt among the so-called progressive left. Young and old are happy to join forces with a movement that would catapult human rights back to the dark ages.

The reality is that Hamas is undermining the prospect of a Palestinian state. It’s weakening the case of peace-seeking Israelis. As New York Times columnist Bret Stephens put it, “If you want a Palestinian state to exist and succeed, you must also want Hamas to be humiliated and defeated. Hamas’s sole aim for more than 30 years has been to turn a difficult but potentially negotiable conflict into a non-negotiable, zero-sum holy war.” Only a week ago, Hamas political chief Musa Abu Marzook told Russia Today that Jews wouldn’t be allowed to remain in Israel. That was how he clarified what the war was about.

Let me be clear. If an intifada had erupted on the West Bank two weeks ago, it would have been reasonable to argue that the occupation has simply gone on for too long. But this is different. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are anti-Jewish terrorist movements. Both have taken advantage of heightened tensions and stoked these with a view to political gain at the expense of their opposition, Fatah.

Hamas is emboldened by a Western media and its fellow travellers. Some will argue that Israel’s response is disproportionate; but all ignore the fact that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. All should agree that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, formally designated as such by the United States, Canada, and the European Union.

How then do we account for those marching in support of Hamas? We do not, after all, see equivalent action against the oppression (some would argue genocide) of the Uighurs in China, actions by the Xi Jinping regime in Hong Kong, the military in Myanmar, not to mention the slaughter of civilians in Yemen and Tigre, and the systematic murder of Kurds by the Turkish forces in Iraqi Kurdistan, the so-called Operation Claw Lightning that started a month ago. Innocent children, too, suffer in these conflicts.

Yes, I know there has been the occasional limited protest against some actions and yes, I know that the apartheid regime also raised examples of racial discrimination in other parts of the world to bolster its case and challenge its detractors. However, the energy, steam, and passion behind those supporting Hamas and Islamic Jihad is unique and needs explanation.

Some have argued that one can choose one’s cause – that one cannot focus on all evils. The question, however, remains. Why do so many choose the Israeli question? Is it because the region is home to the three Abrahamic faiths? Is it because of oil sensitivities in the region? Is it because “Jews are news”?

None of these explanations is compelling. A more likely reason is that a historical amnesia has descended – identified as such by Jacob Talmon more than 40 years ago. In response to the new left’s anti-Zionism at the time – the precursors of those marching today – the renowned historian suggested that these “young revolutionaries” were “hypnotised by the facile theory of the two camps: that of imperialism and that of oppressed peoples fighting for national liberation”.

But reality is more complex. There has been a continuous Jewish presence in the land of Israel for more than 2 000 years in spite of the Greek, Roman, Arab, and Crusader conquests.

Historical amnesia, however, is only a part explanation. Another is more sinister: Israel is the collective Jew – the Jew writ large. Put simply, the Jewish state embodies an unresolved obsession with Jews in the Western consciousness.

Columnist Brendan O’Neill expressed this with great clarity in the Spectator: “It seems to me that, increasingly, there is nothing very rational or normal about the hatred for Israel that sporadically sweeps the West. Rather, Israel has become a whipping boy for the elites, a nation that has cynically been turned into the embodiment of evil by virtue-signalling Westerners in desperate need for an outlet for their rage and pontification.

“Without an alternative explanation,” continues O’Neill, “the rest of us will be justified in wondering if perhaps an old, dark hatred, whether wittingly or unwittingly, underpins the manic loathing of Israel.”

  • Milton Shain is emeritus professor of historical studies at the University of Cape Town.

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