Michelle Sofge-Brunner

A letter to a friend

Dear Friend,

I see you posting very passionately on social media about the supposed ‘genocide’ in Gaza, decrying Israel’s various ‘war crimes’ and demanding an immediate ceasefire. I see you, and I have a few things I’d like to clarify. 

It may seem to you like you are supporting the cause of the underdog, the oppressed, the noble victim. The ones whose land was ‘stolen’ and is currently ‘occupied’ by ‘settler colonizers’ in an ‘apartheid state’. I think I hit all the buzzwords, right? What I would like to suggest to you is that that is not just a major oversimplification, but actually misses the boat entirely. 

I would like for you to understand that this is not a territorial squabble, nor is it an anti-colonial struggle. This is jihad. This is Islamic terrorism, mixed in with old-fashioned anti-Semitism to produce a toxic cocktail. And it has co-opted the narrative and the language of Western liberalism and progressivism, of ‘resistance’ and ‘freedom-fighting’, in order to make the bloodshed more palatable to Western audiences. To people like you. To well-intentioned but, dare I say it – clueless – people like you. 

Whatever the merits of the original Palestinian cause – and there are some, no doubt – it has been hijacked by Hamas and other radical Islamist terrorist groups, with which it is unfortunately increasingly indistinguishable. Indeed the Palestinians have legitimate grievances, but the reality is that Israel today is engaged in fighting Islamic terror, and not in a dispute over land or self-determination. Admittedly, it took me a while to accept this sad reality, and I understand your unwillingness to do so. 

So let’s say it louder for the people in the back: Hamas is a genocidal death cult that calls for the killing of Jews everywhere. Not Israelis. Jews. Maybe you are not aware of the scale and brutality of what happened on October 7, about tying children together and burning them alive. Shooting children in front of their parents, and parents in front of their children. Burning entire families alive in their homes. Maybe you’ve somehow managed not to read about the biggest slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust and how it was all filmed with pride and jubilation, to cheering crowds back home. 

Or maybe you are aware of it, but immediately think, ‘But the occupation! Colonization! Settlements!’ In which case I would like to ask if you always try to justify or minimize or excuse such acts of brutality against civilians and children, or is it only when it happens to Jews? With other instances of crimes against humanity and acts of sheer brutality, is your reaction, ‘Well, you know, it’s complicated, and those people were very angry for a very long time.’ It seems to me that the ‘Yes, that was a terrible massacre, but….’ is only applied to Israel. 

Was the Bataclan massacre excused in such a way? The Brussels terror attacks? September 11? Somehow, when it comes to Israel, people who don’t know or care much about any other world issues find themselves donning keffiyehs and marching in the streets, chanting slogans whose meaning they don’t really understand. Or in your case, wielding hashtags in an embarrassing display of self-righteous armchair activism which costs you nothing because you don’t actually have any skin in the game.

But don’t you see that there is a difference between a democratic state defending its citizens and inevitably killing civilians while it does so (and this is absolutely tragic and heartbreaking), and a terrorist organization that explicitly targets the most vulnerable civilians? Don’t you see that there is a difference between defending your citizens against military threats and taking sadistic glee in barbarous acts against innocent people, between striking military targets and parading around dead bodies to a cheering crowd? Your allegiance to supposed progressivism seems to have blinded you, and you are no longer able to have moral clarity, to see right from wrong. Everything is upside down. 

How did we get to this point? The lazy application of Western identity politics, in which certain groups are either ‘oppressor’ or ‘oppressed’, is a good start. It explains partly how the Palestinians have managed to spend decades rejecting every peace deal offered them, blowing up civilians on buses and in restaurants, and indoctrinating their children with hatred of Jews and with bloodlust – and still be the noble victim. It also partly explains how Hamas is able to so thoroughly embed itself in civilian infrastructure, actively seeking to maximize its own civilian casualties – and still garner global sympathy. 

But I would argue that the ‘progressive’ alignment with a right-wing anti-Semitic death cult also owes much to plain old traditional anti-Semitism. Consider the way in which anti-Semitism has mutated over the centuries to always stay current and to reflect the most hated or feared thing of a particular time – in the Middle Ages we were responsible for the plague and for killing Jesus, in the eighteenth century we were greedy money grubbers, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries we were suddenly communists, and today we’re supposedly racist colonizers. 

Similarly, hatred of Jews has seamlessly evolved into hatred of the Jewish nation-state. People used to boycott Jewish businesses, now they boycott the Jewish state. They used to call for the extermination of Jews, now they call for the annihilation of the Jewish state. They used to be plain old anti-Semitic, now they’re ‘anti-Zionist’. Same shit, different shovel. Don’t you see that ‘anti-Zionism’ is just a fancy word for anti-Semitism? It’s cocktail party acceptable, euphemistically phrased straight-up anti-Semitism. It makes the person who says it feel like they’re nuanced and sophisticated, while in reality they’ve fallen into the most obvious trap.

To be very clear, I do not think you are anti-Semitic. I do think however that you have been influenced (or even manipulated) by people and movements that are. And that those movements in turn have cynically commandeered Western identity politics for their decidedly unprogressive, illiberal objectives. They use the language that appeals to your best instincts, to fight for the weak and the oppressed, but it is disingenuous and a complete inversion of reality. It is precisely your sense of humanity and desire for justice which is being cynically exploited. 

I get that it’s very sexy and exciting to feel like you’re part of some radical social justice cause. Modern life can be so boring, enervating even, and you want to feel like you’re doing a real thing. Advancing an important cause, fighting the good fight. But if there’s one thing you take away from all this, I would like for it to be this: the blood and death and destruction are not the means to an end, the way to some kind of political liberation. The blood and death and destruction are the end. They are the whole point. And you are just a tool.

Yours sincerely,


About the Author
Michelle Sofge-Brunner is an architectural historian by trade, specializing in eighteenth and nineteenth century architectural history and the development of the architectural conservation discipline. She is currently conducting research on the reconstruction of Frankfurt's 'Old Town'. A US native, Michelle lived in Israel for a decade before moving to Berlin, where she resides with her husband and son.
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