“I hesitate to call them terrorists,” a student replied to my comments about Hamas. By a random stroke of “luck” my Arab studies class this week focused on violent and nonviolent revolutions. In our discussion I made the point that Hamas is an antisemitic terrorist organization that does not speak for, or advance the rights of, Palestinian people. This statement, a truism, was greeted with wary looks.
It is important to remember that Hamas’ is an antisemitic organization. Despite a 2017 update to its operating principles that state Hamas’ conflict is not with the Jewish people, it seeks to attack the Jewish people. The organization’s founding charter proclaims a struggle against the “Jew” and the myth of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Moreover, Hamas’ kidnapping of civilians regardless of age, citizenship, or ethnicity shows their clear intentions. Antisemites yell Jew at an Israeli boy held hostage, they murder holocaust survivors in cold blood, and they massacre young adults at a music festival. Such actions are not those of an organization working to advance the rights of Palestinians, but rather those of a group bent on Jewish destruction.
In my work with various Jewish organizations—Georgetown Jewish Life, JDC Entwine, Israel Policy Forum, and Hillel International—I have learned that geopolitical conflict can obscure systemic antisemitism, especially in academia. But, I found this hard to see and even harder to believe. As a student, I assume my peers and professors are well intentioned in their comments and the work they assign. But, today’s class drove home the true antisemitism that parades behind academia. Myriad governments have condemned Hamas’ antisemitic terror this week. Yet, the people in my class attempted to equally weigh both sides in spite of the facts.
The recent invasion of Israel showed me the importance of naming the biases behind the well-intentioned statements of my peers. Such statements aim to condemn the Israeli government’s violation of Palestinian’s human rights and highlight the need for a two-state solution. But, by justifying Hamas’ actions, they erase the Palestinian struggle and fall into virulent antisemitism.
Academic rhetoric often veers into tropes which obscure problematic sentiments that undergird the supposed justification of terrorism. I cannot even count the number of times I have had to say “there is no justification for the murder of civilians.” While there is space for disagreement about the resolution to the geopolitical conflict between Israel and Palestine, there is never a justification of antisemitic violence.
Numerous civil society organizations, government groups, and think tanks work to advance the human rights of Palestinians in a productive and peaceful way. The road to Oslo was not paved in blood, but in civil society work. Organizations that truly advance peace do not engage in violence. Within the space for criticism of Israel, there is no space for the defense of terrorist organizations like Hamas.
Disclaimer: The views expressed herein belong solely to the author and to not necessarily reflect those of the US government.