When Hamas made the decision to attack on October 7—murdering, raping, torturing and kidnapping as many Israeli civilians as possible—they knew that they could count on predictable knee-jerk reactions from some people in the West. Just as the leg kicks forward when the knee is hit with a reflex hammer, many enlightened people in the West can be counted upon to challenge Israel’s right to defend itself.
Hamas understands that when it comes to a genocidal attack on Israel, some people in the West will consume the news in a predictable manner. For the appetizer, some would choose to condemn Hamas, while others will skip this appetizer altogether, claiming the pogrom to be a “legitimate” form of “resistance to oppression” (never mind that Israel left Gaza unilaterally in 2005 and that the funds that have been pouring into Gaza since then have been used to build a war machine against Israeli civilians).
But even some of those who do nibble on the starter of condemning Hamas will make sure they leave enough room for the main course that will soon be served—the meat of the matter: criticism of Israel.
The moral equivalents between the Hamas and Israel that are brought to the table feed a hungry monster that unfortunately has never completely disappeared from Western civilization—Jew hate. Jew hate, in my opinion, is metaphorically the world’s most successful antidepressant. It enables people to escape the emptiness within, or to avoid acknowledging that life is inherently unfair, imagining instead a world that is harmed by malevolent and powerful Jews. Jew hate dehumanizes Jews and assumes that Jews deserve to suffer and that they do not have the moral right to defend themselves.
Better than any other scholar, the Hamas understands that to people who long to experience some of the suppressed pleasures of Jew hate—the state of Israel has been a gift that keeps on giving. After the Holocaust, open Jew hate is not socially acceptable—but “criticism of Israel” remains an enjoyable and stimulating pursuit. Westerners who ignore or minimally criticize many other problems around the world are suddenly transformed into principled humanitarians when the opportunity to criticize Israel presents itself. People who in their own personal lives are fierce protectors of boundaries are suddenly filled with righteous indignation and moral superiority when Israel takes action to protect its boundaries against genocidal violence. And, of course, they have Jewish friends who agree with them.
In winter 2022, when Canadians were faced with a bold but peaceful truckers’ convoy in downtown Ottawa advocating to end COVID measures, most of them supported their government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act (previously the War Measures Act) to bring to an end to what the government referred to as an “occupation” (I would describe it rather as a strong statement of democracy that caused some traffic disruptions). The Canadian government refused to negotiate with the truckers.
But when it comes to Israel, the Hamas can rely on the fact that it can do whatever it wants (and October 7 gives a whole new meaning to “whatever it wants”) and then count one Mississippi . . . two Mississippi . . . until, for some people, condemnations of the Hamas are chopped away into a word salad of distortion against Israel. The Hamas can expect moral equivalents that fail to recognize that the Hamas has been deliberately working to try to maximize the number of Palestinian civilian deaths (despite Israel’s efforts to minimize these deaths).
Ben Shapiro has referred to the narcissism of the West to explain our inability to acknowledge the different values that govern the behavior of the Hamas. Metaphors from the framework of popular theories of narcissism can be further employed to describe why the Palestinians are victims of Jew hate. Popular online materials about narcissism often describe dynamics by which the narcissistic parent has one child who is the golden child and another child who is the scapegoat. The golden child is considered “special.” They “can do no wrong,” and their glory reflects well on the narcissistic parent. The scapegoat, in contrast, gets all the ills of the family projected onto them and is blamed for anything that goes wrong.
The analogy to the “golden child” is not perfect when it comes to the West and the Palestinians. The Palestinians are not the “golden child” of the West in the sense that the West wants them to thrive. But when it comes to keeping Jew hate alive, the Palestinians are repeatedly given the message that they are “special.” In situations in which other people would be condemned and be subjected to boundaries, tough love or indifference, Palestinian leaders instead know that many people will focus on criticizing Israel. The Palestinians are patronized and infantilized—perpetually depicted as victims rather than as people who have the agency to make constructive changes. The Jews, the scapegoats, will be blamed for whatever goes wrong.
In a speech in Germany almost a decade ago, Yair Lapid explained the difficulty of recognizing “the totality of evil” (the speech is almost 15-minutes long, and it is worthwhile to listen to every word):
The Jewish people and anyone who wants peace also owe gratitude to Dr. Phil who offered an accurate analysis of the situation and a condemnation of academic institutions who fail to condemn the Hamas:
Had everybody in the world consistently given the Palestinians the message that violence would not be rationalized or excused and that peaceful coexistence with Israel is the only way forward, destructive leaderships such as the Hamas would have had a much harder time to thrive. Instead, the Hamas is relying on the West to treat Palestinians as “special” and as eternally “exempt” from the need to choose constructively. The problem is too often falsely assumed to be that Israel does not treat them well enough to make constructive behavior possible.
For that reason, many so-called pro-Palestinian activists (or just ordinary people who tell themselves that they want to “understand both sides”) are actually, often unknowingly, working against Palestinian wellbeing. They use the Palestinians in order to keep Israel hate alive in the hearts of people who, from the safety of their own homes, find it easier to “criticize Israel” than to accept empirical facts as the basis for analysis—first and foremost the empirical facts, demonstrated on October 7, that the Hamas wants to murder Jews.
Some people have suggested to me that I should stop saying that Palestinians want to live in peace with Israel—given overwhelming evidence that many of them are brainwashed to hate Israel. Observers of Palestinian media have commented on how the October 7 pogrom was widely celebrated as a great day—followed by an outcry about genocide when the Israeli response started. However, I am committed to continuing to say that Palestinians want to live in peace with Israel for two reasons. First, I refuse to dehumanize the Palestinians. I want to show humanizing respect to those among the Palestinians who do in fact abhor violence and want peace with Israel. And second, I refuse to treat the Palestinians as pathologically “special.” I believe that like other nations, they are capable of taking responsibility and acting constructively if they stop allowing themselves to be victimized by the covert desire to keep Jew hate alive in the form of Israel hate.
Almost all human beings want peace rather than war. Almost all human beings have the ability to benefit from opportunities for resilience, from opportunities to build and to take advantage of good will. Today, without Jew hate, the Palestinians could have been living in greater prosperity and in peace side by side with Israel. They could have benefited from the opportunities that this co-existence could have provided (and many of them—including Israeli Arabs—have and do).
War is horrible and inherently dehumanizing. I am in a difficult emotional position because I have been educated my whole life to hate war. Some very insightful and experienced Israeli people that I know or that I have listened to believe that the looming incursion into Gaza might be a trap that the IDF should avoid. A person with experience in war has recently emphasized to me that in war one must be smart and cautious. Heroism, the ability to act calmly and to take personal risk to help others, occurs among people with the potential for heroism when there is absolutely no choice but to be heroic. However, heroism should not be pursued for its own sake and cannot be governed by emotions that seek glory. If you have the potential for heroism, opportunities for heroism might find you, and you will have no choice but to respond calmly and effectively. But do not go looking for heroism. To be led by emotion into the battlefield is to walk into a trap.
Given the fact that I feel sorry and scared for every innocent Israeli or Palestinian who loses their life or who suffers, I have a message to give to anyone who believes that they care about the Palestinians: do not subjugate your soul, the moral essence of yourself, to knee-jerk reactions that channel Israel hate. Look into your soul—and resist the temptation of Jew hate in the form of Israel hate. Quit it. Today. Cold Turkey.
If you tell yourself that your heart is free of Israel hate and that your only motivation is concern for the Palestinians, ask yourself deeper questions about how you respond to boundary violations in your own life and about whether your emotions about Israel are proportional to how you treat yourself and the rest of the world. Ask yourself also how in the depiction of equivalence, of the “two sides” narrative, you can ignore the simple fact that the stated aim of Hamas is to kill all the Jews in Israel? Perhaps this “small” (by which I mean huge) fact is so often overlooked because it is hard to believe that such evil could exist. But this is not an excuse—given what you know about the Holocaust and about October 7. The failure to call out Hamas’s evil as what it is should be a warning sign to take a deeper look at ourselves.
At various times, I have met or saw in the media people who openly spoke about struggling with anxiety, depression, drug use, alcohol, weight-management or other issues. But I have never met anybody who spoke about struggling with the seductive potential of Jew hate. The opposite is true: people are typically offended by the suggestion that if they had to go through an imaginary detector that would identify traces of Jew hate, that machine would beep. Isn’t it interesting that the oldest hate that led to the greatest genocide in the history of humankind did not leave traces of Jew hate in many hearts? Are we seriously expected to believe that Jew hate has completely evaporated and is absolutely gone from the polite society in which we live?
Some people distance themselves from Jew hate by making statements about how horrified they are by the Holocaust or by the October 7 pogrom. If they dislike Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland, they might also express distaste for the September 22, 2023 standing ovation at the Canadian parliament for a 98-year-old man presented as a Ukrainian and Canadian hero who soon after turned out to be a former SS soldier. But what matters is not these condemnations, which are easy to make, but what happens next. If the next proof of their humanity that they feel compelled to present is to criticize Israel, then there is room for deep self-reflection about traces Jew hate.
One of the most persistent tropes of Jew hate is that the Jews deserve to suffer and have no right to defend themselves. This trope, which demands Jewish helplessness and submission, paradoxically goes hand in hand with the trope that the Jews are exceptionally powerful and resourceful—so that exploiting or abusing a Jewish person is not “really” exploitation or abuse. The idea that the IDF is or has been acting without restraint in Gaza or anywhere else is not supported by empirical facts when the behavior of the IDF is compared to that of other armies. However, ideas about the monstrosity of the IDF feed into the rich vein of the antisemitic imagination.
Horror about the Holocaust cannot be detached from remembrance that Nazi Germany was defeated only after the allies pursued a strategy of absolute surrender, which involved the merciless bombing of countless German civilians. Nothing that Israel does comes close to the brutality of what the allies did in Germany. And because Israel is rightly committed to doing what it can to protect Palestinian civilians while also protecting its own citizens, it is imperative that the world and the Palestinians abandon Jew hate.
Before the Holocaust, polite people in the West could indulge in overt Jew hate—and the Hamas does it more than people in the West ever could (even the Nazis had to hide the worst of their crimes and speak euphemistically about “work camps” in order to operate within European society). Today, people who want to be free of Jew hate must ensure that they are not falling into the trap of “aesthetic Jew hate.” “Aesthetic Jew hate” means that when presented with the grotesque images of the Holocaust or October 7, you respond with appropriate horror—but at the same time you also seek the aesthetic pleasure of criticizing the “powerful Jews” that you imagine as engaging in evil excesses against innocent victims.
The combat soldiers and special forces of the IDF are currently in an extremely unenviable and life-endangering position that should not become anyone’s entertainment. People that I know or listened to and who have military experience are cautioning against dangerous heroism and a misguided ground invasion. They are delivering these warnings from a position of love and knowledge—not from a position of seeking the empty “aesthetic” pleasure of “criticizing Israel.” But not even the most genuine and wise souls have the power to stop Israel hate or to make the pleasures it offers less seductive.
Until the world has an epiphany about the destructiveness, the emptiness, and the dishonesty of Israel hate, Palestinians are likely to remain the victims of Jew hate because, tragically, this is what some people in the world, as well as some of their own leaders, expect them to be. This is the ultimate selfishness of Jew hate: to experience the “aesthetic pleasure” of imagining a powerful Jew who deserves to suffer helplessly, too many people seem willing to perpetuate endless victimhood and dysfunction for the Palestinians.