Hamas is Hamas, not ISIS

#HamasisISIS has overtaken social media feeds following the attacks of October 7th on Israel. This campaign was an attempt by Israel to help Westerners, specifically Americans who are more familiar with the brutality of ISIS than Hamas, understand the nature of Hamas. However, this is not an accurate comparison, as the origins, goals, and tactics of these two organizations differ greatly. While there is overlap in the two organizations in the sense of their revolutionary aspirations and the amount of violence they use, the comparison only further discredits Israel’s ability to accurately depict its point of view and makes people wary of the Israeli government.  

Hamas is a local organization, meaning that it operates primarily in the Gaza Strip with cells in other locations surrounding what it sees as Palestine such as the West Bank and Lebanon. Its goal is the liberation of all of Palestine from the river to the sea, completely destroying the existence of the State of Israel. Hamas originated as a Muslim Brotherhood charity, but transformed into a terrorist organization during the First Intifada. In comparison, ISIS is a transnational pan-Islamist movement that wants to create an Islamic Caliphate across the Middle East. ISIS began as a branch of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). When the 2011 Syrian conflict broke out AQI sent fighters to build a Syrian branch of the organization. The fighters were successful in gaining territory and assumed the name the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

 Beyond goals, Hamas and ISIS have glaring ideological differences. Hamas has limited issues with non-Muslims living in their ideal version of Palestine—there are currently churches in the Gaza Strip and significant (though discriminated against) Christian populations throughout Palestine. They have also tolerated Shi’a Islam due to their tactical alliances with Iran and Hezbollah. ISIS, though, uses violence to force people to not only practice Islam but to practice their extremely strict Sunni interpretations of Quranic law and kills those on their land who do not follow these laws. 

Moreover, ISIS and Hamas differ greatly in the way they achieve their goals. ISIS has successfully attacked countries and populations outside of the Middle East whereas Hamas primarily targets Israel and has only recently attempted to attack populations outside Israel. ISIS launched attacks in Europe, such as the 2015 Paris terror attacks, in addition to countries throughout the Middle East. Hamas, though, does not focus on targeting land outside of what they see as Palestine (the land that is currently Israel). Therefore, they attack Israeli buses and communities but not any other places in the Middle East or the world. Therefore, ISIS is a direct global threat whereas it is harder to make the claim that Hamas is an immediate threat to the entire world.

There are some similarities in this area as both Hamas and ISIS use violence to fight the people they see as the enemy. ISIS has conducted large massacres in pursuit of getting rid of non-Sunni Muslims on the land they see as theirs for an Islamic State. Along the same lines, Hamas conducted a massacre of Israelis on October 7th in hopes of ridding Israelis of the land they see as a for only a Palestinian state. Moreover, ISIS and Hamas both mostly attack soft targets, such as cafes and bus stops, as opposed to organizations such as Al-Qaeda which target large, symbolic places like the World Trade Center. Still, the use of violence and the attacking of soft targets is not unique to ISIS or Hamas and is an insubstantial similarity to result in the equating of the two groups.   

 The comparison of Hamas to ISIS is a plea from Israel for international support. With growing anti-Israel sentiment Israel is trying to convince the world that Hamas is their problem too. They deploy this comparison to show the brutality of Hamas, as ISIS is internationally accepted as brutal, and to show that Hamas is not just a threat to Israel, as ISIS attacked targets outside the Muslim world. However, the goals, origins, and governance structure of ISIS and Hamas are very different as is the scope of the violence that they use. Using the Hamas-is-ISIS rhetoric only shows the desperation of Israel for international support.

Policymakers need to fully understand the goals of Hamas in order to address their concerns and effectively fight back against them. The enemy they are fighting is not one that has the same goals as ISIS. Moreover, Hamas does not have a global scope, it does not wish to attack or create Palestine in any other place but Israel. By equating the two Israel discredits itself and shows a lack of understanding for what Hamas is and why they attack Israel. In order to obtain the international support Israel is seeking it must not use comparisons but rather use facts about the grotesque attacks of October 7th. It needs to accurately show the brutality of Hamas and allow Hamas’s action to speak for itself, instead of comparing it to another terrorist organization. This will bring credibility back to Israel’s claims, a necessary step in starting to bring Israel the international support it seeks.

About the Author
Alana is currently a second year student at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs where she studies Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic. She is currently an Israel Policy Forum Atid Fellow. In addition to IPF Atid, Alana is a co-President of the GW Jewish Student Association.
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