As Israel prepares for a ground invasion of Gaza, conversations surrounding the war have justifiably focused on shifting borders and political outcomes. Analysts and news media have framed recent events as the latest severe escalation in a 75-year old regional conflict with potential to reshape the Middle East. But this war is greater than that; the conflict between Israel and Hamas and the way in which it has reverberated across Europe and North America reflects a broader struggle between eastern and western ideologies. Israel is unfolding as the proverbial battleground for a clash of civilizations pitting western values – characterized by freedom, tolerance, individuality, and lawfulness – against their eastern antitheses. The ideological underpinnings of this conflict and their distinct anti-American flavor underscore the need for strong U.S. support for Israel in the coming weeks and months.
The first sign that conflict in Israel transcended politics came immediately after Hamas’ attack on October 7th. Faced with mounting evidence of horrific crimes including rape, murder, and the decapitation of babies – Palestinian supporters proudly endorsed Hamas and sought to justify its atrocities as bona fide resistance. Instead of condemning acts of terrorism, many supporters went on to glorify the attacks and embody those same values in their subsequent activities. Videos captured Palestinian supporters in Germany dancing in the streets to news of Israeli deaths, while protesters in New York City mocked vigils dedicated to the victims and chanted “resistance is justified.” Many activist groups including Students for Justice in Palestine have publicly voiced approval of the attacks, using terms like “unequivocal support”.
The depravity of Hamas’ attack conveys a primal savagery hitherto seen only in the pages of biblical stories and campaigns of ISIS. Hamas’s treatment of women, children, the elderly, and the disabled demonstrates unquestionably that this group places little value on human life, seeks to destroy rather than to protect, and objectifies – instead of cherishes – women. Perhaps most alarming is how Palestinian supporters have made no attempt to hide or obfuscate their actions; rather, they are proud of them. This show of bold, collective support for Hamas is intended to normalize violence and collective punishment – values irrevocably in conflict with western ethics. Celebrating terrorism against a key U.S. ally sends a clear message that violence is acceptable when used in support of a worthy cause.
It is ironic how some Palestinian supporters have blamed Israel for using collective punishment against Palestinians when it is in fact Hamas inflicting such punishment on Israelis. As has been well documented, Israeli military actions are carefully controlled to minimize civilian deaths, even at the expense of strategic victories. Collective punishment involves deliberately targeting non-combatants in retribution for acts committed during an armed conflict. Israel seeks to eliminate terrorists, not punish innocent civilians for crimes committed by their leadership.
As the events of the last week unfolded, Palestinian supporters exhibited an intolerance for opposing views comparable to Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes. Videos have emerged of Palestinian activists tearing down posters of Israeli kidnap victims, harassing pro-Israel supporters, and even attacking individuals wearing Jewish symbols. The increase in serious threats against Jewish communities prompted numerous synagogues to bolster their security and led the NYPD to issue a heightened threat alert for New York City. Pro-Israel student groups hosting vigils for the victims of Hamas terrorism were repeatedly disrupted by Palestinian supporters hurling insults and vitriolic comments. Such actions highlight how the pro-Palestine movement is openly embracing the same oppressive tactics used by Hamas terrorists to stifle dissent. Expressions of mob violence, intolerance, and lawlessness have no place in the United States.
Some western media have been complicit in a type of high-level censorship constructed to evoke sympathy for the Palestinian cause. This week, various media organizations immediately blamed Israel for a deadly airstrike on the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza which allegedly left hundreds dead. Even after U.S. and Israeli intelligence provided evidence suggesting the blast was caused by a failed Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket, publications including the New York Times continue to present the situation as ambiguous. At every turn, left-leaning media organizations have placed a higher burden of proof on Israel for its claims, even as it emerged from an unprecedented terrorist attack, leading to the unbelievable public debate over whether Israeli babies were truly decapitated, or merely burned alive. Palestinian supporters backed by certain western media employ Orwellian mechanisms of truth-bending and propaganda to bolster support for their cause and minimize opposition.
The way in which the pro-Palestine movement has taken root in the United States is further proof that this conflict is more than just a humanitarian crusade. Within the Islamic world, support for Palestine emerges out of a complex context of political interests, religious zealousness, and pan-Islamic and pan-Arab solidarity. But in the west, the cause is based largely on a perverse western guilt tied to the emerging anti-colonialism agenda. Palestinian activist groups in the U.S. preach liberation as the first step towards dismantling a world shackled by “western domination” and “western settler colonialism.” Calls of “Free Palestine” mingle with condemnations of America’s alleged abuses. Support for Palestine as it has manifested in the U.S. is as much an exercise in undermining U.S. image and credibility as it is a humanitarian campaign, and many Americans supporting this cause do so not from a place of pure empathy, but based on western guilt.
It is important to note that the anti-U.S. ideologies which underpin the Palestinian movement have been deliberately fueled by foreign adversaries within the context of a broader east versus west conflict. Mounting evidence points to ongoing campaigns by China and Russia to corrupt U.S. educational institutions with sympathetic instruction. American conservatives have led the charge to close Confucius Institutes across the U.S. following accusations that these cultural centers teach a censored version of history – one “that funnels students away from topics likely to offend the Chinese communist party.” Meanwhile, universities including Georgetown, Texas A&M, Cornell, and Rutgers have faced scrutiny since 2019 over their foreign donations. Within my own classes at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, conversations surrounding the Middle East were largely framed through an anti-American lens of imperialism which faulted Israel and the United States for most problems in the Middle East.
The war in Israel would not have been possible without the support of western adversaries including Iran, Russia, and China, and some of these countries are exploiting the situation in an attempt to usurp regional power from the U.S.. Russia’s tacit support for Palestine may very well reflect expedient politicking designed to distract from its war in Ukraine. But China appears to be strategically aligning itself closer with Arab nations, either to present itself as an alternative to U.S. leadership, or to protect its vast economic interests in the region. And there is no question that Iran’s unwavering support for the Palestinian cause is rooted in deep anti-western contempt. Certainly the trajectory of this war will be shaped by these countries’ broader political motivations vis a vis the United States.
As Israel goes to war against Hamas, it is fighting not just for its physical survival, but for the preservation of western values. Already principles of mob rule, censorship, and intolerance have permeated pro-Palestinian circles within the U.S., and with growing support, these values may take root. It is crucial that the current administration continue to show Israel full support in its fight against Hamas and unequivocally condemn forms of protest that glorify violence. A victory for Israel will send a clear message to the world about the strength of U.S. democratic institutions and western soft power. Countless Americans have sacrificed their lives to protect the values of our country; the onus is on us to safeguard these most important principles.