Before the massacre in Southern Israel, college and high school students might have foolishly clung to the notion that Hamas were freedom fighters and champions of their far-leftist beliefs. However, to continue to support them after mounts of footage of the atrocities committed against civilians suggests a deeper issue.
For many, waving the Palestinian flag, or ripping down posters, is a form of social currency, a signifier to their peers that their cause is the correct one. The Israel-Hamas conflict is a transient trend—a flag emoji on their profiles, easily discarded by the time a newer, cooler cause arises.
In a recent article, I used the concept of “confirmation bias,” the tendency of people to accept information that aligns with previously held beliefs, to explain antisemitism in the context of news reporting. The concept extends into Gen Z’s thought process, intertwining with the phenomena of peer pressure.
A 2017 study from the Oxford Economic Papers highlighted the correlation between a young individual’s political identification and their peer group to be emphasized by the influence of peers on political engagement. When a person, devoid of prior knowledge of Israel and Hamas, is constantly surrounded by friends fervently advocating for one side, questioning the validity of their claims can become an inconvenience and risk.
Within this demographic, the vocal minority of those who genuinely support Hamas play a pivotal role in demanding that those around them follow suit. When the most passionate in the group espouses a view, the undecided around them can infer, from their shared views on unrelated political matters, that they would likely align on the issue at hand.
Whether it is about music or geopolitics, it is less time-consuming to believe the anti-Israel talking points from the outspoken members of the group, therefore falling in line with the set of already established shared values. Why spend time researching an issue they have no connection to when they are certain that they will ultimately agree with those closest to them?
The comfort of peer alignment, coupled with the pressure to conform, allows them to embrace a cause they might not have endorsed independently. In doing so, the undecided avoid disagreement with the group view, avoiding the risk of conflict, or even friendship loss. Sometimes, this means agreeing on which Taylor Swift album is the best, in 2023, it can also mean supporting a terrorist organization.
The lack of questioning, whether from undeveloped critical thinking skills or to preserve social standing within their social circles leads to uninformed support for causes they do not understand and wouldn’t genuinely endorse. This is evidenced by the results of the study, finding that more than half of Gen Z responders believe Israel is in control of Gaza, a land they disengaged from nearly two decades ago.
Now, Hamas, whose motives are far removed from progressive talking points, has successfully embedded itself as freedom fighters to young leftists in the West.
The irony, as often pointed out by those who exist outside the circles of identity politics, is that those who most fiercely adhere to these ideologies would be second in line—preceded only by the Jews—to be raped, beheaded, and burned alive.
In combating the rise of antisemitism, we must distinguish between those who have ingrained hatred and those who’ve fallen prey to peer-influence antisemitism. Our focus should extend beyond exposing the former to actively educating and engaging the less radicalized, undecided minds within Gen Z.