Kenneth Jacobson

The Things Not Being Said at Protests

In assessing the many anti-Israel demonstrations across the country, there is much focus, understandably, on the hateful themes, including chants of “from the river to the sea,” “by any means necessary,” “we are Hamas,” and “genocidal Israel.”

Still, as important in determining what these demonstrations are and are not about, is what is not being said. What would one expect to see if these were merely pro-Palestinian protesters, as they are so often characterized in the media and elsewhere?

To start with, one would expect to hear at least some mention of the reality of the hostage situation. One would think if there were real interest in presenting oneself as occupying the moral high ground, even while speaking of Palestinian suffering, that there would at least be a mention if not an emphasis on the more than 125 individuals who continue to be held in captivity for over seven months. The complete absence of such comments speaks to the inhumanity of the demonstrations, and reveals in the most explicit way that the pro-Hamas comments are actually far more representative of these demonstrations than one can imagine. It surely would generate good public relations for the demonstrators, even if they didn’t mean it, but they can’t bring themselves even to utter a single word of sympathy for the hostages and their families.

The second theme that is notably absent is the complete failure by demonstrators to call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This has particular resonance since media coverage around the country consistently refers to what’s going on as pro-Palestinian activity.

Had the protesters had anything in mind beyond pure hate of Israel and Jews, they would have looked toward a solution that would provide a safe future for both Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, they could have criticized the government of Israel for not supporting such an outcome. Of course, for many Israelis, particularly after October 7, the thought of a Palestinian state is frightening, but this still would be seen as a legitimate protest emphasizing the rights of Palestinians as well as Israelis.

Instead, the total omission in any of the demonstrations about how to bring about peace and normalcy to both sides makes clear that the language of “from the river to the sea” and “we are Hamas” is not mere rhetoric, but reflects what these demonstrations are all about. All of which leads to the conclusion that the underlying spirit of the demonstrations is that of anti-Jewish hate, reminiscent of the hate-fest in Charlottesville seven years ago.

Thirdly, is, of course, what started this all, the massacre of October 7. In this case it is a combination of what is said and what is left unsaid. As noted, when protesters address the issue at all, it is always to represent the barbarism as legitimate resistance, summed up by the phrase “by any means necessary” that appeared within days of the massacre.

Indeed, this phrase preceded Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

What one never hears from these protesters is even one iota of sympathy for Israeli citizens who were murdered, raped and butchered that day. One could fiercely disagree with Israeli policy but still show the most elemental form of decency by expressing pain for the suffering of the families.

In all these cases, what is not said tells us almost as much as what is said about the nature of these protests. Imagine the sympathy the protestors could have garnered had they pushed for the release of the hostages and demanded that the parties engage immediately in negotiations toward a two-state solution. They apparently can’t bring themselves to do that, even with all the public opinion potential, because their goal is very different.

And so we are left with the usual mix when it comes to hostility toward the state of Israel. On the one hand, damage is done to Israel’s image as we see demonstrations spread and public opinion in support of the Jewish state weaken, though not to a significant degree.

On the other hand, history is repeating itself – to the detriment of the Palestinians – but this time with a huge multiplier effect.

Whenever there are voices condemning and delegitimizing the Jewish state, the Palestinians have read the wrong message time and again: that the move to isolate and demonize Israel is progressing, and they need do nothing to change their ways. This may even be more so now.

As calls for Israel to take action on the Palestinian front after the war increase, the hateful demonstrations may once again lead the Palestinians to self-destructive conclusions.

About the Author
Kenneth Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.