Why Good People Hate Israel

There she was: fragile, delicate and entirely vulnerable. As I reached out to hold my newborn niece for the first time, I experienced a profound fear of my own strength.

Newborns can’t even hold their heads upright — given the responsibility, was it even worth taking her? Yet I took her. And stared into her eyes that she could barely open. And melted.

It must be in this moment that parents change forever. That little bundle penetrates their souls and rewrites their primal coding. They will protect that child at any cost, sacrifice sleep and hygiene, and work jobs that they hate – all for the love of that child.

This transcendent love for children explains why good people hate Israel.


The truth is that the main obstacle to peace is extreme and ingrained Palestinian hatred for Israelis and Jews – whether manifest in the practice of turning children into human shields for mere propaganda, children’s TV shows that encourage martyrdom or frenzied street-celebrations of murder. Borders can be redrawn, and have been. Settlements can be dismantled, and have been. On the other hand, brainwashed hatred on a mainstream societal level, is much harder to undo.

But the notion of absolute truth doesn’t always have any bearing in the forming of our opinions. In fact, we can only arrive at truth based on what we are capable of understanding. In psychology, conceptual combination theory suggests that we can only understand new concepts by combining already-understood concepts in various ways.

But what happens if nothing in our conceptual vernacular can approximate what is true? If protecting children is for good people so instinctual, the idea of harming them intentionally is not only a novel concept, but one that is utterly unfathomable. How then, can they hope to understand the behaviour of Israel’s enemies?

Israelis have lived with sick societal hate for decades – from pre-state Arab rejectionism to the knife-wielding teenagers that attack them today. Outsiders, however, do not have sufficient tools with which to understand the true nature of Israel’s enemies. They must therefore go to the next available alternative in order to do so: the narrative of Israel’s enemies.

Theories of “apartheid,” “colonialism” and “genocide,” while severely flawed, are at least understandable. And so, in order to make sense of the conflict, good people project theories that they can understand onto a reality that they can’t.

“Apartheid” – even though Israeli minorities have full, equal rights; “colonialism” – even though Israel has conceded more land than she has gained; “ethnic cleansing” – even though Israel’s enemy populations have experienced steady growth. These are all more familiar than the option of a reality in which people hate an enemy more than they love their own children.

So, it should come as no surprise that even good, reasonable people so easily lap up cheap Palestinian propaganda. On university campuses, for example, nobody can believe – as pro-Israel advocates claim – that the child pictured buried under Gazan rubble was really used as a shield, nor really sent to a rooftop destined for impending bombing. For a good person, such options are too evil to actually exist.

And when, on the other side of the campus plaza, Israel advocates cite examples of the unprecedented measures taken by the IDF to avoid civilian casualties – they simply appear to be lying more elaborately. They become self-fulfilling prophecies of the anti-Israel side: the “hasbara agents” who lie on behalf of an oppressive, Orwelian state.

That people can’t believe in the nature of Israel’s enemies explains part of the story – but it goes beyond that. People don’t want to believe in it.  Yair Lapid brilliantly called this ‘a blind spot for sheer evil.’ In an article with that title, he argues that “good people always refuse to recognize the totality of evil until it’s too late.”

So, as long as children grow up watching Barney the Dinosaur and not Farfur the Jihadist Mouse; as long as they aspire to be firemen and doctors instead of Jew-murderers; as long as they hang posters of footballers – not martyrs – on their walls, Westerners will never truly understand Israel’s plight.

And therein lies a tragic irony: first, for Israelis, whose noble case against barbarism on her borders will continue to fall on deaf ears. But moreover, for Westerners, whose refusal to believe in sheer evil will increasingly be used against them, too.

Unfortunately, Israel advocates will continue to fight an uphill battle – not necessarily because of anti-Semitism (of which there is plenty), but in fact because of a fundamental goodness that lies within many people.

It may, however, be a consolatory comfort to know that the hatred that faces Israel abroad often comes from a naive and fundamentally good root. And because that root exists at all, all hope is not lost.

About the Author
Josh is the former Chairman of SAUJS (South African Union of Jewish Students) Cape Town; and former Board Member of the SAJBD (South African Jewish Board of Deputies) Cape Council; and Tikvah Fellow