The aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel was a wake-up call for a lot of Jewish liberals. It’s not just that they, along with the rest of the world, were shocked by the depravity of the terrorist assault, which left more than 1,300 Israelis dead, thousands wounded, and approximately 150 believed to have been kidnapped and taken to Gaza. The appalling evidence of rapes and mass killings of men, women and children, including the burning and the beheading of infants is almost beyond comprehension. But for political progressives, the fact that some of their allies on the left were cheering for Hamas was a bridge too far even for those who have always preferred to see no enemies on the left.
The existence of a pro-Hamas wing of the progressive movement is a stain on the honor of the political left that shouldn’t be ignored or downplayed. It illustrates not just the indecency of those taking this stand but demonstrates the consequences of the rise of toxic ideologies like intersectionality and critical race theory in which Jews and Israelis are mischaracterized as, by definition, white oppressors of Palestinian people of color.
Conservatives who have been pointing out that woke ideas like the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) catechism enable antisemitism already had plenty of proof to back up their conclusions. But the spectacle of pro-Hamas activism in American streets—and especially on the campuses of elite universities like Harvard and Columbia, which has led directly to threats and acts of violence against Jews—has established beyond any doubt the intersectional left’s embrace of a form of Jew-hatred that is indistinguishable from that of the Nazis.
As outraged as I am about the moral bankruptcy of these progressives, I don’t view them as the primary threat to Israel in the West. Just now, I’m far more worried about the behavior and comments of decent liberals than their more radical erstwhile allies.
By that I mean those figures who have expressed their revulsion at Hamas’s actions and denounced the support the terrorists have gotten from the progressives, but who, unlike President Joe Biden, don’t add a “full stop” to their support of Israel. The loud chorus of corporate media talking heads and pundits, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who are treating Israel’s efforts to put an end to this deadly threat as morally dubious may not be as despicable as those openly approving of the mass killing of Jews. However, it is those avatars of a “decent left” that treat the Israeli counter-offensive aimed at hopefully eliminating Hamas as also wrong who wield far more influence and do a great deal more damage to the existential struggle to defend the Jewish state than the ones who react to images of murdered Jewish babies with cries of “Free Palestine.”
These supposedly good people don’t merely virtue signal their anguish about Palestinian casualties as well as those of Israelis. Instead, they assert a degree of moral equivalence between the efforts of the Israel Defense Forces to take out terrorists and the crimes of Hamas. They denigrate advocacy for the complete defeat of Hamas as not merely futile but wrong since they claim that the taking of life on both sides should be denounced, regardless of the circumstances.
It is hard to ignore the mobs in New York’s Times Square howling for the shedding of Jewish blood. Yet it is unlikely that anyone in the Biden administration, even those mid-level staffers most hostile to Israel, is paying much attention to them. But the op-ed columnists working at The New York Times just a few blocks away—right now writing pieces urging opposition to Israel’s counter-offensive and calling for international pressure on the Jewish state that will essentially leave the murderers in place and triumphant when the shooting stops—are the real problem.
BLM and Hamas
The statements and social-media posts from the Black Lives Matter movement noting their approval of the attacks, including one in which they invoked the paragliders used to perpetrate the massacre at a Rave festival in which hundreds were slaughtered and women were raped next to the corpses of their friends, was particularly egregious. So, too, were the demonstrations held by leftist groups like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), where Hamas was applauded, as well as gatherings around the country where Arab and Palestinian Americans took a prominent role in both identifying with Hamas and falsely labeling their bestial acts as justified “resistance” against Israeli “occupation.”
Most of the liberal Jewish establishment had endorsed the BLM movement in 2020 in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. But when Zionist Organization of America national president Mort Klein denounced BLM for its open anti-Zionism, he was denounced by many Jewish liberals as a racist for having the bad manners to tell the truth about a group that was treated as irreproachable by those desperate to stay in sync with liberal political fashion.
Still, no one on the Jewish left could be surprised that many of their allies were anti-Zionists. But the fact that they had no scruples or reticence about publicly embracing not just violence against Israel but atrocities of this sort had to hurt. After all, rather than dispute the atrocities, the Hamas perpetrators were proud of them—posting the images of their murderous spree and abuse of women on social media—and then were cheered in the streets of Gaza.
The identification with these crimes even shocked some on the left. Congressional “Squad” leader Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) felt the need to disassociate herself from what she rightly described as the “bigotry” and the “callousness” on display at the Times Square DSA pep rally for Hamas. Yet in the same statement, she asserted a moral equivalence between Israeli victims and Palestinian terrorists, and their supporters, and called for a ceasefire that would allow the Islamist group to escape punishment for its crimes.
AOC’s pivot away from open support for Hamas—a stance that separated her from her “Squad” colleagues Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)—proved telling. The opportunistic Ocasio-Cortez understood instinctively that the place for critics of Israel to be was not among the ranks cheering the slaughter of Jews but rather among those seeking to stop Israel from preventing future terrorist attacks.
The foreign-policy establishment had already begun to weigh in to deprecate any Israeli action that might take down Hamas as pieces by Richard Haas and Thomas Friedman indicated. They were soon joined by other Times columnists like Nicholas Kristof and Michelle Goldberg, who were careful to denounce Hamas atrocities but swiftly moved on to their real objective: establishing that Israel’s counter-attack was, in principle as well as practice, bound to be as wrong as the terrorist massacre.
The foes of moral clarity
None were more clear about this than Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman, an influential figure inside the Beltway who, like Haas, Friedman and Goldberg, is Jewish. Waldman’s piece, titled “Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs moral consistency, not moral clarity,” got to the heart of the debate that will determine whether the Biden administration will stick to its praiseworthy stance supporting Israel or abandon it in the coming days once an Israeli offensive comes under fire from those who will cite Palestinian casualties as a reason to let Hamas off the hook.
Waldman thinks the effort to draw a clear moral distinction between Hamas crimes and Israeli efforts to prevent future crimes and to punish the perpetrators is wrong. Indeed, in a gobsmackingly outrageous argument, he claims that if you see Hamas as in the wrong and Israel as being in the right, then you are no different from Hamas.
That makes sense if, like those who peddle the foreign-policy establishment’s failed ideas about the only solution to the conflict being territorial compromise, you see Palestinian efforts to destroy Israel as not that dissimilar from Israel’s unwillingness to be destroyed. What he wants is more nuance in which our grief for Palestinian civilian casualties is balanced against our tears for Israelis who have been murdered, raped or kidnapped. He believes that if one is justified, so is the other.
It’s true that we should deplore the suffering of all innocents. But the problem with this is not just his insufferable virtue-signaling. Rather, it is his unwillingness to understand that a cause that cheers the most depraved atrocities is immoral, and one that seeks to defeat and completely destroy the group and the ideology that produces those crimes is, by definition, moral, even if sometimes the pursuit of that just end, may require military action that results in the deaths of civilians.
Just as the military campaigns of the Allies against the Nazis necessitated an unfortunate toll of German civilian dead, so, too, must those of Israel to wipe out Hamas, even if its army does far more to avoid such deaths than any other. Some historians continue to debate the morality of some of the air raids on Germany. But can anyone seriously doubt that a moral scrupulousness about violating the laws of war that allowed the Nazi regime to survive in Berlin so as to lessen the total of German civilian casualties would have been profoundly immoral?
A just war against Hamas
The evidence of Hamas beliefs that was on display during the Oct. 7 attacks—the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust—compels the observer to conclude that the Islamist group is not merely dedicated to Israel’s destruction but is, at its core, as genocidal and barbaric as the Nazis. That means that those who argue that Israel must stand down and allow Hamas to survive as the sovereign power in the Gaza Strip are advocating a stance that is not just “pro-terrorist” but immoral. In wars like these, responsibility for the deaths that occur belongs to those who pursue immoral ends, not their opponents.
The campaign to completely eliminate Hamas is—from both a legal and moral perspective—a just war. To oppose such a war in the name of a dubious “moral consistency” about abhorring civilian casualties isn’t merely specious. Those who take this position want us to think they are “decent” liberals and morally distinct from progressives who glory in Hamas crimes. But those opinion leaders who are pushing hard for the Biden administration to use its leverage to stop Israel from defeating Hamas are actually far worse than the leftists who aren’t afraid to express their antisemitism in public.
The rantings of the hard left are upsetting and create an atmosphere of hate that makes Jewish life more difficult on campuses and in cities. But the “decent” liberals who may well prove to be the lifeline that the criminals who shed Jewish blood in such great quantities this past week need may do a great deal more harm than those radicals in the long run. If they succeed in persuading Biden to back away from Israel and let Hamas win, these supposedly virtuous people who are so convinced of their goodness will have the blood of all the future victims of Islamist terrorism—both Jewish and non-Jewish—on their hands.