A Dose of Clarity: Israel, Gaza, and the American Protests

Stephen Eric Bronner / Reader Supported News
Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.
--- William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Anti-Semitism has always had its ebbs and flows, But a bitter past teaches that it is always latent, and today it is resurgent. In the wake of October 7 2023 when Hamas and Islamic Jihad attacked Israel, butchering 1200 mostly young people, and taking more than 250 hostages. Israel responded by bombing Gaza into oblivion, killing 35,000 people, mostly civilians but with a significant minority of Hamas fighters. More than 1 million people are facing famine and it doesn’t help to warn those in Gaza and Raffa about impending attacks if they have no place to go. Especially in light of Israel’s measured response to Iran’s missile attack of April 13, 2024, other strategic options were available. Israel’s actions in Gaza were disproportionate and strikingly unsuccessful. They did not produce release of the hostages; those still alive will undoubtedly gain their freedom but, just as undoubtedly, at a ratio unfavorable to Israel. Hamas has not been destroyed, and Hezbollah with its 150,000 missiles is waiting in the wings. The bombing of Gaza has made Israel into a pariah state, sparked a worldwide wave of anti-Semitism, frayed relations with the United States and Europe, and turned Israel into a house divided.

An impending attack on Raffa will only make things worse. However, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has identified the national interest with the aims of his even more reactionary coalition partners, his base in the religious orthodox and Islamophobic settlers communities, and his own desire to stay out of jail after his indictment for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Netanyahu’s strategy is both morally and pragmatically indefensible. Israel’s settler colonialists and Biblically inspired orthodox zealots have paved the way for annexing the West Bank, shattering Gaza, and thereby rendering a two-state solution more improbable.

Exploitation of Holocaust-guilt to insulate Israel from criticism appears increasingly disingenuous. There is nothing inherently anti-Semitic about outrage at the plight of the Palestinians, questioning the United States’ $14.3 billion emergency aid package to Israel (on top of the $40 billion promised over the next ten years), or calls by protestors for universities to cut ties with their Israeli counterparts, and disinvest from its economy.

Such views are open to debate. Whether right or wrong, they focus Israeli policies and a political leadership as corrupt and self-serving as that of Trump and his gang—not “Jews.” Illegitimate is the uncritical support that so many of the protestors extend to Hamas --as if this organization somehow deserves a free pass on its own retrograde politics. Western protestors turn a blind eye to conflicts of interest between Hamas and its own subjects. They ignore Hamas’ contempt for civil liberties, hatred of gays and LGBTQ individuals, brutal attacks on its political rivals, insistence on the existence of a Jewish conspiracy, use of blatant anti-Semitic tropes, and attempts to excuse the inexcusable slaughter that triggered the current crisis.

October 7th shocked the world and the slaughter of innocent lives, the rapes, and the hostage-taking was roundly condemned—at first. With Israel’s merciless bombing of Gaza, however, changes in public opinion took place. Suddenly it no longer mattered that Hamas ignited the war and intentionally put the lives of its subjects at risk by building hospitals, schools, and the like over tunnels, useful for military purposes. The strategy of mixing soldiers with civilians, and turning innocent civilians into collateral damage, served the organization’s purposes, but surely not those who must live in the rubble. Hamas’ leadership might not have anticipated the extent of what was coming. But they had to know that the Israeli response would prove brutal and, if they had no idea, then they are even more culpable. Either way, Hamas’ premeditated decision –and it was premediated – to unleash the savagery on October 7th resulted in its citizens being forced into what television crime-shows refer to as “suicide by cop.”

Western supporters avoid dealing with any of this publicly. That only makes sense since it is the citizenry that must live with the nightmare unleashed by its sovereign, wait for what Hamas deems the best possible rate of hostage exchange, and ruefully watch the wrangling over a peace-fire that neither the Israeli leadership nor Hamas actually want. Not Israelis, but Gazans are paying for this self-centered and cynical strategy. Hamas considers it acceptable. Losing on the battlefield, it is undoubtedly winning the war of public opinion. This must have been its strategy all along. It would have been delusional for Hamas’ leadership to believe that its initial atrocities would trigger the conquest of Israel. However, there was nothing delusional about wagering that an attack on Israel would put Hamas and the Palestinian question back in the spotlight.

Call it what it is: Hamas actually engaged in a sensational – and successful -- publicity stunt that relied on using a barbarous act to provoke an ever more barbarous response. From the standpoint of realpolitik, the tactic was rational and perhaps that is also the case in igniting a regional war in which others do the fighting. In ethical terms, of course, it is another matter entirely. The more that terror is normalized as a tactic, and used against the oppressor, the more it usually comes back to haunt the oppressed. Those Zionist and religious orthodox fanatics mirror the thinking of their enemies and, so far as I am concerned, Hamas’ leader, Ismail Haniyeh, and Netanyahu deserve one another.

Western protestors have generally been peaceful. It is manipulative to paint the majority as anti-Semitic and call in the police to squash them. Hypocritically spouting liberal sound-bites, while prostrating themselves before right-wing political pressure, is nothing new for university presidents and administrators. They have ignored how the present crisis offered a “teaching moment” in which the university could have sponsored “teach-ins,” zoom dialogues, and more. The administration could even have set up faculty-student tribunals to determine whether free speech really was being used to preach genocide and advise on the consequences of screaming “fire!” in a crowded theater.

No university campus can tolerate Zionist extremists who explicitly condone the starvation of 1 million people, or mimic the explicitly genocidal goals of reactionary Israeli politicians such as Itamar Ben-Gver. That is also the case when it comes to slogans like “Death to the Jews!” or some half-wit “leader” of the Columbia University protests insisting that no Zionist has the “right to live” – and following it with the usual claims of having been “misquoted” before finally offering a half-hearted “apology.” Hate crimes against Jews have risen 96%, and anti-Israeli protestors should be the first to condemn them unconditionally just as “Zionists,” who so righteously reject being called Islamophobic, should be the first to condemn Jewish extremists.

Bigotry has always been a plank in Trump’s platform. His victory would strike at the heart of American democracy and impact the world. Talk by some American Muslim leaders in of opposing the re-election of “genocide Joe” in 2024, especially in swing states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, is sectarian, irrational, and actually contrary to their interests; it is reminiscent of left-wing extremists who insist “the worse the better.” In a pluralistic society, no single issue should serve as a “litmus test.” Too many activists on both sides of the barricades seem to believe that this battle should take precedence over all other struggles and issues. It is an appalling perspective. Zionist fanatics seem to think they are living in the mythical world of the movie “Exodus” (1960), which triggered American support of Israel, while pro-Palestinian extremists often embrace the romantic anti-imperialism of the 1960s and indulge in what Theodor Adorno appropriately termed “crypto anti-Semitism.”

And confusion abounds. Supporters of a two-state solution chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” However, translating that slogan into reality calls for collapsing Israel into a new single Palestinian state thereby making a two-state solution impossible; indeed, if they are to be taken seriously, advocates of a one-state solution must finally explain how their ideal can become real -- other than by violence. Substituting the fashionable idea of “non-territorial autonomy” for “national self-determination” sounds great, but it doesn’t help matters Such a move de -couples peace from land, and allows Jews and Arabs to govern themselves separately. Nevertheless, the new state will immediately experience a legitimation deficit.

Lacking a sovereign with a monopoly over the means of coercion, separate paramilitary formations will fill the vacuum in each “autonomous” region, and the threat of renewed violence will remain. Nor is there any guarantee that this emasculated sovereign can prove willing or able to sanction those who would deny rights to a minority or defend democratic institutions. Expecting Israeli Jews to roll the dice and dissolve their state in favor of a new state in which they are a minority, and whose democratic character will prove questionable, is not only unrealistic, but dangerous to both sides. Creating a single Palestinian state might provoke civil war, not only between Jews and Palestinians, but orthodox-settler and secular-liberal Jewish constituencies on the one hand and, on the other hand, between Fatah and Hamas who are currently engaged in a fierce rivalry.

Embedded in the dogmatism among protestors on both sides is the fear of somehow aiding them by criticizing us – and thereby providing what communists used to call an “objective apology,” whatever the intentions, for the enemy. The cynicism exhibited by both governments s is corrosive and, as a first step, protestors should demand any kind of cease-fire now in order to provide some measure of relief for a beleaguered Gazan citizenry. However, no cease-fire is an end unto itself. It will leave matters as they were on October 6th – all the death and destruction would have been for nothing. It would also be naïve to think that both Israelis and Palestinians will not re-arm and re-organize in preparation for future battles. Imagination and pragmatism are necessary to envision what the reconstruction of Gaza would require: perhaps a national bank guaranteed by the Arab League to secure investments; international monitors; a buffer between Israel and Palestine; and two states based on a single economy. Introducing a critical cultural pedagogy is also imperative in order to deal with deep residual hatreds. It might even prove necessary to consider a “three state” solution: Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. New ideas must resist both illusions and disillusionment and, for that to occur, they require a dose of clarity; indeed, such a dose has never hurt anyone.

*Stephen Eric Bronner is Co-Director of the International Council for Diplomacy and Dialogue and Board of Governors Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University.