A friend in Israel, hunkered in her home with her three young children, emailed me this week. She is expecting another baby soon. Her husband is off fighting a war. The terrorists who invaded Israel on October 7 continue to hold hostages and fire rockets from just across the border. In the midst of the terror, she writes, “I think what scares me most is the dichotomy between the ‘street’ in the world and the governments/diplomats. It’s frightening to see the level of hate towards Israel and the Jews.”
That dichotomy is the subplot to Hamas’s massacre. Not just a barbaric attack on Jews in Israel, but triggering worldwide attacks against the Jewish people. Not a war fought over a two-state solution, but a war cry by the protestors: “from the river to the sea,” which inherently means annihilating the Jewish State. Not just a searing act of horror within Israel’s borders, but a sustained, global antisemitism.
As protests unfold across American streets and college campuses, we’re entreated to slogans, simplicity and sound bites. There’s little room for intellectual or moral complexity. Exacerbated by the polarizing effects of our digital discourse, the loudest voices conclude that there is no possibility that one can support human rights for innocent Palestinian civilians while also advocating the destruction of the terrorist-state network that commanded the butchering of babies and abduction of the elderly.
The result is a radical othering of the Jewish people, an “us vs. them” mentality, a channeled vitriol that plays directly into Hamas’s hands and risks extending this brutal conflict for yet another generation of Israelis and Palestinians. Our challenge in supporting Israeli citizens like my friend is not only to supply the resources and funds Israel needs in its time of need, but to ensure our rhetoric meets this historical moment and stands against hate in all forms.
To do that, I’d like to set the record straight on a few things:
I support Israel. I also support the legitimate aspirations of Palestinian civilians.
I believed, when Israel unilaterally left Gaza in 2005, that its leaders would create a peaceful state capable of uniting its people and coexisting with Israel. Instead, within days, Gaza’s leaders fired missiles, and Hamas soon launched a civil war against its own citizens, purging its moderate political opponents from the land.
I believe in a two-state solution and the human rights of Palestinian civilians. Hamas’s charter continues to demand the extermination of Israel, and the group uses its own people as human shields while waging war against Israel.
I believe that we must invest in Gaza to allow Palestinian civilians to create a functioning economy, a diverse civil society and 21st-century infrastructure. Instead, Hamas has systematically diverted funds from its own people in order to dig tunnels that allow them to kill and kidnap Israelis and to prop up the lavish lifestyles of its leaders.
I believe Palestinian children deserve a world-class education system that teaches them how to build towards a better future. Instead, Hamas’s curriculum teaches them to blow things up.
I believe Palestinians should have a representative government that heeds their will and protects freedom of speech and of the press. Instead, Hamas has denied Gaza elections since 2006, and Human Rights Watch has documented Hamas’s “pattern of arrests, interrogations, and in some cases beatings and torture of journalists in Gaza.”
I believe that Palestinians who wish to live in peace with Israel should be treated with respect. Instead, Hamas has treated them as traitors, subjecting them to “a brutal campaign of abductions, torture, and unlawful killings.”
I believe all Palestinians should be free from fear. Instead, Hamas has terrorized its own citizens.
I believe Gaza should not be occupied. Instead, Hamas has occupied Gaza.
I support Palestinian civilians living in peace. It is Hamas that does not.
Steve Israel represented New York in the U.S. House of Representatives over eight terms and was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now director of the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy Institute of Politics and Global Affairs. Follow him @RepSteveIsrael.
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