Since the brutal attacks by Hamas on innocent civilians in southern Israel, photo evidence has come to light detailing the atrocities, including infants burned to death. Amidst the ensuing war, much of the world has turned from their brief moment of recognizing Hamas’s brutality to rounding on Israel over its retaliation – the precise reaction Hamas sought by attacking in the first place.
Misled once again by the idea that Israel seeks to commit genocide in Gaza despite consistent population growth, the United States, Israel’s long-time ally, has seen antisemitic acts rise by 400% in under a month. Unlike in previous wars with Hamas, these strikes by Israel came in response to 242 Israeli and foreign hostages still held in the Gaza Strip as well as the usual ongoing rocket attacks. Yet, thanks to Hamas’s victim complex and collective post-colonial guilt in the West, the image of Israel as the aggressor prevails.
As a result, civilian casualties reported by Hamas in Gaza, horrific as they are, have all but eclipsed the October 7 attacks. While this turn of events often stems from a higher death count in Gaza, another element seems at play here – the refusal of the world to recognize cause and effect. Since Hamas’s violent rule prompted the Israeli security blockade in 2007, Hamas has insisted that their alleged oppression justifies any atrocities committed against Israeli Jews. The political entity continues to use human shields for the sympathy ploy, knowing that onlookers will focus on Gazan fatalities over still-trapped hostages and murder of Israeli civilians.
Indeed, much of the international community – many of them nations that haven’t experienced on-soil war in decades — sees the death toll in Gaza and wonders why Israel has turned the Strip into a “prison,” either with no knowledge of or regard for Hamas’s role in the situation. Perhaps unique to the war beginning on October 7, Gazans’ impeded escape south to Egypt has been largely blamed only on Israel, despite Egypt’s reluctance to open its borders to refugees due to security concerns. Ironically, the Arab need for security hasn’t been questioned much at all. Moreover, thanks to this view of the militants as “freedom fighters,” silence remains on Hamas ordering Gazans to stay put despite Israeli calls to evacuate days in advance.
When applied to Israel and Palestine, Israel as the “powerful Western oppressor” and Palestine as the “brave non-white victim” have captured the hearts and minds of many esteemed institutions.
Posited from a Western standpoint by American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington as the “Clash of Civilizations” and from a non-Western perspective by Palestinian-American academic Edward Said as “Orientalism,” a conflict of ideologies has arisen between alleged racist perpetrator and racialized victim. When applied to Israel and Palestine, Israel as the “powerful Western oppressor” and Palestine as the “brave non-white victim” have captured the hearts and minds of many esteemed institutions. This oppressor/victim binary tends to dismiss any reference to the culpability of any Palestinian entity in events preceding Israeli retaliation. This bias appears in the popular view of Israel as an occupying power, an occupation resulting from several wars in which the Arab coalition attacked Israel despite Israeli land concessions.
Israel’s founding by Jewish refugees from Europe and support by a powerhouse like America might seem to justify the Jewish state’s reputation as “white” and “Western.” Notwithstanding, all Jews originate in the Middle East, a fact that many progressive Jews today either deny or minimize out of a guilt-ridden need to uphold the pro-Palestine (unfortunately coming to mean pro-Hamas) narrative.
Indeed, armed with the view that antisemitism is a form of opposing unjust power or “punching up,” many Jews in the West view themselves as the white privileged oppressors. This self-flagellation emboldens the narrative spread by those who oppose Israel in any fashion, including the right to defend and rescue its civilians. Some of these Jews even hold Israel’s very existence as the root cause of the October 7 attacks.
One can only hope that Jews living in the West who still place any importance on the Shoah in Europe and expulsion of most Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews from Muslim lands will note the increased global antisemitism following every instance of Hamas provoking Israel.
Particularly in the age of intersectionality, security often lies in victimhood rather than strength.
Sarah Katz is an author, UC Berkeley alumna in Middle Eastern Studies, and cyber security analyst.