Reactions to October 7, 2023: The Acquiescence of Antisemitism Under a Guise of “Activism.”

By: Stephanie Selva

Antisemitism has persisted for centuries, akin to a virus. Antisemitic myths like power, greed, and blood libel continue to propagate through radical and mainstream political movements from across the spectrum.

Yet, the threat of antisemitism is often confined to the far-right. This assumption is reinforced by the noticeable increase in white supremacist propaganda in recent years. However, the development of leftward ideologies in the past century has spawned a ‘new’ antisemitism, infiltrating left-wing politics through distinct identity-based dimensions that draw upon traditional antisemitic tropes.

Mainly, this modern strain of Jewish hate has gained momentum through anti-Israel and anti-Zionist campaigns, which continue to broaden through persistent vilification of the Jewish State and Jewish Zionists. Charles Small, Director of the Study of Global Antisemitism & Policy, attributes much of the current hostility towards Jews to a “rare combination” of these far-left causes and radical Islamism, “both of whom view Jews as white, colonial oppressors.”

For instance, Hamas, an internationally designated Islamist terrorist group governing the Palestinian territory of Gaza, explicitly articulates its genocidal intent in its charter: to annihilate Israel and kill all Jews. On October 7, 2023, Hamas manifested this evil in an unprovoked attack on Israel. The terrorists brutalized and slaughtered innocent civilians in their homes and before their loved ones. The attack claimed the lives of 1,200 Israelis and injured over 3,000. Hamas also abducted and took 240 civilians hostage in Gaza.

Relying on the inapt premise of racial injustice, left-wing groups erroneously ascribe Hamas’s terror to a distortion of the Israel-Palestine conflict––misrepresenting it as a dichotomy between ‘white-privileged’ Jews and Palestinian ‘people of color.’ This misconception is rooted in the antisemitic myth that Jews hold undue power over the media and government to promulgate pro-Israel narratives and policies. This fallacy in the vanguard of leftist identity politics snubs Jewish history and, instead, promotes the deceptive belief that Jews are impervious to persecution.

October 7th was the single deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. However, within hours of the attack, far-left groups deliberately chose to overlook this genocidal massacre. Social media and city streets alike were inundated with support of Hamas, with chants of “from the river to the sea,” “globalize the intifada,” “Hitler was right,” and that the massacre was a justified means of Palestinian “resistance.”

When in modern history has it become excusable to publicly gloat in celebration of a cold-blooded massacre?

Reactions to October 7th revealed that anti-Israelism has fueled the fire of antisemitism. And it is precisely what Hamas wanted––international support for the eradication of the state of Israel and the Jewish people, without any remorse. But a troubling anomaly arises as these groups attempt to excuse their blatant antisemitism and support for terrorism through the loophole of political activism. Thus, it is crucial to make a distinction here. Criticizing the policies of the Israeli government and drawing attention to the hardships of Palestinian civilians are integral components of democracy that warrant constitutional protection. Nevertheless, these protests are vastly different from rallies in support of Hamas––glorifying its acts of terror, demanding Israel’s destruction, blaming all Jews, and justifying the murder of civilians.

The latter is bigotry and highlights the dire consequences of Hamas’s propaganda. In its pursuit of Israel’s annihilation, Hamas not only seeks to maximize Israeli fatalities but has also admitted to its intentional use of Palestinian civilians as human shields––a tactic used to conceal its operations and manipulate public perception. Hamas is the antithesis of humanity, and rationalizing its terror only strengthens its capacity to cause harm. 

While both the United States and Europe uphold freedom of expression as a fundamental democratic value, the surge in leftist antisemitism ensuing the October 7th attack underscores the harm caused by condoning this rhetoric under the guise of activism within the boundaries of this freedom.

In the month following Hamas’s attack, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that 200 pro-Palestine rallies in the US featured support for Hamas and antisemitic rhetoric. Most of these occurred on university campuses––a stark increase from the 12 recorded during this period last year. Activists at these rallies defended Hamas’s attack as “freedom fighting” and argued that “resistance is not terrorism.” Also featured were signs perpetuating antisemitic myths, one reading: “Congress is Israeli-occupied territory.”

Within universities, antisemitism involved in Middle East debates is often ignored as a means to avoid taking sides and infringing on academic freedom. Consequently, anti-Israelism has produced a systemic environment that allows for the harassment and hatred of Jewish students. Following October 7th, this dangerous pitfall was evidenced on campuses nationwide as several university leaders failed to unequivocally condemn Hamas’s attack. An ADL survey found nearly 75% of Jewish students experienced or witnessed antisemitism on campus since October 7th. Many antisemitic incidents go undisciplined as the First Amendment protects hate speech as free speech. However, the hesitation to confront anti-Israel protests that involve the intimidation and mob harassment of Jewish students invites more violent, criminal behaviors––like the assault on an Israeli student at Columbia University and threats to kill Jewish students at Cornell University.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group notorious for spreading antisemitism on campus, faced backlash for its response to October 7th. SJP characterized Hamas’s attack as a “historic win for the Palestinian resistance” and issued a “toolkit” to its chapters stating, “We as Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement.” The state of Florida responded with the first ban of SJP from state universities, noting the group’s dangerous support of Hamas. A lawsuit has since been filed in federal court to block the order, alleging that it violates the First Amendment. FL Governor Ron DeSantis defended the order, asserting that it’s not a First Amendment issue because SJP linked itself to Hamas. DeSantis clarified that while student groups have the right to demonstrate, providing material support to terrorism violates FL law.

The European Union’s rise in leftist antisemitism following the October 7th attack has prompted similar confrontations as well as free speech concerns. Comparatively, constitutional protection of free speech is less shielding on the other side of the Atlantic, where European countries retain the authority to “sanction or even prevent forms of expressions which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred.” Notably, France and Germany––home to the EU’s largest Jewish communities––exercised this power to quell the surge in antisemitic incidents and public disorder following Hamas’s attack.

France’s history of deadly antisemitic incidents and its ongoing struggle with Islamist terrorism magnifies the risk that Hamas’s propaganda presents to French Jews. In the month after the attack, the French Interior Minister reported more than 1,500 antisemitic incidents, including assaults and death threats. Consequently, local authorities were ordered to ban all pro-Palestinian demonstrations to preserve public order. A French pro-Palestinian group challenged this order as a violation of their right to freedom of expression. However, France’s highest administrative court upheld the ban on a case-by-case basis, emphasizing the need to reconcile this freedom with the protection of public order. The court––recognizing the link between Hamas’s attack and the rise in antisemitic incidents––reasoned that public demonstrations supporting Hamas were likely to disrupt public order since they’d also constitute statutory offenses related to ‘apology for terrorism’ and public incitement of discrimination, hatred, or violence.

In Germany, the RIAS reported a 240% surge in antisemitic incidents within a single week following Hamas’s attack. Notably, 91% of these were anti-Israel related. Germany has acknowledged its acute duty to rigorously combat antisemitism as an indispensable part of making reparations for the Holocaust. Thus, officials have taken more drastic measures against anti-Israel rhetoric following Hamas’s attack. Germany’s Interior Minister explained the establishment of a legal framework to criminalize “any kind of glorification or support for Hamas’s barbaric terror.” This framework arose from a ban of Hamas-related activities as well as the pro-Palestinian group Samidoun, giving rise to concerns that the decision was rather anti-democratic and “an unjust suppression of Palestinian advocacy.” The minister defended the ban, asserting the group exploited “the guise of Palestine solidarity to spread anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and justify terrorism.” Most Germans, however, agreed with this rationale––noting that while the country adopts “a less permissive stance on free speech than many democracies,” antisemitism possesses a distinctive dimension in Germany that is explicitly unacceptable in the context of political discourse.  

Within the fragile framework of democracy, the constitutional protection of free speech must extend to political advocacy and dissent. However, democratic ideals are put in great peril when these freedoms are perverted to incite Jewish persecution as a means of bringing destruction to the only Jewish state. As Human Rights First described, “an increase in antisemitism is a harbinger of societal breakdown,” and history has shown us that antisemitic hate speech served as the precursor to fascism and the genocide of 6 million Jews.

Although the surge in contemporary antisemitism largely stems from far-left progressive spaces, it is increasingly permeating the mainstream, facilitated by the use of social media. Consequently, dismissing even fringe expressions of antisemitism poses a substantial risk. Hence, identifying a balanced approach is crucial to maintain heightened scrutiny over the usage of harmful antisemitic rhetoric within anti-Israel activism while also preventing undemocratic, draconian censorship of public discourse.  

Hamas has now “vowed to repeat the horrific terror attacks… ‘again and again’” until Israel is destroyed. It is essential to remember that when protests include incitement for the targeted violence against Jews, celebration of Jewish death, and support for terrorism, it transcends activism, and democratic nations have a duty to act upon it appropriately. Condemning terrorism and antisemitism does not require context or the choosing of sides. Rather, at a minimum, it demands nothing more than basic humanity and morality.

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