For those accustomed to seeing antisemitism as a blight of the poorly educated right, it’s been dismaying to witness the eruptions of antisemitic incidents on supposedly progressive college campuses that have accompanied the Israel-Hamas war.
That shameful activity seems to be born of the impulse to impose a simple narrative on a complex situation, a lack of critical reasoning that has led young and supposedly intelligent activists to lose sight of several banner truths.
Most importantly, Israel can’t make peace with the Gaza-governing terrorist organization dedicated to killing Jews and destroying the Jewish state. The murderous Oct. 7 rampage by Hamas, which resulted in the deaths of 1,200 and the taking of 240 hostages, is the worst one-day slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust. It should have demonstrated to everyone exactly what Israel faces in Hamas.
Sadly, however, the need for perspective seems to have gotten swallowed up in the black hole of progressive abhorrence for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. A cynical demagogue and implacable foe of a two-state solution, he has done everything he can to undermine efforts for such a settlement. Israel would be much better served with a different prime minister.
But it’s also important to note that history didn’t start with Netanyahu.
The problem with analyzing the Middle East is deciding when you judge relevant history to have begun. Did it commence with the first evidence of Hebrew tribes in Canaan, more than 1,000 years before the Common Era? Or in 539 BCE when, after having been exiled several times, the Jews were allowed to return following Persian King Cyrus’s conquest of the Babylonian Empire? Or in 70 CE, when Romans demolished much of Jerusalem and again sent the Jews into exile? Or in the seventh century, when Muslims conquered the region?
The point: The Jewish people have been a significant presence in the Middle East for thousands of years — and like the Palestinians, they also have a displacement narrative.
Even if one believes relevant history only began with the creation of the modern nation of Israel in 1948, the situation is vastly more complex than young progressives apparently realize. To compress that history: After the Holocaust horrors of World War II, the United Nations’ hope was to establish two states in the region, one Jewish, one Arab. The Jews accepted that idea. The Arab world did not.
That hostility has been the backdrop for three major, multination wars in the region, in 1948, 1967, and 1973. The first and third were started by Arab states against Israel; Israel preemptively began the second war in the face of Egyptian troops massing for an apparent invasion.
The Six-Day War, in 1967, ended with Israel controlling the West Bank, much of which it still occupies, and in possession of the Gaza Strip, which it ceded to the Palestinian Authority in 2005. After a victory in legislative races there in 2006, Hamas violently seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Given Hamas’s implacable hostility, the Israel government has not had a realistic partner for a peaceful accommodation with Gaza since that time.
Further, despite Netanyahu’s resistance to a two-state solution, previous Israeli prime ministers made good-faith efforts in that regard. Perhaps no American president save Jimmy Carter invested more in trying to bring peace to the Middle East than Bill Clinton, who in July of 2000 held a two-week Camp David summit with that goal in mind. Clinton has blamed Yasser Arafat, then the leader of the Palestinians, for the failure of that effort.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority came reasonably close to a two-state deal in January of 2001, at Taba, a resort in the Sinai, when then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Arafat more than 95 percent of the West Bank. Arafat didn’t say no, but neither did he accept the offer. When a stymied Barak was defeated by Ariel Sharon, that proposal effectively died.
Back to the present. It’s completely legitimate to pressure Israel to do everything reasonable to minimize civilian casualties in a war that has already resulted in thousands of Palestinian deaths. When this conflict is over, the world should press again, hard, for a two-state solution.
But as the conflict progresses, it is important to keep several things high in mind:
First, Israel is battling an adversary that has demonstrated to the entire world its contempt for Jewish lives.
Second, it is ridiculous to blame or hold Americans Jews responsible for the policies of Netanyahu’s government, particularly given that three-fifths of US Jews back a two-state solution, a higher level of support than the concept holds among all Americans.
Finally, it is despicable to use a war that Hamas started as an excuse to engage in antisemitism, just as it’s wrong-headed to cite that war as an excuse for threats, harassment, or intimidation.