Let’s Be Honest About the Hate That Drove the Hamas Attack

5 minute read
Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. He is the author of It Could Happen Here: Why America is Tipping from Hate to the Unthinkable

The Hamas massacre that took place over the weekend was not the result of decades of “occupation.” Israel left Gaza in 2005, uprooting families and wrenching the country into an impassioned debate along the way. Not a settler, nor single IDF soldier, nor any type of Israeli personnel has remained in the Gaza Strip.

No, this massacre was a function of hate—the kind of toxic intolerance in its purest form.

It was years in the making, and just as it took sophisticated military and logistical planning, it also took years of ideological planting—sowing seeds of antisemitism. Indeed, one cannot look at what Hamas did without understanding their thinking about Jews.

Hamas and its co-conspirators in the Muslim world had been vilifying Jews for decades, starting with their founding charter, which is full of antisemitic bile. They constructed an entire architecture of antisemitism that spanned the world and spanned spheres from academia to religion, politics and culture. There were many people who should have been pushing for a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but instead had adopted an ideology of hate that did not see Jews as worthy of a piece of land or even as equal contestants in a historical struggle. It saw them as subhuman.

Read More: Israelis Dread This Nightmare Will Never End

From the pulpits of mosques to the pages of op-eds to the stands of bookstores across the Arab world, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Hitler’s Mein Kampf and other timeless fictions and hateful works were peddled, updated, and perfected to the point that large swathes of the public stopped seeing Zionists or Israelis or Jews as human long ago. School children are taught to hate Israel, Jews are demonized as part of official curriculum, and “summer camps” involve learning how to fire automatic weapons and kidnap Israelis.

And this is how the massacre took place. 

A world in which you see an entire tribe of people as lesser—as roaches, as vermin—this is how you justify gunning down hundreds of unarmed teenagers at a concert, how you rationalize men going house to house and murdering parents at point blank range in front of their children, how you legitimize intentionally setting houses on fire with infirm, elderly people trapped inside, unable to escape; how you explain kidnapping toddlers still not old enough to speak and mocking them in front of the camera; how you excuse desecrating corpses, stepping on their faces while grinning for the camera.

This is not normal, not by any standards.

However, it is normal in a historical context. There have been other times over the centuries where one people saw the other as anything but human. From Europeans and American slave traders who enslaved the people of an entire continent, to genocides in Rwanda and Cambodia, and, of course, in Nazi Germany.

The Third Reich constructed a vast edifice of empire predicated on the core idea of answering the “Jewish Question.” It expanded into all spheres, not just military, but arts, industry, faith, and more, instrumentalizing these sectors to pursue their objective of eradicating the world of the Jewish people. For years, their neighbors in Europe ignored the facts or underestimated their ambition or dismissed their stated goals. It took the combined forces of the Allied powers and the horrifying, singular discovery of the concentration camps, to awaken the conscience of the West, or at least force it to reckon with the price of its inertia and ignorance.

Few thought such an egregious moral failure could replicate itself. No one imagined it might be possible for the world to miss such a moment once again. I know what I would do, ordinary people have told themselves, trying to appease their consciences.

Think again.

And yet, even with the sight of brutalized, raped women being paraded across Gaza by gleeful militants and hooted at by cheering crowds, we see rallies across America and in European capitals extolling the resistance and denying the inhumanity so obvious that it boggles the mind and chills the soul. We see students at our most prestigious and famous university, Harvard, blaming Israel for the massacre of its own citizens. At ADL, we are tracking dozens of demonstrations and countless op-eds blaming Israel for this massacre of its own people at the hands of hooligans with automatic weapons, men funded and trained in the dark arts of death by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

If we are to move forward and address such moral corruption, it will not be achieved after a single military maneuver in Gaza. As we saw in the wake of the World War II, we need a philosophical and psychological reckoning, a wholesale cleansing of the ideology of antisemitism and hate that leads people to ridicule life and applaud death. 

We need a modern day “de-Nazification” that seeks to find a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. It must address the absolute moral rot at the core of the anti-Zionism that fueled the Hamas massacre, that fills the sermons of countless imams across the Muslim world, that informs the college students praising the massacre as “decolonization,” that tells activists that it’s reasonable to pull up swastikas on their cellphones when they see a Jewish person.

This is the real and long-term fight. In the short term, the difficult challenge for the Israeli military will be targeting the Hamas infrastructure—operation centers, where they store their materiel, where their Gaza leadership is hiding out—while making all efforts to limit civilian casualties. But it will take decades to rid the world of the disease of antizionism that has settled in like a permanent plague.

The process must start now.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.