6 Maggio 2024

Come rispondere alle manifestazioni pro pal

How Should We Respond to Pro-Hamas College Rallies?

“Glory to Hamas.” Is there any civil response possible to this chant?

During the past few weeks, events at American universities have unfolded thick and fast. Columbia University was at the center of attention. We could hardly believe our ears when we heard the slogans shouted by hundreds of students on campus, and even more radically outside the university gates.

Jewish students were harassed, beaten, and prevented from entering some of the spaces on campus. Slogans such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” and “Globalize the Intifada” were heard at many American universities. The first slogan takes up almost verbatim the wording of the Hamas charter of 2017, which calls for the “liberation” of the territory on which Israel is located. What else can this mean other than the desire to eradicate Israel, and at least the acceptance of murder and ethnic cleansing against Jews as part of this “liberation”?

Hamas has not only repeatedly affirmed this goal verbally and in writing, but put it into practice to the best of its ability on October 7, 2023. And Hamas has vowed that as long as it retains power, it will try to repeat October 7 over and over.

Anyone who does not want to be misunderstood should therefore explicitly distance themselves from Hamas. But the protesters are not doing that.

The call to “globalize the intifada” is no less murderous. Both the first and second intifadas were violent, and Israeli civilians were targeted — in cafés, buses, and on the street. This terror is now to be globalized?

My university, Indiana University in the Midwest, is not exactly known as a trouble spot. Still, there have been some protests by students and professors here. We are not an Ivy League university, but one of the Big Ten research universities, known for the Jacobs School of Music, the Kelly School of Business, the Kinsey Institute, and the Maurer School of Law, among others.

Around 10 percent of the almost 50,000 students on our campus in Bloomington are Jewish. Since April 25, there has been an encampment “for unconditional solidarity with Palestine” opposite the Chabad House, where many Jewish students come and go. Some of the slogans, chanted verbally and put on posters, seem to be aimed directly at Jews.

Not all of the slogans are implicitly murderous. Some merely demonize Israel — for example, the claim that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, which is presented as an indisputable fact through constant repetition. You can show solidarity with the Palestinian victims of the war (started by Hamas), you can condemn the war, you can be very partial to the Palestinians — but the accusation of genocide is slander.

The false claim to genocide is so pernicious, because it justifies all the hate directed at Israel — and at those who don’t explicitly condemn Israel.

There is a certain logic to this. If one is truly convinced that Israel is in the process of deliberately exterminating an entire people, then not only is Israel is reprehensible, but all those people who support and normalize Israel, or are Zionists themselves, are evil — that means most Jews.

The dynamic is similar to the medieval accusation of ritual murder. Anyone who was really convinced that Jews were murdering Christian children in order to use their blood for their rituals understandably wanted to put an end to it by any means necessary — even with violence. “Resistance by all means” does not allow for criticism of the barbarity of Hamas.

Not all students who write and shout such slogans are aware of their meaning, and their effect on Jewish students.

I spoke to students who held up a poster that equated campus police, the KKK, and “IOF.” But it took one of the masked organizers, who came running to block our conversation, to clarify what IOF meant. The students didn’t know. “Israel Offense Forces or Israel Occupying Forces” — he wasn’t quite sure either. But the message that comes across to the Jewish students who pass by these posters is that the country they feel deeply connected to is being demonized in a way that condemns them at the same time.

Many of the protesting students may be astonishingly ignorant and naive. Not so the organizers. There has been a rapid, sectarian radicalization among them over the past six months. Shortly after October 7, I had a discussion with the president of the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) at our university on the university radio station. Even though we disagreed on many points, he condemned Hamas, at least in private conversation. And he asked Jewish acquaintances whether they were doing okay. A week ago, I looked at his Twitter profile. “Glory to Hamas” was written there. For him, Israel is “a demonic, irredeemable society that never has and never will have ever [have] a single right to exist.” He equates Zionists, i.e. all those who do not condemn Israel, with the Nazis. Zionists, he writes, are “indigenous to hell.”

The PSC plays a key role in calling for the campus protests, and regularly reports on the protest camp on its Instagram page. There is a lot of applause for this — also from an Iranian account called “Mahdi_Alavi.” He encourages students to read Ayatollah Khamenei’s letter to the youth of Europe and North America. There were love and applause emojis in the comments, but no objections.

Another key leader of the protests, who is particularly good at reaching other students via megaphone, also provides an insight into his thinking on social media. He writes about the Israeli army on X: “They lied about mass rape so they themselves could mass rape,” and has denied the unimaginably brutal sexual violence of the murderers of October 7. He also takes a liking to Hamas. It is “morally superior to Israel in every way that matters.”

What is the answer to such pro-Hamas propaganda? The Jewish students played loud music by Jewish-American musicians such as Matisyahu and Israeli pop songs, drew attention to the hostages, and posed with Israeli flags in front of the encampment where implicit and explicit Hamas sympathizers were present.

A similar response came from Rabbi Levi Cunin. The group “Faculty & Staff for Israel” had called for a rally on May 2. A politics professor known at the university for being anti-Israel and tearing down posters of the hostages filmed the entire event, possibly to intimidate participants. When Rabbi Cunin, while giving a speech, became aware of him, he turned to him and shouted in his face “And when there are antisemites who come to [our] anti-Hamas rally, what do you say? Am Israel Chai!” Long live the people of Israel.

And indeed they shall.

Günther Jikeli holds the Erna B. Rosenfeld Professorship at the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism in the Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University. He heads the research lab “Social Media & Hate.”

Photo credits: Gunther Jikeli