The world was justifiably outraged at Hamas’s dastardly early morning attack on Israel that killed more than 1,400 people, including children and the elderly. The anger at Hamas and sympathy for Israel were widespread. The international community condemned the attack in one voice.
Yet, now that the Gaza Strip has been reduced to rubble and the latest figures by Gazan authorities put the dead at over 9,000, 40 per cent of whom are innocent children, the United Nations (UN), civil society, and ordinary people around the world are calling for a halt to Israeli bombardments. While no one is batting for Hamas, there is palpable anger against Israel for what it is doing in Gaza and the horrific suffering of hapless civilians caught in the war.
Craig Mokhiber, a top human rights lawyer, resigned from his UN position and said in an interview with Democracy Now that the UN follows a “different set of rules” when addressing Israel’s violations of international law, refusing to utilise its enforcement mechanisms and thus “effectively” acting as “a smokescreen behind which we have seen further and worsening dispossession of Palestinians”. Mokhiber is spot on, but it is hardly the UN’s fault considering that the organisation cannot dare to go against powerful nations like the United States that call the shots.
There is neither outrage nor condemnation of Israel’s relentless counterattack on Gaza from leading political figures and governments of Western societies. US President Joe Biden has repeatedly said that Israel has the right to retaliate to the October 7 attack. Though there is lip service for humanitarian relief from Biden, there has been no call for a ceasefire. Many have dubbed Israel’s current action as war crimes as Tel Aviv has not followed the rules of war that avoid civilian targets.
But American citizens, including liberal Jews of New York, have protested against Israeli actions. At a sit-in protest in New York’s Grand Central Station on October 28, protestors called for a halt to the bombing. “No more weapons. No more war. Ceasefire is what we are fighting for,” read one placard. Another read, “Mourn the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” This was a protest by members of the Jewish Voice for Peace. Demonstrations against Israel have been reported from not just the Islamic countries but across major cities in the United States, Europe, and Australia.
The pushback from Israel and its supporters has been massive. There is a disconnect between political leaders and the young in several Western capitals.
Those who criticise Israel for its military action are facing a backlash, especially in the US, as criticism of Israel is being equated with being antisemitic or pro-Hamas and therefore pro-terrorism. Antisemitism is a dirty word because of its historical association with the persecution of Jews in Europe. Hatred for Jews in many parts of Europe in the past cannot be brushed away. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, the villain is Shylock the greedy money lender. So even Shakespeare was not above the prevailing prejudices.
In India too, where there is strong support for Israel especially among the larger Sangh Parivar ecosystem, criticism of Tel Aviv is seen as support for terror groups. Sheikh Abdul Rehman, 92, was detained for a night simply because he was planning a solidarity meeting in Jammu to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The former MLA was closely associated with the RSS in the past. Somehow, there is confusion among many that expressing sympathy for the plight of civilians in Gaza is tantamount to support for Hamas.
With India going for national elections next year, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) strident rhetoric against the Opposition parties and especially the Congress for a nuanced view of the Israel-Palestine conflict will be exploited to show that the Opposition bats for Islamic terror.
In the US too where presidential elections are due next November, it is important for both the Democrats and Republicans to back Israel. So, there is solid support for President Benjamin Netanyahu across the political divide. He has got the green signal from the United States to beat Hamas to a pulp and if civilians, including children, are affected in the process, so be it. From Biden to Rishi Sunak to Emmanuel Macron, Western leaders have rushed to Tel Aviv to highlight their solidarity with the people of Israel. Biden’s popularity in Israel has soared.
Harvard University was in the eye of a storm over the Israel-Hamas war. A few days after the Hamas attack, 33 university student groups denounced Israel and blamed it for the current crisis. The statement read, “Today’s events did not occur in a vacuum…The apartheid regime is the only one to blame. Israeli violence has structured every aspect of Palestinian existence for 75 years.” This created a major furore, with former students who are now in high positions in government and business bitterly criticising Harvard management for allowing students to express such views. Larry Summers, a former Secretary of the Treasury, called out the university administration for allowing students to air such views. The next day the names and personal details of the students involved were posted online. And if this was not enough a billboard displaying the information was driven through the campus in case people missed the names online.
Bill Ackman, a former Harvard student and hedge fund billionaire posted on X (formerly Twitter), “Several CEOs have asked me if Harvard would release a list of the members of each of the Harvard organizations that have issued the letter assigning sole responsibility for Hamas’ heinous acts to Israel, to ensure that none of us inadvertently hire any of their members.”
“Share the list, please. We’ll stay away,” Ale Resnik, another big-shot CEO posted on X.
Somehow, these CEOs seem to have forgotten campus unrest that marked the Vietnam War and the role student protestors played in mobilising support for the anti-war movement.