Worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust still not enough for some
Activists and more ordinary mortals who support Hamas need to think about the kind of world they are helping to build
“We all live in Israel now. Most of us just haven’t realised it yet.”
With these words, US Jewish neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris has painted a picture of the world in the wake of Israel’s war against Iran-backed terror group Hamas.
It’s a bleak picture. Harris builds it with broad linguistic brushstrokes of painterly details rising from the ashes of the powder keg that ignited the war: the mass murder by Hamas of more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in Israel on October 7 2023.
British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore has compared it to a “medieval Mongol raid for slaughter and human trophies”. It has entered the annals of history as “the worst massacre of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust”.
Jews in Israel were the intended target. But Hamas also killed Arabs, Muslims (including Palestinians), Christians, Buddhists, Druze and foreign nationals who strayed across their murderous paths.
For those who don’t know, or may have already forgotten, details of the massacre, here’s a synopsis.
On October 7, Hamas death squads breached Israel’s southern border with Gaza in a surprise attack. They embarked on an orgy of unfathomable, gratuitous violence, savagery and sadism. They tortured, mutilated, beheaded, burnt alive and summarily executed pregnant women, babies, children, entire families and the elderly, some of them Holocaust survivors.
They murdered more than 260 youngsters at a nearby concert ironically named “Music for Peace”.
The terrorists also gang raped many women and young girls, violating some so brutally that their pelvises and other bones were broken, before murdering them. They injured more than 6,000 people (according to the latest figures from Israel’s government) and abducted more than 230, including pregnant women, babies, children and the elderly, taking them as hostages to Gaza.
Not surprisingly, Harris and many others see Hamas not as “militants”, “insurgents” or “freedom fighters” but as “genocidal fanatics” and “proxies of a genocidal regime in Iran”. They see the conflict as a “war between the West and Islam”, between a culture that venerates life and one that worships death.
The sentiments are not hyperbolic. Nor are frenzied fears for remaining hostages unreasonable, despite the relative success of the hostage-prisoner swap deal brokered by Qatar, the US and Egypt.
Drip-feed reports and images of civilian hostages released and their conditions in captivity do not augur well for survival odds of those still in Gaza — both soldiers and civilians. That’s despite propaganda videos staged by Hamas of smiling, waving hostages.
Some hostages have turned up dead, others seriously injured, a child released in a wheelchair. At the time of publication of this article, 84-year-old grandmother Elma Avraham was still lingering on the edge of death in hospital in Israel after being released.
Among the civilians still held hostage in Gaza are Israeli mother Shiri Bibas and her flame-haired sons, Ariel, 4, and Kfir, 10 months, who have become known as the “red-headed babies”. Hamas claimed not to know where they are and to have “lost” them to another Palestinian “faction” in Gaza.
There was spontaneous outrage from the international community in the hours after October 7 — mostly from Western countries, though it included Arab and Palestinian voices. As a global groundswell, it did not last long.
With breathtaking speed — in some cases, within hours — the global narrative on social media started shifting to support for the Palestinian “cause”. The shift began eroding then exploding even before Israel dropped the first bomb on Hamas military targets in Gaza in response to the atrocities of October 7.
Perhaps most notable about the shift is how quickly it also embraced support for Hamas — by default if not always by design and despite the mountain of evidence the terrorists themselves produced.
Hamas death squads descended on Israel not just armed with AK-47 automatic assault rifles, handcuffs, gas canisters and thermobaric grenades designed to turn houses instantly into infernos. They wore Go-Pro body cams and used these to livestream and celebrate their atrocities on social media for posterity.
For those who are strong of stomach and heart, Israel’s official website (www.hamas-massacre.net) is an extensive video and image resource documenting October 7. It comes with a warning: “Violent content. Viewer discretion is advised.”
It bears viewing because unequivocal condemnation of Hamas for the massacre remains conspicuous by its absence in rhetoric of media reports, human rights activists and pro-Palestine “peace” rallies.
Absent, that is, apart from the words of Hamas leaders themselves.
In TV interviews, senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad promised repeats of October 7 “over and over, until Israel is annihilated”. He justified the massacre by saying: “[Hamas] are victims. Whatever we do is justified.” He confirmed that human sacrifice — the use by Hamas of “human shields” — is a routine part of the group’s strategy: “We are called a nation of martyrs. We are proud to sacrifice martyrs.”
Crucially, Hamad revealed the purpose behind the October 7 massacre: to create a permanent state of war with Israel.
In the war’s aftermath, anti-Semitism is surging worldwide and revitalising its most virulent form: Jew hatred.
Scholars will tell you that the term anti-Semitism was coined only in the 19th century and that Jew hatred and its close cousin, Judeophobia (fear of Jews), date back to ancient times. They will also tell you that Jew hatred “never stops with Jews”.
Incitement to violence against Jews is de rigueur in pro-Palestine protests, as are calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. Within hours of October 7, protesters in Sydney, Australia, were shouting: “Gas the Jews.” In Germany and elsewhere in Europe, protesters daubed Jewish homes and businesses with Stars of David, the primary symbol of Judaism.
Extreme neo-Nazi groups have come out the woodwork faster than roaches on steroids since October 7. (Neo-Nazis and Hamas share the belief that Jews are a global threat.) In Madison, in the US state of Wisconsin, the Blood Tribe was seen marching through the streets waving swastikas and shouting anti-Semitic slogans.
In Cape Town, protesters have carried posters proclaiming “One Zionist One Bullet” and “Keep The World Clean” (presumably of Jews) with a stick figure putting a Star of David into hahara rubbish bin.
Anti-Semitism is surging on university campuses worldwide. In the US, the reputation of even Ivy League universities — including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Pennsylvania and Brown — precedes them as “hotbeds of anti-Semitism”.
Students and academics have done their best to live up to that reputation.
On October 8, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee issued a statement blaming the “Israeli regime entirely ... for all unfolding violence”. Students glorified the massacre as “justified resistance”. Cornell associate history professor Russell Rickford called it “exhilarating and energising”. (He has since apologised and gone on leave.)
Yale students gave evidence to the US Congress of death and rape threats, harassment, vandalism, intimidation, assault, and denial and celebration of October 7 by fellow students. An Iranian Jewish student at Cornell told Congress about abuse and violence her family suffered in Iran as Jews and her anguish at finding the same unfettered abuse against Jews at her university.
University administrations have mostly taken the line of least resistance, leaving Jewish students and academics to defend themselves.
Of course, universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech. They are also supposed to be able to distinguish between free speech and hate speech. In The New York Times, Yale academics said “free speech, open debate and heterodox views lay at the core of academic life”. These principles “are fundamental to educating future leaders to think and act morally”. However, the reality on some college campuses today “is the opposite: open intimidation of Jewish students”, they wrote.
“Mob harassment must not be confused with free speech.”
In SA, soon after October 7, University of Cape Town (UCT) Palestinian Solidarity Forum (PSF) students expressed support on campus for Hamas, with flag-waving. They openly celebrated the massacre, declaring that “the time has come”.
In a media article, Prof Adam Mendelsohn, director of UCT’s Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies, said it was possible “at a stretch” to interpret the presence of Hamas flags at PSF events as “misguided foolishness”.
It is, after all, practically in students’ job descriptions to be drawn to militant causes.
Students could “conceivably be ignorant of Hamas’ appalling past”, Mendelsohn said. In the age of radicalism, this allowed them to “play-act as resistance fighters”. Since October 7, “no such excuses can be made any more for anyone who carries a Hamas flag or supports its messaging”.
SA Jews are feeling even more vulnerable knowing that support for Hamas comes from the top.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has resolutely refused to condemn Hamas unequivocally for the atrocities of October 7. That’s a legacy of the ANC’s history as a liberation movement and its long-standing relationships with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and other groups during its struggle against apartheid.
Ramaphosa and his cabinet took that further with their unusual sartorial choices at an ANC national executive committee meeting on October 15. They were photographed dressed in black, wearing keffiyehs around their necks and waving Palestinian flags.
The optics of that image were seismic and sent shock waves through the Jewish community. It has made Jews feel that it is open season on them in SA.
Mainstream and independent media internationally and locally have largely aided and abetted support for Palestinians in general and Hamas in particular.
A headline that caught my eye was an editorial in Daily Maverick two weeks after October 7. It read emotively: “For God’s sake, save Gaza” and claimed that millions are taking up “the call for a ceasefire, peace and justice”.
Ceasefire calls — aimed at Israel — have been as ubiquitous as calls for unconditional release of hostages have been scarce in the rhetoric of human rights activists, media reports and protest marches after October 7. Yet, as former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has pointed out, there was a ceasefire on October 6. Hamas broke it on October 7. Just days after October 7, the BBC’s John Simpson was justifying the use of the word “militants” to describe perpetrators of the massacre, despite the UK government designating Hamas a terrorist group. Media and journalists globally follow suit.
Two weeks after October 7, Al Jazeera ran an opinion piece by academic imam Omar Suleiman, calling him an “American Muslim scholar and theologically driven activist for human rights”. Under the headline “Erasing Palestine”, Suleiman accuses Israel of “genocide”.
The word “genocide” is a leitmotif running through anti-Israel rhetoric. Suleiman has taken it to new defining heights: “What is happening in Palestine can no longer be described as genocide or even ethnic cleansing,” he writes. “It is beyond mass extermination. It is total erasure.”
Yet Hamas’ charter is “explicitly genocidal” towards Jews, as Harris and others have noted.
Comparisons between Israelis and Nazis have proliferated since October 7. They are “standard anti-Semitic tropes”, as Pretoria university anthropology professor Rebecca Hodes says in a PoliticsWeb article on the ANC’s pro-Palestine march in Pretoria on October 15. Hodes has called the march a “Jew-baiting jamboree”.
Jew-baiting jamborees globally are replete with these tropes. They “aim to draw parity between Nazi atrocities committed against Jews during the Holocaust and current day crimes Jewish Israelis are said to be committing against Palestinians”, Hodes says.
Dehumanisation of Israelis and conflation of Jewish civilians and soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) “are key tenets of this discourse”. The discourse has spawned the virulent anti-Semitic claim that Jews are somehow “weaponising the Holocaust”. At the heart of the claim — as Karen Pollock, CEO of the UK Holocaust Educational Trust, writes in The Guardian — is that people “love dead Jews”. That can sound sensationalist to sensitive ears. It’s the title of a book by US novelist and literature professor Dana Horn: People Love Dead Jews, Reports From a Haunted Past.
Horn wrote it, she says on her website, to confront reasons for “so much fascination with Jewish deaths, as emblematic of the worst of evils the world has to offer, and so little respect for Jewish lives, as they continue to unfold in the present”.
Of course, there is an inevitability about Jews connecting the trauma that Hamas visited on civilians in Israel on October 7 with the trauma of massacres that the Nazis perpetrated during the Holocaust. It should surprise no-one.
“The world turned its back when Hitler came to power, allowing the Nazis to pursue their murderous goals with little ... help from the non-Jewish world,” Pollock writes.
October 7 shows that it’s happening again. Scottish-American academic Niall Ferguson is one of the world’s foremost economic historians. He describes as “extraordinary” the suggestion of any moral equivalence between “terrorists murdering innocent women, children, babies — putting babies in ovens, for heaven’s sake — and the IDF retaliating in ways to target perpetrators, going out of their way to minimise civilian casualties”. Harris and Ferguson see no moral equivalence whatsoever.
All of which raises these questions. If the compelling body of evidence of Hamas’ sadistic savagery on October 7 is not enough to deter support from even good people, will anything ever be enough? If the evidence of the violent gang rape, eye-gouging and mutilation of women’s bodies is not be enough to stop feminist groups from supporting terror groups, will anything ever be enough?
Probably, nothing will ever be enough until — or unless — more people realise that “we are all living in Israel”.
The war continues, the remaining hostages are held in hellish limbo and the number of civilian deaths in Gaza rises daily — 13,000 at last count, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run ministry of health.
But this is not just a numbers game.
Counting the number of dead bodies is “no way to judge the moral balance here”, Harris writes. “Intentions matter,” he says. So does “what kind of world people are attempting to build”.
Human rights activists and more ordinary mortals who support Hamas need to think very carefully about the kind of world they are helping to build.
Correction: December 12 2023
A quote that was incorrectly attributed to the Koran has been removed from this article.