Opinion Articles

The Sin of Equivalence

There is a blatant refusal to take the murderers and their cheerleaders at face value, to listen to what they actually say. Because if one did, they would have to admit – there is no equivalence.

Numerous comparisons have been made between Hamas and Nazism, and this is not a mere coincidence. Nazism stands as the dark abyss in Western civilization, a seismic rupture that profoundly shook the very foundations of everything the Western world believed about itself. The atrocities of the Holocaust and World War II led to the demise of many optimistic and naive notions concerning human rationality and morality, as well as the benevolent nature of scientific progress and technology. All these ideals went up in smoke through the chimneys of Auschwitz.

Before my focus area shifted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s internal affairs, I spent some years studying Nazism in an attempt to understand the roots of this evil and the cultural and intellectual climate that prepared the European street for those most terrible crimes. It didn’t take long for me to encounter the limitations of this research. I came to realize that certain prominent interpreters of Nazism struggled to grasp the phenomenon because they tended to impose the cultural standards of their own worldview onto a perspective that sought to categorically propose an alternative to that very worldview.

Their failure is essentially no different from that of the Neville Chamberlains of the world, who, in 1939, attempted to preserve world peace by appeasing “Mein Führer” Hitler.

At some point, hopefully soon, we must come to terms with the fact that it is often impossible to judge one culture through the prism and criteria of another. In other words, every attempt to understand an illiberal culture in liberal terms is doomed to abject failure. Values that may be intrinsic to an individual educated in a Western-liberal environment are perceived as alien and even threatening to the way of life of someone educated in a cultural climate that is not liberal.

Why do I highlight this? Because this conceptual flaw continues to have a noticeable impact today in the neutral approach of globalist liberalism towards culture. It is also evident in the Western left’s perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as in the breakdown of the multicultural model in various parts of Europe.

For a person who considers themselves a liberal, such as myself, admitting to this fact is not easy. Liberals are educated to believe that all people are driven by the same fundamental needs: freedom, security, dignity, equality, and the right to acquire property. They are taught to believe that these needs are universal, and once met, individuals will become patrons of Starbucks, seekers of goodness, and pursuers of peace.

The notion that people are motivated by the need to satisfy their egoistic needs, to avoid pain and to maximize pleasure is anything but a holistic truth in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. People have other needs as well: for spiritual content in their life, for transcendence, membership in a collective, meaning and significance. They will usually find these in tradition, in religion, in the collective myth or the national story – which differ from place to place, from culture to culture. The danger entailed in ignoring these nonmaterial, culture-specific needs is not only that the result will be a distorted reading of the political and geopolitical situation, but also moral blindness.

A recent case in point is of Judith Butler, the feminist theoretician, who termed the condemnations of Hamas an “anti-intellectual” “moral outrage,” and proposed that the October 7 assault on Israel should be seen within a broad historical context: namely, as part of a situation of lengthy occupation and oppression.

In contrast to Butler, whose tortuous rhetoric betrays her befuddlement, others saw no need to cover up their delight at the assault on Israel. Consider Russel Rickford, a history professor at Cornell, who described the Hamas attacks as “exhilarating” and “energizing”; and Nina Farnia, a professor at the Albany Law School, who praised “Palestinian resistance” and called the Palestinians “a beacon to us all.” The loss of compass and conscience by the progressive left and the wacky crowd is capable of normalizing even murder and the kidnapping of children.

In the New Left Review, In Britain’s leading Marxist journal, Tariq Ali praised the terrorists for “rising up against the colonizers” and implied, bizarrely, that the murders resulted from Palestinian frustration with Israel’s recent enormous pro-democracy demonstrations. Isn’t that some statement?

Joseph Massad, a tenured professor at Columbia who teaches Middle Eastern studies was unable to contain his enthusiasm: the attacks were “innovative,” “astonishing,” a “major achievement,” “awesome,” “incredible,” and “a stunning victory”; he wondered with excitement “if this is the start of the Palestinian War of Liberation.” Some student organizations do have ties to the region and, presumably, know what’s going on here. The inaptly named Students for Justice in Palestine, the most bloodthirsty of student groups, declared “Glory to Our Martyrs”; described the massacre as “a historic win”; and demanded, “Do not let Western media call this terrorism. This is DECOLONIZATION.”

To equate such pro-Hamas groups and activists with being “pro-Palestinian” should be a misnomer, just as it would be to call violent settlers in the West Bank “pro-Israel.” Yet the clear and overtly expressed sentiment—of the demonstrators, the articles, the cascade of statements, the Palestinian pundits and the open letters—is that the October 7th attacks and the Palestinian national project are synonymous with each other. They’re stating that, I’m just listening.

The advocates of relativism and the champions of theory, sequestered in academic ivory towers or hunched over tables in cafés, who risk their lives on Facebook and X, all recite the mantra that Hamas’ cruelty is the product of occupation, dispossession, and oppression. They argue that if Israelis had behaved more humanely toward those who acted without humanity, the events of October 7 would not have occurred.

This is a prevalent trend in most discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—a notable inversion of cause and effect. One is almost always likely to hear that for every Palestinian action, there lies an Israeli sin behind it, rather than recognizing it as a manifestation of deep-seated hatred. Palestinian violence is almost consistently perceived as a grievance, rather than being recognized as a pathology. The Palestinians are regarded so reverently by the progressive-left that one might assume they were attending a church service, with everyone dressed in their Sunday best, kneeling before the cross itself.

However, for anyone who cares to expand their contextual understanding, when the attackers mention their victims, as seen in a video where one brags to his parents from inside a kibbutz about the people he just killed, they don’t refer to them as “Israelis” or “colonial-settlers”; they simply call them “Jews.” The same goes for the 6,000 Palestinians marching in Ramallah in celebration of the massacre, chanting phrases like “buy a rifle, kill a Jew or hand it to Hamas,” or the swarm of Gazan civilians chanting “Allah u’ Akbar”, “Yehudi”, as child hostages were handed from Hamas to the Red Cross.

There is a blatant refusal to take the murderers and their cheerleaders at face value, to listen to what they actually say. Because if one did, they would have to admit – there is no equivalence.