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October 13, 2023

Opinion: The only response to the Hamas attacks on Israel should be outright condemnation

Some groups have been quick to overlook the bloodshed in their support of Palestine, or equated it to other injustices in the Middle East. But failing to condemn evil condones it

Opinion Hamas
Hamas Attacks Israel Ilia Yefimovich/dpa/Sipa USA

Israeli forces extract bodies of Israeli residents from a destroyed house in Kfar Aza as fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas continues on Oct. 10, 2023.

Sometimes, what you do not say matters more than what you do. Sometimes, moderation is extremism. Sometimes, there is only one true victim in any tragedy. And sometimes the right thing to do is to confront evil with unequivocal words.

This past week, we have seen examples of all three of these reactions to the devastating carnage in Gaza, orchestrated and catalyzed by Hamas on Saturday morning. After news emerged, complete with photos of the massacre of innocent Israeli civilians, some local organizations pointed the finger not at the killers, but at the dead, the wounded and the kidnapped.

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The local Philadelphia chapter of the Democratic Socialists for America put out the following statement: "DSA is steadfast in expressing our solidarity with Palestine. Today's events are a direct result of Israel’s apartheid regime—a regime that receives billions in funding from the United States. End the violence. End the Occupation. Free Palestine." 

It is notable that this organization has not only been supported by City Councilwoman Kendra Brooks of the Working Families Party, but that they are actively working on her re-election campaign. Brooks has not distanced herself from the comments of this group, which forms an integral part of her effort to hold onto her seat in municipal government.

Other groups have issued statements that display full-throated support for Palestine, couching the Hamas attack in terms of opposition to the so-called "occupation" of Gaza by Israel which, to be accurate, turned over governance of Gaza to Hamas in 2007. One such group is the Swarthmore Students for Peace in Palestine, which publicized the following declaration condemning Israel on the morning that its citizens were massacred:

"Swarthmore Students for Justice in Palestine affirms its resolute solidarity with Palestinians resisting the brutal Zionist state. Since early Saturday mornings, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have valiantly confronted the imperial apparatus that has constricted their livelihoods for the past 75 years."

Another student consortium, this time at La Salle University which is run by the Catholic Christian Brothers, issued this proclamation:

"We … hold the Israeli government accountable for the ongoing violence. ... In the days ahead, Palestinians will face the brunt of Israel’s aggression, and the blame solely lies with the apartheid regime."

These are not isolated examples of support for these horrific actions. They were multiplied many times over on campuses like Harvard and Ohio State University, as well as in cities like Boston, New York and right here in Philadelphia.

Then you have the people who say "a plague on both houses" and try to find some moral equivalence between the political controversies that have plagued the region over the decades and the brutality of Hamas. From Swarthmore, the same school that hosts a student organization that speaks of Israeli "apartheid" comes a statement from its president, Val Smith, who addresses the public as her "dear friends."

"Words cannot capture the grief many of us are feeling in the wake of this weekend's horrific attacks by Hamas against the people of Israel and the resulting violence that is inflicting pain and suffering on innocent Israelis and Palestinians," Smith wrote. "I hope you will join me in holding in the light all of the victims, their families and loved ones, and the millions of people affected by these unspeakable acts."

Smith, to her credit, called the attacks by Hamas "horrific" but then segued into empathy for the Palestinian victims of "resulting violence," failing to note that there would have been no crescendo of bloodshed had Hamas not instigated the horror. A pure, clean condemnation of the attacks on Israeli citizens was called for, and was enough.

Then, realizing the impact that its own student organization's statement would have on public opinion, the administration at La Salle issued this anemic call for peace: "Over the weekend, the world witnessed the sudden violence taking place throughout Israel and Gaza. The reports, images, and videos we are seeing in the news and social media are disturbing and anguishing. We pray for peace in this part of the world and for those touched by this violence while we mourn the loss of life."

Again, this concern for "those touched by violence" is a disingenuous attempt to somehow equate the unprovoked assault by Hamas on innocent Israelis, men and women, elderly citizens and newborns, whose only mistake was being Jewish.

And let's be clear, that is what this attack represents: an attack on Jews. The supporters of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority might attempt to turn this into an Anti-Zionist argument, but the truth of the matter is that this represents yet another, decades-long attempt by the Arab world to annihilate, erase and destroy the Jewish race. Therefore, any suggestion of commonality and equivalence between the carnage in Gaza and the suffering of Palestinian civilians is dishonest.

And finally, we come to the silent ones. I have scoured the internet for statements from my alma mater Bryn Mawr College, which prides itself on its concern for social justice and human rights, and found nothing. I personally reached out to see what the school’s position was on the attack by Hamas, and did not receive a response. I also reached out via X, formerly Twitter, to Villanova University, which awarded me my law degree, and received no response, and could not find anything that had been issued publicly concerning the tragedy.

Then we have the University of Pennsylvania, which up to this moment has remained silent. A campus which has traditionally had a rich and flourishing Jewish community has not seen fit, after almost a week, to address the tragedy directly, triggering a letter from Wharton alum and Apollo CEO Marc Rowan demanding the resignation of Penn leaders over the failure to condemn Hamas. The letter, republished by the New York Post, directly criticized President Liz Magill for "her failure to condemn this hate filled call for ethnic cleansing, normalized and legitimate violence that ranged from the targeting of Jewish students and spaces here at Penn to the horrific attacks in Israel."

As we see, there are many ways to react in the face of tragedy. For some, blaming the true victim is appropriate. For others, trying to create moral equivalence between the victim and victimizer serves their purposes. For others still, silence is the safest route.

But the only way to react when innocent children are decapitated, women are raped, and grandparents are massacred is to call it, in the clearest of terms, a continued genocide. Because anything less than that is at best cowardice and, at worst, the most repellent form of bigotry.

Christine Flowers is a lifelong Philadelphian who loves its food, sports and history, but not its politicians. She has practiced immigration law for almost 30 years and in her spare time writes for various local and national publications.