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Hamas Is Bad. People Shouldn't Defend Hamas.
And other thoughts about this awful situation.
This substack is called Calm Down, and the URL for it is CalmDownBen.com. The reason that is the URL is that CalmDown dot com was taken, but the other reason is that “Calm down, Ben” is actually something I tell myself all the time. Like all humans, I am susceptible to moments of high frenzy. But that’s bad. It’s unhealthy. So this substack is about how people should calm down, and it’s also about how I should calm down.
To be honest, I’m a touch uncalm about the situation in Israel. I’m not experiencing a debilitating state of hysteria, but I’m mad about it. Hamas’s attacks were so horrific that I really am genuinely outraged and upset. I imagine you are also experiencing that feeling or something like it. I haven’t really known what to write about it because this is pretty removed from whatever subject I could loosely pretend to be an expert on.
I think it was bad. I am mad. That is the short and long of it.
But this is my job so I have decided to write about it anyway, but also because it will help me to calm down and work out some of my own thoughts.
The Time I Went To Israel
A few years ago, my family went to Israel for a performance my dad was doing where he was reciting the Kaddish at a symphony for Shimon Perez. My siblings and I are very much Libs.
The producers set us up with a handler/tour guide/chauffeur who took us around Israel for a week. The guy was a Netanyahu-supporting right winger. I’m a get-along type, so I was prepared to have to listen to a lot of casual racism against Palestinians. But a few times, I cracked. At one point, he dropped some casual racism about African Americans, and my siblings and I were like, “Enough!” We snapped and made our Very Good Points About Equality. The rest of the day was very awkward for everyone. But I was reminded of it because of another moment with him. We, as good libs, had asked this jackass to take us to Ramallah in the West Bank so we could talk to some Palestinians. The guy refused. He said that we could get a cab from the hotel in Jerusalem if we insisted but that he wouldn’t take us there and that he didn’t advise we go because “they’ll chop off your fucking heads.”
Now, though good libs, we are lazy bums, so we did not, in fact, go to Ramallah. We settled for East Jerusalem and went into a Palestinian bookshop and were chatting with the owner, and I asked him about, you know, everything, and he said, “I think both sides have made a lot of mistakes.” And I thought, “Wow, this is a low bar, but I think this man should be in charge.”
The tour guide who wouldn’t take us to Ramallah was a racist. I am confident that had we gone there as little dumbass tourists, we would have been fine. Hamas isn’t even in charge of the West Bank. This was peacetime, honey, but I still wasn’t naive enough to ask to play hopscotch with Hamas in Gaza. But I thought of this yesterday when reports started to come out about the utterly depraved acts of evil perpetrated by Hamas in southern Israel. A different part of Israel! A different group of Palestinians! There are a lot of reasons why I do not think these events vindicate this racist tour guide! But the truth is, I feel a little bad for having scoffed at him the way I did. Not because he was right about all Palestinians. He definitely was not. But I was wrong to laugh at the notion that there was any meaningful number of Palestinians who wanted to chop Jews’ heads off.
Another thing that this guy said that made me very upset at the time was that he tried to get us to understand why he felt the way he did by invoking 9/11. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it was something like, “How would you feel if 9/11 happened every few years and al-Qaeda was constantly firing rockets at American cities?” My sister took a photo of me right at this exact moment, and I’m glaring at him guy because I felt he was being manipulative by shoehorning our American trauma into his justifications for his own racism.
“This is a photo of me glaring at some Israeli dude who was telling us to support the settlements because of 9/11 or something,” is the caption I wrote on Facebook at the time.
There are a lot of reasons why the comparisons between 9/11 and 10/7 seem wrong, but insofar as they are both unfathomably evil terror attacks that change things in an existential way, apt! So I probably shouldn’t have glared at him like that.
I really don’t want to endorse this guy, who I truly believe is an unrepentant racist, but I do want to be intellectually honest about my own mistakes, and this is a story about how, to a certain extent, I was naive and privileged.
Or, to put it another way, I am sorry that I didn’t take Israeli security concerns as seriously as I should have. But you grow, you learn. After crosses and losses, men grow humbler and wiser. Or so Benjamin Franklin said.
The Hamas Apologists On The Left
Which brings us to the small but vocal number of people on the American Left who have tacitly and explicitly defended Hamas over the last few days. They have embarrassed themselves. I am frustrated, annoyed, and angry at them. You can fill in here whatever words would mean for you maximal condemnation. They are disgusting.
Eric Levitz has a really good column in NYMag about how bad this is.:
All this is morally sick and intellectually bankrupt. From my vantage, it looks as though a bunch of leftists were eager to demonstrate their superlative moral clarity by fighting with liberals about the legitimacy of a Palestinian uprising aimed squarely at the IDF and conducted in the name of democratic equality; so eager that they would not be deterred by the fact that the weekend’s events bore scant resemblance to that scenario.
What we actually witnessed was not “the Palestinians” mounting a violent struggle for justice but a far-right theocratic organization committing mass murder in the name of blood-and-soil nationalism. Hamas’s project is antithetical to the left’s foundational values of secularism, universalism, and egalitarianism. And it is also completely at odds with the progressive vision for Palestinian liberation. Western radicals’ predominant prescription for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict is a “one-state solution,” in which Israelis and Palestinians all enjoy democratic equality in a single binational state. Hamas’s atrocities have not advanced this ideal but set it back, lending credence to those who insist a one-state solution is a recipe for ceaseless civil war. This weekend was not a triumph for the left’s project in Palestine but a disaster.
I don’t think anyone is beyond redemption for having bad opinions or thoughts. I think people with swastikas on their forehead can be forgiven and welcomed back into society if they can really show me that they’ve changed.
Some of these genuinely heinous shows of support for the murdering monsters of Hamas have come from college students. Some of those college students are bad people, but some of them are just stupid. I didn’t do anything as crazy as defend terror groups when I was in college, but I was, like, stupid enough to be genuinely surprised that John Kerry lost. It will not be hard for me to forgive a 20-year-old who, in haste, fumbled support for Palestinians, generally, into support for these evil Hamas fucks on a Saturday morning before the true depth and breadth of the horror was public. If I run into one of them in a few years, and we talk, and they express regret, that expression will be enough. But the presumption of youthful stupidity that I grant people by default extends only to the end of one’s undergraduate college experience. After that, the burden of proof shifts. If you’re 25 and in law school, and you defended Hamas and doubled down on it well past when it was clear how awful this was, I’m going to need to see more than an expression of regret. I’m going to need to see some actions that demonstrate you truly have evolved. I will want to see the picture of the tree you planted in Israel.
If you find yourself arguing that they only beheaded the mothers and some of the babies, the rest of the babies they merely shot to death, there is a lot broken in your brain. I’m going to want to read a psychiatric report on you before I invite you to poker night.
I really do try to give people the benefit of the doubt, so let me try to do it here.
Let’s say you believe strongly that Israel has been bad to Palestine. I agree. Let’s say you believe it more than I do, you know? Let’s say you’re, like, an anti-zionist whacko who really means it. I no longer agree with you, but I recognize some people have that belief. But let’s also say that you really aren’t a morally depraved violent psychopath. You aren’t for genocide. You just want the Jews to move back to Poland or some shit. You ain’t calling for no death. No beheading of babies. Let us also say that you subscribe to the completely false belief that your individual statements on social media matter. Your tweets are missiles in a PR war of ideas. This is an insane belief that lots of people have in cases that are far less extreme than this, so it makes sense that people would have it in this case too. Let’s also just be clear that you’re also, holistically, an idiot. I think it totally easy to imagine that such a person is willing to admit in private that, “You know, I really wish they hadn’t slaughtered all those innocent families,” while also thinking that they cannot say that in public because it would be lending some sort of material support to their enemies. In this situation, if you were being totally honest with the world, your public statement might be something like, “I stand with the Palestinian people who have suffered under an apartheid, but I am disgusted by the rape and slaughter of civilians.” If you then get some whiteout and remove the last clause that you have convinced yourself you cannot say, you may think it is a minor change. But in reality, you have now come off like a vampiric psychopath and, ironically, done great PR damage to yourself and your movement. When this is pointed out to you, it is possible that you would be offended because you know that, of course, you don’t support baby slaughter. You might have some cognitive dissonance. You deleted that part of your statement! How could they know that? But humans are weird, so you might double down, or log off and go to the park, or tweet through it. What you might not do is the one thing you should do: just be transparent about it and say, “Yeah, I’m sorry. Obviously, I am outraged by the kidnapping of holocaust survivors, but I also don’t like Israel and wish they’d all fuck off.”
It’s not like we’re going to be friends! You have some Bad Thoughts that I do not like, but I don’t think you’re a serial killer. I am comfortable and confident that your bad beliefs will lose in the battle of ideas.
This is a wildly generous bit of fan fiction I just wrote. And it is undoubtedly not true of most people, but I bet it’s probably true of at least some of them. And, buddy, if you are reading this, I really think you need to stop hitting yourself in the face by being too stubborn to demonstrate your own humanity.
Bill Ackman, the hedge fund billionaire famous for losing a zillion dollars shorting Herbalife, made the rounds on Tuesday when he tweeted that he wanted a list of everyone who is a member of the groups at Harvard that sent this evil letter blaming Israel for the atrocity. I definitely agree with him that the letter is bad and evil, but it’s a dangerous road he’s going down. A board member of one of those groups took to Twitter to explain that not only had they resigned but that they hadn’t been asked about it beforehand. It makes sense. Obviously, people are often in groups for reasons that differ from the reasons the person with the keys to the Twitter account is in the group. Particularly in college when you join groups because you’re lonely.
On the other hand, there is the president of the NYULaw Student Bar Association who sent out a similarly vile statement of support for Hamas under the banner of the group. She lost her offer of employment from a tony Manhattan law firm and is being removed from the presidency of the group because she didn’t run it by all of them. Seems like she got what she deserved. Imagine how angry the clients of that law firm would have been if they had hired her! Just on a business level, that one makes sense. And on a personal level, I’m going to need to see that she planted a whole lot of fucking trees in remorse before I let her handle my divorce.
What Should Israel Do?
I think they should do what they’re about to do: destroy Hamas. Hamas doesn’t get to exist anymore. The individual members of Hamas? Kill or capture. If they surrender, I think we should put them in prison, but if not, bang bang.
In his speech yesterday, President Biden said, “if the United States experienced what Israel is experiencing, our response would be swift, decisive, and overwhelming.” Very true!
If this happened in the United States, I would expect and demand that we fuck ‘em up beyond recognition.
It’s not a long-term solution to the problem; it’s not even a short-term solution to the problem. But it is part of a short-term solution to the problem.
Unfortunately, a lot of innocent Palestinians are going to suffer here. I don’t take that lightly. I do not believe that my tour guide was right. Hamas is not representative of most Palestinians. And I reserve the right to decide at a later date that Israel went too far. If they carpet-bomb Gaza with napalm, I will be very mad. But the collateral deaths that happen in every war? Those deaths get added to Hamas’s tab.
Hamas has done this awful, terrible thing to Jewish civilians, children, and Holocaust survivors. They knew it would make life worse for Palestinians. They knew it would provoke a maximal response. They do not wear uniforms that make it clear they are in Hamas. They hide amongst civilian populations. This is all war crime shit.
After this war is over? I don’t know, man. Seems like Israel should have a reckoning with the intelligence failure that led to this surprise slaughter. It seems likely since after the surprise Yom Kippur attack 50 years ago, Israel was so mad at their leaders that eventually, Helen Mirren was in a movie about it.
And what of peace? I don’t know, bro. Seems pretty far off. The one-state solution that the Left supports, where everyone just lives in a harmonious democracy with equal rights, seems more unlikely than ever before. And the two-state solution that basic libs like myself have long supported also seems further off than at any time in my life. Noah Smith, who blocked me on Twitter last year for making fun of his fashion sense, has a good post about a three-state solution, which I once read about on Wikipedia but can’t say I am informed enough about to appraise.
Tough nut to crack!
Matt Yglesias has a good post about how this has done lasting damage to the Palestinian cause. You should read it. He has a line where he points out that the obsession with arguing about 1948 and Israel’s entire existence makes it impossible for Palestinians to actually enjoy tangible gains.
Hamas isn’t fighting for Gaza or the West Bank; they are fighting against the idea of Israel…
The Israeli viewpoint is that a sovereign Palestine would be an armed base from which to attack and terrorize Israeli civilians while seeking the destruction of the country.
One might think people who are concerned with the rights and well-being of the actual people living in Gaza or Ramallah or Bethlehem would be sensitive to this and clarify that an end to occupation does not mean an ongoing threat to the physical security of people in Sderot and Haifa and Tel Aviv. But that is often not what they do, in part because a lot of the people posting or protesting about this are not genuinely concerned with the welfare of Palestinians and in part because many Palestinians themselves have chosen expressions of conceptual maximalism as their preferred form of solidarity.
Israel has the overwhelming preponderance of force in this area. It should nonetheless be possible to convince them to give the Palestinians a sovereign state to live in and to set the stage for a vast improvement in Palestinian living conditions. But the concrete upside to Israel of doing this, though real, is pretty limited, and the downside risk to Israel of a sovereign Palestine become a base for armed attacks against Israeli civilians is substantial.
Anything you say or do that makes Israelis feel like they won’t be accepted as a member of the community of nations no matter what puts Palestine further from freedom. And anything you say or do that makes Palestinians feel like compromising on borders and refugees would be selling out puts Palestine further from freedom.
It reminded me of a line from French Premier Eduard Daladier’s famous speech a few months into WW2.
“While Germany is crushing beneath her tyranny the men of every race and language, she is herself being crushed beneath her own servitude and her domination mania.”
The Palestinian movement is crushed by its own anti-Zionist mania.
One of the reasons experts think Hamas launched this attack now is because they’re upset about the looming Saudi-Israel normalization deal being brokered by the US. Other countries are tired of constantly fighting about Israel’s existence all the time. They’d rather do some productive things. Not all countries! I mean, Iran is deeply committed to destroying Israel, but other countries are less into it than they once were.
If your entire goal is just this one impossible thing—replacing Israel with a Palestinian State and sending all the Jews either to the grave or, like, Vancouver—then that’s bad! Maybe it’s staving off that normalization is worth the profoundly terrible consequences for actual Palestinians trying to live their lives.
Seems like maybe time to take a clue from everyone else and accept that Israel and focus on actually accomplishing things that a) can be accomplished and b) don’t make everything 10 times worse.
One of the mistakes—I think the biggest mistake—that we made after 9/11 was giving into the temptation to escalate it into an epochal clash of civilizations. In retrospect, we probably should have treated it more like a vicious and evil crime and not the defining moment of the 21st century. We should have moved heaven and earth to kill al-Qaeda and then stopped and moved on. No need to remake the entire Middle East. And then, if other terrorist groups came forward and tried shit, we’d kill them too. Play it by year.
I guess I think that’s what Israel should do. Kill Hamas. Then everyone can have a good think. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
There is another part of the Daladier speech that I love:
Nazi propaganda is entirely founded on the exploitation of the weakness of the human heart. It does not address itself to the strong or the heroic. It tells the rich they are going to lose their money. It tells the worker this is a rich man's war. It tells the intellectual and the artist that all he cherished is being destroyed by war. It tells the lover of good things that soon he would have none of them. It says to the Christian believer: "How can you accept this massacre?" It tells the adventurer - "a man like you should profit by the misfortunes of your country."
It is those who speak this way who have destroyed or confiscated all the wealth they could lay their hands on, who have reduced their workers to slavery, who have ruined all intellectual liberty, who have imposed terrible privations on millions of men and women and who have made murder their law. What do contradictions matter to them if they can lower the resistance of those who wish to bar the path of their ambitions to be masters of the world?
Writing this calmed me down. Thank you. Good talk.
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