X Close

Why is it so hard for the American Left to condemn Hamas?

Members of the Squad Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Credit: Getty

October 12, 2023 - 4:15pm

The Israel-Palestine conflict has led to a predictably divided response in the US. But it is the American Left in particular that has not covered itself in glory. In recent days, it has failed to distinguish between its commitment to the legitimate cause of Palestinian self-determination and a relativistic attitude of moral carte blanche for terrorist movements, provided they’re seen to be fighting for a righteous “anticolonial” cause. These pathologies, embodied by the likes of the Squad and Cornel West, have now emerged into the open, stoking division among Democrats and discrediting the Left’s claims to moral leadership.   

Michigan representative Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American elected to Congress, offended both Republicans and Democrats when she released a statement on Sunday that failed to mention Hamas, while casting blame on Israel and calling for an end to American aid to the Jewish state. “The failure to recognise the violent reality of living under siege, occupation, and apartheid makes no one safer,” she said. “As long as our country provides billions in unconditional funding to support the apartheid government, this heartbreaking cycle of violence will continue.” On Wednesday evening, following criticism, she conceded that Hamas members were guilty of “war crimes”.

Tlaib has been joined by fellow Squad members Ilhan Omar, who called the Israeli response a “war crime” (with correspondingly little to say about Hamas), and Cori Bush, who echoed the harsh criticism of Israel and called for “a ceasefire and de-escalation”, as if the men who had just finished massacring and raping innocents would be amenable to such a polite suggestion. 

What accounts for such wilful blindness on the part of a movement that prides itself on fighting racism and the remnants of Nazism? There are many possible answers. One is that contemporary identity politics has killed the robust moral universalism of the old Left, and Palestinian Arabs now always make for a better victim class than Israeli Jews who, in this worldview, have become the new fascists. 

Another explanation is that at a time when the American Left has seemingly run out of urgent causes, its partisans have used the Hamas attacks to rally to the old, reliable trope of anti-Zionism, which has a long pedigree in Left-wing circles. It comes out of a larger current of radical chic “Third Worldism”, in which any militant movement that flies an anticolonial flag, no matter how brutal or unscrupulous, is seen as worthy of praise. Such gestures are easy ways for Leftists to distinguish themselves from establishment rivals, letting them play-act from the comfort of Western cities and campuses, armchair revolutionaries engaged in an emancipatory struggle. 

In his 1975 UN speech, given just two years after the Yom Kippur War, then-US Ambassador Patrick Moynihan saw these very trends coalescing around the global anti-Zionist movement, which introduced the infamous resolution denouncing Israel as an inherently racist entity. He sounded a prescient note in saying that “there will be new forces […] new prophets and new despots, who will justify their actions with the help of just such distortions of words as we have sanctioned here today.” He added that “today we have drained the word ‘racism’ of its meaning. Tomorrow, terms like ‘national self-determination’ and ‘national honour’ will be perverted in the same way.”

Today, the Left matches Moynihan’s description, proclaiming allegiance to lofty ideals even as it debases them in practice. There are, of course, legitimate criticisms to be levelled at Israel’s policies and responses. But the refusal among significant swathes of the Left to recognise in absolute terms the singular evil that Hamas represents has all but undermined their credibility as good-faith participants in these debates. With friends like the American Left, the cause of peace hardly needs any more enemies.


Michael Cuenco is a writer on policy and politics. He is Associate Editor at American Affairs.
1TrueCuencoism

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

26 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Richard M
Richard M
9 months ago

I posted something similar yesterday, but it bears repeating many, many times:
Regardless of your political persuasion or what causes you espouse, if your response to seeing footage of the naked and broken body of a young women paraded like a trophy by men with guns is anything other than complete abhorrence and utter condemnation, then you have forfeited all claim to moral standing.
Many on the political left in America, Britain and other places have sunk so deeply into their own bubble that they are no longer capable of recognising the humanity of anyone they perceive as their opponents. Its sadly little surprise then that even the murder of babies doesn’t move them to question their own self-righteousness.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

The answer is easy IMO. These people are consumed by their luxury beliefs and are utterly and completely disconnected from the real world. All the members of the squad would be victims under the Hamas regime. They would have no voice. They would be subservient to the brutal men who run the regime. In the west, they can drink lattes, recite mindless slogans and rise to power within a party that has no core principles, other than winning elections.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

And seemingly, their bank balances rise much more than their salaries would normally allow. Do they have the same sort of “Interest Scrutiny” that UK politicians are subjected too? I suppose the ‘brown envelope’ has been used in the US as in the UK.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago

You cannot negotiate with people who intend to kill you and have been taught from birth that they will go to heaven if they kill you and, that they will be able to slake their frustrated lust without any consequences.

Will K
Will K
9 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

To those concerned about morality: the first side to attack is evil, and the side to respond is good. To those concerned about practical matters: both sides can kill each other.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
9 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

“Never again” is not just a slogan. It is the heart cry of a people – the Jews – to stand up fiercely against any enemy that is dedicated to their annihilation. So be it. They, if no one else, have learned the hard lessons of history.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
9 months ago

This is the general leit- motif of not just the American Left, but that in most other democratic nations. Islamic extremism of the most violent kind is sanitized with vocabulary rooted in a human rights discourse. For the Left, extreme Islamism is acceptable as it is a ” victim” of identitarian “oppression”, Terrorist groups ranging from Hamas to Al Qaeda to Lashkar Toiba are justified using Marxist historiography.
Votebank politics also aids the cause as most political parties espouse Islamic extremism in the hope of catching votes of Muslims presuming they vote on community lines.
The biggest obstacle to the emergence of any moderate reformed Islam comes from this unholy alliance of the Left and Islamic extremism.

AC Harper
AC Harper
9 months ago

Call me cynical but as long as there is some political ‘cover’ for their actions the corrupt and wealthy terrorist leaders will continue send swarms of cannon fodder against their traditional enemies. It’s good for the leaders’ bottom line and further cements their grip on power. The last thing they want is peace, or even the annihilation of their foes. It would end the gravy train.
So every politician that ‘excuses’ terrorism is ensuring that it carries on. More death and bloodshed. Either through ignorance or malice.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
9 months ago

“Why is it so hard for the American Left to condemn Hamas?”I think it’s obvious why… cognitive dissonance. The American Left believes things that are not true; reality is smacking them in the face; and they are struggling to hold onto the false beliefs that define them in the face of undeniable truths.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
9 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

I don’t think anyone needs a lecture on truth from a Trump cultist.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
9 months ago

I don’t know what you’re talking about but thanks for engaging!

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
9 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

At least Champagne Socialist is reading more broadly than most hard-Left fanatics. He still can’t escape spewing forth an incoherent patois of political smears and slogans every now and then, like a sort of nervous tic, but at least he’s trying his best!

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
9 months ago

…Doing his best exactly. Being a gauche caviar, I would think our Champers is hardly the sort to valorize Hamas style shooting of children and lopping of heads. He’ll surely be familiar with la scene parisienne 1793, and what naturally befalls those of luxury thought and speech like him, once the true communitarian ideologues act out their fantasies.

Last edited 9 months ago by Bernard Hill
Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
9 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

I imagine you spend a lot of time not knowing what anyone is talking about. But you’re welcome!

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
9 months ago

“‘Tis folly to be wise.”

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
9 months ago

The hard-left needs to be pushed out of mainstream politics frankly, as soon as possible. The Overton window has shifted way too far over in their direction in recent years. If events like this don’t illustrate the extremism at the heart of the movement to the mainstream, then nothing will.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
9 months ago

How could they possibly criticise one of the longest-standing pillars of victim culture? They are at the heart of the moral fanaticism which is weakening the US before its enemies- and that includes Iran and the terror groups it sponsors.

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
9 months ago

It’s hard to condemn Hamas when you basically agree with them.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
9 months ago

You can pin the blame squarely on so-called “higher education”, i.e., U.S. colleges and universities, for the leftward march of the culture. They have “educated” at least three generations of youth on Marxist dogma and those generations are now finding their way into leadership roles in every institution. I say that as a 73 year-old with a pre-med undergraduate degree with a minor in Philosophy, and a Master’s degree in healthcare administration. I went to school when universities were still somewhat serious places for free speech, where hard work and merit mattered, and where every discipline hadn’t been infiltrated by “woke” ideology. Higher education in America is a racket, a scam, outrageously over-priced, and utterly and thoroughly corrupt. No wonder it produces morons like The Squad…

The tragedy is that all this “wokeism” has brought with it moral blindness. The Squad, elected by their constituencies, are bigots, racists, and anti-Semites. What are they even doing in public office? As has often been said, politics is downstream of culture. Ergo, to have produced such an electoral results, some significant portion of American culture is rotting.

Last edited 9 months ago by Gerald Arcuri
Dominic A
Dominic A
9 months ago

There’s also something less-than-edifying about enthusiatic and simplistic over-reporting of ‘The Left’s’ support of Palestine. Since Saturday, about half the Unherd articles on the recent conflict have fronted that message. Not necessarily undeserved – just that it’d be good to ease up on seeing everything through the lens of US election polticking/culture wars.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
9 months ago

Sloppy polemical garbage. The only pro-Hamas statements quoted are from three members of the so-called “Squad,” whom the writer then equates with “the Left.” Is he not aware of other members of “the Left” who have denounced Hamas? (Clue: the first name of one of them is Joe.)
(Yes, if the three Squadees said what’s reported, they’re morons. I’m not defending them.)

Mark Carpenter
Mark Carpenter
9 months ago

Yes, That was evil what Hamas did, and I am for Israel now like I was for us after 9/11. But singular? I have heard talk of more moral ways to commit war but how to forget Dresden Tokyo Nagasaki Hiroshima. Those were civilian populations incinerated. War is evil.

Kevin L
Kevin L
9 months ago

It’s disingenuous to lump all of the left together as though they speak with one voice. President Biden condemned the Hamas attacks, as did Bernie Sanders.

Even within The Squad, both Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar condemned the Hamas attacks. To suggest otherwise is mischievous at best and malicious at worst.

Rashida Tlaib is Palestinian so perhaps we might be more charitable regarding her wish that both sides stop the violence.

It should be possible to detest the violent attacks by Hamas terrorists while also hoping for an outcome that does not result in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians.

I suspect that the author is more interested in scoring partisan political points than in finding solutions to the tragic events in Israel.

Barry Dank
Barry Dank
9 months ago
Reply to  Kevin L

Of course, there is no homogeneous American left, and there is no homogeneous American left supporting Hamas and their atrocities. There are a few individual leftists in support and some Harvard based groups. Americans are in overwhelming numbers, transcending political boundaries, have condemned these atrocities. To state otherwise is an attempt to promote divisiveness where there is no significant divisiveness.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
9 months ago
Reply to  Kevin L

Oh, you and your pathetic facts!

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
9 months ago

The answer is easy, in that the question has simply become tribal. It’s the same reason the evangelist right won’t condemn the IDF for killing the same amount of civilians murdered by Hamas with their rather indiscriminate air strikes