When hatred of Jews takes over part of the left

Image: Javid Hashimov


By aligning itself with the terrorist group Hamas, the left abdicated its moral and intellectual values

In 1961 I went to Israel with a group of students. I never had a religious education, I came from a Brazilian public school and, like my other traveling companions, I was curious to see old Jerusalem, including the Western Wall. If even the Pope visits him! Suddenly, I was banned from going near the Wall, as it was in Jordanian territory! For me, a young woman proud of my Brazilianness, it was strange to be prevented from getting close to the Wall. “You can’t, because you’re Jewish”, they threw it in my face! Today, years later and having been discriminated against for being Jewish, I again face expressions of hatred and exclusion.

A policy of hatred towards Jews is expanding in various parts of the world, and it would not be wrong to say that this hatred particularly affected left-wing Jews, cast aside by their comrades with whom they share the same ideals, the defense of democracy and human rights. , minorities, women. Untimely, all Zionists, Jews who support the existence of the State of Israel, became accomplices in the “murder of children”, supporters of the Israeli right. Eva Illouz, professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem shows that, By aligning itself with the terrorist group Hamas, the left abdicated its moral and intellectual values ​​– and this has already occurred at other times.

She cites, for example, the case of Somali feminist Ayaan Hirsi, who in 2014 presented her doctorate at Brandeis University that challenged child marriage and female genital mutilation. It was a personal struggle, a position that feminist movements share. However, an impasse was created: supporting Somali Ayaan Hirsi could “attack the feelings of Muslim students, their religious and ethnic values”. The students created a petition, supported by the university, and the Somali feminist's doctorate was rejected. In other words, patriarchal domination and violence against women prevailed. Ayaan Hirsi was unable to face the university's opposition and ended up immigrating to the Netherlands.

Freedom of choice is increasingly restricted in a racist and authoritarian society. In 2017, the lesbian women's movement marched in Chicago carrying their colorful flags. One of the groups added a Star of David to its flag. The repulsion towards these “Jewish-Zionists” was described by professor Karin Stögner, quoted by Eva Illouz: “Jews would be welcome at the demonstration, as long as they adopted an anti-Zionist position”. It was the only odious exclusion.

Discrimination against Zionist Jews shook several feminist movements. The cases multiply, and hatred obscures everything from simple activists to renowned authors, such as Judith Butler. Eva Illouz remembers the position of Judith Butler and her group in defending the Muslim murderers who killed 12 people in Paris, in the editorial office of Charlie Hebdo, related to the caricature of Muhammad. Judith Butler defended them, “explaining” that their action was a revolt against the “hypocrisy” of the West that disrespected Islam; you cartoons with the figure of Muhammad they did not express freedom of opinion, but a way for the West to hypocritically disrespect Islam. For Judith Butler, supporting Islam was denouncing the West even if it meant affinity with misogynistic Islamic religious conservatism.

I agree with Eva Illouz when she states that these examples reveal non-democratic options: Muslim “sensitivity” against feminism; queers-anti-Zionists against queers-Zionists; states governed by Sharia law are validated against the Western secularism of the separation between the State and religion. These choices privilege a given orientation and impose exclusions, as long as Jews are excluded. I am sure that, when reading this conclusion, we will find voices that will report the old cliché: “Jews take everything for anti-Semitism”. So I ask: if it’s not anti-Semitism, what is it?

Vitória Baldin and Daniela Ramos, two researchers from the School of Communications and Arts at USP, show how News coverage reconfigures the narrative and developments of the conflict between Palestine and Israel. They show how the news actively influences, whether the construction or the interpretation of conflicts. Let us apply these explanations to the role of universities, taking into account that they essentially have the analysis and understanding of social facts.

I attended, via the internet, a seminar organized by the Department of Oriental Letters of the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at USP. I heard beautiful testimonies from Arab writers and poets, alongside angry anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish demonstrations. At the end of the seminar, confirming Baldin and Ramos' reflection, young students performed, parading with packages wrapped in white fabric with red stains simulating blood. In other words, they theatricalized the very sad burial of children killed in bombings that moves us all. They repeated what we found in the newspapers and on television.

What did they intend with this theatricalization other than to intensify hatred towards Israelis? They forgot that all of us who were watching suffered the impact of these deaths, we wanted young people on both sides not to die, we thought that in a war everyone loses. After four months of destruction in the Middle East, South Africa, with support from other countries, asked for UN intervention through the International Court of Justice. Worldwide expectations were created regarding the decisions, as the Court would judge the war resulting from the Hamas attack against the State of Israel, on October 7, 2023, and the violent retaliation. The terrorist group Hamas, on that occasion, murdered 1.200 people and kidnapped 320, from babies to people over 80 years old. Israel's institutional reaction was violent, using a strong military apparatus.

Public opinion began to await the Court's decision. Opposition to the war and the countless deaths was followed on social media, TV, newspapers and daily demonstrations. The narratives were divided between the condemnation of the super-idealized Israeli military scheme responsible for the deaths of countless civilians, particularly women and children, and the supposedly fragile paramilitary resistance of Hamas, which still held 120 kidnapped people and which never stopped attacking with missiles. Despite the difference in forces, the war continued, support came from other Arab countries, Iran and the United States. The conflict had an increasingly international image, but for us, the public, what was broadcast in the media were the Israeli soldiers with their tanks.

Among information that is always contested, tunnels built by Hamas were discovered in several parts of Gaza, including under hospitals and schools. The media was economical in revealing the bombs fired by Hamas, or the displacement of huge portions of the Israeli population who had to flee the attacks, or the number of Israeli deaths and injuries. Burials were rarely seen, especially of young Israeli soldiers, a very discreet action perhaps due to the Jewish tradition of respect for the dead, perhaps as a political tactic; but more than 500 soldiers, including men and women, were killed, in addition to those kidnapped whose bodies are sought by the Israelis for a ritual burial.

Missiles continue to fall on both sides: even today, when I write this text, missiles from Hezbollah, allied with Hamas, continue to attack several cities (Sderot, on the outskirts of Haifa, or around Tel Aviv). Ultimately, this was the climate of emotion we were experiencing, awaiting the decision of the Court's judges, who, after a careful analysis, concluded that: the Israeli government must take all appropriate measures to “prevent a genocide in the Gaza Strip” and “not welcomed a call for an immediate ceasefire in the conflicts between Israel and Hamas in the Palestinian territory.” Therefore there was no accusation of genocide and there was no call for a ceasefire.

Analyzing how the Court's statement was reflected in the press, we can observe a division into two groups: one, repeating the Court's language, did not accuse Israel of genocide and published, in parallel, the contradictory of several trends. Another segment of the media took the liberty of interpreting the Court's statement, coloring it according to their own taste.

I exemplify this second aspect through the expressions used by political scientist Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro. In lives self-defined as left-wing, the interviewee translated the Court's expression “to prevent a genocide” since Israel had a “genocidal intention”. And he added, “in fact, Israel doesn’t respect anything.” To increase his version, he cited unfortunate phrases from a member of the Israeli Cabinet (not the entire Cabinet), calling the attackers who, on October 7th, raped and committed atrocities against women and girls animals.

It is unnecessary to qualify that these expressions came from a former diplomat. The consequence of this evaluative narrative is felt even now: hatred against Israelis and Jews has increased, and the willingness to attack the Jewish diaspora and Jewish properties and institutions has increased.

Opportunely, some important politicians came forward with phrases reminiscent of the Inquisition and Nazism: they proposed boycotting the commercial and industrial segment owned by “Jews”, in the words of José Genuíno, applauded and supported by deputies such as Paulo Teixeira and Luiz Marinho and by the Minister of Human Rights, Silvio Almeida. The list goes on, including PT president Gleisi Hoffmann, who doubts the national identity of Jews, teachers were forced to interrupt their classes, misinformed students held racist demonstrations, and so on. Demonstrations take place all over the world, including in Israel, against the deaths on both sides. In Israel there are demonstrations against the government and for the release of hostages held by Hamas. There is little news about reactions among the Palestinians in Gaza. Hatred and accusations on both sides grow.

But a light began to appear among young people. Reflecting on these two bubbles of hate, they began to talk and realize that dialogue between these groups would be possible, at least between segments of them. Everyone wants peace, they want to end the war. The group Stand Together was formed, as described by Renato Beginsky, in an interview on the Instituto Brasil-Israel YouTube channel on 15/2/2024. This segment already has five thousand members, including Jews from the diaspora and Israel and Palestinians from Gaza and the diaspora. These groups propose, literally, “let’s stay together, let’s disappear”. They began to work to free the hostages. They are now moving towards building a bilateral agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Young idealism? Not necessarily. What can bring them closer is to outline a government focused on peace, equality and social well-being. We can join them.[1]

*Eva Alterman Blay She is a retired professor at the Department of Sociology at USP and a former senator. Author, among other books, of Brazil as a destination: roots of contemporary Jewish immigration to São Paulo (Unesp)

Originally published on Journal of USP.


[1] I thank Paula Stroh and Albertina Costa for reading this text.

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