From the Left
In the weeks since Hamas launched its deadly attack on Israel, public discourse in the West has been mired in accusations of anti-Israel and anti-Palestinian sentiment. As support, opposition, and criticism collide online, Americans appear to be sharply divided on this issue.
But are we really so divided on the parts of this conflict that matter?
How Pro/Anti Language Obscures Commonality
Public and online discourse on the conflict has increasingly used the prefixes “pro-” and “anti-” to draw red lines and cast others as supportive of Hamas’ terrorism or Israel’s restrictive policies towards Palestine. This kind of language obscures nuanced perspectives by framing empathy for victims as support for the worst actions of the leaders and militaries associated with them.
Does saying Israel is “entirely responsible for all unfolding violence,” as nearly three dozen Harvard student organizations said, really make someone “pro-Hamas”? It might; the New York Post (Lean Right bias) says so. Does it mean you support “the actions of terrorists,” as billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman said? Does framing someone as accountable for a situation, wrongly or not, imply that one favors the situation?
I have been asked by a number of CEOs if @harvard would release a list of the members of each of the Harvard organizations that have issued the letter assigning sole responsibility for Hamas’ heinous acts to Israel, so as to insure that none of us inadvertently hire any of their… https://t.co/7kzGOAGwp9— Bill Ackman (@BillAckman) October 10, 2023
On the other hand, does voicing support for Israel make you “anti-Palestine”? Over the weekend, half-Palestinian model Gigi Hadid shared a post saying, “Condemning the Israeli government is not antisemitic and supporting Palestinians is not supporting Hamas.”
Israel’s official Instagram account responded to Hadid, accusing her of “turning a blind eye to Jewish babies being butchered in their homes” and implying that she suggested it was “anti-Palestine” to condemn Hamas. (Hadid did not, in fact, ignore the initial attack; on October 10, she posted a statement calling it an “unjustifiable tragedy” and saying she felt a “responsibility” to say none of her “hopes and dreams for Palestinians” included “the harm of a Jewish person.”)
The Hidden Common Ground
Despite the pro/anti/Israel/Palestine/Hamas rhetorical battleground, Americans overwhelmingly agree that Hamas is bad and Palestinians in Gaza need help.
A Reuters/Ipsos (Center bias) poll also found that “78% of respondents - including 94% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans - agreed with a statement that ‘American diplomats should actively be working on a plan to allow civilians fleeing fighting in Gaza to move to a safe country.’”
Where We Disagree
In the mainstream and at the fringes, pundits and politicians are debating how the U.S. should approach the conflict. At one extreme, some are urging Israeli forces to do “whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourselves; level the place.” Others label this rhetoric a prelude to ethnic cleansing and instead call for a cease-fire on all sides.
The key to many of these disagreements is distinguishing between Hamas — the U.S.-designated terrorist organization that massacred over a thousand Israelis — and ordinary civilians in Gaza.
President Biden tried to address this by saying Hamas “does not stand for the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and self-determination.” But the distinction, especially in the fog of war, may be easier said than done.
Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on the planet, packing over two million people into just 140 square miles. (This is about one-tenth the size of Rhode Island, the smallest U.S. state.) Within Gaza City, density can be as high as 500 people per 100 square meters (about a quarter of an acre).
Thus, if 100 Hamas militants hide in a city building and Israel fires a missile at them, hundreds of civilians in the surrounding area could be impacted. Hamas has taken advantage of this fact by urging Palestinian civilians to stay in northern Gaza and resist the IDF’s order to evacuate, and Egypt has denied refugees from Gaza on the grounds that the evacuation order is a pretext for permanently exiling Palestinians from their homeland. As a result, Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have reportedly killed over 3,400 Palestinians so far.
How, then, does Israel “eliminate” Hamas without worsening the humanitarian crisis for civilians? That’s where U.S. public opinion could shift, but average Americans have little control over that.
Is the Language of Solidarity Worth the Cost of Division?
“Us vs. them” rhetoric isn’t necessarily intended to be divisive; it is used to encourage solidarity by raising the social cost of not picking a side. Calling someone “pro-Hamas” when they criticize Israel is a way to stop them from criticizing Israel, which may boost political and social support for Israel in its fight against Hamas. On the other hand, calling someone “pro-Israel” or “Zionist” may get someone to think twice about their support of Israel’s airstrikes.
But is this one-sided solidarity worth the division it can create? Or does it merely make us forget that the public, the media, and even most politicians agree on what’s really important — the rights and welfare of Israelis and Palestinians?
Maybe both perspectives are right — we need to take firm stances while also remembering our common aims. But bickering over whose dead children deserve more sympathy doesn’t help anyone.
Joseph Ratliff is a Content Designer at AllSides. He has a Lean Left bias.
This article was reviewed by Editor-in-chief Henry A. Brechter (Center bias), Ethan Horowitz (Lean Right bias), Johnathon Held, Bias Analyst (Lean Right bias), Isaiah Anthony, Deputy Blog Editor (Center bias), Malayna J. Bizier, Content Intern (Right bias), Andrew Weinzierl, Bias Research Manager (Lean Left bias), Krystal Woodworth, Executive Assistant (Center Bias), and Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings (Lean Right bias).