Since the horrific attack inflicted by Hamas on Simchat Torah, the slogan “Hamas is ISIS” has become Israel’s most prominent weapon in the struggle for global opinion. It has been repeated over and over by Israeli politicians, journalists, generals and ambassadors, as though this mantra might magically save them from the enemy. Whenever a foreign leader or major western figure reiterates this statement, the excitement is palpable in studios throughout Israel: now, everyone knows that “Hamas is ISIS.”
This slogan also aptly conveys the change in approach – or, “awakening from the preconception,” as it is referred to in Israeli media . While it is universally known that Hamas opposes the State of Israel, the commonly held—and entirely false—international view up to this point was that their primary goal was the good of the residents of the Gaza Strip. However, following the attack, a change of heart has taken place, with people now holding firm on the view that Hamas is “pure evil,” a force desirous of the destruction of human lives, rather than the good of Gazans, as the American President put it in his first speech after the attack.
I believe this approach to be not only deeply mistaken, but also greatly harmful. The comparison of Hamas to ISIS creates an image of the former whereby Hamas’s “problem” is that it does not respect human rights, not that it is an enemy which wishes for our annihilation. It turns the war with Hamas into a war against the enemies of human rights, rather than a just struggle against the enemy of the Jewish State for the sake of our very survival, and thus makes victory in the struggle dependent on the question of which side has violated more human rights. It creates an imaginary and impossible separation between Hamas and the rest of the residents of Gaza. It also revives the Bush-era vision of the liberal, western, global order fighting militant Islam, thereby reducing Israel to a colonial outpost of the west in the heart of a hostile population, and reuniting the Middle East while weakening the Sunni-Shiite conflict, which served Israeli interests.
We need to discard this misconception: Hamas is not ISIS; it is the enemy of the State of Israel. Only by internalizing this fact and adjusting our external approach accordingly can we hope to win this war and maintain the support of our allies, both in the West and within our own region.
Why Hamas is not ISIS
Though, like ISIS, Hamas may be a cruel, murderous terrorist organization, that’s where the similarities end. ISIS attempted to collapse Arab regimes, primarily in Syria and Iraq, and replace them with an Islamist empire based on a stringent understanding of Muslim sharia law. Its primary victims were other Muslims loyal to existing governments. ISIS hardly tried to attack Jews or the State of Israel. It instead executed a number of terrorist attacks in European capitals, some of which were committed by lone wolves, and some of which were meant for publicity’s sake, to establish itself as an international force working against the west on behalf of all Muslims.
Hamas does not match ISIS in any of these criteria. It is not fighting against other Arab regimes; indeed, it relies on their support. Furthermore, it has no visible imperial ambitions. The only enemies of Hamas, consistently and without exception, are the State of Israel and its citizens.
Hamas is also unlike ISIS in its tactics. While Hamas does run an Islamist regime, it is much less stringent than ISIS in its religious mandates. Indeed, Hamas’ sharia regime is more lenient than Saudi Arabia as well. Hamas has never never held show trials leading to public executions, of the sort ISIS is notorious for, and it has no slave market for prisoners of war. The horrific cruelty Hamas displayed in the Simchat Torah Massacre was directed solely against the citizens of the State of Israel, and was done as part of its war tactics, rather than on the orders of a Muslim religious official.
In terms of historical equivalents to Hamas’ cruelty, we can perhaps say that “Hamas are Ukrainian Cossacks,” Though in truth, we need not go that far—throughout the Middle East, various tribes harm each other in similar ways. In the Syrian Civil War, the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people, women and children were slaughtered en masse, and whole villages were wiped out. These things happen daily in Africa, as well. Unfortunately, Hamas is not unusual in its cruelty, and treats its enemies just as horribly as other local tribes in the area.
Why the Left Accepts the Hamas = ISIS Equation
The acceptance by the global liberal left of a comparison between Hamas and ISIS is not out of any affinity for Israel. Nor does it represent a change in their stance. On the contrary, the global liberal left seems either unable or unwilling to condemn Hamas solely for its crimes against the State of Israel and its citizens. Consequently, they equate Hamas with ISIS, branding it as the epitome of evil—a label echoed by U.S. President Joe Biden.
The significance of turning Hamas into ISIS is how such a statement reframes its actions within the context of liberal discourse on human rights. Instead of saying that Hamas committed a crime against the State of Israel and its citizens, who are fully within their rights to reside in this land in peace and security, they turn it into a crime against all humanity—against the very principle of human rights. Hamas thus becomes the enemy of humanity the western world would prefer to cast them as, rather than the enemy of the State of Israel they actually are. Suffice to read the words of one of the primary spokesmen of liberalism in our day, Yuval Noah Harari, to understand this:
“What the terrorists did is a crime against humanity in the deepest sense of the term. A crime against humanity is not just to kill people. It is to destroy our trust in humanity. When we experience things like parents being executed in front of their children, or babies who are murdered in cold blood, we lose trust in the human race. And by doing so we risk losing our own humanity.”
In the minds of liberals, the problem with Hamas is not that it harmed us – the residents of the Gaza Perimeter, the citizens of the State of Israel, the entire Jewish People – but that it “destroyed our trust in humanity.”
The breaking of this preconception on the liberal left therefore runs something like this: until today, we thought of Hamas as an enemy of the State of Israel, and as such they could be tolerated and even supported. Therefore, it is Israel, which does not protect the human rights of Gazan residents, which has received our unending condemnation. Now, we suddenly understand that Hamas is the enemy not of Israel, but of human rights—and this is something that cannot be tolerated.
Imagine what would have happened if Hamas “only” attacked soldiers on Simchat Torah. One can imagine it would take a few posts, slaughter our troops and then return to its tunnels in Gaza. We can assume that in such an instance, the global left would issue a weak condemnation, while simply continuing in its old approach to Hamas. Unfortunately for the global left, Hamas has not played by its tune, instead treating the Jews just as Arab tribes generally treat their enemies.
Why Treating Hamas Like ISIS Presents a Mortal Threat to Israel
One might still ask, so what? Why should we care why the American and European left suddenly likes us—it’s enough that they support us and send us weapons and reinforcements. However, this is a grave mistake. By accepting the global left’s framing of the war, we are putting ourselves in mortal danger. Framing the struggle against Hamas as a fight against ISIS turns this war into a human rights war: the elimination of Hamas is required because it threatens human rights, not because it threatens us, the Jewish people living in the state of Israel. This harms us in several ways.
Firstly, if the sole justification for combatting Hamas is their infringement on human rights, then this engagement is only defensible if it does not result in more severe human rights violations against Palestinians. Yet, we find ourselves rapidly approaching a morbid tallying of casualties, comparing the number of Israeli infants killed to that of Palestinian infants. Amos Schocken, the publisher of Haaretz, a prominent voice of the Israeli left, is already immersed in these grim calculations. What, then, can we expect from the international left?
More seriously, portraying the struggle against Hamas as a fight against “pure evil” necessitates the creation of a completely imaginary distinction between Hamas and the residents of Gaza. We repeatedly hear that the war aims to weaken the ISIS-like Hamas. Yet in the same breath, a distinction is made between this “pure evil” and “the innocent residents of Gaza who only wish to live in peace,” in the words of our compassionate and beloved President, Joe Biden.
How can we distinguish between Hamas and a peace-seeking resident of Gaza? What exactly makes a person into a member of “Hamas,” that “pure evil” that needs destroying? The uniform? A declaration of support for the organization? After all, a mass of people took part in the attack on Israel – some of them in civilian garb, some of them minors. Did anyone in the Gaza Strip condemn Hamas in any way? Remember: Hamas is not just a terrorist organization, but also the elected civilian government in the Gaza Strip.
This is the problem with the concept of “pure evil.” Pure evil must be something darker than the darkest, a sort of monster that delights in drinking the blood of small children. And surely, no one can imagine that all residents of Gaza are such monsters. Thus, we absolve the residents of Gaza of guilt, and what remains for us to fight is that refined evil that is supposedly hiding somewhere within Gaza, requiring very delicate tweezers work to locate and eliminate it. To this end, we must create an imaginary entity called Hamas, which exists in symbols of power, perhaps in leaders and a few commanders, whom we seek to destroy, and then we’ll say, “We have eliminated Hamas.”
In practice, this is a serious show of blindness to reality, the mother of all preconceptions—per which there is some entity called Hamas which is distinct and separate from the flesh and blood people living in Gaza—the people who elected it, who support it, who pay it taxes, and who send their sons to fight in its army. The truth is that Hamas is the leader of the residents of Gaza, and Gaza is the enemy of the State of Israel. This is as clear as day in noontime. The idea that we can separate Hamas and the “innocent residents of Gaza who just want to live in peace” requires a particularly active western imagination.
This, of course, does not mean we should slaughter all the residents of Gaza. We need to defeat the enemy, not destroy it. Hamas is not ‘pure evil;’ it is our enemy. Members of Hamas do not slaughter their own children or rape and burn their wives and daughters. They commit such acts only against us, because we are the enemy. If we defeat the enemy, there will be no need to destroy everyone in Gaza. But yes, for this purpose, all of Gaza is the enemy. Anyone who lives in Gaza and does not openly condemn Hamas and work towards its downfall – they, and their children, are our enemies.
The third and perhaps most serious problem with the call of “Hamas is ISIS” is that it unites the entire Arab world against us. We are single-handedly reviving the Iranian narrative that there is a global western war against Islam, with Israel as the west’s representative in the Muslim region of the Middle East.
Here is the translation of the provided Hebrew text:
The matter is such: None of the Arab nations in the region particularly liked ISIS. Its members were cruel tyrants who sowed destruction wherever they went. However, the reason they managed to garner public support in the Arab world is that they capitalized on the American invasion of Iraq and Bush’s policy of imposing American liberalism by force on the Middle East. The only thing the peoples of the region hated more than ISIS was American interference in their internal affairs. For this reason, ISIS dissolved like smoke with Trump’s rise to power. Trump made it unequivocally clear that Arab wars were not his concern, thus turning ISIS into an internal problem of the Arab world.
Another consequence of the rise of Trump and American withdrawal was the normalization of the State of Israel within the Arab world. If there is no more war of the west against Islam, all that remains for the nations of the region is the fight for regional hegemony. Instead of a global struggle between east and west, we ended up with a Sunni-Shiite clash. On this field of battle, Israel suddenly became a valuable potential ally in the struggle for dominance. If the main enemy of the Saudis is Iran, then it suddenly possesses a great deal of shared interests with Israel.
But if we return to the the old narrative of America coming to the region to impose its human rights hegemony, then all the nations of the region will once again unite to oppose what they consider to be the American human rights dictatorship, lest they become like Iraq. And Israel, which has made itself an ally of this dictatorship, will become another colonial front in the western Middle East.
It is for this reason that the nations of the region are not only unmoved by the slogan “Hamas = ISIS,” but are instead taking it as a call to arms in support of the new incarnation of ISIS. Hamas is now the hero of the day, a remnant of proud Islamist resistance against the foreign American interloper.
This move for international support is in fact a disaster which presents the possibility of both the nations of the region renewing their hatred for us, as well as the west washing its hands of the Israeli cause the minute we try to defend ourselves, in the name of the “human rights” of the residents of Gaza.
To avoid this scenario, we must take initiative and make it clear: Hamas is not ISIS. Hamas is an arm of Iran in its effort to create regional hegemony and overcome the Sunni axis. We need to rally the west alongside us in order to defeat the Shiite axis opposing us and strengthen the Sunni axis supporting us. Instead, we are allowing ourselves to be dragged along by the narrative of the global left, which would prefer to entirely abolish the Sunni-Shiite distinction and replace it with a wildly unrealistic one between those who support human rights and those who do not. The global left refuses to condemn Iran or turn its back on the Gazans and the Palestinian people, for it is easier for it to simply isolate Hamas as the “purely evil” ISIS-like force for destruction.
Hamas is not ISIS, and the war against Hamas is not a war over human rights. Hamas is the enemy of the Jewish People, and it opposes the right of the Jewish People to inhabit the Land of Israel. This war is a war against an enemy who would harm and eliminate us, not some global war of the children of light against the children of darkness.
Failing to understand this risks the very fight for our existence.
The content of this article is a translated version of its initial Hebrew publication. it was first published in the Hebrew version of Hashiloach Frontlines and is available on the Hebrew website here: https://hashiloach.org.il/%d7%97%d7%9e%d7%90%d7%a1-%d7%90%d7%99%d7%a0%d7%95-%d7%93%d7%90%d7%a2%d7%a9/
photo credit: hosnysalah
This article was translated from its original Hebrew form by Avi Woolf and edited by Gavriella Cohen.