WORLD : Americans were horrified at the atrocities perpetrated by Hamas against Israeli villagers on October 7 this year. The brutality and futility of the attack rocked the imagination.
Yet within days, we witnessed huge protest marches in U.S. and world capitals and universities in favor of Hamas. Their favored chant, “from the river to the sea,” means only one thing, and that is the annihilation of Israel and all its Jewish inhabitants.
Such support for terrorism exploded in the 1970s as well in European cities and universities, and people wondered then about this same gleeful valorization of revolution by comfortable, privileged youth.
One might expect campus teach-ins or op-eds on either side of a political conflict today too in elite educated spaces like Harvard and Columbia, but why do we again see such unchecked street rage there?
Why do we hear absurdly hyperbolic accusations like “genocide” and “apartheid,” and why do news outlets accept unvetted news reports and ludicrous casualty counts from Hamas itself?
The Germans had a word for it: Leidensneid, or an envy of suffering, first described by authors such as Jillian Becker, the chronicler of the Baader Meinhof group. The youth of this formerly Nazi nation thought of their old country as irredeemably evil, and they were not entirely wrong.
They came to envy the romanticized and righteous suffering of oppressed peoples, whose plight seemed authentic and meaningful. As they lived a soft life under the new democracies, their hatred of the old order grew. Eventually, they demanded nothing short of a utopian standard of justice for the new.
They developed an ideology of hypersensitivity to wrongdoing, including any they saw in their new nations. And so, bereft of a nation to identify with, they identified with the victims of the post-war world, vowed destruction of “the system,” and embarked on urban guerrilla terrorism.
Similarly, today, protesters believe that Gazans live in an “open air prison” and thus suffer nobly. Therefore, they deserve our pity and support. Their struggle is heroic; their lives are significant and noble, unlike the Western student’s comfortable middle-class, or even upper-class, existence, purchased with the wrongdoing of their country.
The Leidensneid of the ’70s repeats in today’s popular oppressor/oppressed theory, the simplistic reduction that any successful nation or people must have achieved its success by oppressing less successful people
s. They valorize this suffering and therefore believe that Hamas, in the present instance, has no choice but to resort to terrorism for “liberation” against giants like Israel and the U.S.
The media in today’s hyper-emotional atmosphere play a huge role. Much has already been written about Pallywood, which the legacy media finally acknowledged as propaganda. But shockingly, today we see that this nonexistent neutrality of media persists.
The media repeat obviously erroneous news, like the bombing of the hospital in Gaza, or suppress other news, or couch a news item in misleading language. Also, the media studiously avoid investigating the funding of these marches, when names like “International Answer” appear printed on the very placards that the marchers are carrying.
Today, we can only wonder how thousands of Palestinian flags and martyr/soldier garb suddenly appear in all the world capitals. Who paid for it all?
The academy today extols the supremacy of sensitivity over truth. Students seek mental health care when they hear a political opinion they do not agree with or after a “misgendering” — and the media reinforce these sentiments.
Ignorance of the history of the Middle East region adds to the emotionalism of the conflict.This ultra-sensitivity of the protesters can easily harden into a state of cold insensitivity toward their own victims in the fight for utopia.
The terrorists of the ’70s chose to break all contact with conventional life and embark on guerrilla revolution, and today we see growing hatred as people rip posters of kidnapped children off lampposts, burn flags, chase down Jewish students, justify each October 7 atrocity in the name of “resistance,” or deny that the massacre happened at all. This is how violent ideation begins.
This situation is at an inflection point. We must employ sophisticated public relations and media strategies if we are to avoid the same catastrophes that occurred in the former Axis countries: years of bloody urban terrorism.
We can discount their overblown rhetoric at our peril; their hypersensitivity is approaching a breaking point, and that means real terrorism.
Rather than dismissing the current fevers as youthful naïveté, the universities must introduce the protesters to real education. The criminal justice system must bring appropriate charges for violent action, or for monetary or other support for terrorism.
Protesters not yet hardened into violence must be re-educated, by media or universities, with substantive exposure to those they claim are evil.
It is heartening to see the action of Columbia University to ban two radical anti-Israel student groups and of MIT to suspend violators. The Israeli government is showing film taken by the Hamas attackers themselves on October 7 to journalists and influencers.
This is a good start. Many protesters would eventually abandon the movement, given the real facts. Reality is the surest cure for this relentless self-loathing and nihilism.
By Patricia Jay
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