When the current war between Israel and Gaza is over and the reporting of it is reviewed and judged, this sentence written by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic will rank among the silliest written:
Those on U.S. college campuses and in European capitals calling for a cease-fire are demonstrating their admirable independence of the Hamas party line.
This was written in the context of an essay that argues that “Hamas Doesn’t Want a Cease-Fire” (January 2, 2024). While it may be true that Hamas does not actually want a ceasefire right now, and it’s certainly true that it would not adhere to a permanent one, this claim about campus protests shows how little its writer actually understands either Hamas and its goals, or the campus protest movement.
To start with, as The Atlantic itself reported in early November, in the immediate aftermath of the October 7, 2023 Hamas attack, National Students for Justice in Palestine promulgated a “toolkit” that states, “we as Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement,” and “this is a moment of mobilization for all Palestinians. We must act as part of this movement. All of our efforts continue the work and resistance of Palestinians on the ground.” (Emphasis added.) Commenting on those passages from SJP, Conor Friedersdorf wrote, “the declaration that SJP is united with Israel’s attackers, rather than a faction that is merely allied with them, seemingly cuts against claims of uncoordinated or independent advocacy.”
But set that aside. Even if nominally there may have been some cases in which campus protests explicitly called for a bilateral ceasefire (though I’m not actually aware of any that have), in reality, calls for ceasefire are not directed at Hamas. Hamas is, after all, the party that broke the ceasefire on October 7, 2023, as well as on November 28, and that no one sane imagines would adhere to one permanently. In many cases, the protests also call for “intifada,” that is, continued armed attacks against Israel. If they stop their primal drumming and chants long enough for speeches, you might hear about the effects of the war on the people of Gaza, but it’s unlikely you’ll hear about the continuing rocket fire into Israel. The calls for ceasefire, functionally, then, are of course directed only at Israel.
Meanwhile, what Hamas, which no one thinks can extract a military victory over Israel, wants is for Israel to be demonized for the fighting. Campus protests accomplish that. As Matti Friedman wrote recently in the Free Press, “In Europe and North America, as we’ve now seen on the streets and on campuses, many on the progressive left have arrived at an ideology positing that one of the world’s most pressing problems is the State of Israel – a country that has come to be seen as the embodiment of the evils of the racist, capitalist West, if not as the world’s only “apartheid” state, that being a modern synonym for evil.” The hostility to Israel embodied in these protests is part and parcel of Hamas’s plan.
This parallels the Palestinian Authority’s repeated claim to want a state, while repeatedly turning down offers of one, and demanding the impossible as conditions to attain one. The goal is not actually to obtain any benefit – whether independence or an end to war – for the Palestinian people. The goal is to demonize Israel for failing to give Palestinians that which is simply not in Israel’s power to give.