SJP’s Troubling Response to the Massacre in Israel

 /  Oct. 16, 2023, 4:26 p.m.

U.S. Mission Photos: Eric Bridiers
U.S. Mission Photos: Eric Bridiers

In the early hours of Saturday, Oct. 7, as Israelis were wrapping up the joyous holiday of Sukkot, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the bounty of the fall harvest, alarms rang across the country. The terrorist group Hamas had entered Israel and launched a full-fledged, unprovoked attack from the air, sea and ground. As rockets fell from the sky, hundreds of armed terrorists charged into Israeli cities. The attackers showed no mercy, intentionally targeting elementary schools and youth centers

In Kfar Aza, a small farming enclave in Southern Israel, the aftermath was a scene of utter devastation. Bodies lay strewn across the ground, unexploded grenades littered the earth, and homes were reduced to smoldering ruins; the bloodied and charred bodies of newborns were found at the scene. In the bed of a pick-up truck, the limp body of a young woman bore silent testament to the brutality she had endured, bleeding from the crotch due to a violent rape. More than 150 Israelis are believed to have been abducted and over 1,200 confirmed to have been murdered, with more expected to be discovered in the coming days.

But the Oct. 7 attack was not just a terrorist attack. It was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. It struck at the fundamental assurance at the core of being Jewish post-Holocaust: whatever happens outside Israel, the Jewish people would be safe in its borders. The world has changed for the Jewish people since that Saturday—it has become a little colder, more hostile, and undeniably less safe

It is against this backdrop that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) released its “Statement on Recent Events in Palestine.” The statement avoids the reality of the attack, failing to mention the murders and abductions that characterize Oct. 7. Instead, SJP writes that “Palestinian resistance groups broke out of Gaza, reclaimed land from the Israeli occupation, and seized control of numerous Israeli military posts.” The statement justifies the abduction of children, rape of women, and murder of civilians as acts of resistance. It is a statement that, in its claims of Zionist propaganda through the media, appeals to the oldest, most pervasive and most virulent form of antisemitism

Still, if SJP’s statement was only cavalier in its treatment of Jewish Israeli lives, if it only justified immoral and illegal acts of violence, only appealed to antisemitic tropes, then it would not be so different from earlier SJP statements. It would not warrant a response. But this one does because it is a dangerous statement that creates a permission structure for the sort of violence that should be treated as unequivocally unacceptable. 

For starters, SJP’s statement characterizes the Hamas terrorists who went door-to-door, murdering innocents and abducting babies, as “resistance fighters.” In framing the terrorists as resistance fighters, the statement justifies the atrocities they perpetrated by drawing an analog to historical freedom fighters. 

One group, however, that would object to the classification of Hamas as a resistance group is Hamas itself, whose professed ideology extends far beyond resistance. Indeed, Hamas’ founding documents call for the genocide of the Jewish people.

Hamas’ 1988 charter writes that “The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: ‘The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”

It is Hamas, a group that espouses this genocidal ideology, that SJP has decided to compare to Nat Turner, the French Resistance and Nelson Mandela. 

“There is no denying,” SJP writes, “that Nat Turner committed a number of atrocities during his historic revolt. So did the French Resistance when fighting Nazis. So did Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress when resisting apartheid.”

Another group that would protest the view of Hamas terrorists as Palestinian resistance fighters is the Palestinian people in Gaza, over whom Hamas rules with violence and coercion. While high-quality public opinion polling in Gaza is rare, a poll from 2021 shows Hamas receiving just 30 percent approval, trailing other groups that support peaceful resistance. Indeed, to mischaracterize Hamas fighters as resistance fighters does a disservice to the vast majority of Palestinians who rightfully resist the abuses, death and destruction brought on by the Israeli government’s actions and policies, actions and policies we should all unequivocally condemn. 

It is the duty of any person acting in good faith to condemn the terrorism of Oct. 7, executed in the name of a genocidal agenda against the Jewish people. Groups like SJP, who advocate for human rights, should be at the forefront of condemning such acts of terror and violence. Its failure to do so and its justification of such brutality as resistance represents a moral failing. It undermines the very values of human rights and justice that SJP purports to champion, forming a dangerous permission structure for further violence.

Furthermore, SJP’s statement makes clear that it views the existence of the State of Israel, as a whole, as an occupation, writing that Hamas “reclaimed land from the Israeli occupation.” Of course, the land that Hamas claimed was entirely within the Green Line, a 1949 demarcation line that is significant because it represents the internationally accepted boundaries for the State of Israel. This means that the land that SJP claim is occupied is within the borders of Israel, as accepted by the international community. To argue that Hamas claimed occupied land is, thus, to claim that Israel, as a whole, is not a legitimate state but an occupation. Such an argument attempts to justify SJP’s perverse permission structure for unacceptable violence.

SJP also claims that “legally and morally, [...] occupied peoples have the right to free themselves by armed resistance.” This armed resistance, SJP makes clear, is not confined to soldiers or government officials. Instead, “war conduct and war aims are distinct things.” In other words, the ends justify the means, no matter what the means are. Put plainly, SJP’s statement justifies violence of any sort, including murder of civilians of the sort seen on Saturday, so long as those civilians live in an occupied territory—for SJP, the entire state of Israel. 

To be clear, the ends do not justify the means. The very document to which SJP points as conferring a right to armed struggle for liberation forbids indiscriminate attacks, let alone the purposeful targeting of civilians, regardless of the reason for the struggle. Murder, rape, abduction, and torture should always be condemned in the strongest possible terms—no ifs, ands or buts.

Thus, SJP’s assertion that the ends justify the means alone represents a reprehensible endorsement of violence. But, in combination with its previous statements, that already dangerous assertion takes an even darker turn. Indeed, for SJP, the sort of circumstances that create moral and legal justification for indiscriminate violence exist in the entirety of Israel. In other words, SJP views Hamas as having the moral permission to act as it did in a few communities in Southern Israel—murdering Israelis indiscriminately—throughout all of Israel. As a direct result, these circumstances only cease to exist when the land of Israel is entirely rid of its “occupiers,” the Jewish people. In that way, SJP’s statement lays the groundwork for a terrifying moral permission structure for the mass murder of Jews in all of Israel. This is the sort of rhetoric that fosters hatred and perpetuates violence, and it is plainly antisemitic and inhumane. It should be condemned in no uncertain terms.

Oct. 7 was a genocidal massacre. SJP’s statement not only displays a profound moral failing but also fosters a dangerous permission structure for further violence, undermining its core values of human rights and justice and emboldening antisemitic and inhumane rhetoric that demands unequivocal condemnation.

The image featured in this article is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License. No changes were made to the original image, which was taken by Eric Bridiers and can be found here:

Itai Grofman


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