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Black and white narratives sanitize bloodshed

From the moment the first rocket was fired by Hamas from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, everyone rushed to pick a side, scrambling to social media to post Israeli flags in solidarity or express support for Hamas or Palestinian freedom. As news of the attacks spread online, social media grew increasingly polarized. Even though hundreds of Israeli civilians were taken into captivity, women were raped and tortured and babies were beheaded, some still declared support for Hamas, a terrorist group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. Jewish people all over the world were stunned by the severity of these attacks, but many non-Jews fell silent, failing to speak out against the atrocities Hamas had committed. 

Illustration by Lauren Olsen

When we examine conflict, we often resort to the oppressor versus oppressed mindset, viewing situations as black and white: one side as the victim and the other as the perpetrator. Following this logic, violence against a group deemed the oppressor is justified because of the perception that the oppressed can do no wrong; their oppressor is the “bad guy” and therefore is deserving of any brutality that comes their way. Through this mindset, actions are not morally evaluated based on the actual act but rather on whether or not it was the oppressor or the oppressed who committed the act. Some people believed Hamas was not at fault for attacking Israel because in the relationship between Israel and Palestine, many have deemed Israel the oppressor.

In the modern world, attacks against Jews are often overlooked even though Jews have historically been oppressed, from biblical times to the Holocaust. In the United States alone there has been a 388 percent increase in antisemitism since Oct. 7, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Dr. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and reporter for the New York Times, calls the psychological component behind antisemitism “envious prejudice.”  Generally, unlike other minorities, Jews are not viewed as underprivileged or marginalized, they are often viewed as the opposite — wealthy and white. Because many progressive activists believe discrimination is inherently linked to class, a group must be economically or socially disadvantaged to fit into this construct according to David Baddiel, author of “Jews Don’t Count?”

Cuddy’s findings also indicate that groups are not stereotyped based on good or bad, but rather their “warmth” and “competence.”  Those who are warm are trustworthy and amiable, whereas those who are cold lack those qualities. Jews have been labeled as cold and competent, a high-status minority group viewed as a competitor — a potential danger — and even more so in times of hardship, according to Cuddy.

Cuddy and her colleagues found a relationship between global stability and envious prejudice. If society is perceived to be in a place of security, groups that are stereotyped in the competent and cold category are looked upon agreeably. However, when the security of a society becomes strained, people begin to look for scapegoats. This redirection of blame can spark envious prejudice as high-status minorities, like Jews, suddenly become held responsible for the disruption in stability.

Because of this stereotyping, society finds it difficult to view Jews as victims, thus leading to the dismissal of rampant antisemitism. Progressives are often very quick to show support for other minorities, whether it is people of color or the LGBTQ+ community, but antisemitism is frequently overlooked. By simply being Jewish, one relinquishes any right to expressions of empathy or solidarity because society has repeatedly labeled Jews and, by extension Israel, as oppressors. 

Some may argue that oppressed people are not in a position to commit truly immoral acts and their oppression grants them freedom from responsibility. However, this black-and-white thinking completely disregards the nuances of the current conflict between Israel and Palestine, as well as centuries of antisemitism. As written in an article by Remi Adekoya, a lecturer in politics and international relations and former political journalist, “Our moral outrage at injustice, not to mention violence, should not be conditional on the ethno-racial category of the perpetrators.” 

Violence against Israel citizens should be condemned as strongly as violence against Palestinians, not dismissed because of predisposed prejudices about Jews and where they stand in society. Adekoya relates acceptance of violent acts committed by one side to Oscar Wilde’s quote on morality being “Simply an attitude we adopt towards people we dislike.” By placing labels that ultimately declare one side to be the oppressor and the other to be oppressed, we severely limit our ability to recognize humanity and feel compassion for groups experiencing violence, leaving us with a polarized worldview.


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