The murderous Hamas attack on Israel can be described as a success only in a limited and horrific tactical sense: More Jews were murdered in a single day than at any time since the Holocaust. The surprise was achieved thanks to elaborate planning and lavish Iranian funding and to Israeli complacency on the part of the military and distracted political echelon. The price was immense and terrible.
But in a strategic sense, the attack was a failure and illustrates a truism of Middle Eastern history: The Palestinians, in this case Hamas, are their own worst enemies. Even their successes are, or will be, failures. Consider some of the unintended consequences of the Hamas attack. These range from local to regional to global effects.
To begin, Hamas has set back the Palestinian movement and destroyed Gaza. The Palestinian movement has long been characterized by two theoretically distinct but interrelated strands: Islamic rejection of Jews and a nationalist strand that played on contemporary concepts such as Third Worldism, liberation movements, and, most lately, decolonization. In practice, however, these were mutually reinforcing and in neither case contributed to the conception of a functioning nation-state. Neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas has run or can run a state.
The resurgent Islamic violence — the Oct. 7 raid was at one level a classic Muslim razzia of unconstrained violence, rape, and looting, in the tradition of Muhammad — proved again that Hamas, Islamic governance, and the Palestinian movement as a whole are addicted to violence. The reconfiguration of Gaza, using international aid money, into a gigantic base in which civilians existed only as human shields is another aspect of this failure. Add to this the complete collapse of Hamas on its own carefully prepared battlefield, which proved the ineptitude of its strategy, leadership, and field capabilities. The self-victimization of Gaza by Hamas, the intentional "martyring" of innocents along with terrorists, was a fundamental part of this plan. But the scale of destruction, apparently unanticipated, that has reduced northern Gaza to near-uninhabitable rubble proves the failure of that plan as well.
Expelled from Gaza and protected from a Hamas takeover in the West Bank by Israel and the lack of elections, the Palestinian movement's "secular" face, the repressive kleptocrats of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, has been exposed again as weak and ineffectual. Unable to resist Hamas, much less Israel, its leadership fulminated despite American efforts to tout it as the future power in Gaza. That may yet occur, but Hamas will never again rule.
In that case, the Palestinian Authority may be the ultimate beneficiary of Hamas's demise, but the Palestinian people will not be. In short, the Palestinian movement is in shambles with little way forward. The goal of self-determination, to the extent it was ever a true goal, rather than punishing and expelling the Jews, has been set back by Hamas, perhaps for decades, if not permanently.
Hamas's initial battlefield success, if success can be defined in terms of unconstrained murder, rape, torture, and kidnapping, lasted only a few days. But the impact on Israel itself has been transformational. For over a year, Israel has been riven by political turmoil brought on by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition, its settler and theocratic elements, and the efforts to rework the country's legal and political systems. For months, hundreds of thousands of Israelis came out into the streets every Saturday night to protest what they saw as encroaching dictatorship and the demise of democracy. The divides between secular and religious communities loomed wider than ever before, with talk of civil war between the "states" of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
These divides are now at an end. Israeli society stared in horror at the gore wrought by Hamas and reunified in moments. Indeed, the unity is unprecedented. Before the war, the news had been filled with stories of Israelis moving abroad and of capital flight. Then, in a matter of hours, Israelis flocked home to take up arms and defend their country. Even Haredi elements, long opposed to the concept, although not the financial support, of the state, began to join the army in unprecedented numbers. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis displaced from the south and the north by rocket fire have been taken in by their countrymen in other regions.
This unity will not last at its present level — no wartime unity anywhere does. Netanyahu and the sitting government will face harsh inquiries at the end of the conflict and are unlikely to remain in power. Rifts that are papered over by the imperative of survival will reappear along with the usual blood sport that is Israeli politics.
But there will be permanent changes in how Israelis regard each other and how they regard the Palestinians. The Israeli Left has been demoralized and powerless for some time, but the sheer horror of the Hamas atrocities has convinced even die-hard peace advocates that their efforts were in vain. Polls showing massive support for Hamas and rejection of a two-state solution will convince average Israelis that their neighbors are fundamentally untrustworthy. Killing the hope for peace as it has been conventionally conceived for decades by well-meaning Israelis and generations of "peace processors" is among Hamas's many evil accomplishments.
Moving outward from Israelis and Palestinians to the wider Middle East, Hamas has demonstrated that its vision of theocratic fascism and Islamic (non) governance has little support, especially among the most progressive Arab countries. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain have all condemned Hamas, officially or unofficially, and kept contacts open with Israel. All are fundamentally threatened by Iran and wish to see Hamas destroyed. The "strong horse" theory of Middle Eastern affairs still prevails, and the signals from these countries have been clear. While lip service has been given to Palestinian civilian casualties, there is no meaningful support from the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, or other bodies, much less challenges to the Abraham Accords.
Only Iran and its proxies, Hezbollah and the Houthis of Yemen, have cheered Hamas and lent support in the form of attacks. And while the Houthis have pretentiously declared war, Hezbollah has conspicuously hedged, with vague rhetoric and a smattering of increasingly vicious attacks that brought Israeli retaliation and Lebanese condemnation. If Hamas and Iran sought to set the Middle East on fire, they so far failed. Consisting of theocratic fascists, Hamas has brought into highlight just how out of step with broader trends in the region and its own populations it is.
If Hamas has had one notable success, it has been in igniting international support, not from governments but from the interlocked movements of the global Left and Islam. Activating this red-green alliance of socialists, communists, and Muslims to bring hundreds of thousands into the streets for menacing and often violent protests has been an eye-opening and frankly terrifying sight.
The fruits of decades of Muslim immigration, legal and illegal, into Europe are now fully revealed. This brought the establishment of parallel societies beyond the reach of governments. No-go zones have proliferated across Europe, as has Islamic violence at all levels, aimed not infrequently at the diminishing Jewish population. This has been accompanied by the rise of Islamist political parties and politicians who are now part of the power structures of French, Dutch, German, Belgian, Swedish, and British societies. Support from Iran and Turkey has been key, and the vast populations of Muslims in Europe are now instruments of these countries' foreign affairs.
In the United States, similar successes have long been underway at somewhat smaller scales, guided by Muslim Brotherhood figures linked directly to Hamas in some cases. The linkages between the Council on American-Islamic Relations, American Muslims for Palestine, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Students Association, and the Palestinian Youth Movement point to domestic elements implacably opposed to Israel that take advantage of American tolerance, albeit crying "Islamophobia" at every opportunity.
The red components, the dizzying array of seemingly disparate entities from the Democratic Socialists of America, Just Stop Oil, Black Lives Matter, the Palestinian Youth Movement, IfNotNow, Jewish Voice for Peace, and more, have been responsible for putting bodies into American streets. All are funded by the same array of far-left foundations and dark money bundlers with the support of "human rights" nongovernmental organizations: Tides, Open Society Foundations, Arabella Advisors, Human Rights Watch, and many more, all of which are also tied to the Democratic Party. All act as foot soldiers, increasingly for one another's causes, and all are increasingly unhinged and violent. They are all part of the same broad movement, anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Western, that is at its root communist in inspiration and organization.
Exposing the nature and scale of the red-green alliance in Europe and the U.S. has been one of the most shocking revelations of the Hamas-led war on Israel. The sheer hatred expressed on the one hand by rootless, futureless bourgeois youth, who cheered Hamas's slaughters as "resistance," and on the other by U.S.- and foreign-born Muslims, who did the same in a far more pointed way, is shocking. Fed by social media and cultivated by universities, the hatred appears to exceed even that of the 1968 generations. And as voting blocs, the red-green alliance has gained footholds at every level, from local school boards to the preening narcissists of the "Squad" in Congress. But seeing it played out on the streets of America in violent confrontations with Jews and supporters of Israel and against two-dimensional representations of Jews killed and kidnapped by Hamas, symbolically killing the images, should be a source of alarm if not genuine terror.
The only positive aspect of this is the repulsion expressed by normal people, who have become aware and will likely vote for a rapid return to normal politics and candidates. A related positive is that the funding sources have come under unprecedented scrutiny by the public and by law enforcement. The direct Hamas connections to American Muslims for Palestine and the goons of Students for Justice in Palestine who have terrorized American campuses are being investigated in multiple jurisdictions.
Normal people have been repulsed by the celebrations of terror and the disruptions of public spaces that have interrupted daily lives across the globe. Multicultural propaganda is now regarded with suspicion, if not disdain. If the 2024 elections push back decisively against these causes and effects, of which Hamas and the destruction of Israel have now taken center stage, the revolution will be set back. If history is a guide, it may lead to a more violent phase of domestic terror and unrest. But this, too, will be counted as an unwitting outcome of Hamas's war.
Among the most shocking revelations for American society has been the role of universities in cultivating hatred and violence in a generation of students. The celebrations of terror from students at elite universities in particular have been front-page news. In the name of "resistance" and "decolonization," Hamas's murder and rape have been celebrated in revolting public displays. These have become more appalling as the enormity of Hamas's crimes has become known and has even bizarrely shifted into still more grotesque denials that atrocities were committed at all.
Even the type of ritual condemnations issued by universities over the murder of George Floyd or moral panics such as climate change have been too much for Hamas supporters on campus, who demand retractions, condemnations of Israel, and unrelenting support of Palestinians.
From torn-down posters of kidnapped children to denials that rape was used on a massive scale as a weapon by Hamas to accusations of genocide by Israel before even a single bomb was dropped on Gaza, the shifts in pro-Hamas narratives have been swift and stunning. Faculty and students have taken to the quads in protest at the calumny of "genocide," and as administrations react with shock at the feral behavior of their own, these angry reactions have been only heightened. Not a single student has been expelled for defying university administrations. Indeed, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the administration deliberately refused to sanction students lest those foreign-born lose their visas. Banning hate groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine has only brought more angry protests.
Only the stunned responses of wealthy donors such as Bill Ackman and Ron Lauder have roused universities from their indulgent torpor. Faced with the refusal of donors to keep on giving to what increasingly appears like a lost cause, and to employ the documented haters among recent graduates, universities have put forth lame calls for committees and other bureaucratic subterfuges to keep the money rolling in. But as Jewish and Israeli students cower behind locked doors as mobs scream for Israel to be destroyed, the spectacle can no longer be covered up. The public has taken notice and will, we may hope, begin to understand.
American universities, and elite universities in particular, are not American institutions. They are by their own descriptions "global institutions" and thus embody the hatreds and irrationalities of cultures around the globe. That is their economic model and their conceptual mindset. American values and celebration of American virtues and history are nowhere to be seen. Their opposites prevail in every corner of the university, in the name of "decolonization," among other destructive catchphrases.
The scene on campuses is one of utter and undisguised moral depravity, a theater where cause and effect are reversed, where root causes devolve to American, Israeli, and ultimately Jewish evil, and where the denial of facts and testimonies about Hamas, in particular, are redolent of Holocaust denial. As universities face a demographic cliff, Hamas may have helped push them over the edge into irrelevance and perhaps reformation.
Another clarifying effect of Hamas's attack is to expose once and for all the irretrievable split within the Democratic Party, focused above all on Israel. The old Democratic Party of strong Israel support, exemplified by President Joe Biden and an aging coterie of senior figures, is no more. To a shocking extent, the party has been overtaken from within by a new generation of politicians who, nearly chief among their concerns, hate Israel.
This generation is exemplified neatly by members of the Squad. They are Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the vapid, liberal arts graduate; Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), the Palestinian nationalist; Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), the slippery Islamist; Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), the post-Farrakhan grifter; and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), the black nationalist. They are backed up in the streets by the Democratic Socialists of America, which used the mainstream Democratic Party as an entryist tactic. Their goal is nothing short of a socialist revolution, epitomized by open borders and "green energy." Magical thinking abounds in their economic and social programs, which have been indulged by Biden and his handlers as a way of preserving the electoral base.
But Israel has broken this support, perhaps once and for all. The Squad and its constituents, above all Muslim voters in swing states such as Michigan, are threatening to walk away from the party, although to what alternative is unclear. Whether they would move to fringe candidates such as Jill Stein or even create their own party is unclear. But the calls for an arms embargo on Israel, divestment, and ceasefires and the utter lack of concern for Israel or American Jews are palpable. So, too, is their utter lack of interest in the working class.
The transformation of the Democratic base, or a goodly portion of it, has not been lost on American Jews, who are now confronted with the reality that the party they called home has abandoned them and their concerns. Their concerns for Israel have even been repudiated by Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill who cravenly announce their opposition to their elected bosses' policies from behind masks. Jews have also seen their security concerns ignored as the administration, as if by reflex, adds "Islamophobia" to every statement regarding the explosion of antisemitism on American streets and American campuses.
A wide swath of American Jews, politically and culturally liberal to the core, is thus doubly in shock. Their reflex has been to shun allies, the Republican Party, and evangelicals, but that, too, is quickly being overcome. Indeed, if anecdotal reports are to be believed, American Jews are, perhaps for the first time, arming themselves in ever-increasing numbers. As law enforcement is stretched thin, self-protection is the final line of defense. Seeing posters of innocent kidnapped children being torn down in the streets by screaming lunatics and watching law enforcement flail in response to massive demonstrations that call for intifada and thus Jewish blood has had a transformative effect. American Jewish politics has shifted toward the right.
Finally, there is the effect on American Jews themselves. For the first time, American Jews have been confronted with the fragility of their own station, the contingency of their own citizenship. As political authorities waver and with roving gangs cheering Hamas, countless Jews have now in an instant been put in precisely the same situation that French Jews have been in for over two decades: perpetual insecurity, the erosion of freedom of expression and movement, and the threat of horrific violence. Intifada in the streets stands against everything the 400-year American experiment has embodied: equality under the law, safety for all citizens, the sidelining of ancient religious and other doctrinal hatreds. The Hamas-inspired outburst of antisemitism, cheered by the far Right but almost exclusively a product of the far Left and American Muslims, challenges not only Jews but the essence of the American experiment. And so far, there is little reassurance that the genies will be crammed back into their bottles.
The positive response to this was seen in the peaceful and patriotic assembly of nearly 300,000 Jews and allies on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Brought together in anguish over Israel, American Jews expressed their commitment to their Israeli family but also to the American project itself. These sentiments were conspicuously absent in the pro-Hamas protests that preceded and followed, which filled public spaces from Seattle's Space Needle to Grand Central Station with Palestinian, Islamic State, and communist flags.
But Hamas's success has been to reveal others' failures. American Jewish legacy organizations have, for example, failed to confront the challenge. The Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee, so consumed with their own standing in larger society and with their sinecures, have long sidled up to haters from CAIR to Sharpton in the name of outreach and interfaith dialogue — at the expense of seeing reality and ultimately of their own integrity. Now, at the moment of crisis, both in the U.S. and in Israel, they stand with too few allies willing to stand alongside American Jews, much less Israelis.
Decent Americans, that is, the majority of Americans, are appalled by Hamas and by antisemitism in the streets. But the failure of nearly every American institution over the past decades has robbed them of viable means to effect change. Healthcare systems made a mockery by COVID-19 lies, universities that are incubators of sophisticated hatred, media that lie shamelessly, promoting "fiery but peaceful" narratives as the flames come closer, and government that is incapable of accomplishing even the most modest goals, such as securing the border or maintaining infrastructure. Americans as a whole have been robbed of confidence in reality as lie upon lie has been heaped up by those in authority. American Jews find themselves in the same position as their countrymen, asking for security and finding none.
Hamas's successes in the field will be limited. Militarily it will be crushed, and the Middle East will evolve without it. Its successes internationally have been profound but contain the seeds of a far greater defeat. As decent people yearn for decent politics in the West, the Hamas cause will be repudiated. The road to this will be long and difficult, involving as it must the rebuilding of fundamental institutions and processes, the literal reprogramming of radicalized masses, and the re-creation of social ties that have been shattered. If the Gaza war can spur this on, then Hamas may truly be regarded once and for all as its own worst enemy.
Alex Joffe is the director of strategic initiatives for the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa. Asaf Romirowsky is the executive director of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.