Today America faces a profound choice: Should we analyze the Israeli-Palestinian conflict using our large human brains, or instead respond to it with the enraged hooting and screeching of baboons?
Much of the U.S. political class has decided to take the hooting and screeching approach. One popular method they use to oppose thinking, especially as Israel’s attack on Gaza has intensified, is to call all actions supporting a ceasefire “pro-Hamas.” Given the Hamas atrocities of October 7, which killed about 1,400 Israelis, this is simultaneously vicious, dangerous, and extraordinarily stupid.
This primate-like shrieking appeared over and over again during Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared that students in his state are making “common cause with Hamas.” Nikki Haley spoke about “everybody that’s protesting on these college campuses in favor of Hamas.” Vivek Ramaswamy was slightly more generous, explaining that student demonstrators were “fools” who “have no idea what the heck they’re even talking about when they’re siding with Hamas over Israel.” Meanwhile, 22 Democrats voted for a resolution censuring Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib for having “defended” Hamas’s October 7 attack.
You can learn elsewhere about the many, many people on earth who are pro-Hamas because they want Israel to cease military actions that are mostly killing women and children. There’s protesters generally, foreign students, colleges, Google employees, South Africa, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, and (obviously) Joe Biden.
It’s exhausting to say anything about this deeply inane subject. Anyone involved in the protests against the Iraq War in 2003 can remember being called “pro-Saddam.”
In retrospect, of course, it’s clear that protesters were not in fact “pro-Saddam,” but rather “anti-pointless carnage that will help take the lives of 4.5 million people.” Nonetheless, the same factions that used this tactic before are bringing it back for a return engagement, at a moment when over 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s bombing campaign, with many more destined to die.
But of course, this embarrassing nonsense is not unique to America. In 2015, when an Egyptian court defined the military wing of Hamas as a terrorist organization, some Gazans denounced Egypt as “pro-Zionist.” When a meeting was held in Iraqi Kurdistan two years ago to discuss normalizing relations with Israel, the Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr denounced it as “terrorist-Zionist.”
What makes today’s “pro-Hamas” accusations especially preposterous is that we know for a fact who in the West was pro-Hamas for many, many years. These miscreants did not just call for a ceasefire or ostentatiously wear kaffiyehs, but provided Hamas with lavish funding and support. This was, of course, the government of Israel.
What makes the “pro-Hamas” accusations especially preposterous is that we know for a fact who in the West was pro-Hamas for many years: Israel.
First Israel busily went about helping to create Hamas in Gaza as a counterweight to the secular Fatah. Then more recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained to his party’s caucus that he permitted Qatar to send huge amounts of money to Hamas because this would separate Gaza and the West Bank and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Likewise, Saddam Hussein’s biggest supporters had once been U.S. Republicans, especially during Iraq’s war with Iran in the 1980s. Everyone’s seen the photograph of Donald Rumsfeld sharing a chummy handshake with Saddam in 1983 when he was Ronald Reagan’s special envoy to Iraq. When Iraqi jets attacked the USS Stark in 1987, killing 37 sailors, this was not a problem for the Reagan administration.
As late as April 1990, Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson participated in a friendly meeting with Saddam. Iraq had just executed a reporter from the Guardian; Simpson seized that moment to commiserate with the Iraqi dictator about the criticism he’d received from what Simpson called the “haughty and pampered press.”
But again, this is not an American problem. It’s a primate problem. Our genetic relatives have less complicated minds. They can’t conceive of agriculture, or antibiotics, or airplanes. They also can’t conceive of the possibility that there can be more than two sides in any conflict. They certainly don’t ask themselves whether their tribe’s leaders are often in a weird, tacit alliance with their enemy tribe’s leaders, as a way to keep all the regular tribe members in line.
However, we can do all of these things, thanks to our large prefrontal cortex — the part of our brains that does the most thinking and is much larger than what baboons possess. Or we can do what we’re doing now, and discard our human capacity for thinking, and punish those who wish to protect civilian lives. As a BBC Earth documentary about rival tribes of baboons puts it, “Acts of disloyalty in a time of war are given swift and brutal punishment.”
The human version of the baboons’ swift and brutal punishment is being meted out now. Decreeing that large swaths of people around the world calling for a ceasefire are “pro-Hamas” and hence in favor of its vicious murders, is tremendously alarming. It damages individual lives and will likely get people killed. It makes a mockery of our purported belief in free speech and association. This kind of screeching will make it even more difficult for this tormented region to find peace.