The terrorist invasion of Israel by Hamas on October 7th, 2023, is the worst instance of mass murder of Jewish civilians since the Holocaust. Its barbarity may be shocking to many observers, but it will not have surprised those familiar with the ideology of the perpetrators. This latest outburst of violence is the logical outcome of the Jew-hatred that Hamas has openly expressed since 1988, and it rests on a strand of Islamic antisemitism that emerged in the early 20th century and fueled the Arab war of rejection in 1948. The ideology that inflames the Hamas leadership was the product of the fateful fusion of Nazism and Islamism in the 1930s and 1940s, and it has always rejected the legitimacy of a Jewish state (or indeed any polity that isn’t explicitly Islamist) anywhere in what, before 1948, had been British Mandate Palestine.
Hamas’s decision to launch this extensive attack calls to mind the efforts of previous terrorist actors who sought, sometimes with success, to sabotage diplomatic efforts that could lead to negotiated settlements of longstanding conflict. Yet the cruelty of this latest operation—murdering young people at a music event, executing whole families in their homes, seizing hostages—demonstrates that Jew-hatred has deranged the minds of the killers. Short-term political calculations may be helpful in explaining the timing of individual attacks, but the history of Islamist antisemitism is critical to understanding the genocidal racism that supports Hamas’s longterm eliminationist goals.
It is the intellectual and cultural historian’s task to recall the ideological passions driving Islamist behavior. Recollection is not difficult. Hamas considers its Jew-hatred to be a virtue and has repeatedly unified ideology and policy in the wars it has launched against Israel. Over several decades, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has collected a vast archive of texts, television programs, radio broadcasts, and social-media content that provides copious evidence of Hamas’s Jew-hatred. Likewise, the Middle East Forum run by Daniel Pipes has examined Hamas over many years. Though these resources are readily available to anyone with an internet connection, there has been widespread reluctance, particularly in liberal and progressive media circles, to pay attention to what Hamas officials actually say.