Jerry Hersh

Jerry Hersh

Jerry Hersh is an antisemitism awareness advocate. He presents and writes about current antisemitism. Jerry developed and presented a talk, “Online Disinformation and Antisemitism,” at the 2022 Limmud Bay Area conference for Jewish learning. He believes that, to alter common misperceptions and beliefs about Jews, Zionism, and Jewish identity, we must understand the repeating patterns of demonization of Jews and the damage it inflicts on society. Jerry addresses why antisemitism, like other forms of disinformation and misinformation, is so powerful and compelling to so many minds in the digital and social media age. An attorney, Jerry seeks to help inform public policy and help others recognize potential civil rights violations. More broadly, he seeks to assist in fostering a healthier democracy and society by addressing the flood of online disinformation and misinformation.

The time since October 7, 2023, has been a devastating, life-changing time for me and for most Jews around the world: at minimum, we are processing the events of October 7, the deadliest day of murdering Jews since the Holocaust, when six million Jews were systematically murdered by the Nazis. On October 7, approximately 3,000 Hamas terrorists entered Israel from Gaza by land, air and sea and carried out well-planned, well-coordinated, massive massacres of Jews; burning babies to death; engaging in mass rapes; executing parents in front of their children and children in front of their parents. More than 1,200 Jews were killed, and at least 3,300 maimed or injured that day, with more than 200, including babies, young children and the elderly, abducted and taken hostage. Many Israeli Arabs, US citizens, and citizens of Thailand and several other countries were also murdered, injured or kidnapped that day.

We are also processing the subsequent rage directed at Jews, including the reactions immediately after October 7. Hamas supporters around the world—including United Nations staff people—publicly celebrated the mass rape and slaughter of Jews with pride and joy. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the US joined in celebrating. University administrators largely stayed silent about Hamas or equivocated while professors, students and others across the US publicly celebrated, excused or justified Hamas’s hideous acts—often calling for more. For me and many other Jews, having people in your area code or neighborhood openly calling for the murder of Jews has been disorienting, frightening, horrifying, alarming, and heartbreaking.

Since October 7, I have seen many brief explanations of Hamas that gloss over almost everything about the organization before turning to Israel’s response to Hamas’s pogrom. Many of us are so conditioned to keep the spotlight on Israeli Jews that we cannot truly see Hamas in the darkness. However, to understand what happened on October 7 and after, as well as the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we must understand Hamas.

We must be absolutely clear-eyed about the following two truths about Hamas. First, Hamas exists for one and only one reason: it is on an eternal, holy mission to destroy Israel by killing the Jews. Second, Hamas leaders believe that any and all Palestinian lives must be sacrificed in pursuit of Hamas’s mission. Hamas’s leaders have said—over and over—what they are and what they want. And they have shown us that their deeds match their words. Understanding Hamas—and its particular brand of antisemitism—is crucial, because it shows the international community the path to saving thousands of lives.

What is Hamas?  

The Palestinian Hamas terrorist organization was founded in 1987 to fulfill one and only one mission—a fundamentalist Sunni Islamist quest to annihilate Israel by killing Jews.

How do we know this? Because Hamas proclaims it in its 1988 founding, charter document, The Hamas Covenant. The second paragraph declares to all the world that, “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” The introduction section promises “[o]ur struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious” and will only end when “the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realized,” and declares that Hamas and the people are ready “to sacrifice life and all that is precious for the sake of Allah.” Article 8 affirms that “Jihad is [Hamas’s] path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of [Hamas’s] wishes.”

Article 7 states:

The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: ‘The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing 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.’

Article 12 instructs that resistance to destroy Israel is “the individual duty of every Moslem” and that even “[a] woman can go out to fight the enemy without her husband’s permission.” Hamas’s charter instructs Palestinians to raise children to wage jihad against the Jews (Article 18) and warns Palestinians that peace negotiations, “peaceful solutions,” and normalization of the Jews are forbidden and that anyone who engages in them is a traitor destined for hell (Article 13).

And Hamas leaders tell us—over and over—they are dedicated to the sole goal of annihilating Israel by killing Jews. Following are just a few examples:

  • On November 5, 2010, on a broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, after justifying the persecution and expulsions of Jews in various societies over the last millennium, proclaimed, “[t]he series of expulsions continues to this day. Blood continues to be shed, martyrs continue to fall, our sons continue to hoist the banner high, and Allah willing, their expulsion from Palestine in its entirety is certain to come. We are no weaker or less honorable than the peoples that expelled and annihilated the Jews. The day we expel them is drawing near.”

  • On May 11, 2011, on a broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas official and cleric Yunis Al-Astal explained, “[t]he [Jews] are brought in droves to Palestine so that the Palestinians – and the Islamic nation behind them – will have the honor of annihilating the evil of this gang,” promising, “[i]n just a few years, all the Zionists and the settlers will realize that their arrival in Palestine was for the purpose of the great massacre, by means of which Allah wants to relieve humanity of their evil.”

  • On August 20, 2012, in a sermon broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas official Sheik Ahmad Bahr prayed, “Oh Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, destroy the Americans and their supporters. Oh Allah, count them one by one, and kill them all, without leaving a single one.”

  • On March 2, 2014, on a broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas cleric Wael Al-Zard noted that “[t]he Palestinian woman . . . . is no longer satisfied merely with equipping her sons for Jihad,” but that now “[s]he equips herself, prepares herself, trains herself, and takes up arms herself.”

  • On March 23, 2014, at a “Perseverance and Loyalty to the Martyr’s Path” rally, broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, Ismail Haniyah, head of Hamas’s political bureau, proclaimed that “[w]e are a people that yearn for death, just as our enemies yearn for life,” and Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hamad promised that Hamas would destroy Israel within a few years.

  • On January 29, 2016, Haniyah explained, “East of the city of Gaza, there are heroes underground, digging through rocks and building tunnels. West of Gaza, there are heroes testing rockets every day. This is all in preparation – in tunnels underground, by means of missiles in the air, as well as in the sea, and everywhere. This constant preparation is for the sake of Palestine, Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa, and for the sake of the Jerusalem Intifada.”

  • On July 12, 2018, at a rally broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, Hamad predicted “the cleansing of Palestine of the filth of the Jews, and their uprooting from it, Allah willing” and “the establishment of the Caliphate, after the nation has been healed of its cancer – the Jews – Allah willing.”

  • On November 16, 2018, on a broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar declared that Israel “will never get anything but guns, fire, martyrdom, death, and killing” from Gaza.

  • On July 22, 2018, during a speech broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, Gaza Shari’a appeals court judge Sheikh Omar Nofal praised the six virtues of martyrdom, calling it an “individual duty incumbent upon the entire nation,” and asking “[h]ow can anyone cling to this world after hearing all of these great rewards?”

  • On June 23, 2019, on a broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas MP Marwan Abu Ras explained about Jews that, “everything people say about massacres and Holocaust – these are all lies. Hitler may have hated them, but it was because of their deeds and crimes.”

  • On July 12, 2019, at a March of Return rally that aired on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas Political Bureau member Fathi Hammad implored “you seven million Palestinians abroad, enough warming up! There are Jews everywhere! We must attack every Jew on planet Earth – we must slaughter and kill them, with Allah’s help.” He instructed, “[w]e will die while exploding and cutting the necks and legs of the Jews. We will lacerate them and tear them to pieces, Allah willing!”

  • On May 7, 2021, on a broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, senior Hamas official Fathi Hammad called for Palestinians in Jerusalem to “cut off the heads of the Jews.”

  • On December 12, 2022, on a broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, head of the Hamas Women’s Movement Rajaa Al-Halabi explained that a girl who sets out to be a “martyrdom-seeker” has “only one thing on her mind – to meet her Lord by means of her blood and her body parts,” noting that kindergarten teachers raise children to love Jihad.

  • On April 8, 2022, on a broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas official Talal Nassar opined, “I believe that the occupation is heading towards annihilation, and on this platform, I swear by Allah, and let everybody remember this pledge: Those of us who will still be alive will tread with their pure feet… After we trample with our feet all over the skulls of the Zionists, we will tread on the land of Haifa, Jaffa, Tiberias, Jerusalem, and all of the West Bank and our dear [Gaza] Strip. There is no difference between the [borders of] 1967 and 1948.”

The MEMRI website documents Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV broadcasts over the years and translates them from Arabic to English. Hamas leaders say and broadcast this rhetoric constantly; release publications with this type of language; embed these messages in children’s programming; teach these goals in schools; and generally inundate Gaza with these messages continuously.

Hamas has delivered on its promise to kill Jews. During the span of more than three decades before October 7, Hamas perpetrated dozens of suicide bombings, hundreds of other in person attacks, and thousands of rocket and missile attacks—almost all targeting Israeli civilians—murdering hundreds of Israelis and injuring thousands of others. And these were only those attacks not thwarted by Israel. Because of these acts, in 1997 the US designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, with the European Union following suit in 2003.

In staying laser focused on its mission, on October 7, thousands of Hamas terrorists carried out systematic massacres of Jews in Israel, slaughtering, raping, burning, torturing, maiming, injuring or abducting more than 5,000 people, many of whom were devoted peace activists living in kibbutzim, socialist communal villages, right next to the Gaza border. Many Hamas terrorists chose to capture their rampages on video. ABC News describes some of the videos of carnage here. The Atlantic reported that Hamas’s “videos show pure, predatory sadism; no effort to spare those who pose no threat; and an eagerness to kill nearly matched by eagerness to disfigure the bodies of the victims.” According to the BBC, “[t]he footage, some taken from mobile phones of victims, also showed the abject fear of those who hid in safe rooms and shelters as the sounds of gunfire and explosions came closer.”

On the same day, Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’s political bureau, pledged that Hamas’s slaughtering of Jews will be joined by Palestinians in the West Bank, Arab Israelis in Israel, and Palestinians and their supporters around the world.  He threatened Israeli Jews, “get out of our land. Get out of our sight. . . [t]his land is ours, Al-Quds is ours, everything [here] is ours. You are strangers in this pure and blessed land. There is no place or safety for you.” Likewise, on October 24, 2023, senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad promised that October 7 “is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth,” until Israel is “annihilated.” Hamas media adviser Taher Nounou told The New York Times on November 8, 2023, “I hope that the state of war with Israel will become permanent on all the borders and that the Arab world will stand with us.”

Jews have had to learn this lesson over and over: if people tell you they want to kill you, believe them.

Patterns of murderous antisemitism

So where does this seething, raging, sustained genocidal hatred of Jews come from? Hamas’s particular wrathful quest against the Jews is not a new phenomenon, but part of a longstanding pattern over time. Hamas’s genocidal anti-Zionism is but one modern iteration of antisemitism—referred to as the “oldest hatred.”

Antisemitism consists of an adaptive series of demonizing, defamatory, disparaging, derogatory, and dehumanizing assumptions, beliefs, myths, conspiracy theories, and narratives about Jews embedded in the culture, moral identity and worldviews of individuals, groups or societies. Jews, a tiny minority of the world’s population, are often seen as outsiders, the “other,” strangers who either stand out or do not quite fit in.

Based on this feeling that Jews do not belong, over centuries and millennia, in society after society, people have attributed negative characteristics to Jews, such as being greedy, untrustworthy, and doing anything to get what they want. Other pervasive accusations—largely conspiracy theories—are about specific behaviors such as Jews controlling the media, governments, and financial institutions behind the scenes with money and abuse of power.

Such beliefs and assumptions about Jews often lead to blame for the world’s problems. For approximately 2,000 years, in society after society, “what the Jews are up to” has been breaking news—and the news has never been good. Among many other things, Jews, who currently comprise approximately 15 million of the 8 billion people on earth (much less than 1 percent), have been blamed and scapegoated for harming innocent people via COVID-19; wildfires caused by space lasers; killing Jesus; economic crises; slavery in the US; hatred of white people in the US; the Bubonic plague; bad weather; and the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001.

Similarly, in addition to articulating Hamas’s genocidal aspirations, the Hamas Covenant explains that Jews use their money to control global media and all imperialistic countries and are behind all the wars in history (Article 22); that Jews are undermining societies, are behind the drug trade and alcoholism, and are annihilating Islam (Article 28); that Jews are endeavoring to take over the Middle East and then the world (Article 32); and that Jews are Nazis (Articles 20, 31, 32).

All the tropes and fables about “the Jews” imply that Jews are a monolith, nefariously planning evil deeds and executing evil plans. By projecting their problems on Jews, groups often conclude that if they make Jews go away, their problems will go away. Expressing solidarity in opposition to Jews often appears as a deep assertion of morality, values, identity, culture and community—an incredibly powerful force inspiring unusual passion. So, in place after place, Jews became viewed as harmful enemies of good people and were frequently persecuted, violently attacked, and driven from societies.

Contrary to the perceptions created by group after group, Jews are a diverse group of people. Jews have a wide range of skin colors, hold a multitude of complex identities, engage in a few different types of religious traditions—or none at all—and are politically diverse. But Jews are connected to each other as a people because they share common traditions, history, heritage, religion, ancestry, culture, memory, language, sense of core identity, and connection to the land of Israel.

The land of Israel has always been central to the Jewish religion, the history of Jews, and Jewish identity. For millennia, the exiled population of Jews in the diaspora was constantly forced to relocate because of hatred, discrimination, hostility, persecution and pogroms. After experiencing hostility, violence and mass murder for generations throughout Eastern Europe and in Russia, some Jews in the late 19th century and early 20th century purchased land from previous owners in what was then part of the Ottoman Empire as part of a national liberation movement—Zionism. Jews sought refuge and self-determination in their ancestral homeland of Israel, where various sized communities of Jews have lived for approximately 3,000 years.

After genocidal antisemitism culminated in the systematic slaughter of six million mostly European Jews in the Holocaust, the State of Israel—approximately the size of New Jersey—was founded in 1948 and formally admitted as a nation-state by the UN in 1949. A large portion of Jews in the nascent country were refugees from Middle Eastern or North African countries, where they had deep roots, before largely being driven from those societies around the time Israel was born.

The existence of a State of Israel that could protect and defend its citizens meant that Jews no longer lived or died at the whim of their neighbors. That is the essence of Zionism.

And Hamas’s genocidal mission to eliminate Israel is the essence of anti-Zionism.

How does Hamas actually treat Palestinians in Gaza?  

Tragically, many of us incorrectly assumed—or still assume—that Hamas represents the interests of average Palestinian civilians in Gaza, wants to improve their lives, or remotely cares about their well being. Horrifically and heartbreakingly, the opposite is true. What sets Hamas apart from other genocidal antisemitic movements is its ideological, religious conviction that Palestinians in Gaza must suffer and die for Hamas’s cause.

Hamas has controlled and “governed” the Gaza Strip—on the Mediterranean Sea and adjacent to Israel—since 2007, following the last time Palestinian elections were held there. Fanatically dedicated to its mission to destroy Israel by killing Jews, Hamas does not spend much time or resources on Palestinians in Gaza.

As senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya explained on November 8, 2023, “Hamas’s goal is not to run Gaza and to bring it water and electricity and such.” He confirmed that Hamas’s October 7 massacres of Jews had nothing to do with “improv[ing] the situation in Gaza.”

Hamas is well aware that the more dead Palestinian civilians and destroyed structures in Gaza, the more Hamas is rewarded—with international condemnations of Israel; with calls for Israel to stop defending itself against Hamas; and with substantial aid to Gaza (from the U.S., Iran, Qatar, and other countries, in addition to international bodies and nonprofits) that Hamas largely has used to replenish its weapons cache and support its terrorist operations. Hamas also has benefited for 16 years from keeping large portions of the Gazan population miserable and hopeless. The worse the humanitarian crisis, the more aid provided to Gaza, which almost inevitably ends up in Hamas’s hands.

Shockingly—and unfathomably to most of us—Hamas leaders not only welcome but covet deaths of Palestinian civilians because of their professed fanatical belief in martyrdom. Hamas’s charter commands that it is a religious duty for Palestinians to be martyrs in the quest to destroy Israel. In cult-like fashion, Hamas leaders constantly communicate this to Palestinians in Gaza.

As Senior Hamas official Ali Baraka explained the day after the October 7 massacres:

The Israelis are known to love life. We, on the other hand, sacrifice ourselves. We consider our dead to be martyrs. The thing any Palestinian desires the most is to be martyred for the sake of Allah, defending his land.

Likewise, on November 8, 2023, senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad proclaimed that Hamas is “proud to sacrifice” Palestinians in its quest to exterminate the Jews in Israel because “[w]e are called a nation of martyrs.” Hamas views each of the more than 2 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza—approximately 1 million of whom are children—as potential human sacrifices in its enduring journey to annihilate Israel.

How does Hamas sacrifice Palestinian civilians? The terrorist organization actively commits ongoing inhumane, massive crimes against Palestinians in Gaza to create the maximum number of “martyrs,” ensuring that Palestinian civilian death tolls are much higher than they would have been. Over the years, Hamas chose to launch tens of thousands of rockets and missiles at Israeli civilians from schools, apartment complexes, and mosques in the most densely populated portions of the Gaza Strip. During that time, Israel, while attempting to eliminate imminent threats from Hamas, has tried to avoid civilian casualties. Knowing that Israel will target missile launchers and Hamas’s terrorists, Hamas leaders intentionally put Gazan civilians in harm’s way and tell them to stay there.

On October 7, Hamas slaughtered Israelis knowing Israel, like any sovereign country, would have to respond to protect its citizens by trying to eliminate Hamas. Hamas has spent years and a great deal of resources constructing an “underground city” of tunnels in which to hide, smuggle weapons and attack Jews. Following October 7, Hamas terrorists have hidden in these tunnels, which are “embedded in civilian infrastructure.”

After October 7, rather than slaughter as many civilians as possible—like Hamas did to Israelis—Israel has worked to eliminate Hamas and its capability to murder while also trying to minimize civilian casualties. But with its operations and weapons in and under Palestinian civilian structures, Hamas was well prepared to sacrifice the lives of thousands of Palestinian “martyrs,” which it apparently has accomplished.

When Hamas slaughtered Israelis on October 7, its leaders also knew it would create a humanitarian crisis for Palestinian civilians in Gaza. After October 7, Hamas reportedly used a stockpile of fuel not to address the humanitarian crisis it caused in Gaza, but to support its weapons in further missile attacks on Israel. Meanwhile, Hamas’s top leadership, which siphons cash from civilians, is reportedly worth $11 billion and lives in Qatar.

This is to say nothing of the appalling crimes the theocratic, totalitarian Hamas government inflicts on Palestinian civilians in Gaza, such as jailing, torturing or murdering suspected LGBTQ+ individuals or Palestinians suspected of criticizing or undermining Hamas. In addition, Hamas fails to address rampant, extreme domestic violence against women. In 2019, a UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process condemned “the Hamas violence in Gaza against protesters, women, children; journalists & human rights activists.”

What can we do about Hamas?

This is Hamas. We know exactly what Hamas is, what Hamas wants, what Hamas does, and what Hamas will continue to do. Some things about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are complex, nuanced or confusing. Hamas is not one of them.

Hamas leaders do not just believe Jewish lives do not matter; they believe Jews must die. Hamas leaders believe Palestinian lives matter—but only to be sacrificed as “martyrs.”

So how has the international community dealt with a terrorist organization/government that celebrates sacrificing the lives of Palestinian civilians almost as much as it celebrates killing Jews? Has the international community been trying method after method to hold Hamas accountable, disband the terrorist group and release Gazan Palestinians from Hamas’s horrible grasp? Has the international community recognized that Israel is doing what any country must attempt to do after what Hamas did and promises it will do again?

Catastrophically, no. The vast majority of the international community keeps the spotlight on Israel, condemning it in its fight to eliminate Hamas, with not even a mention of Hamas. And leaders of the increasingly popular anti-Zionist movement in the U.S. and around the world, by definition, share Hamas’s anti-Zionist vision of terminating the world’s only Jewish state. That is why anti-Zionist leaders never mention the words “peace,” “coexistence,” “two states,” or a future with Israel in it.

Looking away from Hamas demonizes Jews and ignores their suffering and humanity.  Looking away from Hamas legitimizes its quest. Their members may hide under and in schools, mosques, hospitals, and apartment buildings, but their acts are plain to see. Their leaders’s goal is plain to see. If it survives, Hamas’s anti-Zionist mission of death will continue to produce what it craves—dead Jews and dead Palestinians.

Yet I am optimistic that enough people will come to see that antisemitism, not the existence of Jews, is harmful, destructive and evil. We need a movement, ideally with university presidents serving a prominent role, that sees calls by anti-Zionist students and professors for murdering Jews as an absolutely unacceptable, dangerous, extremist, genocidal, fringe worldview with no place in our society. We need a movement that does not support Hamas’s conviction that peaceful coexistence is akin to hell.

We can no longer look away from Hamas. To save the lives of Palestinians and Jews, the human and humanitarian path is clear: rather than any ceasefire or truce that would allow Hamas to survive and continue to thrive, the international community must absolutely isolate Hamas and demand that Hamas members emerge from their tunnels and hideouts—and that their top leaders leave their luxury apartments in Qatar—to immediately and unconditionally surrender. More than 10 weeks after Hamas’s hideous massacres, the U.S. suggested exactly that.

We must demand that Hamas release all remaining hostages. We must demand that Hamas permit humanitarian aid to reach Palestinians in Gaza and that it use its vast resources to aid its own civilians. We must demand that Hamas no longer intentionally sacrifice Palestinian lives for its own benefit.

If and when this occurs, Israel will no longer need to fight to dismantle Hamas—and the bloodshed will end. The necks of Palestinians in Gaza will finally be released from the grip of Hamas’s bloody hands. No more Palestinians or Israelis will be killed because of Hamas.  And those who value life will achieve a victory.

Click here to read the original version of this essay, published on the Times of Israel website.