On Hatred of Israel; Anti-Semitism; and the Common Knowledge Cascade of Criticism

Beyond a general worry, many Jews are perplexed as to how so many people can support Hamas and be against Israel in this conflict. As an attempt to explain this, they often cite anti-Semitism.

I find this explanation unhelpful and believe there are better frameworks for understanding this.

A big part of why my view diverges from many others is that most proponents of the anti-Semitism theory don’t appreciate how supremely silly so many people are.

Pro-Hamas views are dumb, but the views held by hundreds of millions of people in support of the USSR/communism, or against harnessing nuclear energy, or for not making it easier to build more housing, etc., are even dumber. Opposition to Israel is not unique, but fits into a broader category of supremely dumb views that many people hold.

My proposed explanation is that anti-Israel views are a product of a common knowledge-fueled availability cascade. In short, most people who express anti-Israel views hold a large number of other silly takes that they do not make a point to share in the same way because they think other people won’t be sympathetic to them.

For Israel, I think there are multiple constituent groups that hate Israel, and they are numerous enough that it reaches a critical threshold where each constituent group feels comfortable sharing their anti-Israel screeds.

  1. Much of the Arab world hates Israel as they view Israel’s success (both in 1948 and since) as a point of shame, which makes many Arabs feel worse about themselves. Historically, this was compounded by all Arab countries being dictatorships with no free press, where leaders used anti-Israel sentiment as a unifying force to build identity and one of the few available outlets to express rage.
  2. Much of the Islamic world feels sympathetic to this, given the centrality Arabs have in the Muslim world.
  3. During the Cold War, the USSR made opposition to Israel one of their central strategies for fighting America. Most people who held a pro-USSR (or general anti-USA) view embraced anti-Israel sentiment as part of their identity. Despite the USSR being gone, many former supporters still hold the same sentiments, and there aren’t that many causes of relevance in modern times to express anti-USA views, so most of this group’s way of expressing their views is in opposition to Israel. As an extension of this, those who hate the USA for reasons unrelated to the USSR similarly oppose Israel as an extension of the USA.
  4. There are huge volumes of people who view the world through the lens of those with power oppressing others, and those without power being oppressed by others; with a particular focus on the skin color of the groups involved as being a central theme of who merits sympathy.
  5. This is only relevant when groups 1-4 combine to generate interest, producing constant video reports from the conflict and causing innocent, detached people to be exposed to truly tragic videos. Due to the nature of war, and particularly because of the dynamics of Hamas being a terrorist organization that leverages human shields, does not wear uniforms, etc., the only way to dismantle and engage with Hamas will lead to a mass catastrophe, causing harm to a huge number of civilians. Since virtually no other conflict leads to similar, horrific, graphic videos being shown to you, and since most people don’t have a pre-established notion of how war works and haven’t thought through the entire system of what happens in a war featuring a human shield-using terrorist group, seeing this content is shocking. It has a huge emotional toll on otherwise non-involved people, leading them to believe that Israel is uniquely malicious.

In this dynamic, groups 1-3 only speak up because they are confident that other people will be receptive to their message (where as for their other silly views, they would not receive any positive reception). Groups 1-3 are loud enough that group 4 ends up being bombarded with Anti-Israel memes, which then get recirculated, eventually coming to the attention of group 5.

Lots of people hate Bashar Al-Assad (harm against Arabs), or what China is doing to the Uyghurs (harm against Muslims), or support Russia against Ukraine (opposition to the US) or what RSF is doing in Darfur, Sudan (brutal conflict against people of a different skin color); but given that each voice speaking out on these issues would seem alone, there is not much to gain and a personal cost to doing so. In contrast, when one speaks out against Israel, there is enough sympathetic support that they can feel good about themselves and be rewarded for raising their voice, leading to a huge cascade of voices being heard, that would otherwise not be silent or uninvolved.