Untangling anti-Israel propaganda for today’s college students

Untangling anti-Israel propaganda for today’s college students

If recent encampments and protests on university campuses have demonstrated anything, it’s that many of today’s university students are woefully ignorant about Israel and the Israel-Hamas war. Clearly, students have been bamboozled by anti-Israel propaganda and need actual schooling rather than woke indoctrination.

Here, then, is a surprise quiz. (I have added answers to minimize “triggering” those students who confuse vandalism and waving placards with studying and seeking truth.)


1. October 7 didn’t happen.

False. The footage from the Hamas fighters’ bodycams, the testimony of survivors, and forensic investigation provide ample evidence that on October 7, 2023, Hamas brutally murdered more than 1,200 Israelis, injured many more, and took 240 hostages.

2. Israel was occupying Gaza immediately before October 7.

False. Israel gave Gaza its independence in 2005, hoping for peace. In turn, Gaza embraced Hamas — a terrorist organization — and over the past nearly two decades has launched thousands of rockets against Israel and constructed a vast underground war machine. 

3. The Israel-Hamas war is about land.

False. See above answer (i.e., Israel gave Gaza back to Gazans in 2005).

Also, Gazans (more generally, Palestinians) have repeatedly rejected Israel’s offers of peace in exchange for land.

In fact, Gaza — led by Hamas — is fighting a religious war against Israel. Hamas is an Islamist terror organization that seeks to exterminate Jews and their Jewish state. Islamists see Israel as a satanic affront to the “true religion” of Islam. Israel is the “Little Satan” (and the U.S. is the “Great Satan”).

4. Israel is committing genocide.

False. Israel is fighting a war of self-defence — a war started by Hamas. And it is Hamas that is the genocidal regime.

In the Israel-Hamas war, Israel is targeting Hamas fighters and is not trying to wipe out Gazans. Hamas, on the other hand, targets all Israelis and wants to exterminate all Jews — whether women or men, children or aged, civilians or soldiers. That is genocide!

Yes, sadly, in targeting Hamas fighters Israel has killed many Gazan civilians. This is a tragedy. But for Hamas it’s a strategy.

Hamas hides behind (and below) Gazan civilians, knowing Israel is reluctant to kill civilians, yet also knowing Israel is morally obliged to risk killing Gazans to stop Hamas and thereby protect Israeli citizens. To Israel’s credit, the civilian-combatant death ratio is low when compared to other cases of urban warfare in recent history. And this is all the more impressive when we also realize that many Gazan casualties are due to the misfiring of many Hamas rockets.

Again: Israel is not committing genocide. Rather, Israel is engaging in self-defence against a genocidal Islamist-jihadist regime — a regime that deliberately sacrifices its own citizens so gullible Westerners will believe it is the victim, and thus not support the only democracy in the Middle East. (In view of the campus anti-Israel protests and the Biden administration’s waffling support for Israel, Hamas is playing its wicked game all too well!)

5. Israel’s military response is not proportional.

False. Class, please put down your placards and put on your thinking caps.

Proportionality in war is not mathematical equality (one side rapes and murders 100 people, so the other side rapes and kills 100 enemies in response — that’s gang warfare). Rather, it involves weighing, on the one hand, possible deaths on one’s own side if opposing military targets are not struck, and, on the other hand, possible deaths of civilians on the other side if the military targets are struck.

Hamas, which the majority of Palestinians (and Iran) support, has vowed to commit the atrocities of October 7 over and over and over again in order to wipe Israel off the map and exterminate Jews. Therefore, Israel has been forced to defend itself against Hamas by striking Gaza.

And this is no easy task. Why? Because Hamas has spent nearly 20 years embedding its fighters in hundreds of kilometres of tunnels located under Gaza’s hospitals, homes, schools, and mosques. And this task is all the more difficult because Israel is attempting to target Hamas without targeting civilians, even though many of those civilians have helped Hamas build its war machine.

Therefore, Israel’s military response is proportional. Israel is doing what is needed to prevent a death cult — Hamas — from murdering millions of Israelis.

6. Israel is an oppressor.

False. Again, Israel is acting in self-defence. Again, Hamas brutally attacked Israel on October 7.

If any country is an oppressor, it’s Iran. Iran explicitly advocates for (and even shouts,) “Death to Israel” (and “Death to America”). Also, Iran supports and surrounds Israel with terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. Via this “ring of fire,” Iran is attempting to exterminate Israel. That is oppressive!

But aren’t Israel’s Gaza border policies oppressive? Perhaps, though certainly not like that of Iran’s oppression via its proxies (including Hamas). Keep in mind that the efforts on Israel’s part to ensure secure borders between Israel and Gaza are a result of Gaza’s deadly actions against Israel. Remember the almost two decades of rocket fire? Remember the attack tunnels? Israel’s border policies protect Israel from Hamas.



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7. Israel should agree to a permanent ceasefire before eliminating Hamas.

False. Hamas (Gaza’s leadership) started the war and so should lay down its arms, return all hostages, and agree to an unconditional surrender. If Israel agrees to a permanent ceasefire before Hamas surrenders and releases all hostages, Hamas will regroup and continue its promised genocidal war against Israel. Moreover, other terrorist groups around the globe will be emboldened by Hamas’s success.

As an Israeli spokesperson said: If there’s a fire, you don’t just put out 80% of it — you put out all of it. It’s the same for Hamas.

Think about it. We didn’t let Nazi Germany or Imperialist Japan off the hook until they were thoroughly defeated. And rightly so.

8. Israel is an apartheid state.

False. Israel is a democracy in which Arabs and other minorities (and women) have full rights. There is no apartheid in the State of Israel.

At this juncture, a student might try to justify the apartheid charge against Israel by pointing to the West Bank. But this would be a(nother) mistake.

First, the West Bank is not Israel. It is a disputed territory, of which parts are controlled by the Palestinian Authority and parts by Israel (it’s messy).

Second, yes, Palestinians and Israelis are segregated in the West Bank. But segregation in the West Bank is done for security reasons, not apartheid.

This segregation is no doubt difficult for Palestinians, but it’s not an instance of apartheid (or racism). The segregation and Israeli occupation in West Bank are Israel’s response to the many past Palestinian attacks and suicide bombings against Israel.

Again, it’s not apartheid. It’s not discrimination or oppression based on race or ethnicity. Rather, it’s an attempt to restrain hostile actors. This is an important difference!

To see what real apartheid states look like — which includes discrimination and oppression based not only on race or ethnicity but also gender and sexuality — look at Israel’s neighbours and ask: Why are there so few (if any) Jews living in those countries? Why are women less than first-class citizens? Why does Gaza toss gay people off tall buildings rather than celebrate Gay Pride Month?

End of quiz. Class dismissed. Please leave your placards in the garbage can, clean up your mess on campus, and apologize sincerely to all Israeli and Jewish students on your way out the door.

The war in Gaza is the most controversial issue in the news. How do you feel?

Originally published at The Stream www.stream.org; reprinted here with permission.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is a retired philosophy professor (formerly at Providence University College, Manitoba, Canada) and author of the recent book Untangling Popular Anti-Israel Arguments: Critical Thinking about the Israel-Hamas War. A PDF is available for free at his blog APOLOGIA or the paperback can be purchased at Amazon.

Image credits:  Wikimedia 2021


Showing 19 reactions

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  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-06-02 12:37:50 +1000
    Thanks everyone for the discussion concerning my article (and thanks to Mercator for publishing it). I must tend to other matters and so may not be back here before the comment section is closed. I would like to (tentatively) end my participation in the discussion with a couple of recommendations for reading.

    1. Noa Tishby, Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth (Free Press, 2021).

    Noa Tishby is sometimes called Israel’s “unofficial ambassador.” This popular-level book is very helpful for readers who need an introduction to or a refresher course on the history of Israel.

    2. Adi Schwartz & Einat Wilf, The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace (St. Martin’s Press/ All Points Books, 2020).

    This is a tougher read (i.e., a bit more academic) than Noa Tishby’s book, but I deem The War of Return a must-read. Einat Wilf is a political scientist with an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a PhD from Cambridge. Adi Schwartz was a journalist for 10 years at the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and has a PhD from the department of Political Science at Bar-Ilan University on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

    Thanks again for the discussion!
  • David Page
    commented 2024-06-02 10:47:34 +1000
    And yet, Hendrik, Israel is becoming a pariah state to just those democratic societies. I might add here that Haaretz and The Times Of Jerusalem, both Israeli newspapers, don’t tend to agree with you.
  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-06-01 09:42:52 +1000
    Jürgen Siemer: In response to my view that I am more inclined to trust a democratic society’s reports concerning truth than those of a terrorist group, you wrote “truth is neither a child of democracy nor of christian zionism.”

    OK. In view of your comment, however, perhaps it will be helpful to clarify what truth is (as opposed to merely what it is not).

    Aristotle understood truth as follows: “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.”

    This commonsensical, garden-variety understanding of truth is what philosophers call the correspondence view of truth.

    In other words, on the correspondence view of truth, truth is a condition or state of affairs that exists when a statement of what is the case is the case. That a claim or proposition is true means it corresponds with or accurately represents what is the case in reality.

    I think Aristotle and the correspondence view of truth are correct. So, metaphysically (i.e., in reality), truth is not, as you say, “a child” of anything. Rather, truth simply is the case when what is stated to be the case is the case.

    Perhaps the following is more on point concerning your comment: Discerning truth (properly understood as the correspondence view) requires inspection of evidence and careful reasoning. It seems to me that open societies have a much better chance of getting at evidence of truth and sharing it than do closed societies. Open societies allow for more investigation and truth-seeking discussion (e.g., public weighing of pros and cons) than do closed societies (which are much more authoritarian and dogmatic). Of course, open societies can be mistaken (and often are), but their openness more readily allows for mistakes (and lies) to be exposed and for truth to prevail. Surely, Israel is a more open society than Hamas-run Gaza.

    All this to say, again, when it comes to reporting of truth, I am more inclined to trust a democratic society than a terrorist group.

  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-30 14:46:32 +1000
    Hendrik, truth is neither a child of democracy nor of christian zionism.
  • mrscracker
    You are very welcome Mr. Hendrik. I always look forward to your articles.
  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-05-29 11:12:14 +1000
    Israel Kalman and mrscracker: Thanks for your kind comments!
  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-05-29 11:09:52 +1000
    Hello again Jürgen Siemer.

    Thanks for your additional comment concerning my (other) article’s discussion of the number of deaths in Gaza as reported by Hamas and the IDF.

    Sure, some skepticism of IDF numbers is appropriate. But, call me old-fashioned, I am more inclined to trust a democratic society than a terrorist group.

    But we can put that aside. As I argue in my (other) article, we can take the numbers that both Hamas and Israel give us and still see that the combatant-to-civilian death ratio is low—and this makes Israel out not to be as bad as many think.

    In case our readers are interested, here is a link to my other article:

  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-05-29 11:07:45 +1000
    Jürgen Siemer: Thanks for the article from Vox. Yes, as I point out in my above article, the segregation in West Bank is messy and no doubt difficult for Palestinians. The Vox article helpfully underscores this. Nevertheless, if we wish to place blame, I think there’s enough to legitimately go round to both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Nevertheless, too, the goings-on in West Bank is not apartheid per se, but an attempt (misguided or not) by Israel to restrain hostile actors, as I point out in my article.

    To better understand the situation I think it helps to realize—which the Vox article fails to mention—that the Israeli occupation of West Bank was a result of a failed Arab attack (which included Jordan as an attacker) on Israel in 1967. In 1967 Israel’s Arab neighbours wanted to exterminate Israel. But Israel was able to resist successfully in the Six Day War. Consequently, Jordan lost control of the West Bank and the West Bank became occupied by Israel (its military and its settlers) to provide a security “buffer” against Jordan. So it’s not a case merely of Israel being nasty, as Vox makes it seem.

    Also not mentioned by Vox is that a peace agreement in 2000 for a full Palestinian state—including Gaza and West Bank—was, to the astonishment of many, refused by Yassar Arafat at Camp David. Why the refusal? Because the peace agreement also recognized Israel as a legitimate state. Subsequently, terrorists in West Bank launched suicide bombings, and so Israel struck back with force … and walls.

    Very apparently, turning the West Bank and Gaza into their own Palestinian state was not the main concern for Palestinians. Rather, the main concern was that Palestinians should not recognize a Jewish state as legitimate. Why not? Because Jews and a Jewish state are anathema to Islamists.

    The Vox article merely says that in the year 2000 (seven years after the first Oslo Accord) “Israeli military invaded many of the West Bank’s major cities that were under Palestinian jurisdiction.” And: “a political stalemate and expanding Israeli settlements led to the bloody Second Intifada, or uprising.” This mistakenly makes Israel look like the sole bad guy, neglects Arafat’s rejection of Israel’s offer of peace and land for a two-state solution, and neglects the predominant Muslim Palestinian view that Israel—a JEWISH state—simply cannot be. By not telling the whole story, the Vox article misleads the reader.

    In case it’s of interest, this popular book may be a help: Noa Tishby, Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth (Free Press, 2021).

    This short video may be a help, too: “Why Did Israel Build a Wall Around the West Bank?”

    I hope my comment is helpful.

  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-05-29 11:03:53 +1000
    David Page: I agree that we will have to disagree.

    Nevertheless, my reasons remain intact. Yes, the situation in West Bank is a mess. But your broad claim that “Ethnic cleansing is the only way to explain Israeli policy” is not true, as I have argued.

    About Deir Yassin, I think it’s more complicated than you set out.
  • Israel Kalman
    commented 2024-05-28 20:48:19 +1000
    Hendrik, thanks so much for posting this article. It is sorely needed. Your points are all right-on.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-28 15:32:54 +1000
    Hendrik, I have read your article behind the link you provided.

    In your discussion of the number of deaths in Gaza you basically say that you are not willing to accept numbers provided by the Palestinian health ministry, because that source is Hamas.


    But on the other side:

    Israel is a party in the conflict, does not allow independent Journalists observe it’s troops, has killed many Journalists and aid workers on the other side (on purpose?), and has lied in the past, even spied in the US, its biggest supporter.

    Well, even my own democratic government has lied in the past, sometimes a little, a few big. Hence, I am a learned skeptic when it it comes to governments.

    Are you not naive putting so much trust in Israeli government sources?
  • mrscracker
    Thank you for sharing this article and providing balance. God bless!
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-05-27 17:15:41 +1000
    Hendrik, there is an article on vox.com from 2019. Title: “we are living in a touristic prison: Palestinians on life in the holy city of Bethlehem”
  • David Page
    commented 2024-05-27 16:55:02 +1000
    Hendrik, we will have to disagree. Ethnic cleansing is the only way to explain Israeli policy. When Yitzhak Rabin abandoned that policy he was murdered. The new government immediately sent troops to the Temple Mount in order to provoke a response; the Intifada. Before the murder of Rabin Jewish couples were going to Ramallah for dinner. Peace was in the air. The West Bank policy is certainly one of ethnic cleansing. The settlements cutting Palestinians off from their own fields and orchids. The routine murder of Palestinians by ‘settlers’ that always go unpunished. The occupation of the West Bank for over 50 years is, in itself, a war crime. And in the beginning the slaughter of the Palestinians at Deir Yassin was meant to panic the Palestinians and get them fleeing.
  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    commented 2024-05-27 09:11:20 +1000
    David Page,

    Thanks for your thoughts. Here are my replies.

    Re: “Israel is one of the most racist countries on the planet…. Look at the grief that Ethiopean [sic] Jews have suffered in Israel.”

    Yes, Israel has racism (like, sadly, most/all Western countries do). And, yes, Ethiopian Jews have suffered in Israel because of racism.

    But keep in mind that Israel airlifted many thousands of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel from Ethiopia, where they were suffering. This is, clearly, an ANTI-racist thing to do (though there were some religious—Jewish—differences to be resolved).

    Keep in mind, too, that Israel’s official policy is such that it is trying to work against racism against Ethiopian Jews because they have full rights as Israeli citizens. For example, when Ethiopian Jewish schoolchildren were denied entry into a semi-private Israeli school, the Israeli government stepped in to ensure their acceptance. For example, when police brutality occurred against Ethiopian Jews, the Israeli government stepped in (and are still stepping in) to right the wrong. These are instances of Israel’s efforts against racism.

    As former Israeli President (2014-2021) Reuven Rivlin said (in response to Ethiopian Jews protesting against a police shooting of an Ethiopian Jew): “It is a shared struggle of brothers and sisters for their shared home and their shared future. I ask all of us to act responsibly and with moderation. My home is your home. Let us continue to stand together like a wall against violence, any form of violence, and to fight together for our shared home.”

    So, yes, Ethiopian Jews have suffered grief in Israel. But Israel, though not a perfect country (as most are not), is trying to overcome racism, not promote it. That is significant. Sure, there’s more work to be done (as is true in most Western countries), but it’s not a case of official state-sanctioned racism.

    Re: “Israel, from day one, has been conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing.”

    This is not true. Perhaps a note from page 34 of my book Untangling Popular Anti-Israel Arguments will be helpful here (pdf of my book is available at my blog):

    “Sometimes the genocide [‘ethnic cleansing’] charge against Israel is made with reference to The Nakba (‘catastrophe’) of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war in which 750,000 Arabs were displaced from Israel. It should be noted that the term nakba was originally used by Arabs to refer to the embarrassing-to-them defeat of Arabs by Jews when in 1948 the Arabs attacked the new state of Israel. The goal of the Islamist Arabs, led by Nazi-collaborator Haj Amin al-Husseini and company, was to exterminate the Jews. But the Arabs failed miserably. And this failure was, for Islamists, a catastrophic humiliation. Why? Because it was a self-inflicted wound (Arabs started the war—and lost—thereby being the main cause of the refugee problem); and because, according to Islamists, all once-Muslim lands belong to Islam; and because Islam is the true religion, not Judaism. But now nakba has a meaning used by Palestinian propagandists to divert attention away from Arab antisemitic violent aggression and instead promote Palestinian victimhood. Nakba now means an alleged 1948 ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Israel by Israel. But this narrative is false. Yes, many Arabs, especially those deemed hostile to Israel, were forced out by Israel in 1948. This is truly tragic. But it was war—a war started by the Arabs. And these facts remain: many Arabs left Israel willingly because a war (to exterminate Jews) was at hand (and these fleeing Arabs planned to return to Israel after Israel was destroyed); many Arabs left Israel because the surrounding Arab nations (wishing to wage genocidal war on the Jews) told them to leave (and return later); many Arabs who were not hostile to Israel stayed in Israel (as citizens of Israel). In other words, the criterion for Arabs being forced out of Israel was not whether they were Arab, but whether they were hostile to Israel. This distinction shows that The Nakba was not genocide. Hostility, not ethnicity or religion, was the concern. (And, for perspective, keep in mind that whereas 750,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were pushed out of Israel during the 1948 war, in subsequent years 850,000 Jews were expelled from surrounding Arab countries.) (See Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf, The War of Return [New York: All Points Books, 2020] and see Noa Tishby’s ‘A State is Born,’ which is chapter 6 of her book Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth [New York: Free Press, 2021].)”

    Again, David, your claim that “Israel, from day one, has been conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing” is not true. No doubt at the time of Israel’s formation there were some terrible things done by Jews to Arabs (and by Arabs to Jews). Nevertheless, the distinction between hostility and ethnicity/ religion shows there was no “campaign of ethnic cleansing.”

    Also, Israel is not conducting “ethnic cleansing” today in Gaza. See my recent Stream article “The Problem of the Misleading Headline: Yet another way news media promote anti-Israel bias.” See the section in which I discuss the headline “Palestinian death toll in Gaza climbs to 34,844.”

    Here is a link to my article: https://stream.org/the-problem-of-the-misleading-headline/
    Again, Israel was not—and is not—engaged in a “campaign of ethnic cleansing.”

    I hope my replies are helpful in discerning truth.

  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    followed this page 2024-05-27 06:16:38 +1000
  • David Page
    commented 2024-05-26 11:33:49 +1000
    Also, Israel is one of the most racist countries on the planet. Surpassing even Japan. Look at the grief that Ethiopean Jews have suffered in Israel. I would suggest reading Haaretz, or the Times of Jerusalem.
  • David Page
    commented 2024-05-26 11:29:32 +1000
    What absolute nonsense. Israel, from day one, has been conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing. That is precisely why Yitzhak Rabin was murdered. Peace was in the air. But the Israeli right wing was more interested in land and water (the aquifer under the West Bank). Peace would have denied that to them.
  • Hendrik van der Breggen
    published this page in The Latest 2024-05-26 11:13:38 +1000