News coverage of Israel’s response to the murders in France of four hostages at a kosher supermarket and 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo offices highlighted two ways in which Prime Minister Netanyahu tried to exploit the violence for Israel’s (and his own) political purposes. At the huge march against terrorism in Paris (which the French president had asked Netanyahu not to attend), video showed him pushing to the front row of the march and waving to the crowd as if he were at a pro-Israel rally. At a Paris synagogue, he encouraged French Jews to respond to the country’s anti-Semitism by emigrating to Israel, as the only “safe place” for them—a theme he reiterated at the funeral in Israel for the four murdered Jews, as well as after the most recent killing of two people outside a Copenhagen synagogue and a free-speech event.
Another aspect of Netanyahu’s response to the Paris murders, which received less media attention, relates specifically to an Islamophobic narrative that pro-Israel advocates have turned to again and again. Almost as soon as the news broke, Netanyahu combined his condemnation of such acts of terror with his insistence that those responsible are indistinguishable from Hamas. As Netanyahu said in response to the French attacks, “They might have different names — ISIS, Boko Haram, Hamas, Al Shabab, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah — but all of them are driven by the same hatred and blood-thirsty fanaticism. . . . . And all of them seek to destroy our freedoms and to impose on all of us a violent, medieval tyranny.”
These comments echoed those Netanyahu had made during Israel’s brutal 2014 assault on Gaza, when he tweeted “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas. They’re the enemies of Peace. They’re the enemies of all civilized countries.” Israeli officials and other militantly pro-Israel supporters have made the ISIS-Hamas meme a prominent part of their hasbara (propaganda) campaign. In the United States, the meme has been picked up by adamantly pro-Israel elected and former officials, neoconservatives, the right-wing blogosphere, parts of the mainstream media, and Islamophobes like Pamela Geller, who has incorporated the statement that “Hamas = ISIS” into her latest New York City subway and bus ad.
Numerous people have already commented on the inaccuracy of this linkage, the Islamophobia inherent in the conflation of ISIS and Hamas, and the larger political context. Their analysis of the differences between Hamas and ISIS, including a dissimilar “ideological agenda” and political focus, continue to be relevant in the light of Israel’s latest linkage of Hamas with the murderers in France. (For commentary on these issues, see “Hamas = ISIS? What People Are Saying about This Meme, Islamophobia, and Israel,” in the December 2014 newsletter of the Network Against Islamophobia, a new project of JVP.)
The pro-Israel conflation of Hamas with ISIS and other such groups is part of the classic Islamophobic framework of the “clash of civilizations,” which attributes “unavoidable” conflict to fundamental cultural differences between Islamic and Western civilizations. In this context, where the issues are viewed as cultural, not political, “The core, but always evolving, message that Zionists keep sending out,” Rami G. Khouri writes, “is that Palestinians who challenge Israel are part and parcel of a larger universe of frightening figures that espouse criminal values, and represent a direct, mortal threat to Israel and also to all Western civilization. The latest version of this fear-mongering campaign of lies and fantasy seeks to paint Hamas and other militant Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza as integral elements in the world of vicious actors and terrorists who fight in the name of Islam . . . .” Once again, as Jonathan Cook has written about the Hamas = ISIS meme, “Netanyahu has tarred all Palestinians as bloodthirsty Islamic extremists.”
More recently, Netanyahu has used the Paris attacks to ratchet up support for Israeli policies: placing Israel on the side of “France on this difficult day,” and maintaining that “The terror of Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIL and Al-Qaeda will not stop unless the West fights it physically, rather than fighting its false arguments. Islamic terror is not mainly targeting Israel, but is even targeting the West and its civilization.” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued a statement that “stressed that the world has to help Israel in its war against the Palestinian factions that adopt principles common with those who carried out the attack.”
We can expect that, when Netanyahu addresses Congress in March, he will once again draw on the Islamophobic narratives that are integral to Israel’s attempts to gain international support for its policies.
Elly Bulkin is a member of Jews Say No! (NYC); a co-convener of the Network Against Islamophobia (NAI), a project of Jewish Voice for Peace; and co-author, with Donna Nevel, of Israel & Islamophobia (2014).