Support for Hamas on college campuses and on city streets has shocked Americans. But we shouldn’t be surprised. It is the result of an influence campaign lasting at least thirty years. Lorenzo Vidino, director of the program on extremism at Georgetown University, writes in the Wall Street Journal.
In October 1993, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wiretapped a hotel room in Philadelphia where a dozen high-ranking Hamas members – some of whom lived in the US – had gathered. The men called the meeting weeks after the Oslo peace accords were signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. For several days, they debated how to sabotage the deal and gain support for Hamas among American Muslims, political elites and the wider society. Correctly anticipating that the US government would designate Hamas a terrorist organization, they agreed on a strategy to frame the conflict in religious terms for Muslims while using formulations more acceptable to non-Muslim Americans. They planned to create a number of mainstream organizations to carry out this dual work.
All behind the scenes
“Let’s not put up a big Islamic flag and act like barbarians,” said one participant. “We will remain a cover, so if it happens to [označení za teroristickou organizaci], we will benefit from new developments instead of keeping all our organizations secret and exposed.” “I swear by Allah the war is a hoax,” said another. “Lying, disguising, pretending to leave while you’re coming in.”
Thirty years later, this strategy has proven to be effective. The widespread support for the barbaric actions of Hamas on October 7 did not just appear out of thin air. Several things have breathed life into this phenomenon—from the identification of Israel with “white privilege” to old-fashioned anti-Semitism—but the terrorist group’s networks in the US and Europe have played a key role.
These networks, now run mostly by Western-born activists, understand how politics and media narratives work in the West. They present the conflict in religious terms to local Muslim communities, calling Israelis “infidels” and recalling hadiths about the killing of Jews. On college campuses, the same networks use the language of postcolonial theory to label Israelis as “European settlers.” Unsurprisingly, a few days ago a Hamas leader told a Vice.com reporter that “the same type of racism that killed George Floyd is being used by Israel against the Palestinians”—an analogy tailor-made for Western progressives.
This influence operation is facilitated by a diverse network of associates and useful idiots – including politicians in the US and Europe. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labor Party from 2015-20, is perhaps the best example of this. He called Hamas and Hezbollah “our friends”. But Corbyn is not alone. In June, politicians from all over Europe attended the European Conference of Palestinians in Sweden. Its organizer, Amin Abu Rashid, a known supporter of Hamas, was arrested a few weeks later in the Netherlands for raising millions for the terrorist organization. He has pleaded not guilty, but Dutch law allows him to be held in pre-trial detention.
Academia is perhaps even friendlier to Hamas than the left-wing political world. Recent demonstrations on campus are evidence of this affinity, but the ties run deeper. The United Association for Studies and Research (UASR), a think tank founded in Chicago in 1989, is the brainchild of Musa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official based in Doha, Qatar, who is now the organization’s second-in-command.
Over the years, UASR has organized events and joint publications with major American universities. The editorial board of its quarterly Middle East Affairs Journal included scholars from Duke, Johns Hopkins, Fordham and Maryland universities. UASR Executive Director Ahmed Yousef returned to Gaza in 2005 to become a senior adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Hanija. Mr. Yousef used his experience with the American media and placed his articles in the New York Times and other Western media.
Hamas also has financial networks in the West. In 2008, federal prosecutors submitted the transcripts of the Philadelphia meeting as evidence against the Holy Land Foundation. The Texas-based front charity, also founded by Mr. Marzook, was found guilty of giving more than $12 million to Hamas over a decade, in the largest terror financing prosecution in US history.
Hamas is more than just a terrorist organization that wants to kill Jews and wipe out Israel. It is also a shrewd international political player, using the West as a base for influence operations targeting politicians, public opinion and Muslim communities. While some of Hamas’s activities on American soil are protected by the Constitution, all serve its morally repugnant agenda. If, as President Biden said, “Hamas is ISIS,” there should be no place in politics, academia, or the media for those who spout terrorist talk.
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