In response to “The Israel-Hamas war is not too complicated for Hopkins students” published October 18, 2023:
Recently, the News-Letter published “The Israel-Hamas war is not too complicated for Hopkins students.” Before proceeding, this will not be the average response that one might expect to an article like this. I will not be arguing the “pro-Palestine” position; as, although the article I respond to argues a pro-Israel position under the guise of arguing the conflict is not too complicated for Hopkins students, I would rather address the question originally presented.
Indeed, the fact that students at the top university in the country disagree on the morality of the Israel-Palestine conflict should clue you in on the notion that the conflict is complicated. If we were all agreeing, I might be more amenable to this proposition. Yet, students are disagreeing. The idea that if we just understood Hamas to be anti-Semitic, we would automatically side with Israel, is never explicitly stated but governs the argument.
For what it’s worth, Hamas is an organization that preaches an exterminationist anti-Semitism. Most “pro-Palestine” students at the university would at least agree that Hamas is anti-Semitic; I’d cite the charter’s Article 7 on its “exterminationist” goals. Inquiring minds may disagree. But may I note that one can only say the Israel-Palestine conflict is simple if one solely focuses on a comparison between the Israeli government and Hamas. The former is governed by an unstable, corrupt right-wing government more akin to Putin’s than to Zelenskyy’s. Put aside, for now, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, believer in the fascist movement known as Kahanism—which seeks to strip Arabs of all national rights (e.g., voting) and whose primary party was formerly labeled as terrorist by the State Department. The latter cannot, due to Israel, and does not want to, due to its organizational structure, govern the Gaza Strip. The complexity integral to this conflict is necessarily stripped by Instagram posts comprising less than two hundred words in total.
So, my thesis is this: it is okay for something to be complicated. Admitting that a conflict is complicated is not a lack of conviction, but a mark of moral strength. Morality is a complicated subject. International relations is a complicated subject. Harvard professor Michael Sandel uses murder to teach morality in his course on political philosophy. After 70 years, I don’t think he’s missing something that will make the morality of murder more simple. In law school, we will discuss the most gruesome cases and use first principles to come to moral conclusions. Sometimes we arrive at answers we were not expecting. Might I suggest that the morality of a conflict spanning if not 75 years, certainly no less, is more complicated? The conflict did not begin when Hamas crossed the border; it will not end with this phase of the war either.
Some readers may see this as merely semantics, a game of words. It is not that. This is a problem. For some reason that may only be speculated, we cannot admit that moral complexity exists. That our moral frameworks themselves might be flawed based on our upbringing, our media diet, and our cultural influences. It is fine to say “this is too complicated.” It is fine to say “I don’t know.” Philosopher Michael Huemer, building on economist Bryan Caplan’s work, describes “rational irrationality.” We are people with hundreds, nay, thousands of inputs to sort through, and, frankly, we can’t really affect much as individuals. You do not need to be an expert on everything. In fact, you need not be an expert on anything. But social media for some reason asks us to be an expert on the 75-year conflict between Israel and Palestine. An epidemiologist one day, a Supreme Court justice the next. Abortion policy. Race in America. And, frankly, that is not feasible.
In 2008, newscaster Brian Moyers wrote, “[broadcast news] helps to make this an anxious age of agitated amnesiacs… We Americans seem to know a lot of the last twenty-four hours but very little of the last six centuries or the last sixty years.” It’s only gotten worse since then. We would all do better to be a little more humble and admit when something is just too complicated. Of course, we should always strive to educate ourselves. But it is fine to say no. We are all too often sure that we have the correct answer, and that everyone else must be either stupid or evil.
That is a nice story. That is not how we build real discourse.
Raymond Perez is a student at Yale Law School. He is a Johns Hopkins alumni (Class of 2023), and during his time at the University, he served as President of the Johns Hopkins Democrats and College Democrats of Maryland.