The Messenger

Whom Does Hamas Represent?

Senior Fellow, Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East
Protesters during a rally in support of Palestinians at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, on November 12, 2023. (Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters during a rally in support of Palestinians at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, on November 12, 2023. (Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images)

President Biden has done much good in the weeks since the October 7 Hamas-led terrorist assault on Israel. Condemning the attacks as “sheer evil,” he consistently has offered powerful words of support for the Jewish state and its obligation to defend itself, and he has matched those words with concrete actions. Israelis have expressed their deep appreciation for his expressions of sympathy and solidarity, including his dramatic October 18 visit.  

Since then, the president has gone on to rightly question the credibility of Palestinian casualty statistics provided by the “health ministry” run by the same organization responsible for the mass murder, rape, kidnapping, and torture of Israeli civilians. Notably missing from the Hamas numbers is any indication of how many of the casualties are combatants. Hamas is not saying. Is anyone asking? Do the figures include the estimated 1,500 Gazan murderers and rapists that Israeli forces say they killed inside Israel on October 7? 

While accurately describing Hamas’s depraved actions, Biden and the White House have foundered when discussing Hamas’ supporters.  

Since October 7, the president repeatedly has declared that “Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people.” An examination of Palestinian politics and the proudly stated positions of people and organizations in America (and Europe) that claim to support or represent Palestinians exposes Biden’s assertion as wishful thinking, at best, or dangerously misleading, at worst. Regardless, it is simply and tragically false, and not just because Hamas won a majority of seats the last time the Palestinian Authority held legislative elections, some 17 years ago.

Two months ago, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research conducted a poll of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank that found if a head-to-head presidential election between Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Palestinian Authority President (and Fatah leader) Mahmoud Abbas were held that day, Haniyeh would win an absolute majority among all Palestinians, 58%, to Abbas’s 37%. When looking at the results in Gaza alone, they were even starker, with Haniyeh receiving 64% and Abbas’s 33%. Among Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Haniyeh’s lead was 50% to 43%. This is why no party — not the United States, not Israel, and not the Palestinian Authority — has pushed for holding the first Palestinian presidential elections since 2005. Hamas would win. 

In legislative elections, Fatah and Hamas would reach a virtual tie, receiving 36% and 34% of the vote, respectively (21% were undecided). Perhaps the best that could be said about the survey results is that a 44% plurality believe that both movements are “unworthy of representation and leadership.” 

As for specific policies, the poll shows that Palestinians oppose a two-state solution by a two-to-one margin (67% to 32%), and 58% support “confrontation and a return to armed intifada” to break the current stalemate. Both positions are staples of Hamas’ agenda. 

These results strongly suggest that rather than acting on behalf of some tiny radical fringe, Hamas — both as a political entity and in terms of its murderous policies — reflects the will of a large portion of the Palestinian public quite well.  

Meanwhile, thousands of people have marched in the streets of American cities and across college campuses carrying Palestinian flags, often targeting Jews and Jewish institutions, and openly supporting Hamas, or at the very least, supporting its stated goals and ideology and its bloody methods. Calling for “intifada revolution” or to “globalize the intifada” is to endorse the renewal and expansion of a Palestinian campaign of suicide bombings and other attacks that left more than 1,000 Israelis dead.

More than 7,000 participated in an October 28 rally in New York named “Flood Brooklyn for Gaza,” a tribute to the code name Hamas gave to its attack three weeks prior, the “al-Aqsa Flood.” The group behind the demonstration has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and has expressed explicit support for Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations.

The oft-repeated cry at rallies from coast to coast that “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free” is just a catchy, rhyming paraphrasing of Hamas’s own antisemitic, genocidal doctrine: “Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”  

Most telling about these demonstrations and the groups organizing them is that they are invariably described as “pro-Palestinian.” Why is it simply understood that supporting a violent holy war against Jews is to support Palestine? (Others have addressed why supporting an anti-peace, antisemitic, anti-LGBTQ+, misogynist dictatorship has been adopted as a progressive cause.) 

Further blurring the line between support for Hamas and support for the Palestinian cause more broadly is the pointed refusal by some of the most prominent Arab-American and Muslim-American organizations to condemn Hamas by name and their mischaracterization of the war on Hamas as a “war on Palestine.” It is unclear whether these policy decisions reflect the organizations’ leadership, the people they claim to represent, or both. 

If President Biden genuinely seeks the defeat of Hamas and the creation of a more peaceful Middle East, he also must act to defeat the widely held toxic ideas Hamas represents.

On October 9 Biden correctly said that Hamas “offers nothing for the Palestinian people other than more terror and bloodshed.” The president is right to try to drive a wedge between Hamas and the Palestinian public. But downplaying existing Palestinian support for Hamas is to obscure a grave problem not just in Gaza, but in the United States too. Rather than pretending that Hamas does not represent many Palestinians and their advocates in the West, Biden should call them out and press them to reject Hamas in word and deed. 

The president understands at the most fundamental level that no one can rape, kidnap, and murder in the name of human rights and that antisemitism is contrary to American values and an obstacle to the Palestinian people’s legitimate aspirations.

He knows that Hamas and its paymasters in Tehran have brought destruction on Gaza and put Palestinian civilians in harm’s way by militarizing their homes, schools, mosques, and hospitals.  

Maybe someday Palestinians and their American supporters will acknowledge these essential truths, demonstrate against Hamas, and lead marches not to Israel’s embassies, but to Iran’s. Until then, the most important things President Biden can do are tell it like it is about Hamas and keep standing by Israel until Hamas is undeniably vanquished and the utter failure of its goals and methods is plain for all to see.d

Read in The Messenger.