Israel’s attacks on Gaza–prompted by a massive attack from Hamas–have created tremendous shock waves around the world. Not least of these is a huge increase in antisemitic activity. According to Politico, “there has been a 388 percent increase in antisemitism in America since Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack in Israel that killed more than 1,400.” Jews, of course, are not alone; Politico also notes that there has been a major uptick, as well, in threats agains Muslim, and Arab-American communities and institutions in the United States.
All of this is predictable. Anytime there is an incident that impacts the United States abroad, hate crimes (crimes against individuals or groups because of their personal attributes) rise.
While crimes against an individual may have a specific motive and outcome, there is no meaningful motive or outcome for a hate crime. No one has been injured by the hated person or group, and no one benefits from their injury or death. For example, the bombing an American mosque or synagogue is not a response to actions taken by the members of the local mosque or synagogue. What’s more, the bombing has absolutely no impact on individuals of the same religion or ethnicity who may be perpetrating violence on the other side of the world.
So what is the role of hate-based actions that can have no impact on the presumed source of the hate? Why attack people and institutions who, in and of themselves, have in no way injured the attacker? And are such actions an inevitable aspect of human nature?
It may be that institutionalized hate is just a political tool wielded by those who are seeking power to engage their base. It supports a “we versus they” mentality that can shore up support for someone who is on “our” side versus “theirs.”
It might be that hate helps to forge a sense of identity among those perpetrating hate-related acts. “We” are the people who hate the Jews, the Muslims, the immigrants, and so forth. By creating that “we,” disenfranchised or isolated individuals can find an emotional home.
It could even be that hate emerged in its less personal form as the result of the creation of political states — thousands of years ago. According to one theorist writing in Scientific American, “The appearance of complex hunter-gatherers can sometimes but not always mark a transitional stage to agriculture, the basis for the development of political states. These groups, moreover, often waged war.”
Institutionalized hate based on prejudice is surely a very human behavior. It has certainly been part of our behavior for many thousands of years. But is it part of human nature — or simply a reaction that can be avoided, lessened, or even eliminated?