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Amid the recent rise in pro-Palestinian protests in the United States, most recently one interrupting the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting, I've begun to wonder: why has there been such a dramatic uptick in pro-Palestinian protests in the United States?

So why has there been such a surge in pro-Palestinian support?

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    Many compared to what? The U.S. is a big country with lots of people. Somebody is out there protesting almost everything conceivable in various numbers. How does one determine what is a lot v. what is a little? There is no obvious expectation of any particular amount of protesting for anything particular.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 30, 2023 at 22:25
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    @ohwilleke Many compared to historical trends. In the past, I really don't think you'd have seen as many pro-Palestine protests. In the US and indeed elsewhere as well. And that especially not in the case of a war started by such a large scale atrocity as Hamas carried out on 10/7. And, yes, it would better if pro-Hamas and pro-Palestine were better differentiated in those protests. Nov 30, 2023 at 23:09
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    Is this really a recent phenomenon? I have the impression that the movement of Palestine sympathizers is going strong for decades. And of course they become more vocal and visible whenever the conflict flares up again.
    – Philipp
    Dec 1, 2023 at 9:23
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    @Philipp I think that the OP means many pro-Palestinian rallies compared to pro-Israel ones, not more rallies now than in the past. This is how I interpret this (non-trivial) question in my answer below. Dec 1, 2023 at 22:25
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica "In the past, I really don't think you'd have seen as many pro-Palestine protests" The question "why are there so many more [X] now?" and "why are we seeing [X] more now?" are two very different questions to ask. This confusion leads to wrong observations, e.g. cancer rates seemingly increasing when it's really our detection methods that are getting better instead of the rates going up. Similar topics: crime (more news), politics (more news), mental health issues (more recognition), conspiracy theories (the democratization of the social internet), ...
    – Flater
    Dec 3, 2023 at 22:58

9 Answers 9

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[edit] Pro-Palestinian support has increased everywhere in the world, not only in the US. There might be many factors at play, some country-specific and some not. Among these, a few general long-term trends contribute to the increase in support for Palestinians over time:

In the history of Israel, the country has been under critical threat during a long time. It has been attacked by surrounding countries which were openly hostile. But nowadays Israel is not seen as the underdog anymore, it is a powerful country and the vast majority of Middle-East countries de facto accept its existence (if reluctantly). So Israel does not benefit so much of the underdog sympathy anymore, quite the opposite.

In fact, Netanyahu's policy since 2009 has been to rely on Israel's massive military and economic superiority in order to maintain the status quo and keep colonizing the West Bank. This contrasts with efforts towards peace made by previous Israeli governments, and this is perceived negatively by a lot of people internationally. Under this policy, Israel simply looks like a bully. As a consequence, there have been more and more sympathy for the Palestinians.

The unfairness of the Palestinian's fate is becoming more and more visible. The world has evolved since the creation of Israel: at the time, the Western world was still colonizing the rest of the world shamelessly; the US was still segregating Black people; the law of the strongest was considered pretty much acceptable. But since WW2, racism and colonization are not morally acceptable anymore. There was the self-determination principle, the decolonization movement, the Civil Rights movement in the US, the end of apartheid in South Africa. By contrast, Israel still flouts the international consensus regarding its borders, keeps colonizing the West Bank and doesn't offer as much rights to its Palestinians citizens.

Finally, there is a growing feeling that international rules are not applied to Israel as they are to other countries (especially in the Arab world but not only). Jordan’s foreign minister expressed it like this:

He said even those who accepted Israel was acting in self-defence "keep telling Israel to act within international law. It is not, so where do we go from here? Keep telling them to do it? They keep refusing to do it. People are being killed day in and day out." He said: "International law has to apply to all. The message seems to be that Israel can do whatever it wants. That is what the world is seeing, [that] Israel is above the law."

The fact that Israel kills so many Palestinian civilians, including children, is shocking to many people. In many parts of the world, it is seen as racism at best (as if Arab lives don't matter), ethnic cleansing at worst (members of the Israeli government talked about Palestinians as "human animals", considered nuking Gaza).

As a consequence, Israel is seen more and more often as an oppressor, a country which systematically uses violence against Palestinians, who are seen as the victims.

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    This answer is speculative in nature. No evidence is given here that "Israel is seen more and more often as an oppressor"; In particular the slow-nature of those kind of changes make it unlikely that protest volume is primarily a function of change in the general public opinion. One can find other reasons like "Israel" issue is now party-dependent than it has ever been or the virality in the wake of social media among youth(who are lion share of the protestors)
    – discipulus
    Dec 1, 2023 at 9:40
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    @discipulus I think that any answer to this question is likely to be speculative, since it's a broad question about the motivations of many protesters. However there are factual changes in the political situation of the conflict which are likely to contribute to changes of opinion over time.
    – Erwan
    Dec 1, 2023 at 10:24
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    Please take out the bit about nuking Gaza - it was a single minister, and Netanyahu immediately evicted him from his post and didn't even allow him to apologize.
    – toolforger
    Dec 1, 2023 at 10:37
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    @EllieKesselman: the removal from office of that minister may or may not disconnect the Israeli government from his statements, but don't you think those statements had a lasting effect on how people viewed Israel (right or wrong)? If so, I think that's an important part of the OP's answer and shouldn't be removed. Dec 1, 2023 at 11:11
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Question:

Why are there so many pro-Palestinian protestors in the United States?

There are pro-Palestinian demonstrators around the world in many countries.

I think any time any country commits to such controversial actions as killing thousands of innocents predominantly women and children they are going to face a lot of critism globally, as well as in the United States.

Question #2

this war was initiated by hostile actions from that group against Israel. So why has there been such a surge in pro-Palestinian support?

There is a huge military disparity between the folk who attacked Israel on Oct 7th and Israel; and yet Israel has chosen to pursue military action which overwhelmingly multiplies the deaths of innocents. That's what people are reacting too. That and likely many people don't start the clock on these troubles by the Oct 7th atrocities.

From the Comments:

@Tom: this is simply not true. There were nowhere even near the same protests against the war in Yemen or any of the other dozen or so wars right now with similar and higher civilian casualties. There were NO protests when Kuwait (also a US ally) expelled 200,000 Palestinians in 1991. The US public very SELECTIVELY cares about some things a lot and some things pretty much not at all. I list Kuwait because this was also with Palestinians involved. Nobody cared

The US public doesn't pay for the bombs used in Yemen to the tune of billions of dollars of military aid annually for decades. The US public doesn't pay billions more to restore and support the Saudi after each and every war for decades (see same link, note how US aid jumps after Israeli wars over the last 7 decades).

  • Suez Crisis (October 1956) Total US aid jumps 100% 57-58
  • Six-Day War (June 1967) Total US aid jumps 400% 67-68
  • Yom Kippur War (October 1973) Total US aid jumps 600% 73-74
  • In Nov 2023 Gaza action, US congress passed a $14 billion dollar package, not approved yet in the senate. If when it occurs that will be +380% increase of total US Aid for Israel in 2023.

Finally, the Palestinians in Kuwait weren't born in Kuwait and lived there for generations only to be dispossessed of their lands and possessions and denied citizenship and rights based on cultural and ethnic grounds.

As I've said in my answer this isn't really a US thing. It's a world thing. Frankly the United States is the best friend Israel has ever had and will ever have. And If the United States Secretary of state feels the need to publicly tell Israel, ENOUGH!! You must not bomb hospitals, civilian infrastructure and you must avoid civilian casualties. You must observe international humanitarian law and the laws of war. Until you have a plan to avoid these things, you will not proceed. As Anthony Blinken did yesterday in Jerusalem; You can rest assured public opinion, isn't just an existential crisis for Israel, It's a growing existential crisis for the American administration.

Blinken urges Israel to comply with international law and spare civilians in war against Hamas The Text of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken's speech in Jerusalem 11/30/2023.

...the way Israel defends itself matters. It’s imperative that Israel act in accordance with international humanitarian law and the laws of war, even when confronting a terrorist group that respects neither.

In my meetings today with the prime minister and senior Israeli officials, I made clear that before Israel resumes major military operations, it must put in place humanitarian civilian protection plans that minimize further casualties of innocent Palestinians.

That means taking more effective steps to protect the lives of civilians, including by clearly and precisely designating areas and places in southern and central Gaza where they can be safe and out of the line of fire.

It means avoiding further significant displacement of civilians inside of Gaza. It means avoiding damage to life-critical infrastructure, like hospitals, like power stations, like water facilities.

And it means giving civilians who’ve been displaced to southern Gaza the choice to return to the north as soon as conditions permit. There must be no enduring internal displacement.

All of this can be done in a manner that still enables Israel to achieve its objectives.

Of course, we know that every one of these elements is made more complicated by the fact that Hamas intentionally embeds itself with civilians, within and below hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, refugee camps.

But Israel has the most sophisticated – one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world. It is capable of neutralizing the threat posed by Hamas while minimizing harm to innocent men, women, and children. And it has an obligation to do so. Ultimately, that’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also in Israel’s security interest. The prime minister and members of the war cabinet agreed with the need for this approach.

We discussed the details of Israel’s ongoing planning, and I underscored the imperative to the United States that the massive loss of civilian life and displacement of the scale we saw in northern Gaza not be repeated in the south. As I told the prime minister, intent matters, but so does the result.


@Tom you are making your answer worse by adding more speculations and opinion pieces.

You say opinion I say objective fact.

As for The US public paying billions of dollars in aid to Israel annually.

U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel: Total Aid (1949 - Present)

Let me break that down for you.

  • In Israel's entire history 1949-2023 Total US aid to Israel has averaged over $2 billion a year.

  • Us Military Aid to Israel to Israel first exceeded $2 billion in 1974.

  • Total US aid to Israel first exceeded 5 billion in 1980. And has been above 3 billion since 1985 (mostly).

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Some good explanations have already been given. I want to add to them, so this answer is meant to complement, not replace, the existing answers:

Western values at this point in time have are strongly sympathetic for the (seemingly) weak and desire to support them in order to balance the scales.

The pro-Palestinian protests see the Palestinians as the victims in this conflict. This is based partially on facts (in a purely military sense, the Palestinians are weaker than the Israelis) and partially on propaganda - the economy of the Gaza strip is essentially non-existent and relies on outside economic support, which is more generous if you make yourself appear more in need.

So, the narrative of Palestinian victimhood is especially well-suited to a current culture that has become very sensitive towards victims. Many forms of oppression and violence that were formerly ignored are now highlighted and steps are being taken to resolve them. This, combined with the emotionally powerful pictures coming out of the Gaza strip, leads to a large number of people siding with Palestinians as the perceived victims.

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Many people feel that the actions of their government are not aligned with their views, and want that to change

In principle, a democratically elected government is meant to represent the views of the electorate. In practice, the current American federal government is not doing so. For example, "65 percent of respondents said they would support a cease-fire between Israel and the militant group Hamas, which are nearing their two-month mark of fighting. Meanwhile, 16 percent said they are opposed to a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war." Among democrats it is even starker, 77% supporting ceasefire and only 9% opposing it (though it's notable that among republicans, generally seen as more pro-war and pro-Israel, support is still 58-26). The point of protesting is not just to make your opinion known, but to effect change. The American government is providing both diplomatic and military support to Israel, and the president has resolutely refused to call for a ceasefire, even after 400 employees of his administration called for him to do so. This is an escalation over even previous levels of American presidential support for Israel: G.W. Bush criticized them publicly, and even Reagan withheld F-16s in response to Israel bombing Iraqi nuclear facilities, as well as taking action to restrain their invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

In addition, the military actions Israel has taken in the current conflict are both qualitatively and quantitatively more extreme than anything which has been done by them in recent history. Of the airstrikes which have killed civilians, the average number of deaths is ~10, as compared to ~2 in previous years, indicating that they have become much more indiscriminate. They have denied access to water, electricity, fuel, and food. They have heavily damaged half of all buildings in northern Gaza. They have systematically dismantled Gaza's healthcare system, when previously even a single attack on a hospital was seen as an atrocity. They've killed at least five times more Gazans than they did in 2014, the previous deadliest year in recent decades.

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It is true that Israel recently began war actions against Hamas in the Gaza strip, but it is also true that this war was initiated by hostile actions from that group against Israel.

Israel's response is seen by many as disproportionate and indiscriminate. That arouses sympathy for and action in support of the innocent victims of Israel's response.

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    The question is what's new? Israel's response is often seen in that light.
    – wrod
    Dec 1, 2023 at 10:59
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    @wrod that is in the question: "Israel recently began war actions against Hamas in the Gaza strip." The response itself is new. The question is about a "recent rise" and this response is unique in recent history (depending on how you define "recent," of course, but I don't remember how prevalent pro-Palestinan protests were the last time there was fighting of such intensity in Palestinian territories; do you? I haven't been following closely, but it seems that was in 1967).
    – phoog
    Dec 1, 2023 at 11:30
  • I don't think these points have been made in the answer.
    – wrod
    Dec 1, 2023 at 11:48
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Because Hamas is playing Western morals like a fiddle

For multiple rounds of this conflict, the Hamas playbook has been to create a lose-lose for Israel.

If the IDF does not target Hamas fighters/commanders hiding in protected civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and private residences, they use the protection to prepare for more torture/murder operations, with the ultimate (openly expressed) goal of eliminating Israel.

If the IDF does target them in those protected buildings and among civilians, Hamas instantly appeals for Western sympathy, ultimately resulting in Western pressure toward a ceasefire, and suppression of the Israeli response. Hamas knows Western countries hate civilian casualties, and they use these morals as part of their military strategy. This has allowed for the survival and gradual strengthening of Hamas over many years.

Now, to answer the question: The playbook is the same, but the scope this time is unprecedented.

1.- The above-described strengthening of Hamas eventually yielded, on October 7, a horror story of sadistic cruelty inflicted on a civilian Jewish population unprecedented since the Holocaust.

2.- The response from Israel was, in turn, unprecendented - to do what it has to to destroy Hamas, without the usual considerations of yielding to the Hamas human shield strategy.

3.- Unprecedented civilian casualties resulted, as dozens of Hamas commanders and leaders were eliminated together with the civilian they were using as shields.

4.- The second prong of the Hamas strategy clicked into place, with unprecedented Western anguish over civilian suffering.

Hence, unprecedented pro-Palestinian protests, in which many protesters are completely unaware they're actually paragraphs in Hamas's playbook.

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    Has Israel ever asked its allies for assistance -- other than military funding -- in rooting out terrorists? Has it taken steps to reduce the economic and social pressures it is inflicting that drive people into terrorism? The answer to the latter seems to be, "not since 2009", as there are numerous articles online explaining Netanyahu's support of Hamas as a convenient adversary, but I would like to know more.
    – Corrodias
    Dec 2, 2023 at 9:22
  • @Corrodias, this could be its own question. Would you allow me to ask it as one? (In particular the second part about Israeli steps to improve economic/social lot of Gazans.)
    – YouDontSay
    Dec 4, 2023 at 19:26
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    @Corrodias, or you are welcome to ask it. Because there are some very good answers.
    – YouDontSay
    Dec 5, 2023 at 2:41
  • I have thought about it, and I think my thoughts can be phrased as two, closely related questions: what strategies has it tried militarily, and what strategies has it tried culturally. I have now posted the first one here: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/83250 - but I'm not sure I have enough knowledge yet to write the second. The only reason these are relevant to this Q&A is that western perception of its present strategy is informed by what we believe Israel could be doing better, and so, I must learn more about what strategies it has tried.
    – Corrodias
    Dec 14, 2023 at 11:06
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There many pro-Palestinian protestors in the United States because the protestors are mostly younger compared to average population, and younger age is positively associated with pro-Palestinian support.

For example, among young people:

  • 8% support and 4% oppose boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement (the movement against Israel).
  • 56% have an unfavorable opinion of Israel and 41% have a favorable opinion.
  • 17% have a very unfavorable and 10% a very favorable opinion of Israel.

Notes:

The overwhelming majority of people in the US:

  • Do not go to protests, including but not limited to the pro-Palestinian ones.
  • Are not familiar with BDS.
  • Support Israel vs. Palestinians.

References:

BDS support by age

Among Americans ages 18-29, 8% support and 4% oppose boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.


Israel support by age

Among Americans ages 18-29, 56% have an unfavorable opinion of Israel and 41% have a favorable opinion.

... the youngest age group is more likely to say they feel very unfavorable (17%) than very favorable (10%) [opinion of Israel].

LAURA SILVER AND MOIRA FAGAN: American views of Israel. Pew Research Center, JULY 11, 2022


Sympathies for IL vs PA

Americans continue to express greater sympathy for the Israelis than the Palestinians in the Middle East conflict, as they have throughout Gallup's trend -- 55% now sympathize more with the Israelis and 26% with the Palestinians.

LYDIA SAAD: Americans Still Pro-Israel, Though Palestinians Gain Support. Gallup, MARCH 17, 2022


See also:

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    "There many pro-Palestinian protestors in the United States because the protestors are mostly younger compared to average population, and younger age is positively associated with pro-Palestinian support." - I'm afraid I don't understand the connection to younger age. Could we not just as well say (equally vacuously): "There many pro-Palestinian protestors in the United States because the protestors are mostly more pro-Palestine than the average population, and being pro-Palestine is positively associated with pro-Palestinian support." Dec 1, 2023 at 23:46
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    @user253751 Older people support Israel, younger people support Palestinians. Younger people go to rallies more than older people. Hence, there are more pro-Palestinian rallies than pro-Israel rallies. So younger age is associated both with attending rallies and being pro_Palestinian. Does this help clarify my answer? Dec 3, 2023 at 4:22
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    @user253751 youngsters spend much more time in social networks such as twitter, instagram and tiktok. in these networks, pro-palestinian (and antisemitic) posts outway pro-Israel posts 100 to 1 Dec 4, 2023 at 9:40
  • @SharonBenAsher please do not equate pro-palestine and anti-semitic. That is like equating pro-jewish with anti-germany in WW2. Dec 4, 2023 at 13:43
  • @user253751 SharonBenAsher says: "pro-palestinian (and antisemitic) posts", not pro-palestinian (that is, antisemitic) posts, so they did not imply any equivalence between the two. Of course, one can be pro-Palestinian but not antisemitic, and vice versa. But there is an overlap between the two, unfortunately. Dec 4, 2023 at 15:37
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[Note: I'm creating a new answer because this explanation is not mine, but it offers a reasonable answer to the question.]

In this video, A young US woman explains the shift in pro-Palestinian sympathy among young Americans by the importance of Jewish history in the US education system. She argues that it's precisely because young Americans carefully study the context in which the Holocaust took place that they recognize what Israel imposes on Palestinians as oppression. In particular:

  • They consider the Nakba a case of ethnic cleansing;
  • They see similarities between the language and actions of Israel towards Palestinians and those of Nazi Germany towards Jewish people, in particular the supremacist/nationalist attitude;
  • They understand Zionism as a colonialist, imperialist movement.
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Short answer: because the sloganeering has worked.

The supporters of anti-Zionism (which I will define as opposition to the existence of the state of Israel) have managed to capture the public attention with the priorities which they hold dear.

While some people will no doubt argue that this was an opposition to "colonialism" or "imperialism," these arguments are not new. So they cannot be the reason why the treatment of the subject has changed. The change had to come from something new.

"Linguistic Kill Shot"

They have used, largely without push back, a few slogans which serve as linguistic "kill shot," a term first coined by Scott Adams to refer to Trump's unique ability to re-frame political issues, or his opponents' images, by using memorable insults or slogans. The key was not that they were true, or even entirely accurate. The key was that they both imposed new frames and they made those frames memorable.

The gamification of the anti-Zionism campaign has largely developed under the radar.

It's very difficult to argue with a phrase like "Free Palestine" without getting nuanced. Which means it takes less attention to say the phrase than to explain its actual meaning.

And once there was the initial conceptual "buy-in" of the idea that the pro-Palestinian side was on the side of being ethical, the chant "From the River to the Sea" required only a slight cognitive dissonance to be accepted. The same people who opposed violence against civilian non-Israeli Arabs in Palestine had to only "go along" with the idea of some violence being acceptable towards the Israeli civilians. Which is cognitive dissonance for anyone who is neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but who opposes violence in general.

While it's tempting to argue that it is the strength of the Arabs' argument that has gotten stronger, I would beg to differ purely on the strength-of-the-argument basis. The arguments are the same as they have been for years. But a larger part of the public is enamored with the slogans.

The slogans short circuit debates. If Arabs' arguments were strong all along, they would have won on the strengths of their arguments many years ago. But they haven't been and it's not because their points haven't been heard. They have been. They are just not persuasive. The gamification of anti-Zionism has been more successful.

P.S. I am not saying that either "Free Palestine" or "From the River to the Sea" are good aspirations, nor that they would survive scrutiny; only that they are very effective in the absence of scrutiny.

Lying With Statistics

In addition to the gamification of normalizing genocidal slogan "Free Palestine," there is also the lying with statistics by referencing irrelevant proportions while talking about proportionality.

The Geneva Conventions require taking steps to minimize civilian casualty relative to combatant casualty ratios. They do not require minimizing opponents' civilian losses relative to one's own civilian losses.

But most people don't notice this fallacy being played on them.

To explain this point, let me label the numbers of casualties as following:

Your(friendly) Enemy's
Civilians killed f_civs e_civs
Combatants killed f_coms e_coms

Most meme's trying to prove that Israel's actions are disproportionate talk about high e_civs/f_civs ratio.

Which is absolutely wrong.

Victory condition: high e_coms/f_coms ratio.

War crime: disproportionately high e_civs/e_coms ratio.

Tragical, but not criminal : low e_civs/e_coms ratio.

If you combine "victory condition" and "tragical, but not criminal" conditions, you get an uncertain e_coms/f_coms * e_civs/e_coms / (f_civs/f_coms) = e_civs/f_civs ratio because high * low could be high and could be low, depending on "how high a high" and "how low a low", which are independent of each other.

Talking about a high e_civs/f_civs, while ignoring a low e_civs/e_coms, is how you lie with statistics.

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    be careful when defining words that already have a meaning - see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Zionism " anti-Zionism is a heterogeneous phenomenon, all its proponents agree that the creation of the modern State of Israel, and the movement to create a sovereign Jewish state in the region of Palestine—the biblical Land of Israel—was flawed or unjust in some way." So other people will use the word for those who just think "driving out the palestineans back then was not a nice thing to do" (exaggeration for effect).
    – Syndic
    Dec 1, 2023 at 7:58
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    BS on this all being solely due to fancy cognitive marketing tricks and that we are too dumb to see through it. It is to you, perhaps. It certainly isn't to many other people. "gamification" for example, is especially out of touch and the intended application of it in this answer for political rallies falls far outside its, already somewhat problematic day-to-day meaning. Dec 1, 2023 at 9:37
  • Comments about how realistic what casualty numbers are have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Politics Meta, or in Politics Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Philipp
    Dec 3, 2023 at 17:42
  • @Philipp did you even read comments before describing their content? The following moved comment had nothing to do with that particular discussion: @ Syndic yes, I know that word has a range of meanings. But it is being used in this particular meaning as well, and not rarely. I think as long as I explain what I mean by the word, there is no miscommunication. And I did try to adopt a neutral tone. Although I am sure people on both sides will be unhappy about that.... I am unhappy about that. But advocacy is not what the site is for.
    – wrod
    Dec 3, 2023 at 18:25

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