Editors’ Note: The following exchange begins with Jodi Dean’s response to a recent essay by Ayça Çubukçu. Çubukçu then replies, below.

Ayça Çubukçu’s recent essay in these pages, “Many Speak for Palestine,” comes amid a wave of repression of students, faculty, and staff who are speaking out against the United States’ and Israel’s genocidal war against Palestine. Çubukçu rightly draws out the historic dimensions of the current protests. Consciousness is changing, and many college and university administrators are responding to the rising support for Palestine by acting as arms of the state. More aligned with militarized police and billionaire donors than they are with creative and critical exchanges of ideas, universities shut down students when they should be joining them in the global struggle to shut down apartheid, occupation, and genocide. As Çubukçu powerfully concludes, this struggle necessitates multiple strategies and tactics. I agree.

Condemning the group leading a liberation struggle fails to demonstrate solidarity with that struggle.

I disagree, though, with her characterization of my essay, “Palestine Speaks for Everyone,” which appeared on Verso’s blog on April 9. Four days after its publication, the president of the colleges where I teach relieved me from classroom duties pending an investigation into the sheer possibility that some students “may . . . feel threatened” because of it. Rather than getting sidetracked by these claims—a phenomenon that I anticipated and describe in my piece as the “policing of affect”—Çubukçu goes to the core of my argument, the relationship of the anti-imperialist movement to Hamas.

I write:

The struggle for Palestinian liberation today is led by the Islamic Resistance Movement—Hamas. Hamas is supported by the entirety of the organized Palestinian left. One might have expected that the left in the imperial core would follow the leadership of the Palestinian left in supporting Hamas. More often than not, though, left intellectuals echo the condemnations that imperialist states make the condition for speaking about Palestine. In so doing, they take a side against the Palestinian revolution, giving a progressive face to the repression of the Palestinian political project, and betraying the anti-imperialist aspirations of a previous generation.

Çubukçu reads this passage in terms of singularity. She begins with an assertion I do make, that “Palestine speaks for everyone.” Then she says that I reason as follows: “since Hamas speaks for Palestine,” therefore “Hamas should speak for everyone.” Yet I say nothing of the kind. In particular, Çubukçu argues that I presume “(1) that Hamas is the singular leader of the Palestine liberation movement, (2) that the international movement in solidarity with Palestine needs a singular leader, and therefore (3) that the movement in solidarity with Palestine must ‘support’ Hamas and follow its leadership.”

I agree that this argument is questionable. Fortunately, it’s not mine. I do believe that at this moment we should follow the Palestinian left in supporting Hamas in its role in the Palestinian liberation movement, but I draw that conclusion for reasons other than Çubukçu’s (1) and (2).

Some context helps. The United States—along with Canada, Australia, the UK, and the EU—considers Hamas a terrorist organization, but the United Nations does not. Nor do Russia, China, South Africa, Norway, Brazil, India, Turkey, and the Philippines, to name only a few such countries. Hamas is a movement with a political wing, a youth and social service wing, and a military wing. Its military wing heads an alliance of Palestinian resistance groups that include secular left groups as well as Islamic groups. Militarily, the groups work together as the Joint Room of Palestinian Resistance Factions. Hamas’s leadership of this alliance should not be reduced to singularity. The fact that a coalition has a leading element does not erase or negate the difference among the various elements of the coalition. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is not the same as Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Yet they work together.

In short, leadership doesn’t imply or install singularity on a movement—as if other groups and voices are extinguished, or as if a unified ideology has been imposed on all members. We know this is the case in all sorts of different political coalitions, and Palestine is no exception. It’s even the case that in the first few months of 2024, Hamas and Fatah have come together in talks aiming at possible reconciliation. Leadership does not imply that allied groups cannot speak for themselves. Rather, it means that from their diverse positions, various groups recognize that they can best carry out the struggle for Palestinian liberation as a unified front, especially in the context of the U.S.-backed genocidal war being perpetrated by Israel. Çubukçu’s assertions to the contrary, I don’t ignore the different elements within the resistance alliance. My point is that if those very elements of the Palestinian left are supporting Hamas—if they are not issuing public condemnation of its actions—then those of us in the imperial core should follow them in doing so as well.

What does this support entail? At a minimum, it means recognizing the significance of Hamas within the liberation movement and acknowledging its role within the political process of Palestinian self-determination. Israel and the United States have long refused to treat Hamas as a legitimate political actor; their decades-long condemnation preceded October 7 and arguably contributed to it. When our outrage over particular acts of violence perpetrated on that day by some fighters conforms to the terms set by imperialist states, we reinforce the side of occupation and oppression. Condemning the group leading a liberation struggle fails to demonstrate solidarity with that struggle. This isn’t the attitude of solidarity; it’s one of compliance, a presumption that anti-imperialist struggles should conform to the conditions that the Global North sets. Some of us may be committed to nonviolence, but how an oppressed people carry out their struggle for liberation is up to them.

Support need not be uncritical, of course; few demands for or expectations of support are. Support also does not imply advocating or encouraging violence; rather, it means recognizing that an occupied people will exercise its right to resist occupation. Again, the point is respect for and solidarity with those carrying out the struggle. Political support, in particular, is rarely unconditional and often temporary. We often defend those with whom we disagree, recognizing and trying to understand their histories, successes, and mistakes. What matters is knowing when disagreement and criticism—especially in public—is likely to be useful, when it might move the struggle forward, and when it’s little more than posturing or condescension—an expression of our attachment to the singularity of our own feelings and position. Acting on the basis of such knowledge is the essence of solidarity.

What matters is knowing when disagreement and criticism is likely to be useful—and when it’s little more than posturing or condescension.

Even when every effort is taken to disagree with nuance and good faith, criticism and condemnation can do serious damage to a movement, undermining the fragile alliances that hold it together under enormous threat and pressure. In the current political climate, public condemnations of Hamas—and demands that such condemnations be made—are bound to have this effect. Given that leaders of the Palestinian left have not issued such condemnations, this kind of speech can only stoke fragmentation, division, and repression. It subjects all those who express solidarity with the Palestinian struggle to greater scrutiny—as potential “Hamas sympathizers” or even members of Hamas—and to heightened risk of harassment, abuse, surveillance, and arrest. It follows U.S. and Israeli propaganda in demonizing the Palestinian struggle. And it further dehumanizes the oppressed by making solidarity conditional on meeting a foreign demand.

As I wrote at the Verso blog, I take the view that solidarity requires our orientation to come from “the oppressed in their struggle for liberation, not from the oppressor or from the larger imperialist order that enables and validates oppression.” Çubukçu distorts my call for solidarity into a denial of the diversity of the movement. Not only do I describe multiple tactics, but I explicitly say that oppressed people fight back against their oppressors “by every means necessary.” Over the years, Hamas and other allied groups have adopted a wide array of methods that include negotiation, governance, boycotts, incendiary balloons, civil disobedience, and armed struggle. Contra Çubukçu, I don’t think multiplicity is a problem. The problem is repeating the anti-Hamas gesture that the United States and Israel have used to justify perpetual postponement of Palestinian statehood.


Ayça Çubukçu replies:

Jodi Dean offers a consequential argument about anti-imperialism and Hamas that needs to be discussed widely, particularly in the context of the repression, censorship, and criminalization that the global solidarity movement with Palestine continues to confront.

In April, Dean boldly initiated this discussion publicly despite the difficulties, as she puts it here, in “knowing when disagreement and criticism—especially in public—is likely to be useful, when it might move the struggle forward” and when criticism may have the effect of “undermining the fragile alliances that hold it together under enormous threat and pressure.” Whatever our interpretation of the usefulness or undermining effects of her essay at the Verso blog, we should commend Dean for her courage in commencing this discussion and firmly oppose her suspension from teaching, as I have emphasized earlier.

Much depends on what we take “support” and “condemnation” to be.

But I am not entirely persuaded by her further arguments here. Dean offers them as a response to my piece, yet her principal target is a set of political positions—primarily, the “condemnation” of Hamas—nowhere to be found in my text. I read this puzzling situation as a symptom of our political predicament today, where the either/or tends to structure much thinking on the subject of international solidarity with Palestine. Are there only two positions available to us in the global solidarity movement with Palestine—to “support” or “condemn” Hamas?

“We should follow the Palestinian left in supporting Hamas,” Dean writes—a point she makes repeatedly. At a minimum, she argues, this means recognizing Hamas’s political role in the Palestinian liberation movement and not “echoing” imperialist condemnations of Hamas. I agree. Still, much depends on what we take “support” and “condemnation” to be and on how we decide whether a given critique, assertion, question, action, or analysis amounts to one.

First, is it not possible to recognize Hamas’s significant political role in the Palestinian liberation movement, as Dean rightly urges us to do, while also questioning why and how Hamas enacts “leadership” in relation to this movement? Must such questions necessarily “echo” imperialist demonizations of Hamas and imply its “condemnation” as a political formation? Recognizing a dominant organization’s political significance in a given anticolonial struggle does not require withholding critique of its tactics, strategy, and ideology. On the contrary, solidarity demands the articulation of such critiques in order to enable the political transformation and strengthening of our movements through mutual engagement with our political differences. While debates over the proper time and place for raising questions about dominant anticolonial organizations is as old as the history of anticolonialism, that problem still remains with us today. How should we determine when and where critical questions about Hamas can be raised? Dean claims to know the answer, but her characterization of left critiques of Hamas as “condemnation” is unconvincing at best.

Second, precisely what does it mean to “support” Hamas—whether in the imperial core, in Palestine, or elsewhere within the global left? If the demand that anti-imperialists “support” Hamas does not resonate the same way everywhere and for everyone, must it? Context matters in how this demand is received in each political geography. In Turkey, to offer one example, it is not the left but the Turkish government that “supports” Hamas, even as it arrests Palestine solidarity activists. Moreover, far from being clear-cut, it is particularly challenging to articulate a principled anti-imperialist position regarding Hamas in a context where Hamas supports the Turkish state in its military operations targeting Kurdish-majority regions of Rojava in North and East Syria.

Demonstrating “support” for Hamas, in any case, cannot be a requirement for joining the anti-imperialist “camp” or the left more generally today—especially if we are concerned with broadening our international movements toward the liberation of Palestine and the end of this genocide. As I argued, “insisting that the Palestine solidarity movement display ‘support’ for Hamas inhibits the cultivation of the broad alliances we need to end the genocide in Gaza and achieve a free Palestine.”

While careful attention to the particulars of any given situation is always necessary, critique is not condemnation, and solidarity does not require perfect alignment. To try and move the discussion further then, let me be as clear as possible. Resistance is justified when people are occupied. To ask what kind of resistance is justified and required at a given time and place need not undermine that primary point. Nor does questioning what international solidarity with a liberation struggle demands—which principles, positions, languages, alliances, and actions—at a given time and place. It is possible to support a resistance movement while critiquing elements of its leadership and actions, even during long periods of backlash and repression.

Solidarity demands the articulation of critiques in order to strengthen our movements through mutual engagement with our political differences.

How to think about the difference between a liberation struggle and its asserted leadership is a vexing problem even under the best of circumstances. At this moment, the forced hand of an either/or position between “supporting” and “condemning” Hamas renders it exceedingly difficult to discuss strategies of international solidarity with the Palestinian liberation movement and shrinks the space for debate and political transformation in the global movement for a free Palestine.

We need not reproduce the zero-sum possibilities offered by the powers we oppose who undermine the cause of Palestinian liberation while financially, militarily, and politically enabling the extermination of the Palestinian people. Observing the need to think beyond the either/or at this time is far from an argument for moderation; it is the recognition that international solidarity is a messy undertaking. That undertaking can, nonetheless, avoid depicting comradely disagreement as taking “a side against the Palestinian revolution,” while we continue to struggle—all over the world—for a free Palestine.