Everyone knows the famous adage that “All politics is local.” But looking back at the year’s stories for major themes, it was clear one story from across the globe had generated more articles on our site in the last third of the year than many others did over the full 12 months (although we do have a couple weeks left for them to catch up).
That story of course is the war between Israel and Hamas, which began with one of the most horrific attacks on a civilian population in recent memory. As most are aware, Hamas, which is the Palestinian affiliate of a much larger group called the Muslim Brotherhood, burst across Israel’s southern border on Oct. 7.
They killed hundreds of young adults attending a peace concert and used rape as a weapon of war. They went into village after village, murdering the elderly (including Holocaust survivors), women, children, and even newborn babies. More conventionally, they also attacked military targets. All told, more than 1,200 Israelis were killed in the attack. Hamas also took another 240 Israelis back across the border into the Gaza Strip.
This was bound not to just draw the condemnation and horror of people in Israel but those around the world. Even though the Jewish and Arab populations of North Carolina are each around 0.4%, it all immediately made its way into our news cycles and discussions with loved ones and onto campuses, streets, and legislative floors.
The attack happened over a weekend, and by the following week, most of the prominent leaders for the state had made official statements. Somewhat unexpectedly, even before any military response by Israel, the question of whether to mourn for the Israelis and to denounce Hamas became controversial. In fact, many on the left came out strongly on the Palestinian side or at least insisted the situation was complicated and needed to be put in context. One shouldn’t simply denounce the attack, they argued.
When the state House voted on a resolution to stand by Israel three days after the attack, 12 House Democrats refused to support the measure, some walking out of the chamber during the vote. When the state Senate put together a similar letter expressing support for Israel and denouncing the actions of Hamas, four more Democrats refused to participate.
That week, Gov. Roy Cooper also made a statement expressing “strong support and solidarity with the Israeli people in this dark time” and ordered the Department of Administration to fly all flags on state government buildings at half mast. But a group of 30 left-wing groups in the state — including the NC Green Party, the Democratic Socialists, and Carolina Abortion Fund — blasted this “biased statement” by Cooper and insisted he call for a ceasefire and a call to the end of “Palestinian genocide.”
Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is running for governor in 2024, went all in on support of Israel, possibly in part due to past statements he made on social media that have been called antisemitic. While Cooper was on a trip overseas, Robinson seized the opportunity to declare himself acting governor and to institute a “North Carolina Solidarity with Israel Week.” Robinson also took a trip to Israel to further solidify his pro-Israel bona fides.
At the federal level, Republican US Sen. Ted Budd North Carolina has been active working for the release of hostages from our state still being held Hamas. One woman, Aviva Siegel, has been released, but her husband Keith Siegel of Chapel Hill is still being held.
Campuses across the state saw major protests, largely against Israel and, again, beginning before any military response by Israel. On the UNC Chapel Hill campus, a Jewish professor was allegedly pushed down stairs during a protest, and a flyer advertising an anti-Israel protest prominently featured a paraglider (the means by which Hamas entered the concert, where they slaughtered and raped hundreds of civilians).
There have been a wide range of responses to protests of this kind. Congressman Chuck Edwards, a Republican representing the far west of North Carolina, wrote a letter condemning an event on UNC Asheville’s campus for being antisemitic. Dr. Andy Jackson of the John Locke Foundation responded to Edwards by agreeing the event was despicable but arguing that “freedom of speech protects unpopular ideas.”
It wasn’t just campuses that witnessed raucous, and frequently illegal, demonstrations. I personally got caught up in a demonstration on my commute from Raleigh back to Hillsborough, as pro-Palestine demonstrators blocked the Durham Freeway during rush hour. Later in Durham, seven local businesses, mostly Starbucks chains, were targeted with vandalism because their parent company allegedly collaborates with Israel.
A deep divide has emerged on the left. The establishment of the party — including Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein, and congressional leaders — are clear in their pro-Israel stance, while activists in the base see Israel as an outgrowth of Western colonialism and an oppressor of a poorer, weaker neighbor.
This division among Democrats became public during a fight over whether the NC Democratic Party should approve a Jewish Caucus. The party board voted 17 against, 16 for, and 17 abstain on the question, rejecting the caucus. Ryan Jenkins, then president of the Progressive Caucus of the NC Democrats, made explosive comments on why the party didn’t approve a Jewish Caucus (despite having caucuses for many other groups), saying it would be the end of the Democratic Party and would make the party a Zionist group.
Other Democrats said the rejection of the Jewish Caucus was just procedural, not anything to do with antisemitism. The party did eventually approve the caucus after more debate and controversy.
All of these stories are about North Carolina and our local response to a conflict half a world away in an area the size of New Jersey. So while all politics is local, not all of it begins locally. Time-travel fiction writers talk about a “butterfly effect,” where small actions taken by someone traveling back in time can have major ripple effects in one’s own time. The same is true of ripple effects across the world, as much as we’d like to ignore the world and focus on “our own problems.”
In the second Lord of the Rings film, the hobbit Pippin suggests to his compatriot Merry that they ignore the amassing of evil in the lands of men and return to their idyllic village of the Shire. Merry responds with the wise words: “The fires of Isengard will spread, and the forests of Tuckborough and Buckland will burn. And all that was once great and good in this world will be gone. There won’t be a Shire, Pippin.”
History shows that global wars generally follow the same pattern. The brutality of a group like Hamas may start a world away but spread. Some in your local area may even help fan the flames.