In his tongue in cheek article in Social Text in 1996, Alan Sokol expressed concern about the increasing prevalence on the left of “a particular kind of nonsense and sloppy thinking… that denies the existence of objective realities.” This is unfortunately applicable to well-meaning leftists who have tended to accept the validity of the Palestinian Narrative of Victimhood, that Palestinians are the most oppressed people in the world, that Israel is a cruel oppressor, and that the Arab-Israeli dispute is the most important in the world.
Do leftists have any real sense of right and wrong concerning Israel? Who of them criticized the fellow leftist German writer Gunter Grass, who joined as a young man the Waffen SS during the war, for his poem of April 2012 in which he called Israel a threat to world peace and aggressive towards Iran?
The result is that many on the “left” are in effect reactionaries, approving or silent about the attacks on democratic systems and even on Western civilization itself. They do not applaud a country in which there are peaceful, honest, elections, rule by secular law, and gay marches through the streets of Tel Aviv. Rather, though they are violating principles of free speech and the value of discussion, they refuse to approve speeches by black females such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Condeleezza Rice, call for boycotts of Israeli academic institutions and intellectual exchange. This in itself suggests a lack of sincerity about leftist adherence to their ideals of multiculturalism and of identity politics.
The essential question is why the “left” has reservations about criticizing the non-democratic countries, and specifically about the religious fanaticism in Arab Muslim countries. Even more strikingly, why cannot the “left” understand the basic hatred of Palestinians, as expressed by Abbas Zaki, a leader of Fatah, when speaking on August 22, 2014, regarding rocket attacks on Israel, “I think the Palestinian people’s weapon is pure… they don’t want to kill… but there are no innocent Israelis.”
The “left” critics, like others holding different political views, are concerned with problems concerning the disputed territories in Palestine and surrounding areas. But why do legitimate differences of opinion about the solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict lead to mindless hostility and to Israel being regarded as a “pariah” state? It is true that Israel today is not a state with a Social Democratic ethos symbolized by kibbutzim. But why does this entail non-sensible accusations that Israel is a racist, imperialist, even an “apartheid” state, that has betrayed democratic ideals?
Proponents of the left, even those who were not anti-Semitic or Jews afraid of their Jewishness, or what Isaac Deutscher called “non-Jewish Jews,” always had doubts about Zionism. The traditional left saw the movement for Jewish self-determination as counter to universal socialism, and then, during the British Mandate, regarded Zionism as a tool of British imperialism, even though the Poale Zion, the party of David Ben-Gurion, was admitted into the Socialist International. Leftist perception of Israel became dogmatic with the so-called New Left in the late 1960s.
Of course, it is clear that after the god of communism has been proved a false god, except perhaps in North Korea and Cuba, leftists have no real lodestar to follow. As a substitute, they express a supposed concern about oppression by the West, and only by the West. Israel is seen as the remaining remnant of Western imperialism, as an associate or puppet of the U.S. trying to retain power in the Middle East.
Heroic struggle on behalf of Palestinians is typified as in the case of Edward Said by throwing rocks in June 2009 against an Israeli watchtower, or approving violence as a sign of individual authenticity as suggested by Jean-Paul Sartre and Carlo Fuentes. How many beheadings of innocent journalists and social workers have to take place before leftist begin to see the horrors of Islamist extremism and defend Western values?
Indeed, leftist moral indignation seems to relate only to actions of democratic countries. Or, outrageous behavior of Islamists is defended in bizarre terms: one instance is the explanation in June 2012 at Leeds University by Professor Gayatri Spivak of Columbia University. “Suicide bombing…and the planes of 9/11… is a purposive self-annihilation… they serenely destroy themselves (and many others) for the good of the cause.”
The difficult questions of Palestinian self-determination, of the disputed territories, of the refugees caused by the Arab aggression against Israel in May 1948, of the status of Jerusalem, of Israeli settlements, remain to be resolved by peaceful negotiation between the parties. They are issues on which the left can comment in rational and critical fashion. But the “leftists” who continually harp on the evils of “occupation” or discrimination are usually unaware of or discount the real factors, the main one being Palestinian intransigence, preventing the solution of alleged problems. Israel is not perfect and those problems have to be solved by discussion and negotiation. But the main one is the existential one, the survival of Israel.
Whatever one’s sympathy for the underdog, the Palestinians are not, in spite of leftist views, symbolic of those really fighting against colonial or oppressive rule in countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Their rhetoric is not addressed to helping their own people, nor on finding a way to live with Israel as a neighbor. Their expressions are to a large extent limited to hatred of the existence of the State of Israel, and frequently of Jews, irrespective of any particular Israeli actions.
Some leftists follow this point of view and its consequences. They ban drinking Coca Cola as they ban any relationship with cancer research in Israel. Some on the left have seen the pathological hated of Israel by Hamas as a radical political movement. They view homophobic, non-democratic, and religiously intolerant states and groups as worthy of support. One of the heroines of the left, Professor Judith Butler, referred on September 7, 2006 at UC Berkeley to the terrorist groups Hamas and Hizb'allah as “social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left.”
A final question: do those on the “left” supposedly concerned with the Palestinians approve of the goal expressed on October 29, 2006 by Mahmoud al-Zahar, Hamas' foreign minister? His statement is clear, “Israel is a vile entity that has been implanted on our soil, and has no historical, religious, or cultural legitimacy… We say no to recognizing Israel, regardless of the price we have to pay.” He said that the day “we expel the Jews” is drawing near, and that they are headed for annihilation.
The decent people of the left can only be taken seriously if they deal with all the fictions of this irrational statement, if they raise voices to distance themselves from this kind of rhetoric. They should undertake the more difficult challenge of rational analysis of complex problems, including the highly controversial one of Israeli settlements, rather than adhere emotionally to a questionable Palestinian narrative of oppression.