Regardless of who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds at al-Ahli hospital on Tuesday, it is clear that Israel is being blamed unequivocally for this terrible event by the Arab street. Apart from setting back the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation by years, this incident may provide the fuel to set the Middle East on fire. Hamas will undoubtedly gain recruits.
Above all, it will play into the hands of hardline Islamists. Their ally, the far Left, will no doubt greet this turn of events by raising its rhetoric to demonic levels against Israel.
Last week, the far left could not offer a scintilla of condemnation of the cold-bloodied murder of hundreds of Israelis in their kibbutzim and villages. They excused themselves by explaining that all Israeli civilians are soldiers — and that even children grow up to be soldiers.
Instead, the occupation and the long-time suffering of the Palestinians were evoked in justification for the killing of 1400 Israelis. Some on the far left argued that the butchers were in fact freedom-fighters and that Hamas is a national liberation movement. The far Left has essentially accepted the principle that a pogrom was necessary to bring about a free Palestine
Moreover, its adherents do not distinguish between nationalists and Islamists. The far left evaded any mention of Hamas in their public pronouncements, they spoke solely of “the Palestinians”. The two were telescoped as if members of Hamas were democratically elected, popularly acclaimed, tribunes of the people — and not Islamist mass murderers. Hamas is the word that “dare not speak its name”.
In the aftermath of the killing of hundreds of Jews last week, there were demonstrations worldwide in support of “the resistance” in the name of “Free Palestine”. Figures such as former UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn went along with such obfuscations with declarations of moral relativity. At the outbreak of the conflict, leftish outlets such as Novara Media could hardly contain themselves in praising Hamas before realising that they had become apologists for the forces of reaction and mindless annihilation.
Such selective outrage is a measure of how far these self-proclaimed progressives have travelled in betraying their core principles. And there will always be a small scattering of Jews such as Harvard Jews for Liberation who will agree with them amidst a misplaced universalism.
In far left circles, Hamas is depicted as a textbook liberation movement that will eventually find its path to socialist revolution. In their view, Hamas should be supported and turned towards the left. Although she now condemns the killings of Israelis on October 7, leading radical American academic Judith Butler described Hamas as “progressive, part of the global left” in 2006.
Such figures have invoked the writings of Frantz Fanon on the uprising against the French presence in Algeria in the 1950s to justify Hamas’s use of violence. Yet it is clear that just as Hamas destroyed the Oslo peace process through its suicide bombings in the 1990s, in 2023 it wants to stop any relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia through slaughter and butchery and Netanyahu’s reaction to it.
The far left has long refused to recognise that Arab nationalism and Jewish nationalism arose at the same point in history with claims to the same territory — and that the logical solution is partition. This is a compromise which Hamas, entrapped by its own interpretation of religion, is unable to make. It prefers to kill people who do not agree with it in the name of a greater truth.
The far left also closes its collective eyes to the reality that “Free Palestine” for Hamas is a metaphor for a “Greater Palestine”. As demonstrators for the Palestinian cause have joyfully chanted: “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.”
For Palestinian Islamists, there is no place for “the other”, no understanding and no acceptance of difference for those living between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. Gays, secular women, Christians and Jews are viewed as a threat. Israel is seen as a poisonous weed that must be uprooted from the Middle East.
One hundred years ago, Lenin was more circumspect. In 1920, he directed the Communist International to encourage anti-colonial movements to rebel against their imperial masters but he categorically refused to endorse any pan-Islamic movement.
As Marxist writer Sean Matgamna commented in his book The Left in Disarray (2017), it is “a confused anti-imperialism that is a central root of the absolute anti-Zionism dominant on the addled Left today”.
The selective behaviour of parts of the left towards the mass murder of Jews is, of course, not new. In 1881 and 1882, the years of a plethora of pogroms in Russia, revolutionary movements attempted to quell any criticism of the peasant masses who gloried in the killing of Jews. They feared that any harsh statement would turn them away from the cause of revolution.
The Jewish revolutionary Pavel Axelrod reacted angrily and wrote: “The Jewish socialist intelligentsia suddenly realised that the majority of Russian society regarded the Jews as a separate nation and considered all Jews — a pious Jewish worker, a petit bourgeois, a moneylender, an assimilated lawyer, a socialist prepared for prison or deportation — as Yids harmful to Russia whom Russia should get rid of by any and all means.”
This mindset of the left during the 1880s awakened many Russian Jews to the realisation that they should not wait for the day of liberation. Many concluded that Jews could not depend on the revolutionary left for their salvation. It was auto-emancipation that mattered — and not emancipation by others.
Many of the acculturated Jews on the revolutionary left subsequently became Zionists more than a decade before Herzl appeared on the scene. They now no longer considered themselves to be part of the Russian left but instead as part of the Jewish left. They became the bedrock of the first aliyah to Palestine. Ironically, today many of their descendants sit in the miklat, the bomb shelter, of their apartment block.
Several days before the tragedy of al-Ahli hospital, the slogan “Free Palestine” was painted on two bridges in north-west London where many Jews live. For many, it implicitly reflected support for the efforts of Hamas to ethnically cleanse Jews from the border area with Gaza.
British Jews saw the daubings as endorsing mass murder — recalling Jewish memories from 19th century Russia to the Iraqi Farhud in 1941. Moreover, they appeared in predominantly Jewish areas — in Golders Green and not in Westminster. For many, it conjured up a fear for the future. As Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out: “Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed.”
With the deaths of thousands in Gaza, Heschel’s words may now be translated into acts. Yet the terrible situation in Gaza — even before the hospital tragedy — was never applauded by Diaspora Jews. Bereaved families are bereaved families everywhere. Suffering does not favour one group over another.
Many on the far left seem incapable of understanding this — and this mindset continues from one generation to the next. The Irish republican James Connolly, shot in Kilmainham prison in Dublin by the British for his part in the Easter Rising in 1916, understood such double standards very well.
In the months before his death, Connolly remarked that “impartiality in the face of injustice is the virtue of a slave”. Amidst all the carnage in Israel and Gaza, it is a lesson that many in 2023 still have to learn.
Plus61j 20 October 2023