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Is Israel Unfairly Singled Out by Left?

By TTN Blog

Brendan O’Neill’s “Why Do You Hate Israel?,” published in April in the British online journal SPIKED, poses a question that has troubled both those who identify with the international left and those who do not.  Why is Israel targeted for special criticism on human rights and anti-imperialist grounds when so many other nations with worse policies and records are not?

This was brought to the attention of The Third Narrative listserv, and passionately debated for several days.  Here’s a choice excerpt:

Following the deaths of 18 Palestinians on the Gaza border, Glenn Greenwald denounced Israel as an ‘apartheid, rogue, terrorist state’, like a man reaching for as many ways as possible to say ‘evil’. One left-wing group says Israel’s behaviour at the Gaza border confirms it is enforcing a ‘slow genocide’ on the Palestinians. The ‘scale of the bloodletting’ is horrifying, says one radical writer. Israel loves to draw blood. A writer for Al-Jazeera says the clashes are a reminder that Israel has turned Gaza into ‘the biggest concentration camp on the surface of the Earth’, [yet] . . . why is Gaza a concentration camp but Yemen, which has been subject to a barbaric sea, land and air blockade since 2015 that has resulted in devastating shortages of food and medicine, causing famine and the rampant spread of diseases like cholera, is not? By any measurement, the blockade on Yemen is worse than any restrictions that have been placed on Gaza. People in Gaza are not starving to death or contracting cholera in their tens of thousands, as Yemenis are.  . . . Israel is agitated against, Saudi Arabia is not. Saudi Arabia makes war; Israel commits ‘genocide’,  . . . And they should know better, these Jews. That is the subtext, always: the victims of genocide turned genocidal maniacs. 

One reaction was that in seeing itself and being seen as Western, Israel subjects itself to higher human rights standards.  Also, it might spare itself much of this hyperbolic criticism if it were working in good faith to end the conflict by recognizing Palestinian national and individual rights — e.g., moving sincerely toward ending the occupation with a two-state solution and, within its recognized boundaries, better ensuring equality for Palestinians living in Israel as citizens. 

A number of us believe that antisemitism plays a role in the obsessive condemnation of Israel, while the far left ignores the depredations of ISIS and al-Qaeda against non-Arab and non-Islamic minorities, or the atrocities committed by the Assad regime in Syria, or, say the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Myanmar. 

Much of our discussion raised more questions than answers.  If a supposedly Western country like Israel is held to a higher standard, does this mean that the lives of people victimized by criminal regimes and movements in non-Western countries are valued less?    

Some questioned how antisemitism on the left, which may be more of a reaction to Israeli policies than expressions of traditional antisemitism, is more of a problem than rightwing antisemitism, which goes hand in hand with a rising tide of white/European ultranationalism, here and in Europe. 

To this, it was pointed out that academics and students aspiring to academic careers in the humanities and social sciences in this country face an onslaught of pressures to support BDS, sign anti-Israel petitions or shape their research interests so as not to offend anti-Israel sensibilities.  This happens in a very public way at a number of institutions of higher learning and in several national professional organizations representing scholarly disciplines.  Even supporting a two-state solution in such environments is to mark oneself off as a dangerous alien.

As one of us pointed out: rightwing antisemitism is more threatening in terms of violence, but liberal intellectuals and activists may experience leftwing antisemitism (or anti-Israel militancy) as more problematic in an immediate sense, because “it is coming from inside our house.” 

Another TTN participant argued that “right and left anti-Semitism are not comparable, because the left-wing anti-Semites have actual power and the right-wingers are marginal.” He elaborated with these three points:

(1) Corbyn is the leader of a mainstream political party, while the right-wing bigots are for the most part marginal;

(2) the Left claims to be “intersectional” and anti-racist, while the Right is proud of its bigotry; 

(3) and most importantly, there is hope for educating the Left about anti-Semitism, while the Jew-hatred of the extreme Right is beyond redemption.

Yet the contention that rightwing ultranationalism is basically “marginal” is not bulletproof.  How should we view what’s happening in Hungary and Poland?  Moreover, far-right parties are now major opposition forces in France and Germany.  And what of the antisemitic influences that have emerged into the American national discourse via Trump’s semi-empowerment of the alt-right? 

So there are differences in emphasis among us at TTN, but there was consensus on the following: that it would be disastrous for Israel, and undermine our defense of Israel’s fundamental rights to sovereignty and security, if its government continues to move in the direction of annexing all or most of the West Bank, while permanently subjugating the Palestinians who live there.   




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