Fathom | The left and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The path to righteous hatred

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Image: Stop The War protest in London, 3 January 2009. Photo by Claudia Marques Vieira. Flickr.

In this timely and eloquent essay, published in Fathom, Jamie Palmer explores the impact on the politics of the Left of desperately simplistic narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that have been designed to protect the Palestinian’s preordained status as wholly blameless victims, lacking either political agency or moral responsibility. Over the years, he argues, as the explanatory limitations of these narratives have encountered unfolding complexities on the ground Arab terrorism, Palestinian maximalism and rejectionism, the suicide bombers of the Second Intifada, the rise of Islamist violence, popular eliminationist antisemitism they have only produced new crises of understanding, and a requirement for ever more conspiratorial explanations of Israeli behaviour. Tendentious and conspiratorial anti-Zionist analyses have rushed into the vacuum of understanding, and have been absorbed by ever-larger sections of the Left. The wilful selectivity of an analysis that allows for no credit in the Israeli column, nor any debit in the Palestinian column, has produced a distorted view of the conflict, as tragic as it is unnecessary.

At the start of last year I wrote a column for Quillette about accusations of “pinkwashing” made against the State of Israel and her supporters. This charge holds that (a) Israel uses a progressive record on gay rights as a means of distracting world attention from its treatment of Palestinians and (b) any attempt to universalise Western LGBT norms is a form of cultural imperialism intended to stigmatise Arab countries as backward and barbaric. It struck me as particularly odd that arguments like these were being made by left-wing activists and academics, many of whom self-identify as “queer”. Why would people ostensibly devoted to gay rights advocacy defend a lamentable record on LGBT issues and denounce a laudable one?

Among Palestine’s progressive supporters, I theorised, we are seeing a manifestation of the same perverse phenomenon George Orwell had observed among Western Stalinists at the end of the Second World War. Communism was believed by its adherents to be a more ethical and just system than capitalism and nothing Communist states actually did would be allowed to capsize this foundational moral judgement – not the gulags, not the famines, not the purges, not the pitiless persecution of free-thinkers and dissidents, and not the imperial subjugation of satellite states and their wretched populations. The failings and imperfections of the West’s liberal democracies, meanwhile, would be pored over at length, paradoxically aided by a free press and culture of self-criticism, the absence of which stymied open discussion in the Communist bloc.

Read the full article in Fathom.