Israeli Leftist Politics as Therapy

As far as those making the human rights argument are concerned, the Palestinians can burn in hell as long as our hands remain spotless

Members of Breaking the Silence protesting in 2015.
Moti Milrod

As far as those making the human rights argument are concerned, the Palestinians can burn in hell as long as our hands remain spotless

You might think that the human rights argument would long ago have settled the debate about the occupation. The occupation is a human rights violation, a human rights violation is a grave injustice, and therefore Israel must leave the territories immediately, with or without an agreement, to put an end to this injustice. What could be simpler?

There are other arguments and considerations, very relevant ones, that can and should be made against this argument. But in the heat of debate, we tend not to notice that the human rights argument is inherently problematic even before being confronted by other arguments. And thats because ending the occupation cannot be expected to lead to any improvement in the area of human rights. Just the opposite. The probable alternative – Hamas, or even the Palestinian Authority – would evidently be even worse for the Palestinians than Israeli military rule. So whoever wishes to make the case solely on the basis of human rights could easily end up substantiating the idea of perpetuating the occupation rather than ending it. Having already brought this conundrum up on occasion, mostly to the sort of people who strive to repress it, Im familiar with the next step in the debate. But, they say to me, what the Palestinians do to the Palestinians is their business. If others end up committing even greater injustices, that doesnt sanction the injustices were committing. We are responsible for our own actions, not for the actions of others, they say.

Thats all well and good. But if thats their real motive, those who profess to care so much about human rights ought to stop selling us the lie that they care about the Palestinians, and cease propagating descriptions of suffering dripping with piety. They ought to just tell the truth straight out: They could care less how much the Palestinians suffer, and they have no qualms about letting Arabs be brutalized. As far as theyre concerned, the Palestinians can burn in hell, as long as our hands remain without blemish. The cleanliness of our hands and our consciences is all that matters, not what happens to the Palestinians.

Forgive me for returning to the same word again, but it truly seems the most apt: narcissism. Because the concerns of these people are limited to themselves and their consciences. For them, politics is basically a form of therapy. Its all about the self and not others, about the self-portrait reflected in the mirror, not about responsibility toward other human beings, not about reality. Its a decorative ornament bestowed by a clear conscience. In reality, its the manifestation of a yearning to be free from the political, from this complicated and unclean world, for the sake of personal purity. And the more attractive it strives to paint itself, the uglier it is.

I once had a friend who told me that if his house burned down there was one thing he would want to save from the fire for his son: BTselem reports. I often wondered just what he meant. Out of everything in his library about Israel, was this really the one thing he would want his son to remember – the injustices committed by Israel (presuming for a moment that these reports contain accurate and not inflated documentation)?

Probably not. If you were to ask him, hed surely say he meant he would run to save from the fire something that exemplifies the importance of self-criticism. But thats not quite the whole story. He would really be running into the fire to save his own certificate of intellectual integrity. To remind himself and his son that he resisted the impulse to look away when others let themselves become indifferent. But even thats not the whole story. His actual aim, I think, would have been to save a one-sided depiction of horrible behavior that would tarnish Israel as much as possible, because the darker the backdrop its set against, the brighter the pure whiteness of his conscience can shine.

People who seek to cleanse their consciences at the expense of others suffering do not inspire respect. Especially when they adopt a pose of feeling sorry for those whom theyre quite prepared to sacrifice.