The Left’s Intolerable Voice

Liberals who attack the most liberal government in the Middle East, while remaining embarrassingly quiet in the face of the barbarism that surrounds it, have betrayed liberalism itself.

Sagi Barmak
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Israeli Peace Now activists protesting in Jerusalem on May 15, 2010.
Israeli Peace Now activists protesting in Jerusalem on May 15, 2010.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Sagi Barmak

In the past, the Israeli left could pride itself on its moral superiority. That, more than anything else, is what attracted the best and brightest of Israeli society to the left political camp. But now there is a growing sense that some of the Israeli left has lost its moral compass.

Extremists purporting to represent the “real left” have been speaking intolerably of “values.” Those who in the past could tell the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, moral and immoral are now finding themselves in various rationalistic pretexts, alongside the enemies of freedom and haters of liberalism. Even with their good intentions, their path leads to the hell of the Middle East.

Nothing is more identified with “progressivism” than the school of thought led by Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, Carolina Landsman and the like, which claims that Hamas’ moral standing Is equal to that of Israel’s at best, or at worst puts responsibility for all of the recent events on Israel and Israel only. The logic is as follows: The Palestinians kidnap and murder teenagers? The Israeli occupation is to blame. Arab Israelis throw stones at Jews? Discrimination against them in Israeli society is to blame. Hamas employs criminal violence? The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is to blame.

In many aspects, this can be seen as an unsuccessful attempt to recreate the criticism employed by a few “enlightened” Americans who claimed that the attacks of September 11 were a just response to American imperialism. Aside from sharing simplistic casualty, these two lines of logic are similar in that they completely ignore the internal process of the other side.

While Israel is criticized over every idea or perspective to which it gives rise (as it should be in a free society), the Palestinians are idealized, ridiculously, without any kind of criticism whatsoever.

The truth is, for those same enraged commentators, the Palestinians are nothing but eternal victims who have no hand in their fate. In their world, Palestinian behavior is a phenomenon devoid of form, consciousness or consideration, a kind of repetitive reaction to Israeli brutality, which is the power that truly undermines “peace” in the Middle East.

This is the only way to explain how Landsman, for example, attributes our tragedy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (An Israeli Tragedy, Haaretz, July 9) instead of figures like Khaled Meshal, Ismail Haniyeh or Hassan Nasrallah. Failing to seriously mention the barbaric forces at play in the Arab world in general and among the Palestinians in particular attests to one of two possibilities: either political naiveté that cannot be taken seriously, or a complete loss of any kind of moral compass. Unwillingness to stand behind the Israeli leadership in a conflict against an Islamo-fascist organization like the Muslim Brotherhood is nothing short of shameful.

Thus there is also no reason to be surprised that the possibility to place the blame on Palestinian civil society just does not exist, according to them. When is the last time you read an article written by a fair-minded person that condemned the lack of a free Palestinian press? Or the fact that the Palestinians fail to rise up against Hamas and expel it from their midst?

The same logical reasoning, devoid of criticism or morality, paints Gaza residents as innocent souls that fell victim to a hostile alien takeover at the hands of Hamas (thereby distorting the fact that the Palestinian public voted the organization in, through a democratic election). Those same commentators are creating a false division between many good, innocent people and a bloodthirsty Hamas minority.

At the same time, and in the same breath, they refuse to make that same fake distinction within Israeli society. They refuse to present the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir as an act of fanaticism disconnected from the wider context of Israeli society. Not only have they lost the ability to differentiate between good and evil, but also their basic intellectual reasoning.

Sometimes, we must highlight what everyone already knows: The Jewish people, even when faced with pogroms in their home countries, never used violence against the innocents among their attackers. Never did a Jewish Izz ad-Din al-Qassam brigade rise up among the Christians, and never did Jewish terrorists blow themselves up in Islamic countries, despite the unending discrimination, appropriation and oppression.

It’s also important to note that in most cities and countries around the world, inequality between neighbors, like that among different ethnic groups, does not lead to violence. African Americans in the United States, who suffer from racial discrimination much harsher than that of Arab Israelis, do not thrown firebombs at the white population. French Jews facing daily acts of anti-Semitism from Muslim immigrants never started to set tires ablaze and throw stones on the streets of Paris.

We mustn’t let these commentators represent the voice of the Israeli left. Liberals who attack the most liberal government in the Middle East, while remaining embarrassingly quiet in the face of the barbarism that surrounds it, have betrayed liberalism itself. They can see themselves as direct descendants of those who claimed back then that Britain, as an imperialist state itself, had no right to stand up to Nazi Germany.

Those who cannot differentiate between Al-Qaida and the U.S., or between Hamas and Hezbollah and Israel, has lost their moral compass. They are nothing but Palestinian nationalists camouflaging themselves as champions of human rights.

The writer is a history student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.



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