Speaking of the moral weakness of the Western Left when it comes to the war between Israel and Hamas, Susie Linfield, a professor at NYU, has written in Quillette a thoughtful, thorough, and trenchant analysis of the situation. She’s no unalloyed cheerleader for Israel, recognizing that any lasting peace will require the removal of Netanyahu, and she deplores the violence (and perhaps the presence) of West Bank settlers. But overall, she calls out the Western Left strongly for not adhering to the traditional values and tactics of their philosophy—features that brought them success with things like the civil rights movement. Throwing in your lot with the Palestinian cause and adopting a laissez-faire attitude towards violence, Linfield says, is the road to perdition.
I’m just going to give a few quotes as my insomnia hit me with a vengeance last night, I’ve been awake since 2 a.m. and I can’t brain. Fortunately, Dr. Linfield can. Here she talks about true progressivism and how it was betrayed by its adherents’ response to the October 7 massacre:
The events of October 7th have clarified to Israelis from across the political spectrum—and should to everyone else—just what it means to make Palestine judenrein, as Hamas’s founding document and its current leaders promise. Indeed, the only way to “free Palestine from the river to sea,” as thousands of demonstrators worldwide are chanting, is to kill (or at best expel) all the Jews who live there, which is precisely what Hamas openly states is its primary goal. (Rep. Rashida Tlaib recently released a video in which she endorsed this demand, which she then ludicrously tried to spin as “an aspirational call for … peaceful coexistence.” Perhaps she imagines that the millions of Israelis expelled from Yemen, Morocco, Iraq, Syria, and a host of other Arab countries will be offered the “right of return.”) Hamas specifies that every Muslim, including women and “the slave,” is duty-bound to join in the eschatological struggle to cleanse Palestine of “the Jews,” whom it identifies as the world’s most powerful force and mankind’s greatest enemy. October 7th was the practice of that principle.
The determination of many on the Western Left to either ignore this program or refuse to believe it—despite Hamas’s consistent candor about its aims and means—is a sign of intellectual Orientalism: Palestinians are viewed only as helpless, reactive victims rather than people who generate ideas and actions for which they can be held accountable. But of course they do create political worldviews and programs, and Hamas has been especially voluble of late in explaining its future plans. Just last week, Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad affirmed that his organization planned many more October 7th-type attacks until it “annihilates” Israel; a week later, Hamas spokesman Taher El-Nounou told the New York Times, “I hope that the state of war with Israel will become permanent on all the borders.” This makes calls for a “mutual ceasefire,” in Tlaib’s words, nonsensical.
What calls for a ceasefire are really demanding is for Israel to stop defending itself, stop trying to eliminate Hamas, withdraw to its previous borders, and probably = make reparations to Gaza for the destruction of the war. (The calls never seem to mention the continuing firing of rockets at Israel by terrorists trying to kill civilians.) It is a call to return to the status quo, in which Israel will perpetually be attacked by terrorists—certainly more often than before—but will not be allowed to defend itself. Humanitarian pauses? Yes, of course. Corridors that are truly safe to protect as many civilians as possible? Certainly. But a ceasefire? That’s only one step from the “river to the sea” mentality the mentality that chides Israel for defending itself against the most brutal of attacks. As Cary Nelson wrote in Fathom, in an article called “A ceasefire would normalise the pogrom,”
Those urging a ceasefire stand behind what appears to be the most basic humanitarian motive: prevent further loss of life; end the massacre of innocent civilians. And then the coup de grace is delivered in hypocritical feel good rhetoric: everyone should respect international humanitarian law. Except that Hamas never has and never will honour international humanitarian law.
Meanwhile, no reprisals for murdering men, women, and children are to follow. No sanctions. No punishments. No accountability. The barbaric intimacy of so many of the killings is to be met with stability, frozen in time. We are all to accept what happened and move on.
Fools, hypocrites, dreamers, and antisemites alike stand in solidarity. Except that if the crimes are allowed to stand unanswered they will be repeated or more likely horrifically reinvented within a few years at most. A new standard for monstrous assault on Israelis will be in place.
But I digress. Here’s long except from Linfield’s piece—in effect, a lecture to those on the Left who can’t be bothered by what Hamas did on October 7 or what it is doing now. I’ve inserted some links into the powerful last paragraph so you can look up the cited writers.
There is, and always has been, another tradition, another sense, of what it means to be “progressive” and to stand with the oppressed. In 2011, Fred Halliday wrote an essay titled “Terrorism in Historical Perspective.” It is the most intellectually and morally lucid work on the subject that I know. Halliday addressed himself to his comrades on the Left and made a crucial argument: Any movement that claims to represent an oppressed people must act in an ethical way even if it is not in power and perceives itself as weak.
Oppression is not a carte blanche for severing heads from bodies, shooting hundreds of young festival-goers, bludgeoning people to death, murdering children in front of parents and vice versa, killing naked women point-blank, and kidnapping babies and the elderly; there is no universe in which these are revolutionary, emancipatory, or anticolonialist acts, much less “beautiful” ones. Sadism and violence are not synonyms. Sexual torture cannot be anti-imperialist—nor is it an understandable, much less inevitable, response to oppression. An eliminationist program is not a freedom charter. History has proved, again and again, that terrorists and freedom fighters aren’t the same, which is why the former never achieve anything approaching either liberation or justice. There is no room for “yes, but.” Why, when it comes to the deaths of Israelis, is this so hard to understand?
The Western Left’s response to October 7th will, I believe, be viewed as a moment of moral corruption on a par with the defense of Stalin’s purges, Czechoslovakia’s antisemitic show trials of 1952, the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and Poland’s antisemitic expulsions of 1968, along with the denial of the Khmer Rouge genocide (see under: Chomsky, Noam) and the adulation of China’s vicious Cultural Revolution. Since October 7th, there have been a handful of liberal and Left writers who have written bravely and honestly: Jonathan Freedland and Howard Jacobson in the Guardian, Michael Walzer in the Atlantic; Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times, Alan Johnson and Cary Nelson in Fathom, Seyla Benhabib on Medium. They are, alas, exceptions. Halliday’s leftism—the leftism of humane universalism rather than anti-imperialism—is in eclipse, as was Memmi’s.
Here’s why the Israeli Left outshines the American Left, a bit that immediately follows the paragraph above:
Except in Israel. Somehow, that nation of genocidal-white supremacist-fascist-settler-colonials has produced a Left that still adheres to the traditional principles of universalist dignity and equality, and that isn’t too squeamish to recognize terrorism for what it is. It rejects Manichean reductionism—something it can ill afford—and can therefore hold more than one thought at a time. It understands that Israel is a powerful country and that it is existentially threatened by its enemies. It understands that it is a perpetrator of the occupation and a victim of terrorism. It knows that one can oppose the way in which Netanyahu’s government is conducting the war while also avowing that a war must be fought. It understands that vanquishing Hamas and defeating the fanatical ultra-nationalists in its midst—and in its government—are not only related but utterly interdependent. It rejects the concept of collective guilt, whether of Israelis or Palestinians. It has a pretty good understanding of what antisemitism is. Of necessity, it comprehends tragedy. Its tone is sober rather than histrionic. These are the people who have done more to defend Palestinian rights and promote Palestinian sovereignty than all the West’s self-aggrandizing decolonialists, boycotters, and anti-imperialists combined.
More opprobrium for the Western Left:
The Western Left, basking in the safe, prosperous cities of the liberal democracies, lives in a very different world from the one Michael Sfard inhabits. Its moral rot may have suddenly become clear, but an ethical collapse takes time to develop. October 7th reveals the long-simmering theoretical confusions, and the moral void, that dominates many of today’s “progressive” movements. A Left that is fixated on “decolonization” mistakes a death cult for a liberation movement and is unable to recognize a bloodbath, even one that was filmed, and publicized worldwide, by the killers themselves. A Left that, rightly, demands absolute condemnation of white-nationalist supremacy refuses to disassociate itself from Islamist supremacy. A Left that divides the world between racists and antiracists and is obsessed with “people who look like me” can’t understand that the clash of two national movements has nothing to do with color or race.
A Left that celebrates diversity vilifies one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse countries in the world. A Left that prizes itself on defending refugees castigates a nation founded almost entirely by refugees—among the most immiserated and persecuted in history—as “settler-colonial.” A Left that divides the world between noble “native” peoples and the aliens who pollute them reproduces the neo-fascist worldview of the far-Right, from Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen. A Left that lauds intersectionality hasn’t noticed that Hamas’s axis of support consists of Iran, famous most recently for killing hundreds of protestors demanding women’s freedom; the homicidal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad; and Hezbollah, another fundamentalist Islamic group that is dedicated to Israel’s destruction and that terrorizes, and sometimes assassinates, fellow Lebanese who oppose it. What kind of Left gets into bed with such forces? Nor has it noticed that, since October 7th, ISIS and al-Qaeda have urged Muslims to step up worldwide “operations against the Jews” in solidarity with Hamas.
. . . The Left in Israel, unlike the global Left, recognizes that Hamas must be eliminated, not appeased. “A country that doesn’t kill the people who tried to murder my daughters, and those who sent them, has lost its right to exist,” Tibon wrote. Civilians in Gaza must be protected whenever possible, but Hamas’s concealment of fighters and weapons within the civilian population and civilian sites guarantees that the war will be extremely ugly. Postwar, new political landscapes will emerge, though only a fool would predict what they’ll be. (One thing is clear: the political leaderships of both peoples have led them, and each other, to ruin.) October 7th, Tibon wrote, “hasn’t changed my belief, based on a cold, calculated reading of reality, that in the long run we must find ways to share this land. … But first we must survive.” It has become obvious that there are many on the Left who dispute that last sentence.
If you’re ashamed of how “progressives” have behaved in America, failing to adhere to the principles of classical liberalism, you should be even more ashamed now that they’re getting into bed with terrorism. Those who call for a ceasefire are simply blackguards who doesn’t know what a ceasefire means or, if they do, know it means Israel will be forever menaced by terrorists, but even worse than before.
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) November 3, 2023
Note that the whole “squad” is in this list. I can only wonder what these people think a ceasefire means. And the proportion of Americans who want a ceasefire means little to me, for I don’t think they know what they’re calling for. The Biden administration does, and that’s why we don’t have one.
NEW—With Rep. Jamie Raskin, 37 members of Congress are now calling for a ceasefire.
That’s a +13 increase since the Reuters poll was released three days ago, showing 68% of Americans supporting a ceasefire, including about 75% of Democrats and 50% of Republicans. pic.twitter.com/4oXFhYRZHf
— Prem Thakker (@prem_thakker) November 18, 2023
The ignorance is metastasizing:
The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers released a statement blaming Israel for Hamas' attack and in support of BDS.
Maybe unions should hold off on international relations until at lest half of students can read at grade level? pic.twitter.com/amdmGlbDYQ
— Daniel Buck (@MrDanielBuck) November 16, 2023
And what about the death of Gazan civilians? Here’s her take, which is mournful but alert to the fact that those deaths would be much fewer if Hamas didn’t use people as human shields. It’s hard to argue with the proposition that, indeed, Hamas wants and needs dead Palestinians to carry out its program, which is to get the world to allow them to kill Jews. Linfield’s take:
The Left in Israel, unlike the global Left, recognizes that Hamas must be eliminated, not appeased. “A country that doesn’t kill the people who tried to murder my daughters, and those who sent them, has lost its right to exist,” Tibon wrote. Civilians in Gaza must be protected whenever possible, but Hamas’s concealment of fighters and weapons within the civilian population and civilian sites guarantees that the war will be extremely ugly. Postwar, new political landscapes will emerge, though only a fool would predict what they’ll be. (One thing is clear: the political leaderships of both peoples have led them, and each other, to ruin.) October 7th, Tibon wrote, “hasn’t changed my belief, based on a cold, calculated reading of reality, that in the long run we must find ways to share this land. … But first we must survive.” It has become obvious that there are many on the Left who dispute that last sentence.