Anti-Semitism and the Anti-Imperialism of Fools
Part 3 of attempting to make sense of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
At this point in the series, we have set out important historical context and elaborated on some of the ahistorical perspectives that seem to dominate the present discourse, in particular the establishment of the state of Israel, the various conflicts with surrounding Arab states, and the quagmire of the military occupation of the West Bank (and Gaza until 2005). I’ll reiterate the opening of the previous essay by encouraging you, if you haven’t already, to read both Part 1 and Part 2 in detail before moving on to this third part in the series, particularly for many of the points in this essay to carry their full weight.
The narratives that have formed around the current war range from the veiled to the virulent anti-Semitism of Leftists and “Progressives”, most notably and shamefully on American university campuses, to the caustic sophistry of the “Defenders of the West” on the Right-leaning conservative side. We’ve witnessed the moral relativism of Western Leftists in justifying and excusing the horrific pogrom of October 7th, before Israel had even responded, like the Democratic Socialists of America who publicly celebrated the massacre. We’ve also witnessed a Right-leaning moral relativism, albeit of a more distinctly neo-conservative variety, that shrugs its shoulders at any and all Palestinian deaths while smirking back a meme of; “yeah, but do you condemn Hamas?”
I had hoped that in this Part 3, we would cover both sides of the reactionary divide. As Reader, your own political alignment likely finds itself more sympathetic to one or the other, and it would be useful to have both perspectives in the same essay. However, I am confident that as 3am Thoughts readers, you’re not reading >8,000 word articles only to default to the emotive draw of your respective political and socio-cultural beliefs. The subheading of “attempting to make sense” does have a purpose, for both you as Reader and myself.
We are now living through the most public and widespread explosion of anti-Semitism in society in our lifetimes. In some cases it is overt and unapologetic, in others it hides behind the horrific death toll in Gaza masquerading as “anti-Zionism”. In the UK, a University of Bristol Leftist academic called for someone to “blow up” a scheduled Jewish event on campus; she then attempted to explain away her string of anti-Semitic tweets by reference to the deaths of children in Gaza. This logic simply does not hold. The expression of anti-Semitism is not justified by the prosecution of the war by Netanyahu’s current administration. The ability to express horror at the gratuitous slaughter of the pogrom on October 7th is not conditional on the horrific and indiscriminate death toll unfolding in Gaza. “Legitimate criticism” of the policies of any Israeli government is not delegitimising the very existence of the state of Israel.
Western Leftists seemingly cannot hold any of these realities in tension. This essay is an attempt to make sense of the moral relativism and incoherence widespread in Western Leftist responses to the current war. The vitriolic displays of anti-Semitism, and my sensitivity to history, created a moral urgency to write this part exclusively focusing on these responses, because there is a lot to unpack. We’re going to focus on the antecedent of Leftist anti-Semitism, the historic relationship between Leftist ideologies and Islamist fundamentalism and terrorism, and the influence of postmodernism on Leftist moral relativism related to Islamist terrorism. In Part 4, we’ll deal exclusively with the neo-conservative “Realpolitik” sophistry, including the prosecution of the current war and policies of previous Israeli governments.
In the previous essays, I wanted to acknowledge that my aim was to write this series as dispassionately as possible, with intellectual honesty and epistemic humility. That still stands. Before we delve into this, I also want to take a moment to acknowledge your good faith in reading and engaging with this emotive, complex topic that feels, and is, very real and consequential for so many people. I appreciate your readership and do not take it for granted. Thank you.
The Moral Confusion of Western Leftists
Before Israel had even started to mount any seriously intensive military response to the pogrom of October 7th, the virulent anti-Semitism was in full voice. At a rally in Sydney, the crowd chanted “gas the Jews...gas the Jews...fuck the Jews”. On the University of California campus in Los Angeles, students donned keffiyeh’s pulled over their face, cosplaying jihadi-style, and smashed a piñata bearing Netanyahu’s image while screaming, “beat that fucking Jew.” At a Palestinian rally in the UK held on October 8th (again, before any Israeli retaliation had escalated), the October 7th pogrom was lauded as “beautiful and inspiring.” Black Lives Matter celebrated the massacre and rape of kids at a music festival by posting an image of a hand-glider, the method of transport for terrorists to that festival on October 7th. Other identity groups rushed to the fray, “Queers for Palestine” seemingly of the belief that their “oppression” in the West would make them welcomed guests in Gaza, where Hamas throws gays from buildings.
Leftist academics, never shy of a moment to disgrace themselves, took to social media and open letters to celebrate, excuse, and equivocate, the horrors of October 7th. Around 1,700 academics at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Brown, UC Berkeley, and Oxford, signed a letter declaring that Hamas’ actions were justified by “context”. Jewish students at an American university have been locked in libraries to escape pro-Palestinian protestor mobs, while “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” officers justify anti-Semitic vitriol that would cause Progressive apoplexy if occurring against Black or other “Indigenous” groups on campus. No less, the presidents of three Ivy League schools (Harvard, Penn, and MIT) stated that whether statements calling for violence to Jews constitute hate speech “depends on the context” and whether the words “became conduct”.
Meanwhile their proteges on college campuses all over America chant “glory to our martyrs.” Our martyrs, as if Ivy Leaguers who mentally combust if a professor states there are two sexes would make for jihadis. At rallies across the world, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free...” has become the slogan du jour, ringing through city streets from London to New York. The very clear meaning of this phrase is, of course, denied by the word-soup relativists, always able to retreat under the cover of the motte-and-bailey fallacy. Perhaps most obscene, however, is the chant now defining American university protests:
“There is only one solution: Intifada revolution!”
One solution. Might ring a bell from your secondary school history lessons? A single solution. A Final Solution to the Israel Question. And a clear endorsement of the methods by which this “solution” would achieve “decolonisation”, from the river to the sea, through intifada. We know from the Second Intifada and October 7th precisely what this would look like, grotesque slaughter by an Islamist death-cult that delights and glorifies in its atrocities. If at this point you’re hopping in your seat because of what is now unfolding in Gaza, consider the tragic fact that the largest pogrom committed against Jews since the Second World War, and the stomach-churning details of how Hamas terrorists killed their victims and weaponised rape as an instrument of war, has been swept under the rug by Western Leftists under precisely that kind of “but Gaza tho” retrospective equivocation and whataboutism. One doesn’t excuse the other.
Most emblematic of the broken moral compass of Western Leftists/Progressives is in relation to women. The details of the raping of women by Hamas should require no “context” or find a shred of justification among any right-thinking person of any political persuasion. But Western fourth-wave feminists, who implored us to “believe women” during MeToo, have made it clear that Israeli women are an exception. Don’t believe Israeli women; hold them to an arbitrary standard of “evidence” and make sure to emphasise the “context” of rape and mutilation, which to Progressive feminists is merely part of “legitimate resistance” and “decolonisation”.
Leftist academics have predictably deployed some relativist language-soup to equivocate and obfuscate rape: “sex exceptionalism”, the specious reasoning of which holds, in part, that the severity with which we judge sex crimes is used to justify war. What they are really saying is that the case of the rape of Israeli women should be an exception because of the unfolding death toll in Gaza. Last year these same Western liberal “feminists” chanted “Women, Life, Freedom” on behalf of the women of Iran after Mahsa Amini’s murder by Islamist “morality police”. Their response to recent events demonstrates that they had no idea what it was they were protesting against: the Islamic Republic and the position of women under Islamist fundamentalism. The fact that they’re unable to join the dots speaks volumes about the moral incoherence on display. “Women, Life, Freedom”, but not if you’re a women deemed a “coloniser”.
There are so many examples of the monstrous reactions of Western Leftists/Progressives that they have formed entire articles. The foregoing paragraphs are, I think, sufficient to make the point for this essay, but if you either don’t believe this or want to see the full extent of it, read here, here, and here.
What could precipitate this type of response, which was immediate and didn’t even wait for the first bombs to drop on Gaza?
What environments have incubated and facilitated a complete collapse of moral clarity and intellectual coherence in academia and among a generation of “activists”?
What could make a generation who have forced a culture of safetyism on institutions, petrified of little more than facts or ideas, who have insisted that the mere presence of a speaker with a different perspective on campus was “literal harm”, and insisted that words are “literal violence”, cosplay as terrorists and celebrate acts of grotesque, real violence?
In seeking answers to these questions, an uncomfortable reality emerges, one that you may find surprising: the reactions by Western Leftists are nothing new.
Postmodern Relativism, the Noble Savage, and the “Right to Slit Throats and to Mutilate”
Writing at the height of the French-Algerian War in the 1950’s, the philosopher Albert Camus, himself a French-Algerian or pied noir, decried that:
“...a section of our opinion thinks obscurely that the Arabs have acquired the right somehow to slit throats and to mutilate.”
Camus was writing in dismay at the moral relativism of fellow French Leftist intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Frantz Fanon, and Simone de Beauvoir, who excused and justified horrific atrocities committed by the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) in their war against French rule. The FLN engaged in very public displays of slaughter, primarily against the Algerian Muslim population to force compliance and deter cooperation with the French (the FLN killed six Algerian Muslims for every French person). In 1957 the FLN entered the village of Melouza and butchered all male Muslim inhabitants over the age of 15. Many on the French Left articulated an ambivalence for atrocities such as this when committed by the FLN against Muslims, while amplifying atrocities committed by the French; only the latter were considered worthy of condemnation.
This relativist view was consequential for certain strands of Leftist academics. In ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, Frantz Fanon and Sartre, who wrote the preface, promoted a theory of anti-colonial violence as “sacred” and “liberating”, indeed “redemptive”; the act of killing a coloniser would allow the colonised person to redeem their identity. These ideas would become hugely influential in postmodern-derived Critical Theories, “post-colonial studies” in particular. To Sartre and Fanon, “decolonisation” was a process that required, indeed demanded, terror. Terror was justified, always, by the assumption that the violence of the “oppressor” was by default more brutal, thus requiring a transcendental level of violence and terror to overcome. This concept was embraced not only in Western Leftist academic circles, but in post-Second World War Soviet dogmas, and would find articulation in the Soviet promotion of pan-Arab nationalism and Islamist terrorism.
The late Laurent Murawiec, in ‘The Mind of Jihad’, identified several intellectual fashions in motion by Leftist French intellectuals who equivocated and justified the FLN’s atrocities, while eviscerating any committed by France. The first was that any violence, no matter how horrific, was justifiable if it occurred under the banner of “decolonisation”; the second was that the deaths of Arabs and/or Muslims only mattered if they were killed by the French (who committed numerous atrocities during the conflict). We can add a final precedent to the first two, which is a peculiar paradox of postmodern Critical Theories, prominent in post-colonial studies, namely the deagentification of the “oppressed”, which frames the perpetrators of violence as lacking meaningful agency or responsibility in carrying out atrocities. Any violence and terror is justified as a necessary and inevitable reaction to circumstances which are beyond the agency of the “oppressed”. Only the “oppressor” holds agency, and consequent responsibility.
In deagentifying “indigenous” people, postmodern theories paradoxically reinforce that only Western “imperialists” hold agency as actors, while the oppressed are only positioned as victims being acted upon. The true paradox is that, for theories obsessed with the manner in which “indigenous” peoples are viewed through “the Western gaze”, these theories reinforce one of the most pervasive racist tropes of the 19th Century: the stereotype of the “Noble Savage”. The dutiful Noble Savage who would otherwise live in peace and harmony with their people is the same Noble Savage for whom aggression and violence is considered an organic response only to the disruption of their idyllic harmony, in which their oppression is always ennobled but their actions deprived of agency. The Noble Savage is legitimised in any and all actions against “the oppressor”; the act is noble, the savagery justifiable. The fawning portrayal of Hamas’ treatment of hostages, who apparently exhibit “the Hamas glow” upon their release, while ignoring the recorded call of a terrorist on October 7th exhorting “I killed 10 Jews with my own hands!”, perhaps best epitomises the Noble Savage which Western Leftists are so desperate to uphold in this conflict. If you’re in any doubt about whether nobility is a bedfellow to savagery, read Graeme Wood's essay on Hamas’ video footage from October 7th.
This extends to the deagentification of the Palestinians, and the surrounding Arab states, both politically and in relation to terrorism. Both the Palestinians, and the surrounding Arab countries, are positioned as lacking any meaningful agency, and absolved of all responsibility not only for violence, but for the burden of achieving a sovereign independent state. The fact that the Palestinians have rejected three offers of statehood (1937, 1947, and 2000) and the absence of serious Palestinian diplomacy, can only be understood to Western Leftists as evidence of Israeli oppression. The fact that almost every war Israel has found itself fighting has been a war of aggression initiated by surrounding Arab states or non-state actors in Hezbollah and Hamas is constantly, and conveniently, ignored. All responses to such aggression by Israel are automatically invalid; even aggressive, unprovoked attacks (see: 1948, Arab countries invade; 1967, Ibid.; 1973, Ibid.; 2000-2005, Second Intifada; 2006, Hezbollah attacks; 2014, Hamas attacks; and 2023, Hamas attacks), are to be explained away as a justifiable reaction not even to Israeli actions, but to the mere existence of Israel in the Middle East as a “coloniser”.
The fact that Hamas has, since 2007, operated Gaza as its own terrorism incubator and weapons facility, funnelling billions of aid money into its activities while the Gazan population suffer a lack of basic necessities, is not understood by Western Leftists as any fault of Hamas. The day-to-day plight of Palestinians in Gaza is never understood as being within the remit of the Palestinian leadership, despite the fact that Hamas were elected into office (before killing off all Fatah and other rival Palestinian Authority [PA] leadership in Gaza). Western Leftists only frame the situation in Gaza through the lens of “colonisation”, despite Israel forcing a full evacuation of the Strip in 2005 and removing all Israeli settlers. Western Leftists decry the blockade of Gaza while ignoring Hamas’ public and unequivocal statements that it seeks to perform October 7th-style pogroms over and over until Israel ceases to exist. All of which is entirely consistent with the deagentification of the Palestinians, and of the aims and activities of Hamas.
Importantly, the pivotal role of the surrounding Arab states - Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon in particular - in shaping the fate of the Palestinians is brushed tidily under the rug. The Arab states can treat the Palestinians however they like and use the Palestinians as pawns in their own respective geopolitical games, because only Israel and Israel alone is bestowed with agency, responsibility, and culpability. When Leftists decry the “open air prison” of Gaza, they ignore that not only was the precedent set by Egypt, Egypt also act in partnership with Israel to sustain it. They ignore the role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in perpetuating a permanent refugee status for Palestinians within the territories and, as a United Nations Watch joint report illustrated, creating materials for use in schools in the camps which “contained content encouraging jihad, violence, and martyrdom, as well promoting antisemitism, conflict discourse, hate, and intolerance.”
It wouldn’t matter to Western Leftists if Hamas themselves killed thousands of Gazans; these deaths only matter if killed by the Israeli military. Consider that the “Black September” Jordanian Civil War resulted in Jordan killing ~3,000 Palestinians and expelling a further ~20,000 from Jordan; this is not the concern of the Western Leftist. When the leader of Hamas, Isamil Haniyeh, announced on October 23rd that “...the blood of the women, children and elderly...we are the ones who need this blood, so it awakens our revolutionary spirit...”, echoing Arafat's statement that “our blood is cheap for the sake of the goal”, Western Leftists are unconcerned. The fact that Hamas knew what the scale of Israel’s response would be, how many Palestinians under their rule would in turn be slaughtered, is of no consequence for Western Leftists. The “right...to slit throats and to mutilate” is legitimised for Arab states and for terrorist organisations like Hamas as against Israel, but considered inconsequential as between Muslims in the Middle East.
All of this echoes the French Leftist intellectual responses to the French-Algerian War. These fashionable nonsenses continue to reverberate, and characterise the manner in which Western Leftists have responded to the Israel-Hamas war. Consider the number of Western academics who took to X (formerly Twitter) with numerous variations of “this is what decolonisation looks like” after Hamas’ grotesque pogrom on October 7th. Surely some basic universal humanity would dictate an expression of sympathy to the Israeli civilians slaughtered, independent of decrying events in Gaza? But no: Fanon and Sartre live on; to Western Leftists, the violence on October 7th was “sacred”, “liberating”, and “redemptive”. The fact that a state of relative ceasefire preceded the premeditated attack is of no concern; the victims of the attack are denied their humanity by Western Leftists who think “the colonisers got what they deserved”; the depravity of the violence is interpreted as sublime terror transcendental to the agency of “the resistance”. The adjectives that Western Leftists have used to describe the pogrom illuminate this point: “innovative”, “beautiful”, “inspiring”, “hopeful”.
As we will see more clearly in the following section, the progression of pan-Arab nationalist and Islamist fundamentalist ideologies have been strongly influenced by Western Leftist academic trends and Leftist ideologies, Marxist-Leninism in particular. Over time they have learned the ingredients of relativist language soup. Dilip Hiro’s ‘War Without End’, for example, highlights the 1997 Tehran Declaration which denounced Israel, but its wording exculpated terrorism by “distinguishing terrorism from the struggles of peoples against colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation.” Such rhetoric is distinctly postmodern, and precisely mirrors the relativist reasoning utilised by Western Leftists and academics. When a Yale professor, Zareena Grewal, stated on October 7th that, “settlers are not civilians”, she was merely adopting the reasoning used by the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, from a 2002 speech: “Pay no attention to those who say there are civilians and soldiers in Israel. They are all occupiers and invaders…”
And when Hamas updated their Charter in 2017, they played postmodern language games with their same ultimate intent and aims; “recognising” the 1967 borders while also rejecting Israel and “Zionism”, and reframing overt anti-Semitism as “anti-Zionism”, which is precisely the contortion Western Leftists have adopted since the 1970’s. Western Leftists thus walk stridently in intellectual lockstep with Islamist fundamentalism, and have refined a repertoire of pseudo-academic jargon that justifies the “right to slit throats and to mutilate”, but only if undertaken as “sacred violence” in the cause of “decolonisation”.
Marx and Lenin Meet the Prophet
To understand the ripple effects of the French-Algerian War, beyond the pseudo-intellectual justifications of terror, for the militarisation of pan-Arabism and the fledgling Palestinian movement in the 1960’s, it is necessary to examine some formative antecedents. In particular, it is necessary to trace the anti-Semitism of Marxism, the anti-imperialism of the Soviet Union, and their influence on Islamist fundamentalist methods. The virulent anti-Semitism and anti-Westernism of contemporary Islam would not be out of place in any Soviet textbook, for the reason that it is from those same textbooks that pan-Arab and Islamist fundamentalists drew inspiration and refined their own ideologies, aided and abetted by the Soviets through their post-Second World War doctrine of conflict by proxy with the West. Post-War revolutionary Marxism would find expression in the development and methodologies of Islamist terrorism, but the relationship traced back to the Bolsheviks and pan-Arabism in the pre-War period.
In relation to temporality, however, the antecedent was the anti-Semitism within Marxism, which derived from the Marxist doctrines of secularism and class-based economic determinism, which viewed the Jews as a relic of a Medieval past that would be emancipated, and disappear as a distinct group, under socialism. In ‘The Left, the Right, and the Jews’, W.D. Rubinstein draws attention to the role of highly influential Jewish Marxists, such as Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg, in shaping this particular view of Zionism within Marxism, one that rejected Jewish self-determination in favour of a theory that anti-Semitism was a byproduct of capitalism and, along with any distinct Jewish identity, would also disappear under universal socialism. Lenin’s influence on Soviet policies was one which supported national self-determination movements (when it suited the Soviets), but rejected the concept of an independent Jewish nationalism divisible from the socialist revolutionary cause.
The eventual foundation of Israel, as a democratic state emerging from a Mandate held by the British Empire, thus falsified crucial pillars of Soviet Marxist-Leninist doctrine, in particular the class-based historical deterministic worldview, and the realisation of Jewish ethno-religious self-determination. The cognitive dissonance for the Soviets was severe, and precipitated a virulent response, typified by the anti-Semitic propaganda of the Soviet writer Trofim Kitchko. As the linguist Georges-Elia Sarfati, who studies the use of language as a weapon of anti-Semitism, has pointed out, the very term “anti-Zionism” was largely a Soviet concoction that was systematically deployed after the 1967 Arab-Israel War (recall that the Arab militaries in the 1967 war were Soviet-equipped and funded), and was subsequently embraced by the Western Left.
The Bolshevik concept of universal struggle would find expression in direct support and application of methods to Islamist movements, in an attempt to leverage these movements against the West. The Bolsheviks were exercising an exception to the religiosity of Islam, foregoing their secular anti-religious principles to harness the revolutionary zeal of the Islamists against the Western powers. As a foreign policy, this was first expressed at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, in which the Bolsheviks called on the attendees from the Middle East for a “holy war”, “under the red banner of the Communist International”, against the British and French “capitalists” in the Middle East. The result was a fusion of two ideologies, Islamist fundamentalist principles of jihad infused with Marxist-Leninist doctrines of universalism in revolutionary struggle. The Bolsheviks provided the Islamists with new rhetorical and methodological instruments with which to wage the great anti-imperialist struggle. Mass violence was not only permissible, but necessary. The scale of violence imported into Islamist jihad was, however, distinctly of a Russian variety, as a backward and brutal society in which human life had always been cheap. Per Muraweic:
“The Bolshevik school of “politics” was a school of terror, mass murder, countless summary executions, mutilations, and torture. Those were the techniques of war, and what recruits and officers were trained and encouraged to do. As a school for political action, the Bolsheviks' Red Army taught that untrammelled violence was the supreme power.... Lessons so learned with overlaid on the earlier layers of jihad.”
Lenin and Stalin encouraged the formative training of these methods of agitation, which resulted in the 1921 formation of the Communist University of the Toilers of the East (KUTVa), founded to support and train revolutionaries, from Ho Chi-Minh to Khalid Bagdash, head of the Syrian Communist Party, and would permeate throughout the Middle East, including Palestine. The Communist Party of Palestine (CPP) was encouraged by Moscow to “Arabise” the region, mobilising “anti-Zionist” rhetoric into action in attacks on Jewish settlements on lands purchased from the Ottomans. Violence against the Jews in Palestine was thus cast in distinctly Bolshevik revolutionary rhetoric as a struggle against “imperialists” and “colonialists”, rhetoric that would find a celebrated home in humanities departments of Western universities. It was during this period in the late 1920’s and 1930’s that the rhetoric of the CPP began to brandish Jewish organisations and the Jews in Palestine as “fascist” and “Nazi”, in a hideous pre-Holocaust deliberate conflation. Jews fleeing Nazi Germany were labeled as a “Zionist-Imperialist-Fascist army”, rhetoric that would receive a self-satisfied seal of approval from Leftists in 2023. Murowiec again:
“Most of the ugly repertoire of modern Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism came from the Soviet Union (with only the racial-biological component added by the Nazis). The CPP taught the Arab extremists the use of Bolshevik rhetorical devices previously unknown. The "anti-imperialism" so imported by the communists was remarkably ingested by the Muslim extremists, to the point of becoming integral to their conceptions and expression. It merged with traditional jihadi views that animated the Arabs of the region. In the amalgamation of Bolshevism with jihad that turned out to be so crucial to modern jihad... What borrowing took place almost exclusively concerned the authoritarian, dictatorial, and totalitarian ideologies.”
Terror, as an instrument of “the people” (or “the believers”) against “the oppressor” (or “the infidel”), provided a unifying axiom of Marxist-Leninist theory and Islamist fundamentalism. The Soviet policy of conflict-by-proxy had initially found expression in the provision military support to Arab states, with the intention of waging inter-state war on Israel. However, successive Arab military defeats provided evidence of the futility of this approach, and so conflict-by-proxy shifted to one of Soviet support for non-state actors and a programme of terrorism. This was not unique to Palestine, and Marxist-Leninist inspired terrorism found support throughout Europe, from the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to the Italian Red Brigades, the German Red Army Faction (RAF), and the Basque Euzkadi ta Akatasuna (ETA). Under the auspices of the Soviets, these movements would shape Palestinian terrorism.
The defeat of the Soviet-backed Arab countries in the 1967 War underscored the Soviet shift to support for the nascent Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its various faction groups, of which Arafat’s Fatah became a focal point of Soviet efforts. The PLO also became the point of focus for the surrounding Arab countries, who had learned that they would not succeed in taking Israel on in open military confrontation. The prosecution of the French-Algerian war by the FLN formed a template for the PLO, and the Soviets advocated for an “Algerian strategy” against Israel. Since the war was now with an entire society, rather than its military, all of Israeli society was considered a target worth attacking. This extended to a reign of terror in the skies as hijacking civilian airlines became a favourite strategy of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
When Black September Palestinian terrorists murdered eleven Israeli athletes on German soil in Munich at the 1972 Olympic games, they were copycatting the strategy of the FLN, who carried out attacks in France throughout their campaign. Violence was to be boundless, with no regard for borders or casualties, typified by Arafat's declaration: “I know there are two ways to reach a Palestinian state, through the negotiating table and through a war of independence. We can accept a lot of casualties, 30,000 martyrs. Can you accept 500 Israeli soldiers killed?” Under Arafat, the PLO embraced violence as a means of forging and expressing national identity, embracing Fanon’s concept of “sacred violence”, implemented with Soviet brutality.
This ties back to the concept of agency and responsibility, because in shaping the Palestinian independence movement in this fashion, the consequences have been profound. Any scrutiny of the so-called peace process reveals that the PLO, with Arafat in particular at the helm, were never serious partners for peace. Israel withdrew fully from both Gaza and South Lebanon, and both became terrorist quasi-states in the aftermath of withdrawal. The Second Intifada resulted in the construction of the security barrier across the West Bank. The agency of the Palestinian movements in embracing violence and terror is never acknowledged, or is explained away as a consequence. Yet even this latter justification is temporally untenable, because the embrace of terror as a totalising method of Palestinian self-determination preceded the foundation of Israel, beginning in earnest in the 1930’s. The reality, hard to accept from the comfort of a Western armchair, is that Israel cannot make peace by itself, and the only partner for peace on the Palestinian side is the PA, who Western Leftists undercut by equivocating on Hamas and Hezbollah.
It is from the Algerians that the PLO also learned how to court the war of public opinion. As the FLN had watched while French academics provided pseudo-intellectual justifications for their atrocities, so they realised that once they constantly reinforced to the world that they were the “oppressed”, Western intellectuals would excuse their actions. This strategy would become foundational to the PLO, and later Hamas, who realised the importance of delegitimising Israel’s right to exist in the eyes of the Western world. In 2002, messages and images began to emerge from the Jenin refugee camp claiming that the IDF had committed a massacre in the camp. No such event had occurred, but that didn’t stop CNN and Al Jazeera from running the story with claims that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Palestinians had been slain by Israeli troops. By the time confirmation of the faslehood of the claims was established, the rest of the world wasn’t listening.
By portraying violence as an organic, inevitable consequence, rather than a cause in itself, the PLO, and later Hamas and Hezbollah, could rely on the same pseudo-intellectual reasoning from Western Leftists to justify and excuse terrorism. At the same time, Arafat and the PLO learned to speak a particular language that conveyed a fictional commitment to peace, a strategy imparted by the former Algerian minister for information, M’hamed Yazid. This rhetoric was deployed with the loom of violence and glorification of death hanging over the words, relying on the naivety and fear of Western political leaders, who would always see the best of intentions in Arafat, while always (America aside) seeing the worst in Israel.
This naivety of Western support has a name.
The Anti-Imperialism of Fools
The “anti-imperialism of fools” may be defined as an extension of Leftist moral relativism to geopolitics on a wider scale. It owes its origins to the postmodern worldview that delineates society according to a dominant oppressor social group that benefit from hegemony, and victim social groups that are oppressed by said hegemonic power structures. It is characterised by an extension of classic Leftist anti-imperialism, in so far as the Left generally rejected monarchs and tzars and aristocrats, to the West in general. Therefore any act taken against the West merits political support and is justifiable as merely a product of imperialism (and capitalism), which is where the “fools” or, to use the more visceral description of the Syrian activist Leila al-Sharma, the “idiots”, come into the picture. The “anti-imperialism of fools/idiots” is characterised by Western Leftists lending their support to the most odious political and religious ideological movements in the name of “anti-imperialism”.
A 2010 paper from Dr Camila Bassi highlighted the prominence of the anti-imperialism of fools in the aftermath of 9/11, as Leftists from Noam Chomsky to Jean Baudrillard evaded condemning the attacks by framing the attacks as the understandable and legitimate venting of anger against Western “imperialism”. We can look to more recent events, in the manner in which the anti-imperialism of fools blamed NATO expansion as the cause of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, portraying Putin’s actions as some inevitable consequence of “imperialism”. However, the most pernicious manifestation of the anti-imperialism of fools is in relation to the Middle East. Indeed, Leila al-Sharma’s essay decrying Western “idiots” was a response to the manner in which Western Leftists supported Assad’s murderous regime in Syria by blindly protested Western intervention under the slogan of “Hands Off Syria”. In doing so, whether by act or omission, Western Leftists were endorsing Assad’s slaughtering of Syrians using the Russian military and Iranian Shia militias. Russia and Iran are excused from being considered imperialist because, as al-Sharma wrote, the Left:
“...seems blind to any form of imperialism that is non-western in origin. It combines identity politics with egoism... Everything that happens is viewed through the prism of what it means for westerners – only white men have the power to make history... Noam Chomsky once argued that Russia’s intervention could not be considered imperialism because it was invited to bomb the country by the Syrian regime.”
The anti-imperialism of fools has thus always found a home in the Israel-Palestine dynamic, particularly with regard to Hezbollah and Hamas. Recall that it was the Soviets who escalated the systematic use of the term “anti-Zionism” after the 1967 War, under the banner of which Leftists have excused and equivocated Palestinian terrorism for half-a-century. Moreover, as illustrated in a 2004 paper by Ben Cohen on anti-Semitism in the British Left, Israel became the focal point of Leftist “anti-colonialism”, which viewed Israel as a representation of American hegemony, resulting in a political alignment between Leftists and Islamist fundamentalists movements committed to the eradication of Israel as an act of “anti-colonialism”. In recent years, Leftists, including the former leader of the Labour Party in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, have specifically sought to include these organisations as if part of some grand Western Leftist tradition. The Leftist academic, Judith Butler, once remarked that:
“Understanding Hamas, Hezbollah, as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important...”
It is difficult to find a statement that better encapsulates the scale of naivety which Western Leftists exhibit for the pathology of Islamist fundamentalism. As if we can understand movements like Hamas and Hezbollah as “being on the Left”, which one would presume means being in favour of equal rights irrespective of creed, colour, gender, or sexual orientation, of the rights of women in all domains of life, of equal rights to education, of anything that would resemble an egalitarian and inclusive view of society. Ask the women of Iran or Afghanistan, or anywhere where Islamist law reigns supreme, how “progressive” we can understand their society to be. Such breathtaking naivety and ignorance is, however, a logical end point of framing a worldview through the simplistic lens of “oppressor/oppressed” power relations, which flattens complexity and views any resistance to “imperialism” as deserving of political support, however specious the reasoning required to justify that view. It also again reinforces the “Noble Savage” view of Islamist fundamentalists and the infantilising view of their agency which Western Leftists hold.
There is an uncomfortable reality to the anti-imperialism of fools in its present manifestation, however, highlighted by Susie Linfield in an essay in Quillette, which is that most Leftists today would not likely try and frame the Taliban or ISIS as “on the Left” or deserving of political support. It is only in relation to organisations committed to the destruction of Israel like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, that Western Leftists will go to bat for, refuse to hold accountable, equivocate their actions, evade even calling them terrorist groups.
Dilip Hiro detailed how the Global Jihad originally had three targets as outlined by Khomeini as the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic: the Great Satan (America), Russia (for Afghanistan), and Israel; the Russian expulsion from Afghanistan and collapse of the Soviet Union meant that for bin Laden, only two of three were left: America and Israel. Western Leftists seem only too happy to cheer on the Islamic Republic and its proxies in their attempts to rid the world of the latter, a moral incoherence which embracing the anti-imperialism of fools inevitably generates.
The “New” anti-Semitism
The concept of a “new anti-Semitism” describes a shift in Leftist discourse that increasingly conflated terms like “Jews”, “Zionism”, and “Israel”, using them interchangeably, and how that discourse was globalised. However, it is not that “new”, and can be traced to the period between 1967 and 1975 and Israel's successive victories against the surrounding Russian-backed Arab states. It found institutional expression in 1975 when the United Nations (UN) declared that, “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. In using this terminology, the UN precipitated a trend in delegitimising the right of Jewish self-determination and its expression in the state of Israel.
To be clear, this is all that Zionism is, and ever has been; a movement for Jewish self-determination in a Jewish state in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. This definition is important because it is the most simple means of conveying how “anti-Zionism” is nothing more than a euphemism for enmity to the existence of a Jewish state which, as if this needs saying, contains a majority of Jews. The UN’s declaration was tantamount to saying that Jewish self-determination is a form of racism, which when exposed in that way is an absurd inversion of history given that the very reason for Zionism was centuries of racial and religious discrimination against Jews.
The rhetoric shift to “Zionism” thus very conveniently removed any direct mention of the people in question, providing the exculpatory claim of “anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism” with a veneer of legitimacy. But examine this in close detail against the principle of self-determination, which is a principle recognised and supported for all people across political ideologies (except the far Left with the anarchist “no borders” types). People who might claim that they are “anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic” are, unless they deny the concept of nation states generally as some do, in effect stating that they support the self-determination of all peoples, but categorically reject national self-determination of the Jews. What distinguishes anti-Jewishness from being anti-Jewish collective national identity? If not for the obvious. Rubinstein noted that the UN’s declaration was seized upon with gusto by Leftist groups in British universities. For example, after the declaration, British universities’ National Union of Students voted to refuse assistance to “openly racist and fascist organisations”, under which several Jewish student groups were subsequently banned from campus. Salford University held a Palestine Week in 1977, but denied the Jewish Society permission to hold an Israel week. All of this was justified as merely “anti-Zionist”.
This concept ties to a very common trope, prominent in recent weeks, that anti-Semitism is deployed to evade criticism of Israel’s policies. This is masterful deception. Seldom are any criticisms of actual policy ever levelled in the wider discourse. You don’t see criticism of Likud, or any intelligent discussion of, for example, the coalition partners and their ideologies, or of specific policies in the West Bank. Instead, you see “Israel the racist state”, “Israel the genocidal state”, “Israel the apartheid state”, and all entirely without any agency or responsibility on the Palestinian leadership in either the West Bank or Gaza. In 2001, on the eve of the UN World Conference Against Racism, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Jerusalem killing 15 people and injury hundreds, another attack during the Second Intifada. Yet at the conference, which was intended to address legacies of colonialism and violence in Africa, the entire focus was on singling out Israel, reaffirming the UN conflation of Zionism with racism. An NGO handed out flyers positing, “What if [Hitler] had won?”, while then-Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was platformed to give a speech in which he denied the Holocaust. This is where “criticism of Israel’s policies” tends to lead, straight to the gutter with zero discussion of actual policy, and only more delegitimisation of Israel’s existence.
Hirsch Goodman wrote, “it is not clear when criticism of the country stopped being about its policies in the occupied territories and started being about Israel's legitimacy, its right to exist among the family of nations.” In fact if we trace back to the propagation of “anti-Zionism”, a masterful stroke of Soviet propaganda eagerly licked up by Western Leftists and Islamist jihadists alike, providing an arms length between anti-Jewishness and being anti-Jewish collective national identity, as if divisible. And this rhetoric has consequences. In a recent Harris Poll in the US, 51% of respondents in the 18-24 age group believed that Israel should be ended and given to Hamas and the Palestinians.
Ignoring the Only Left that Matters
The problem with the moral incoherence of Western Leftists in their view of this conflict is that it simultaneously undermines the only Left that matters, or has ever mattered, in this issue - the Israeli Left - while reducing the Palestinians to deagentified victimhood. Susie Linfield summed this perfectly when she wrote that Israel:
“...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 understands that vanquishing Hamas and defeating the fanatical ultra-nationalists in its midst—and in its government—are not only related but utterly interdependent. 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.”
The Israeli writer Nadav Neuman provided a more dispirited take on the moral incoherence of Western Leftists when he wrote, from the perspective of an Israeli Leftist, that:
“…what truly breaks you is seeing supposed comrades from across the Atlantic revel in the slaughter of your family and friends, driven by a warped, distorted, post-colonial sense of justice. You, who marched and rallied for years alongside Palestinians calling for their liberation from Israeli oppression, now feel isolated.”
The Israeli Left faces two battles, as alluded to by Linfield; fighting for the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians for their own homeland, and fighting the surging tide of religious and settler extremism gripping Israeli politics and destabilising the West Bank. If Western Leftists had a shred of universality left in their politics, they would be vocally aligning themselves with the Israeli Left, rather than delegitimise the existence of Israel itself.
Least of all, however, is the cause of legitimate Palestinian aspirations for statehood of their own in any way supported by the naive and misguided ideologies of Western Leftists, and serve only to set the clock backwards by celebrating grotesque slaughter as “legitimate resistance”, and a means of achieving a Palestinian state. That will never work. All violence will achieve is an increasingly militarised occupation of the West Bank; it is already resulting in Gaza being levelled to rubble with an appalling loss of life.
Anyone serious about an Israeli-Palestinian peace would stop delegitimising the existence of Israel. They would stop deagentifying the Palestinians and excusing and equivocating terrorism. And they would realise, as Yuval Noah Harari recently put, that it is possible for a people to be both a perpetrator and a victim at the same time, and realise this applies to the Jewish people as much as the Palestinian people.
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