So what has changed over those years? Has it been due to a shift in my values and perspectives, or those of the left-wing?
To more accurately gauge that requires going through a quick check list: do I believe in equal rights for all? Yes, absolutely. Am I against discrimination of any groups or races? Yes. Do I believe in equality of the sexes? Yes. Am I homophobic? No. Do I generally believe in fair play and stand up for the down-trodden? Very much so. Do I speak out when I see any of the aforementioned rights abused? Yes, indeed often probably too much so.
So how does the left-wing fare on that same check-list? I’m sure they would proclaim they hold true and firm on all of the preceding. However, in a couple of areas – discrimination and standing up for the downtrodden – the lines have become blurred over the years, and on occasion have gone directly against their other core values.
But to fully explain how and why this has come about requires going back some years – in fact to 1969 and the state of Israel, when Golda Meir became Prime Minister. At that time – hard to believe when you consider the state of affairs now - Israel was beloved and championed by the liberal left. It ticked all the right boxes: a brave new nation of only 4 million people surrounded by numerous hostile Arab nations, with a combined total of two hundred million, vying for its destruction; one of the first ever female Prime Ministers in a male-dominated political landscape, at a time when women’s lib was on the rise; and the kibbutz, a particularly idealistic socio-economic endeavour and the model for many farming co-operatives to follow. In fact, such was the level of the love affair between Israel and the liberal left that a favourite past-time of British students throughout the late 60s and 70s was to spend summer breaks on a kibbutz – whereas now they’d more likely be found demonstrating in front of the Israeli embassy.
Finally, that this was a people who had survived the holocaust. Indeed, with the advent of the 1967 war two years previous, it had been unthinkable that the surrounding Arab armies might be victorious and the Jewish people would face the same again – massacred and cast to the wind to return to being simply an ethnic group in other nations. Another diaspora, if you will. Such was the level of fear and outrage, particularly amongst the liberal left, that many protest groups begged the USA to intervene to protect Israel. The USA didn’t – partly because at that time Russia was backing the Arab camp and that could have led to direct conflict with Russia – though the USA did provide arms, as indeed the Russians were supplying the Arab armies.
Then the war came, and went. In six days! While Israel could be applauded for fighting such a speedy, strategic war with resultant low losses on both sides, the downside was that it caused a serious dent to their status as ‘underdogs’ with the liberal left. Still, though, the surrounding Arab nations massed against them were much larger, and six years later made a more concerted and organized assault with the Yom Kippur war – which at one point came dangerously close to success – before finally throwing in the towel.
This six-year period also saw the first seeds of Palestinian nationalism – before that it had been purely a Pan-Arab battle, and if successful Israel would no doubt have been divided up equally between its surrounding conquerors of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, with little thought of developing an independent Palestinian homeland. Indeed, that hard truth was demonstrated by the fact that Jordan, who held the West Bank and East Jerusalem between 1948-1967, made no moves whatsoever towards the formation of a separate Palestinian state, they simply annexed the entire area as part of an expanded Jordan.
In the decades following, there was an uncomfortable courtship between the left-wing and the Palestinian cause, mostly due to how it was pursued during that period. After all, however righteous that cause might be, what self-respecting left-winger could, with a clear conscience, support plane hijackings, killing half an Olympic team and blowing apart men, women and children in cafés, hotels, clubs and shopping malls. Paradoxically, it wasn’t until the security divide to protect against this was built between 2002-2006 that the Palestinians were seen as a fully-entrenched and disadvantaged group, and so in turn were perceived by the left-wing as fully deserving of the ‘underdog’ crown previously held by Israel.
In Gaza – where with the withdrawal of settlers, Gazan women gave flowers to Israeli soldiers in thanks – that initial hope faded as Hamas gained control and with continual rocket fire into Israel, the situation became even more entrenched.
In retrospect, one can’t help wonder whether Palestinian leaders – having viewed the reaction in the West to that thirty-year largely civilian-targeted terrorist bombing campaign – helped shaped how they would fight their cause in the future. Certainly with the divide built and future bombing plans seriously hampered, propaganda was probably the only remaining strong option – so it’s easy to see why the Palestinians would make as much of their future civilian losses as they could. As a result, those losses were strongly exaggerated or bent out of shape, and pictures of injured or dead infants displayed at every opportunity. ‘They’re killing our children,’ became a favoured headline. And who can blame them? Having seen their own bombing campaigns against Israelis have a reverse effect and raise nothing but horror in the West, why not dip their bread in some of that same gravy – or in this case, blood – and plumb Western liberal sensitivities as best they could. Perhaps they even thought at one stage: the holocaust helped the Jews gain Israel, playing the victim card might work in a similar way for us too.
So it’s easy to understand why the Palestinians and part of the Arab media pursued this course; after all, with the odds against them in a conventional conflict, what other choice was there? But the position of the liberal left and much of the Western media is not so easy to comprehend. Where were the voices questioning these statistics or this strategy, or indeed stating the obvious: ‘You can hardly complain about civilian losses on your side when for the past thirty years you’ve pursued a terrorist bombing campaign against Israel which has targeted almost exclusively civilians.’ But this sort of reality-check was rarely if ever aired.
And as this one-way Palestinian-plight-propaganda-machine gained momentum, any remaining semblance of reality or balance was also lost. The security wall was suddenly dubbed an ‘apartheid wall’ (neglecting the fact that if that had been the main aim it would have been built in 1949, not 55 years later in the wake of one of the worst terrorist bombing campaigns any nation has suffered); the Palestinian plight was sometimes compared to the holocaust (neglecting the fact that they were several million lives lost short, with the only remotely comparable recent conflict, Syria, where 5 times as many Muslims have died in 5 years than with Israel in 65 years). The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ bandied about, when indeed the population in Gaza and the West Bank now stands at almost 5 million, four times that of the Palestinian population in 1948. And within Israel itself – something often conveniently forgotten by the left-wing – you have a further 1.7 million Muslim Arabs residing, almost three times that of Palestinians originally displaced.
By the time you get to the stage of liberal left-wingers and students marching alongside Palestinians chanting ‘Palestine shall be free, from the river to the sea,’ in essence calling for the removal or eradication of all the Jews in between, hardly different to the stance of an ardent racist or latter-day Nazi – the polar opposite of all the left-wing has historically stood for – you realize just how out of control things have become. I’m sure that if any of the students involved in demonstrations in support of Israel in the 60s and 70s were looking on, they’d shake their heads in disgust. ‘Don’t you realize you’re demonstrating for the very thing that we strived to avoid all those years ago – the removal of all Jews from the area. Don’t you appreciate how abhorrently racist that is? Indeed, directly against all left-wing principals we’ve ever held dear.’
Of course, when these ardent left-wingers are called out on this apparent racism, they often reply, ‘Oh, I’m not anti-Jewish at all, it’s just Zionists I’m against.’ But even this doesn’t stand up to even a basic litmus-morals test. It’s a bit like saying, ‘Those pesky Jews are bearable I suppose when they’re living in other nations – but for God’s sake don’t let them have a nation of their own.’ Or how would it be if the remark came (I often feel you get more clarity on an issue when viewed from the other side), ‘Oh, I’m not anti-Muslim at all, it’s just the Palestinians I’m against.’ And while no doubt the many Israeli infractions and wrongdoings would be raised in support of an anti-Zionist stance (and yes indeed, there have been many), as many infractions and wrongdoings could also be pointed at the Palestinians with the waves of suicide bombings, rockets, kidnapping tunnels and knife attacks.
Thankfully, many of the Muslim and Palestinian contacts and friends I have, don’t think this way at all, and indeed you’d be hard pushed to slide a playing card between my view and theirs – perhaps not surprising for a Labour-Herzog and peace-camp supporter (in the same way that regrettably today you might have trouble discerning between an arch-left and Islamist/jihadist view on the Middle East). So while I’m critical of Palestinian suicide bombing campaigns and rocket attacks, I’m equally condemning of many Likud-led actions by Israel: the heavy-handed military actions in Gaza, and the fact that they often stay mute – or in some cases support – expanded settlements in the West Bank, which I feel are an impediment to peace.
As for the seemingly endless ‘occupation’, most Israelis don’t wish to see it continue in any shape or form, but are stuck for a viable alternative. They’ve handed over as much of security in the West Bank to Fatah’s PA as is sensible, and Hamas are in complete control in Gaza. Further, if the Palestinians were offered independent statehood tomorrow, the majority wouldn’t wish it under the current leadership. They find Fatah largely corrupt and Hamas little better, an arch-Islamist group in the pocket of foreign proxy paymasters intent on continued conflict with Israel, with little care or regard for the Palestinian people caught in the middle.
By the same token, I’m sure many of my Palestinian friends and contacts would also like to shake some sense into today’s left-wingers: ‘Don’t you realize that with your ‘Palestine-river-to-sea free’ chanting you’re simply igniting a harder-line protective policy within Israel, ensuring that Likud get voted in yet again and further bolstering them? Effectively pushing peace and a solution away another five to ten years. Ensuring that more protective walls, fences and check-points are built. And that with each rocket fired, suicide bombing or knife attack, very much the same is achieved?’
Of course, the situation is far more complex than that, but while the left-wing point to America’s support of Israel, they tend to overlook the tremendous support Palestinians also have, particularly in the Arab world. Abbas’s Fatah party receives support from many Arab nations, the EU and USA, whereas historically Hamas’s support has come from Syria, Iran, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood in various Arab nations. And with the advent of Hamas losing Syrian and Iranian funding due to their support of rebels allied against Assad, the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatari funding has increased, and there is now talk also of Hamas links with ISIS.
The underlying issue with this funding is that a hundred percent of the Hamas funding (and a degree of the Fatah funding from Arab quarters) is provided on the understanding that it be used primarily to undermine and ultimately destroy the Jewish state rather than make peace with it. So in that regard the Pan-Arab battle against Israel of forty years ago has hardly changed – except that now it’s fought primarily on a proxy rather than open basis. So that on the surface the Palestinians appear isolated and vulnerable (so that they garner Western sympathies and support), yet in the background they are still fully supported.
The problem with this type of support is that it shows little regard for the actual plight of the Palestinian people. The undermining of Israel is put first and their own welfare second; in that regard, they are seen as mere pawns in a much grander Pan-Arab battle against Israel. So rockets, mortars and cement for incursion and kidnapping tunnels take precedence over schools, hospitals and trade parks – things which might actually improve the welfare of the Palestinians. Of course, there’s also an underlying motive in all of this – because you can hardly recruit the next band of ‘freedom fighters’ when things are stable and the economy quite good. Which is no doubt why a number of surrounding Arab nations have kept the Palestinians in refugee camps throughout, without integrating them into their societies. Do we in the UK still have Ugandan Asians in refugee camps forty years later? Do we intend to put the current influx of Syrians into refugee camps and keep them there? No. So why do we tolerate numerous Arab nations doing that with the Palestinians?
There is it appears a need to keep them ‘lean and mean’ so that all their ills can be blamed on Israel. And of course with the response to suicide bombings, rocket attacks and random knifings – with increased barriers and security and often heavy-handed and OTT reprisals – those ills and injustices come to the fore even more (especially by the time they’ve been put though the media-and-online propaganda mill), and the cycle continues.
When it comes to the attitude of today’s left-wing liberals to Muslims at large, their fault-lines are even more acute. Yes, I fully understand their motives in defending a seemingly put-upon minority in Europe and the USA, as indeed Jews and Afro-Caribbean’s were similarly defended by the liberal left in those regions in years gone by. And, yes, Islamophobia is a problem in some quarters, particularly with the far-right and UK groups such as the EDL. But in the rush to defend that minority, left-wing liberals seem to have forgotten that many of these Muslim groups (and this is particularly true of Hamas or any ardent Islamic group) are intolerant of gay rights, equality for women, democratic rights and freedom of speech (particularly when it involves the Prophet Mohammed). All the core tenets that any self-respecting left-wing liberal holds dear. So in that respect they face a tremendous dichotomy, with one part of their aims directly at odds with all the others.
These are all, I might add, values that Israel embraces probably more than any other nation in the Middle East. Indeed, I recently posted a link to a New York Times article about the Palestinian Arab community in Haifa, where a more liberal lifestyle is enjoyed, embracing secularism, feminism and gay rights, as propounded by Palestinian café owner, Ayed Fadel: ‘We want a gay couple to go to the dance floor and kiss each other, and nobody to even look at them. This is the new Palestinian society we are aiming for.’ A lifestyle that no doubt would tick all the right boxes with left-wing liberals, yet that 1.7 million Palestinian-Arab community within Israel is so often ignored.
The issue of ‘minorities’ also becomes a moveable feast, as that tag changes with geography. In the UK, America and Europe, Muslims are still very much a minority – though entirely the opposite case in the Middle East. In that region, Christians, Jews, Druze, Yazidis and Baha’i’s are in the minority. So that ‘minority-status-vulnerability’ felt by a number of Muslims in the West is not too different to that experienced by these other minority groups in the Middle East. Indeed, with Jews numbering just sixteen million worldwide – versus two billion Muslims – they carry that ‘minority status’ in both the West and the Middle East. Something for left-wing liberals to consider while waving the banner for ‘minority groups’.
Of course, perceived prejudice against Muslim minorities in the West now has a label: Islamophobia. In some instances, I think this is openly practiced and is a real problem, especially amongst far right groups. But recently on a leading UK Muslim message board which carried a banner headline proclaiming their battle against ‘Islamophobia’, I couldn’t help noticing how many of their posters openly displayed Judenphobia, Zionophobia and Big-Bad-Westophobia. The irony appeared somewhat lost on them of complaining about prejudice against Muslims while openly practicing the same against so many other groups. In fact, Mehdi Hussein, a prominent UK Muslim journalist – and not normally known for his pro-Jewish stance – chaired a debate last year which discussed antisemitism within Islam.
However, it’s not just with the left-wing that the lines have become muddied over the years. On a message board not long ago, an EDL member suggested that my defence of Israel on various fronts must surely mean that I was anti-Muslim? I quickly put him right that I was strongly anti-prejudice on all fronts, and indeed was deeply suspicious of the EDL’s motives and overall stance, since their forerunners of the National Front and Mosley-ites have by turn had Jews, Afro-Caribbean’s and Asians/Indians in their cross-hairs. All they’ve done is shift their ‘ethnic group to target’ over the years.
That left him as baffled as the Palestinian supporter involved in the same debate, so I felt I owed them both an explanation. I elaborated that while I was pro-Zionist (a hang-up of the 70s left-wing ‘brave-new-nation’ supporting, if you will), I was also very much pro-Palestine (cue more raised eyebrows of surprise on both sides). I went on to explain that if you believed in the rights of a people to have their own nation, then it was the only rightful and correct stance to take. Further, that favouring one people’s rights over another could be seen as somewhat prejudiced. I accepted that that’s how the conflict had come to be seen by many over the years – that being pro-Zionist automatically meant you were anti-Palestinian and vice-versa. But did that indeed need to be the case? That one had to be at the expense of the other? Surely if you took an independent-nation-rights stance, you could support both equally.
It might be that events have gone too far over the years for that sort of open-minded and even-handed stance to be adopted readily by some, but I do feel that’s at the heart of where left-wing liberals have gone wrong and strayed from their core values. That through time they’ve taken a stance purely from one side and one viewpoint, then cherry-picked information to back up that stance (some of it pre-packaged for them by propaganda groups), so in the end they appear more like a one-way-view football-supporting rabble, rather than the more balanced, open-minded intelligentsia they used to pride themselves on being.
And, following that same ethos, perhaps a more open and even-handed view on other fronts: that if concerned about human rights abuses, these should be focused upon equally (not just when Israel are responsible). That if atrocities and civilian losses are the issue, these again should be given equal consideration (yet time and again we see losses where Israel or the Big-Bad-West are involved focused disproportionally upon, even though these are a fraction of the Muslim vs Muslim losses of the region). Same again for free speech and abrogation of rights of any group or nation. In other words, put the issues first, not the people or ethnic group involved.
Thankfully, there are many who do adopt a more open and even-handed stance. Polls show that 79% of Israelis and 68% of Palestinians support peace and a ‘green-line’ border solution. And indeed, before the current wave of knife attacks and reprisals which started last October (largely religious inspired), things in the West Bank were reasonably stable and good. Palestinian losses from security conflicts averaged only four a month for the past 5 years (about a quarter of the inter-person Palestinian murder rate), unemployment is less than in Spain, trade and welfare quite good, shops well-stocked and restaurants busy. Gaza is a different matter, and unity between West-Bank Fatah and Gaza-run Hamas is in fact part of the hold up with the $5 billion foreign aid for Gaza, which leading Palestinian human rights advocate, Bassem Eid, writes about here.
Indeed, Bassem Eid has for a long while been one of the main Palestinian voices of hope and unity coming out of the region. A leading human rights campaigner for thirty years, he has developed a strong reputation of pulling no punches and being openly critical of abuses on both sides – whether by Israelis or Palestinians. As a result, he has become respected by each side, and in some instances feared: his views are simply too honest and forthright for some. But one thing becomes clear, he’s one of the few strong voices to clearly have the welfare of the Palestinian people at heart, rather than simply be washed along with the flow of some nearby proxy-interest Arab nation (in these two articles he talks about the lack of clear Palestinian leadership as they put those proxy interests before the interests and welfare of the Palestinian people). In that regard, today’s left-wing liberals would serve themselves well by taking a leaf out of his book. And perhaps ask themselves the same hard and fast question: do they also wish to serve those same remote Arab-proxy interests, or those of the Palestinian people?
And if in turn I was asked the hard and fast question of whether I still considered myself left-wing, I’d answer that if it involved targeting one race, nation or ethnic group, then cherry-picking any and all facts to back up that stance – so that in essence I became no better than a mirror-image of a right-wing supporter targeting a similar ethnic group or religion on the reverse side of that coin – then count me out. But if it involved a return to grass-roots ethics of defending human rights, atrocities, discrimination and prejudice on an even-handed basis wherever they may occur – then count me back in.