Being an Israeli lefty means walking an incredibly lonely road. It means to be a Zionist (believing that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish-majority state), but also to believe in a peace with the Palestinians through the two-state solution. We are the ultimate outcasts; Israeli nationalists marginalise us for our opinions, while various people outside of Israel equally sideline us for being Israelis.
Despite our usual isolation however, nothing prepared us for what we have been experiencing since the 7 October terrorist attack. On that day, an unprovoked Hamas indiscriminately murdered 1,200 innocent Israelis, employed horrendous methods like rape and mutilation, and abducted an additional 250 civilians to Gaza. Many of the victims, by the way, were members of the Kibbutzim; socialist, peace-loving Israelis who did their fair share for Palestinian rights. But instead of reaffirming peace and denouncing the atrocities, many members of the Western left chose to express support for these crimes, and chant genocidal calls against Israel, Israelis, and sometimes Jews in general.
Antisemitic incidents are skyrocketing all over the West. Being a student in London myself, I can testify that simple actions, like speaking Hebrew or wearing Jewish signifiers, have become dangerous acts. I have a friend who is being ostracized by his peers; his only crime is wearing a Kippah. Another friend has her professor obsessively send her pro-Palestinian articles ever since he learned she was Jewish. And these daily micro-aggressions are not even the worst of it; almost every time I go to campus there is some sticker, sign, or protest that calls for the destruction of my country and for harm against me and my loved ones. I consequently avoid campus whenever I can.
The most maddening part about it is that many of the culprits are not alt-right members or neo-Nazis, the usual antisemitism suspects, but rather the left – the so-called humanitarians, our former friends. This has thrown me, and many other Israeli lefties, into a deep identity crisis. We do not know anymore where our political home is, and what part of the world is left for us to feel safe in.
How have things come so far? The answer lies in a deadly combination of pro-Palestinian radicals and a lazy, “sort of” approach among many in the contemporary left.
Over the last three decades, a new pro-Palestine force rose in Western political and academic circles. Many of its leaders are not leftist humanists who believe in peace and coexistence, but in fact a very militant and radical breed of Arab and Palestinian nationalists. Take for example Hatem Bazian, who founded the popular American activism group “Students for Justice in Palestine”. Bazian routinely spreads antisemitic and anti-Israeli messages, and allegedly has ties to former operatives of the Holy Land Foundation. This entity was designated as a terrorist organization by the American government and was shut down for providing material aid to Hamas.
Such radicals have no interest in peaceful Arab-Israeli coexistence; their main aim is to wholly delegitimize Israel in preparation for its ultimate destruction. This is most apparent in their flagship project: the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which calls to boycott Israelis at large. BDS could not be further away from the leftist ideals: it is not only racist (because it assumes that all Israelis are “evil” and should thus be excluded), but also counterproductive to the cause of peace and dialogue between peoples. The only people harmed by actions like academic or cultural boycott are us Israeli lefties, who seek international partnerships with like-minded organizations abroad. Any decent left-winger would aim to empower us, not strangle us. But these radicals of course do not care, because for them – we Israeli lefties are part of the enemy. And we too need to be destroyed.
Unfortunately, these radical elements have successfully hijacked the Western left’s mainstream discourse when it comes to Palestine and Israel. Many people who consider themselves humanists of the left have inadvertently adopted hateful views such as support for violent Palestinian factions and the BDS movement. I disagree that the culprit here is leftist antisemitism or a narrow “oppressor versus oppressed” view of the conflict. My conclusion is much bleaker: many in the Western left today are simply lazy.
The left-wingers I talk about care more about appearing good than being good. They do not have the time or energy to really act; only to tick the good deed box and score some likes on social media. This is why they conveniently attend (but not lead) the premade, extremist pro-Palestine protests organized by the radicals. This is also why they are not sounding a similar outcry in relation to other conflicts, much deadlier and longer than the current Israel-Gaza war, such as the Yemeni or Syrian civil wars. When they attend the pro-Palestine rallies, they are willing to overlook racist, violent, or offensive content because the underlying goal is “sort of” right, and that is good enough for them. As the British radical-left Socialist Worker Party put it: “Socialist revolutionaries do not agree with Hamas over class politics or women’s and LGBT+ rights or many other questions. But we don’t make our support for Hamas against Zionism and imperialism conditional on their adoption of a socialist position around these issues”.
When you join a protest out of this “sort of” attitude, even if you do not mean to, you do not strengthen peace and coexistence but in fact war and hate. You help not the left, but nationalists and racists – even if they are someone else’s nationalists and racists. You let people who oppose peace exploit you for their cynical, anti-left gains; you exclude and alienate potential partners in Israel; and you make innocent Jews and Israelis abroad feel unsafe being themselves.
One thing that I take pride in as an Israeli lefty is that we never absolved ourselves of our personal responsibility or joined someone else’s premade protest. We have always fought our local fight and organized protests in favour of a Palestinian state, because we recognized that we have the responsibility to influence Israeli policy as part of the transnational leftist struggle for justice and coexistence. In this regard, some of the Western left can learn a lot from us.
To read more on this topic, see Hypocrisy, hate and bad history: Leaving the anti-western Left in the past.