The Hamas pogrom and civilian casualties in Gaza are expanding a profound faultline between the “Kibbutzim Left” and the “Nakba Left.”
The first says that the creation of Israel was legitimate and that its collectivist communes and Labour Governments were beacons of hope. The second focuses on displaced Palestinians in 1948 – Nakba or catastrophe – although few mention the mass expulsion of Jews from Arab countries. The truth is that liberation and catastrophe co-existed.
It is shocking that decent people consorted with those who seek a Palestine from the river to the sea as if it were desirable to erase Israel.
Parts of the hard left routinely embrace maximalist positions grounded in bad history. They demanded a united Ireland even if it meant suppressing unionists who were barely acknowledged. They advocate a single Kurdistan though that is not backed by any major party in the four Kurdish entities.
The invocation of Israel as a colonial settler state inspires many students and teachers, especially in America. Some dismiss the atrocities at the Nova music festival because victims were “partying on stolen land.” This is at universities on lands brutally taken from native Americans.
Any foolishness I had when I was young is lost in the pre-digital age. It took great effort to amplify idiocies through the hard slog of events and motions. Advocating extreme views now takes a few clicks. It can affect real life policy making and nurture antisemitism.
The decolonisation theories underpinning this agitation must be demolished intellectually. Paul Mason’s forensic critique explains: ‘if you promote a theory that tells you white people cannot be victims, that allows you to classify all Israeli Jews as white, that identifies Jews in Britain as part of a white settler colonialist elite, that rules out class solidarity, that suspends basic feminist solidarity with the victims of sexual violence, and is grounded in the impossibility of hope and change, then at some point you are going to find people tearing down posters of kidnapped Israeli kids or standing outside Keir Starmer’s office ranting about how his wife is “a Zionist”. The decolonisation theory has, in short, become an obstacle to the development of a reality-based response to 7 October for parts of the left.’
Furthermore, he writes that “so much of what is unacceptable in the current protest narrative is being amplified by well-funded hybrid operations, run from Beijing, Moscow and Tehran.” Such agitation advances rather than stops war.
The priority is a two state solution that has been stalled for so long but for which there is a base in the Arab world. That will be helped if and when the window of intense Israeli military action closes, as America and other allies are telling Israeli leaders with increasing urgency. And then improving Palestinian governance and the reconstruction of Gaza without Hamas. Arab deals with Israel that abandon the Palestinians won’t fly.
The bitter differences on the left echo the global split in labour movements over the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The schism spawned Eurocommunism, which rejected Soviet dominance and the leading role of “the party” in post-capitalist societies. Labour movements became more hygienic without Soviet-inspired peace movements and through later purges of Leninist entrist groups in the UK.
Eurocommunism and the innovative magazine, Marxism Today, enriched Marxist thinking as a living rather than fossilised canon. It embraced the insights of the subtle Italian theoretician Antonio Gramsci and advanced the intellectual renaissance of social democracy. Neil Kinnock listened to the magazine’s guru, Eric Hobsbawm whose later view was that it was possible to combine Marxism and social democracy.
Eurocommunism expired but social democracy must be further enriched as we limber up to our first election victory for nearly 20 years. Foreign policy is never a major issue until it is, often in a simplistic and obsessive manner that neglects many contemporary catastrophes.
But achieving electoral victory and keeping power requires we are not found wanting by sudden shocks abroad and that we take a more rounded view rather than just waving one side’s flags.
Labour’s hard left enemies acted as if we were already in government when the Hamas crisis came out of the blue. Just imagine how much more caustic and divisive 7 October would have been if we had been in government.
Thankfully, the Labour Leadership held the line about Israel’s right to defend itself and degrade the aggressor while also cautioning against a revenge that harms civilians.
Brendan Cox’s vigil encouraged concerned citizens away from one-sided bombast to even-handed sympathy. As in so many conflicts, the long-term and hard work of peacebuilding and recognising the others’ humanity are vital. The peacemakers really should be blessed while the Stop the War Coalition should be banished into irrelevance.
Progressives often prefer to focus on bread and butter issues at home and neglect faraway issues. They are increasingly combined. Just think of the impact of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan or a second Trump victory let alone flashpoints we haven’t even considered. Former Australian Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd rightly says we are living in “a decade of living dangerously.” Such events can quickly undermine Labour’s unity, credibility, and purpose if we aren’t more careful and intellectually coherent.
To read more from Gary Kent, see The Middle East: a high-stakes moment in history.