Yascha Mounk and Anshel Pfeffer discuss how the war is transforming Israel, Palestine and the Middle East.
Such is my hope as well. I stick to it like a mussel.
But I am quite anguished to be honest, and dismayed. Not for anything other than the reaction of the world to this.
In the last 15-20 years, says Mr Pfeffer. But to me, it is far more years than that. Far more years that the image of the Israel-as-evil has been built into the subconscious of the Western liberals... not just the Left, everything much to well right-of-centre, to the places where I would never look for friends. No, it is not that they cannot conceive the monstrosity of October 7 (there have been many other genocidal acts in other parts of the world: Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, to quote a few that implied vicious murders, rape, dismemberments). It is that they cannot see it because their ideology prevents them.
I have revisited history a lot in these last 4 weeks. I have discovered things, even personal, that had evaded me.
Since I was in university, an that was the mid 70s, I was led to think that Israel did terrible wrongs to the Palestinians. Only Israel. That the Palestinians did not actually hate Israel at all, but only wanted their own state that Israel callously denied them. That the terrorist acts of the Palestinians were all directed at the military superior Israeli forces, never at civilians (the constant rockets, the suicide bombers, that all did not really compute); that some other acts like the Munich massacre were excesses driven by exasperation, that people like Abu Nidal and his group were just flukes, not representative. The Palestinians were the heroes of the students of 68 and of all the students movements that followed. One never criticised the Palestinians, because they fought against American imperialism expressed through its lackey, Israel. Intifada was poor people with pebbles against armed soldiers. Good and evil written large and clear.
My understanding changed a bit after I married a Jewish woman, and more after our separation when she made aliyah with our son, and I saw more of Israel. But the environment where I moved, the generically liberal moderate Left, was still sold on the evil of Israel - ahistorically refusing to see how the entire conflict developed, assigning blame on the basis of preconceived ideas that did not budge. But it was far away and not so relevant, so it did not show so much, and I did not have to seriously face the morality of my friends.
Then comes October 7, and masks fall.
No, it is not blindness to excessive horror. It is an ideology that comes straight from the beginning of last century, that part of Marxism-Leninism that divides the world in oppressor and oppressed with the West always on the wrong side of history because rich and capitalist, and its enemies always in the right, whatever they do. No, they do not see that it is also a war of religion (or better, to quote Benny Morris, a clash of civilisations -- one of which is the one to which they belong, whose grave they are helping to dig) simply because the ideas are superstructure, the reality is the power relations.
It goes through Marx and Lenin, through especially French philosophers like Sartre -- through years and years of sustained USSR propaganda and painful American missteps into supporting totalitarian regimes on the Right -- up to Derrida, until it begets this that we call identity politics and its insanity. No, it is not a conscious conspiracy: it is a set of beliefs that clearly resonates with people, just in the same way that religion does. And it is old, and it persists.
And it creates the moral bankruptcy of these people (including a number of Jewish intellectuals) who can brush aside the atrocities of October 7 and blame them on the victims, because their cosmogony tells them so. Because there are worthy and unworthy victims.
No, I do not think that it is something so noble as refusal to accept the horror. I believe it is just the same thing that has always allowed people to rejoice in the massacre of the enemy -- and very few who do that ever think that they are abetting evil. They are just very sure of where the good stands and will let nothing come in the way of their conviction, because it feels good to be right.
And the others who are not celebrating but just tepid, incapable of simply condemning an act of abominable terror (all the Western countries that abstained and prevented the UN condemnation of the act of Hamas), the universities that declared support for the Palestinians just the day after the attack and before there was even the first military response, the establishment media that keeps taking the word of Hamas without fact-checking, that refuses to call them terrorists -- these are all steeped in the same refrain that has gone on for well over 50 years, and cannot shake it off. Israel is bad. Israel defends itself and succeeds, so it is twice bad, because we only love victims who are powerless.
(Here, again, read the rationale of it all if you have the stomach. This bloke was a Trot, then a Corbynite: he has the original framework very clear: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/jenkins/2006/xx/terrorism.html)
I am not sure if the West will be able to shake off the self-hating doldrums that have gripped it, through this infection that, incubating for so long, has mutated into a religion of increasingly deranged widespread dogmatism, even worse than the original one.
I know that I see those who would like to see the West destroyed score points, cheer and rejoice.
And I know that I have been shedding friends like ticks, in the last few weeks.
As a lay person trying hard to find an ethical position to take on this conflict, I found this podcast troubling. After giving lip-service to the value of every civilian life, Mounk and Pfeffer have pitted themselves against those who express sympathy for the plight of Gaza as though it were not possible to feel deep sorrow for—and anger at— both Israelis and Gazans. Horror at the gruesome slaughters of October 7 does not have to blind us to the fact that Israel's response has shown as little respect for civilian life as the incident that triggered it. I see this conversation as an example of the identity politics that Mounk claims to reject. There are victims on both sides here, as there always have been in this 75-year-old conflict. I didn't hear even lip-service to that.
This piece makes a similar rhetorical move to that made by the identitarian left which, once the right adopted the pejorative use of the term "woke," a usage already current among some of us not on the right, now dismisses any criticism of their ideology as "far-right." Here we find opposition to Israeli policy toward Gaza, or perhaps failure to offer Israel full-throated support in its response to the attacks of October 7, attributed to identitarianism or ignorance, with perhaps also a hint of anti-semitism. My experience of the allowed range of attitudes toward Israel since at least the 1960s fits that of Wayne Karol: even the hint of a suggestion that the Palestinians might have a case was considered absolutely unacceptable and attributable to anti-semitism. Now the loudest voices raising concerns, at least in the US, about what's happening in Gaza do often speak in the language of identity, and in a shallow, outrageous way. But that should not be taken to mean that everyone with concerns about what's happening in Gaza, who's shocked at the bombing of refugee camps, ambulances or hospitals as well at the October 7 slaughter of Israelis, shares an identitarian framework. I've read a fair amount about Israel and Palestine before, and have spent a lot of time reading news and commentary since October 7, US and European with a glance at the headlines in Haaretz in English. My preferred source of information has been Le Monde where I found an interview with the Israeli academic Omer Bartov [https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2023/10/27/omer-bartov-historien-israel-ne-semble-disposer-d-aucun-plan-politique-il-ne-dispose-que-d-un-plan-militaire-tres-hasardeux_6196683_3232.html]. The article includes a link to a petition labeled The Elephant in the Room [https://sites.google.com/view/israel-elephant-in-the-room/home]. That petition now presents a link to another, a response to October 7. [https://sites.google.com/view/israel-elephant-in-the-room/response-to-october-7]. I include these links because they summarize well important counterarguments. The "elephant" petition started within the academic world and sometimes sounds like it, but it seems unlikely in the extreme that its writers and signatories are identitarians, ignorant, or anti-semites.