The Israeli Palestinian conflict in terms of number of people involved, area and casualties seems insignificant in comparison with other conflicts in the Middle East, such as the Kurds in Turkey, and also in Syria, Iran and Iraq, sectarian division in Iraq, massacres in Syria, human rights violations in Iran and Saudi Arabia, killings in the two states of Nigeria, rapes and killings in Somalia, religious cleansing of Christians in Arab countries and host of other issues. It is certainly minor when compared to conflicts in other regions of the world, for instance Tibet, Nepal, Pakistan, human rights in China and Russia and many other places. Yet, as far as radical Western Left is concerned the Israeli or Jewish Palestinian question is much more obsessively central than any other of these matters. Irrespective if criticizing Israel is justified or not, its importance to the radical Left, merits consideration. Why the Jews and their state are so important to the radical Left? Is it because of antisemitism?
The question is not new. In 1967, still before the Six Days War, Maurice Blanchot, one of the leading French intellectuals and member of the organizing committee of what was later called May Student Revolt resigned from the committee. Later he explained to his friend the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas that he had done so because of the attitude of his colleagues to Israel. When asked whether the reason for this attitude was antisemitism he replied that he does not know, but the result is the same, the antisemites found respectful allies. This took place when Israel was still a darling of many left intellectuals, notably the legendary Jean Paul Sartre and many others.
Although the obsessive bashing of Israel by the radical Left has antisemitic shadows, antisemitism, in my mind, is not the primary motive.
In the first half of twentieth century the radical Left supported Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and later Mao. Following the failure of the Soviet Union, the Left was unable to bring to the table any new original ideas. In fact explicitly or implicitly it accepted neo-liberal or even crony capitalism as an unchangeable fact of life. Characteristically, the radical Left has not provided any intellectual leadership to the Occupy Wall Street movement. With social justice out of the way, the radical Left chose other ideologies: continuing wish for decline of America and the West, and cult of freedom of speech and human rights. For main street America whether an Imam can proclaim his hatred of Jews or not, although disgusting, does not seem too important. The real danger of excessive freedom of speech is the monstrous lobbying power of business, improper use of advertising and political campaign financing. Similarly, the idea of America in decline is unacceptable to majority of America, but here again the unholy alliance with globalisation works for both the radical Left and the highest 0.01 percent of wealthiest Americans.
Israel is an absolute contradiction to the title of the book of Oswald Spengler (Der Untergang des Abendlandes). It is a tiny Western democratic state created in 1948 with a well defined ethos or in postmodern intellectual jargon - narrative, inside a huge region of Arab Middle East. Its population grew from less than one million to 7.5 millions. It is probably the strongest military power in the region, its Air Force strength is only second to that of the US and Russia, its economic growth is among the highest among OECD nations, its unemployment is among the lowest. Tel Aviv has been recently called the high tech hub of the world. In 2011 it was the safest place for Muslim Arabs anywhere in the Middle East. In fact the greatest miracle for any Arab country would be imitating Israel, thus defying the politically correct belief that all civilizations were born equal. The radical Left cannot accept that; in addition, because of similar values to that of the US, strong Israel enhances the idea of “exceptional” America. Consequently, the radical left is dreaming about weakening of Israel and perhaps unmaking of the Jewish state.
The Jewish community in America plays an important a role in the discourse between the two countries. Antisemites and other detractors of Israel played all along the card of “double loyalty,” of American Jews. Nothing can be further from truth and reality. America always cherished the ties of its people with their ethnic origins and it saw in such ties a feature of being an American. From the point of view of Israel, the stronger American Jews in America are, forgetting Israel, the better it is for Israel. Many people are shocked by recent poll, according to which every fifth German is an antisemite. Between the two world wars this percentage in the US was much higher. After WWII the number declined dramatically. One of the reasons was the establishment of the State of Israel, which led the Jews in America to become not only prouder Jews, but better Americans too. Their new standing in the community led them to become the vanguard of equal rights for Afro-Americans and later of the feminist movement. With Eichmann Trial and with Six Days War, Israel grew stronger, as did the stance of American Jewish community.
Almost naturally, American Jews play also a prominent role in the radical Left. Ironically, the stronger is the perception of Israel in America, the stronger are American Jews there, and those among them who are in the radical Left voice “anti-American,” or for that matter anti-Israeli statements, which their fathers and grandfathers would not have dared to make. Anti-Jewish statements by Jews always had special importance for non-Jews. Israeli anti-Zionists have even more special place in this respect. Professor Yankl Shmerl in the University, say, of Afula (there is no such professor and no university there …) whose paper would have never been published in any respected scholarly paper, suddenly becomes a celebrity because he bashes Israeli “occupation,” or “apartheid” or whatever. An Israeli Jew writes it, really? How splendid!
The agenda of the radical Left, apart from being noisy and annoying, has little influence on any of the parties to the conflict. In fact the radical Left ignores the Palestinians and Arabs altogether. It says nothing about them, neither good nor bad, as if they do not exist. It only slams Israel. This hardens of course the attitude of the Palestinians, but they think that the radical Left is in their pocket under all circumstances and do not have to take their opinion into consideration. The main street of Israel regards them one sided and marginal; it does pay attention to what they have to say. Actually, whenever the radical Left says anything, Israelis reject it, many times only because of the preconceived nature of the the party, which voices it.
There is nothing for Israel to argue about with the radical Left. Israel should have its discussions with mainstream America and, to the extent practically possible with Palestinians and Arabs. The intellectual conventional wisdom changes as frequently as the length of women skirts. One still remembers quite well that when the Iraq war was launched, as long as America was winning fast, its staunchest supporter was the Left. In more distant past the same situation was with the Vietnam war. Sooner or later the length of skirts, so would the fashion of intellectual conceit.