LIKE THE WAR in Ukraine, the war in Gaza is serving as a remarkable litmus test for the Left. It is testing its moral compass, its understanding of international law, its grasp of geopolitical realities and, not least, its awareness of what the PR mavens call “the optics”. A substantial portion, even, perhaps, a majority, of the Left is failing all of these tests – badly. That this should be the case points to what would appear to be a dangerous cognitive weakness in contemporary progressivism – and to a West under siege.
The moral and geopolitical confusion over the Russo-Ukrainian War is more readily understood than Israel’s war against Hamas. For the so-called “Tankies”, abandoning the cherished image of the Russian people, Nazism’s destroyers, as the world’s saviours, was an emotional wrench. Rejecting the argument that the Russian Federation’s illegal invasion of Ukraine was a justifiable response to US and Nato provocation proved equally difficult. None of these considerations excused the Tankies’ defence of Russian aggression, but one could at least see where it was coming from.
That is certainly not the case with respect to the devastating pogrom unleashed upon the Jewish inhabitants of Southern Israel by the Jihadist terrorist organisation, Hamas. To encounter its historical equal, it is necessary to travel back in time to the genocidal pogroms set in motion by the antisemitic citizens of the Baltic states in anticipation of the Nazi einsatzgruppen’s arrival in 1941. Here, too, one encounters the same indiscriminate and unsparing cruelty, the same savage delight in rape, torture and murder, that characterised the Hamas pogrom of 7 October 2023.
As was the case in 1941, it is quite impossible to look upon the atrocities of 7/10/23 as anything other than a deliberate turning away from all civilised conduct. Unless, that is, one has already been convinced that against the Jews/Israelis any and all crimes are permitted – and justified.
That this was the belief of the Nazis is well-documented. That a burning desire to rid the world of the “Zionist Entity” is equally evident in every act of Arab aggression towards the State of Israel since 1948. The important distinction being that, while Egypt, Syria and Jordan only wanted to drive the Jews into the sea, the Jihadists of Hamas are religiously committed to making sure that every last one of them drowns.
What is it then that permits those who self-identify as leftists to survey the horrors of 7 October 2023 and see only a glorious act of Palestinian resistance? How is it possible for those who cheered on Jacinda Ardern’s “politics of kindness” to absorb all the details of the rape, the torture, the killing – and not respond with fury and disgust?
One possible answer is that they have seen the images of Palestinians shot and killed for daring to oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine. They have watched, aghast, as Israeli aircraft, Israeli artillery, have pounded the houses and apartment buildings of Gaza to rubble. Seen, also, the tiny victims of such bombardment, and heard the anguished cries of their mothers. “Lex Talionis!”, they cry. “An eye for an eye!”
But the moral vacuity of this position was as obvious to a Galilean rabbi back in 30AD, as it was to the Gujarat lawyer who declared in 1920AD that “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind”. A leftist who turns her face in fury and disgust from the IDF’s brutality on the West Bank, cannot, either logically or ethically, refrain from doing the same in the face of Hamas’ murderous fanaticism.
That Pro-Palestinian leftists cannot see the deeply cynical purpose behind Hamas’ attack is similarly baffling. Notwithstanding the facts of international law concerning the responsibility of all those exercising state (or state-like) authority to protect their citizens from harm, Hamas committed its atrocities in the certain knowledge that Israel – fulfilling its own legal duty to protect its citizens – would feel compelled to destroy those responsible for organising and committing them. That this would entail air and artillery strikes on Gaza was obvious to the whole world. But, Hamas did not shrink from Israeli retaliation, it welcomed it.
Why? Because it knew that if the IDF was coming after them, then it would also be coming after the apartment buildings, the office blocks, the schools and the hospitals from which it launches its rockets, and under which it locates its storehouses, fuel dumps, arsenals, factories and command centres. Does Hamas know that this is a blatant breach of the Geneva Conventions – a war crime? Of course it does. Doesn’t it care that its own people will be “collateral damage” when the Israeli missiles strike their targets? Not at all. A steadily rising civilian death-toll isn’t a bug in Hamas’ strategy, it’s a feature.
There was a time when, to be regarded as a serious leftist, one was obligated to inform oneself as well as possible about world affairs – especially the geopolitics of great power rivalry and its consequences. No longer. One can be a fervent supporter of the Palestinian cause without ever pausing to wonder from whom groups like Hamas and Hezbollah get their military supplies, their military training.
Today’s leftists do not know, or do not care, that it is the hand of the Islamic Republic of Iran that is moving these terrorist pieces on the Middle-East chessboard. The same Islamic Republic that murders women and girls for refusing to wear the hijab. The same Islamic Republic that is committed to the utter destruction of Israel – and is rapidly acquiring the nuclear capacity to do exactly that. Today’s leftists simply do not realise that, if this was the Lord of the Rings, they’d be on the side of Sauron – they’d be cheering on the orcs.
Don’t they care about the optics of all this? When Jewish students in New York have to barricade themselves in their university library, against pro-Palestinian leftists, and all the antisemitic, misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic “allies” standing right there beside them, pounding on the door, trying to get in. Does it not occur to them that people looking at the video clip of that incident posted on X might be reminded of something? When a supposed “leftist” stands up in Auckland’s Aotea Square and urges the multitude waving their Palestinian flags to “Globalise the Intifada!” – i.e. Let’s have pogroms everywhere! – and is cheered to the echo. What does he suppose New Zealand’s Jewish community sees?
Not leftism, but fascism. And so does every other leftist who still understands the meaning of the word.
This essay was originally posted on the Democracy Project website on Tuesday, 31 October 2023.