This anti-Israel hysteria is the opposite of a peace movement
Anti-Israel activists are the attack dogs of a new Western imperialism.
There are many striking things about the radical rage against Israel that has swept the Western world. There’s its blinkeredness, where these agitators obsess over acts of war carried out by Israel while saying precisely nothing about Kiev’s bombing of civilians in east Ukraine, or America’s resumption of drone attacks in Pakistan, or Egypt the alleged peacemaker’s massacre of more civilians in three days last year than Israel has killed in four weeks in Gaza. There’s its weird intensity, where for some inexplicable reason radicals and liberals are always made more spittle-producing furious by Israel than they are by any other state, issue or war on Earth. There’s its ugly tendency towards racism, where everywhere from London to Paris to Berlin we’ve seen protesters holding up placards depicting hook-nosed Jews feasting on Palestinian blood or heard them chanting ‘Victory to Hamas, Jews to the gas!’.
And there’s another striking, more uncommented-on thing about these red-mist protests against Israel: the extent to which their ostensibly anti-war activists borrow from the language of Western imperialism itself for their denunciations of Israel.
It’s remarkable. Whether they’re branding Israel a ‘rogue state’, or pleading with Western governments to label it a ‘pariah state’, or demanding severe economic sanctions against it, or calling on the UN to cast it out of the family of nations or on the International Criminal Court to drag it by the scruff of its bloodied neck into the dock and charge it with ‘war crimes’, these campaigners who pose as anti-war, who imagine themselves as heirs to the anti-imperialist movements of the twentieth century, actually attempt to marshal the institutions of imperialism itself in their campaign to demonise, isolate and punish Israel. Where pretty much every anti-war demo I went on in my youth involved people hollering ‘Hands off!’ at Western governments – ‘Hands off Haiti’, ‘Hands off Yugoslavia’, ‘Hands off Iraq’ – the message of the anti-Israel paroxysm is the exact opposite: these people are calling for ‘Hands on’, for the West to Do Something, to get stuck in, to intervene both to ‘save Gaza’ (like good, caring colonialists) and to reprimand Israel (like good, angry colonialists).
Israel has become a rogue state for the right-on, the wicked, warped entity Over There that decent-minded liberal folk can rail against, and dream of waging war on, in exactly the same way George W Bush related to Iraq. An anti-war movement? It’s the opposite. The current street-based fury with Israel is best seen, not as any kind of independent or progressive or peacenik grouping, but rather as the protesting wing of the West itself, as the attack dogs of Western institutions’ own exasperation with Israel and their desire to distance themselves from it. These campaigners are effectively pleading with the powers of the West to make good on their post-Cold War promise to rethink their relationship with Israel, and ideally to cast it out entirely from what we view as ‘the civilised world’ (that is, us).
Language is always revealing. And the language used by huge swathes of today’s anti-Israel movement is virtually indistinguishable from the language used over the past 30 years by Western imperialism. On the big Gaza demo in London last weekend, the protesters ‘declared Israel a rogue state’, news reports inform us. One of the speakers, Baroness Jenny Tonge – who once said she might become a suicide bomber if she were a Palestinian, and yet has managed never to blow herself up in the Houses of Parliament despite the fact that it has okayed far worse acts of war than Israel over the past 15 years – said: ‘Israel can no longer be regarded as part of the family of nations – it is a rogue state.’ A writer for the Chicago Tribune says it is time that even America started to look upon Israel as a ‘pariah state’. ‘Israel is becoming a rogue state’, says another observer, before expressing his sorrow that ‘the international community [seems] totally powerless to rein it in’. Radical writers like John Pilger have also called Israel a ‘rogue state’, while Norman Finkelstein says it isn’t only a rogue – it is a ‘state of insanity’.
What we have here are not independent activists pushing forward their own, radical take on global affairs and Middle Eastern politics, but uncritical repeaters of the West’s own imperialist propaganda, only aimed at Israel rather than, say, Iraq. The term ‘rogue state’ was devised by American imperialism in the mid-1990s and intended as a slightly more PC way of establishing a divide between us civilised nations in the West and those less reliable, somewhat unhinged, possibly savage nations elsewhere. Tracing the history of the phrase for his book Rogue Regime, Jasper Becker says the branding ‘rogue state’ was intended to be used by the West as a ‘certificate of dangerous insanity in the diplomatic world’, and was often a prelude to military intervention or sanctions against an allegedly fallen state. Anti-Israel activists now ape such highly moralised Western posturing, using terms like ‘rogue’ and ‘insane’ to brand Israel as no longer ‘part of the family of nations’ – that is, no longer civilised, no longer Western, no longer one of us.
Not content with using imperialism’s language, they also want to use its institutions and its tools against Israel. The UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign has started a mass letter-writing campaign to the UK Foreign Office asking it to impose economic sanctions on Israel – an open-and-shut case of demanding that Western imperialism use its significant clout to punish an errant state Over There. Other radicals have demanded that Israel should be dragged to the International Criminal Court, another imperialistic institution that exists to allow civilised Western powers to, in the words of one critical ICC barrister, ‘try those lesser breeds – the Africans’. Today, Israel is the lesser breed, the new Africans, in the eyes of its critics. And some are calling for actual Western intervention against Israel. A writer for the Guardian says, ‘The international community should intervene to restrain Israel’s army’.
To depict the current anti-Israel hysteria as the descendant of the independent anti-war movements of the past is a severe error, for what we really have here is a rabble-like offshoot of the West’s own new imperialism, a movement with dreams of demonisation, a thirst for punishment, a lust for war, even. This was summed up in the headline to a recent piece published by the Stop the War movement – ‘Time to go to war with Israel as the only path to peace in the Middle East’ – which was ostensibly about marshalling grassroots groups to delegitimise the state of Israel but which also captured brilliantly Western radicals’ Victorian-like violent urge for punishment of the rogue, criminal, uncivilised Israel. The fact that it is more a colonialist instinct than anti-imperialist principle that motors modern-day fury with Israel might go some way to explaining its frequent lapses into racism, into the depiction of Israel / the Jews not only as politically problematic but as racially warped, innately cruel, and in need of restraint and punishment by outsiders who know better, who are better.
Indeed, the most striking thing about today’s pseudo-radical rage with Israel is how closely it echoes what actual respectable politicians in the West are now saying. The protesters’ talk of Israel being a ‘pariah state’ was bolstered by the comments of none other than UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond, whose recent statement about Westerners feeling ‘less and less sympathetic to Israel’ led to headlines such as: ‘Israel the pariah state? UK foreign minister warns Western support is waning.’ John Prescott, the former Labour deputy prime minister of Britain, caused great joy among anti-Israel agitators when he suggested Israel is becoming a ‘pariah state’, which might soon require ‘condemn[ation] by the United Nations, the US and the UK’. He even used the term ‘regime change’ in relation to Israel, just as his government did in relation to Iraq, unleashing untold bloodshed there, which speaks volumes about the less-than-peaceful, far-from-progressive outlook that now fuels fury with Israel. Even US officials are being more openly critical of Israel. Indeed, the current war of words between the Obama administration and the Israeli government, where, in the words of the New Republic, Israel now ‘fears that the Obama administration doesn’t really support Israel in its struggle against Hamas’, gives the lie to the idea that America is still some kind of uncritically supportive big brother to the state of Israel.
What has become clear over the past three or four weeks is the extent to which Western attitudes and world opinion on Israel have changed. They have changed utterly. In essence, the nations and institutions of the West, once keen supporters of Israel, have now turned against the Jewish State, coming to view it as a pest and possibly even a pariah. Some streetfighting anti-Israel activists love to point out that America continues to fund Israel to the tune of $3 billion a year, because it allows them to pose, for a fleeting moment, as radical, as the opponents of massive powers and big money. The truth is far harder for them to swallow – which is that the continuities in America’s economic relationship with Israel disguise some profound political shifts in the relationship between these two nations, whereby America is becoming increasingly like Europe: frustrated with Israel, sometimes infuriated by it, probably wishing it would disappear or at least be more pliant. This speaks to some major shifts in world affairs in the post-Cold War period. Where in the Cold War era Israel was viewed and treated by the West as a kind of useful policeman in a Middle East that had large Arab nationalist movements funded by the Soviet Union, in the post-Cold War world Israel has come to be seen as surplus to requirements, as a state not really needed now that the Soviet Union is out of the picture and when the big conflicts in that part of the world are no longer West/East in nature but rather are increasingly localised, regional, even religious and intra-Islamist. Anti-Israel radicals cannot admit to the West’s effective abandonment of Israel, for to do so would expose the extent to which their own street-based agitation against the Jewish State is but a more shouty version of Western imperialism’s own judgement that Israel has gone from being important to being irritating.
Yet the political bond, the moral closeness, between Western officialdom and anti-Israel radicals is revealed in the fact that these radicals frequently marshal the moral authority of Western institutions when they denounce Israel. Most strikingly, they constantly cite UN rulings against Israel. What these agitators really represent is not anti-imperialism but a new Western imperialism, one in which the West is held up as superior to the rest of the world on the basis of its humanitarianism, its devotion to following the law in warzones, its elevation of the needs of the ‘international community’ over the grubby, self-serving interests of individual states, and so on. Anti-Israel radicals effectively call on the West to go further in its post-Cold War distancing from Israel, to demonise and delegitimise Israel even more, to assert its own decency and values through more openly denouncing Israel and perhaps even punishing it. It is a very odd anti-war movement indeed that rehabilitates the moral authority of Western institutions to decide which foreign states are wicked and how harshly they should be punished.
There is nothing remotely progressive in today’s myopic, disproportionate Western fury with Israel. On the contrary, it is a profoundly ugly phenomenon, masquerading as a peace movement but actually devoting its energies to drumming up hatred, sanctions and possibly even intervention against a state that it has found guilty in the kangaroo court of liberal opinion of being a ‘rogue’. It is always concerning when Western activists and institutions try to have foreign states written off as ‘criminal’ and ‘insane’, for such judgements further moralise and destabilise international affairs, resurrecting the divide between the civilised nations and the savage nations and making war more rather than less likely. But it’s particularly concerning to see Israel branded a ‘rogue state’. For whether you like it or not, Israel is intimately bound up with the Jewish people. Recent outbursts of anti-Semitism in Europe suggest it could be a short step indeed from labelling Israel a rogue state to looking upon the Jews themselves as rogues.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked.
Picture by: PA
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