After the slaughter, the victim-blaming
The idea that Israel is responsible for Hamas’s evil attack is repugnant and racist.
The politics of ‘She was asking for it’ just reached a new low. As footage emerges of the twisted body of a half-naked woman being defiled and spat on in Gaza, and of distressed mothers and their children being kidnapped in trucks, and of an Israeli student begging ‘Don’t kill me!’ as she’s dragged from a music festival by Hamas’s Islamist goons, what are some observers in the West saying? That it’s all Israel’s fault. That Israel bears ultimate responsibility for this ISIS-style slaughter of its people. That the Israelis brought it on themselves. They were asking for it.
First, Israelis are murdered, then they’re found guilty of their own murders. They’re blown up, shot, stabbed, kidnapped and dragged through the streets in medieval spectacles of ritualistic humiliation, then they’re told: ‘It’s your own damn fault.’ Consider the joint statement from 31 social-justice campaign groups at Harvard University, including Harvard’s Amnesty International affiliate. ‘We, the undersigned student organisations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for the unfolding violence’, it says. Entirely responsible – got that? Only Israel is at fault here, no one else. Not the men who gunned down unarmed festivalgoers, or bundled pensioners into trucks, or hacked up phlegm for the desecration of a woman’s body. No, just Israel. ‘The apartheid regime is the only one to blame’, say these Ivy League radicals (my emphasis).
We all knew academia was beset by intellectual and moral rot, but this is a new low. That America’s best and brightest, its future captains of politics and business, are so morally lost, so bereft of the most basic philosophical scruples, should worry all who care for the future of the United States. There they are in leafy Cambridge, living lives of unimaginable peace and comfort, sneering ‘Well, what did you expect?’ as a faraway people is subjected to murderous humiliation. We must stand against the ‘ongoing annihilation of Palestinians’, they said, on a day when it was Israelis who were being annihilated. Their anti-Israel myopia, their feverish, borderline religious conviction that the Jewish State is the most evil state, has blinded them to reality itself. They see images of a young Israeli woman who appears to have soiled herself from fear as she is paraded before a mob and their first thought is: ‘Poor Palestine.’ It’s like a moral disorder.
There’s hypocrisy, too. Campus radicals, including the woke of Harvard, are forever condemning ‘victim-blaming’. Blaming the victims of injustice for their own predicament is the most mortal of sins in identitarian circles. Indeed, Harvard Law School has issued advice on ‘how to avoid victim-blaming’. It is always wrong to say ‘the victim rather than the perpetrator bears responsibility for [an] assault’, it says. If only Harvard’s Israel-haters had read it, they might have thought twice before saying ‘It’s Israel’s fault’ at the very moment entire Israeli families were being wiped out. Clearly, the identitarian left’s moral code does not extend to Israel. Israel is judged by a different code, a special one, one that does allow victim-blaming. One rule for us, another for the world’s only Jewish state.
It’s not only the dim young things of Harvard who are holding Israelis responsible for their own suffering. Israel-blaming is rampant. The Democratic Socialists of America – whose members include ‘Squad’ politicians like Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – said ‘today’s events are a direct result of Israel’s apartheid regime’. ‘Today’s events’ referred to Hamas’s racist, murderous invasion of Israel on Saturday. That was your fault, Israel. Suck it up. ‘Israel has no one to blame but itself’, says a writer for the Middle East Monitor. Leftish Israeli paper Haaretz echoes this view. ‘The disaster that befell Israel on the holiday of Simchat Torah is the clear responsibility of one person: Benjamin Netanyahu’, it said.
Across social media, Western leftists have bent over backwards to ‘contextualise’ Hamas’s barbarism. Gaza’s an open-air prison, the new Warsaw Ghetto, a hell on Earth, so what did Israel expect, say these fresh armies of arrogant victim-blamers. If your first instinct upon witnessing evil, upon hearing that 260 youths were massacred at a music festival, is to stroke your chin and offer up ‘context’, you are lost. It is the moral equivalent of responding to the Pulse nightclub massacre by saying, ‘Well, gay people can be annoying’. Of course the leaders of Islamic nations think Israel is to blame. As one headline summed it up, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran all believe ‘Israel has only itself to blame for Hamas attacks’.
Something repellant, offensive to every human value, is taking place here. It’s more than victim-blaming. It’s the absolution of murderers and the condemnation of those they murdered. The Israel-haters take the blame from the men who pulled the trigger and place it on the nation whose people were shot. They have found the Jewish state collectively guilty for its own assault. Then they have the gall to feign shock when Jewish properties in London are attacked and Jews in Europe say they fear reprisals for recent events. I’m sorry, but if you have already judged the Jews of Israel guilty for what befell them, you have no right to be shocked when Jews elsewhere are found guilty, too. It’s easy to open Pandora’s box of collective racial guilt – it’s far harder to close it again.
We can now see the double racism in pseudo-progressive politics. There’s the racism of hating Israel above all other nations. And there’s the racism of viewing Palestinian Arabs as so childlike, so fundamentally lacking in agency, that they can never be held meaningfully responsible for what they do. Make no mistake: when radicals say Israel is ‘the only one to blame’ for the atrocities it experienced on Saturday, they aren’t only demonising Israel – they’re also infantilising Palestine. They’re reducing the Arabs of Gaza to a kind of pre-human species capable of nothing more than reacting to stimuli. In this case, the stimuli of Israeli policy. Israel acts and these people – these curious, blameless people – respond in a Pavlovian fashion. That’s what they’re saying.
It’s a bigoted lie. At every stage of their barbarous assault on Israeli civilians, the Hamas terrorists were making a choice. They chose to plan the attack. They chose to load their guns. They chose to fire them at elderly people waiting for a bus and twentysomethings dancing at a festival. They chose to kidnap grandmothers. They chose to parade distressed or dead women before the mob. And at every stage they could have chosen not to do those things. In claiming Israel is wholly responsible for what Hamas did, the racial paternalists of the supposedly pro-Palestine woke left dehumanise Arabs to a staggering degree. They make Israel the only adult in the Middle East, the only entity with agency, the only nation mature enough to enjoy criminal responsibility, while its attackers are reduced to the naïfs of world affairs.
This is racist. There is no other word for it. We are witnessing the rise of a neo-Orientalism. The great Palestinian writer Edward Said described Orientalism as a Eurocentric prejudice against Arab peoples that tended to view them as deviant and lascivious. It was a mix of curiosity and contempt for the Arab world, he said. Under the neo-Orientalism of today’s army of upper-middle-class Palestine pitiers, Arabs are innocents, not deviants; blameless, not cruel. Of course it is racist to depict all Arabs as evil – but it is equally racist to depict them as being incapable of evil. To imply that they lack the free will to choose between good and bad that is enjoyed by us white Westerners, and also by the Jews of Israel. The woke elites might be enemies of Israel, but with their ironically imperious absolution of Palestinians of the burdens of agency and adulthood, they’re no friends of Palestine.
Some are referring to the attack on Israel as ‘Israel’s 9/11’. In fact it’s another 9/11 for us all. It’s a turning-point event for humankind. As with the apocalyptic barbarism visited on the United States on 11 September 2001, it raises the question: are we going to stand against the regressive forces of anti-Westernism, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, all of which are varieties of anti-humanism, or are we not? America was likewise held responsible for its suffering in September 2001. ‘They can’t see why they are hated’, said a nauseating headline in the Guardian two days after that slaughter of 3,000 people. Many failed the moral test 9/11 presented us with. They turned against America, turned against Western values, said we had it coming, cosied up to radical Islam, disappeared down the rabbit hole of identity politics. Let’s not allow that to happen again.
Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy
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