The staggering naivety of the Israelophobes

The Western outrage over the IDF’s rounding up of Hamas suspects is such ridiculous luxuriant moralism.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics World

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So what’s a war crime today? Compelling your conquered enemies to hand over their weapons is a war crime today. Witness the meltdown of the Israelophobes over that footage of military-age men near Jabalia in Gaza handing their guns to the IDF. The men are stripped to their underpants. They look suitably defeated. They bring out their assault rifles and solemnly add them to a pile of confiscated weapons. The legion Israel-loathers in Western polite society are appalled. They’re reaching for the smelling salts. They’ve never seen such humiliation. Were they born yesterday?

Let’s get this straight: detaining military-age men in territory you’ve just conquered is perfectly normal practice in war. The Kurds – God bless them – rounded up tens of thousands of ISIS suspects in north-east Syria. And their family members, too. US troops rounded up al-Qaeda suspects in Afghanistan. I doubt you’ll find a single war in history that did not involve the winning army shoving military-age men into a town square to find out which are fighters and which are not. That’s not a crime, it’s war.

The response of the West’s pampered Israel-haters to the IDF’s marshalling of men in Gaza has been surreal. I swear there’s been more outrage in their ranks over the sight of Hamas suspects in their drawers than there was over those Israeli women whose broken, brutalised bodies were driven through Gaza on 7 October for the mob to kick and spit on. A female civilian’s lifeless body in the back of a truck is ‘resistance’; trying to find the men who had a hand in that racist, misogynist atrocity is a ‘crime’ – that’s the twisted doublethink that now exists in sections of the feverishly anti-Israel left.

Various images of blindfolded and stripped men have been published in the past week. And all have induced fits of pique among the internet’s self-righteous blowhards. Kenneth Roth, former director of Human Rights Watch, was hopping mad about Israel’s ‘outrages upon personal dignity’, which are forbidden by the Geneva Conventions, he haughtily reminded the uppity little state. Israel damns Hamas for taking hostages and yet it, too, engages in ‘degrading treatment’, he says. It is terrifying to me that the man who was in charge of Human Rights Watch for 10 years can’t seem to tell the difference between the kidnap of an eight-year-old girl by men possessed of an apocalyptic racial hatred for that girl’s ethnic group and an army searching potential terrorists for guns.

The stripping of the men to their undergarments has caused the most frothing. It is ‘deliberate humiliation’, says Roth. These images ‘sum up the deceit of Western moral supremacy’, says the Guardian’s Owen Jones. Mr Jones has form on the underwear question. Remember when he said the removal of the underwear of one of the young Jewish women slaughtered by Hamas on 7 October was not sufficient proof she’d been raped? Yet now photos of military-age men who have at least been allowed to keep their underwear on is cast-iron proof of the moral duplicity of the Western world. If images of living men in underwear horrify you more than images of dead women without underwear, I really don’t know what to say.

Roth, Jones and others sum up the callow unworldliness of Israel’s shrillest critics. To most of us it is perfectly clear why the suspects were stripped – because Hamas is notorious for suicide attacks and the IDF needed to be sure that none of the suspects had bombs strapped to them. It’s not rocket science. Hundreds of Israelis have been slaughtered in suicide bombings over the past 20 years. On buses, in markets, in cafeterias. A very large number of those attacks were carried out by Hamas terrorists, most of whom were men in their twenties. I put it to the West’s safe, smug Israelophobes that if you lived next door to a fascistic army that had blown to smithereens many of your fellow citizens, you might also say ‘Would you mind removing your shirt?’ when questioning men who might be part of that army.

And, of course, there’s been Holocaust relativism. No discussion of Israel is complete these days without some historically illiterate bigot on X saying: ‘They’re just like the Nazis!’ People have shared the image of the stripped men in Gaza next to photos of stripped Jews being rounded up by the Nazis. ‘Spot the difference’, said a placard featuring those two pics on the latest hate march in London yesterday. The difference is clear to anyone whose moral compass has not been broken beyond repair by a frenzied loathing for the world’s only Jewish state. The Nazis rounded up Jews with the aim of exterminating every last one of them; the IDF is rounding up military-age men to find the Hamas terrorists who attacked it on 7 October. Capeesh? Comparing these things diminishes the Holocaust and defames the Jewish nation – a double whammy of Jew hate.

Are those images of stripped men in Gaza unpleasant? Of course they are. War is unpleasant. War is hell. That’s why some of us loathe Hamas and long for its destruction: because it was Hamas that started this awful war and which now refuses to end it by returning the hostages and surrendering to Israel. And yes, some of the military-age men will turn out not to be members of Hamas. They should be released. (Let’s not be naive, though: finding out who is and isn’t a Hamas terrorist is not going to be straightforward.) But the idea that Israel is being unusually cruel by rounding up men, the idea that it’s a uniquely wicked act of deliberate humiliation, is unutterable nonsense. All armies do it. It is hard not to see the flash of bigotry, and at times outright racism, in this ceaseless judgement of the IDF by a different moral standard to every other military force on Earth.

We can now see that one of the key drivers of anti-Israel hysteria is historical naivety. It’s the luxurious moralism of privileged Western millennials who have never had to fight for anything. It’s the pampered arrogance of Western radicals who hate war while being blissfully ignorant of the fact that every freedom and comfort they enjoy is a gift of those who were prepared to fight in wars. A gift of earlier generations who took up arms against fascism, despotism, slavery, tyranny, and in the process made life better and freer for us all. The upper-class Israel-bashers live in liberty and peace thanks to men who did what Israel is currently doing. The cognitive dissonance is off the scale. If your forebears had not likewise rounded up suspected fascists, you would not enjoy the freedom to idle away your days defaming Israel.

The mollycoddling of the new generation has blinded them to the truth that sometimes a society must fight for its survival. Unlike Israel, these people have never faced an existential threat. Their greatest torment is being misgendered or having to see Nigel Farage on I’m a Celebrity…. They pose as anti-fascists but have no idea what it’s like to be attacked by fascists, as Israel was on 7 October. They have no idea what it’s like to fight in close quarters against a racist army that wants to erase your entire way of life. They have no idea what it’s like to face down a foe that hides among ordinary citizens. Yet they feel qualified to condemn the country that currently faces this extraordinary dilemma.

It isn’t morality that drives Israelophobia – it’s moral defeatism. It isn’t anti-colonialism – it’s an ironically neocolonial disgust for a small state that is daring to do what our own larger states did decades ago. ‘War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things’, said John Stuart Mill. ‘The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.’ Absolutely. Which is why the self-satisfied, performative angst over the rounding up of men in Gaza horrifies me more than the rounding up itself.

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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Topics Politics World


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