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Israel Hamas WarOpinionWorld

The blindness of the left wing over October 7

Why is Israel so entirely blamed for attacking Hamas, and Hamas given a free pass for using their own citizens as human shields?
Hadley Freeman
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Placard reading 'Never again is now'

A participant holds a placard reading ‘Never again is now’ during a demonstration against antisemitism in Berlin (Image: EPA/CLEMENS BILAN/AAP).

Published: 16 May 2024

Last updated: 14 May 2024

When Jews talk about modern left-wing antisemitism, the most common response from the left is that they’re not antisemitic, they’re anti-Zionist, and even if some of them are antisemitic, it’s not important because the antisemitism from the far right is far more dangerous. Well, rest assured, goysplainers, we know how bad antisemitism is from fascists. Many of us have lost large branches of our family tree to it.

As recently as 2017 we watched men carrying tiki torches through Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “Jews will not replace us”, and we heard the then US president, Donald Trump, describe them as “very fine people”. So maybe it’s because we focused so much on antisemitism from the right that we missed what was happening at the other end of the ideological spectrum.

Because what shocked so many of us after October 7 was the hate from the left.

The specific faction of the left that I mean, the one that reacted most virulently against Israel, is variously known as the progressive left, the identarian left, the online left, the intersectional left or the woke left. It is the left that is so popular on college campuses, among the faculty and students. A few decades ago it was known as the far left or hard left, when its focus was class oppression.

Now it is identity oppression. Yet as David Baddiel famously pointed out in his bestselling 2021 book about antisemitism, Jews Don’t Count, when it comes to identity politics and an awareness of vulnerable minority groups, to the far left, Jews really don’t count.

Today’s progressive leftists treat the creation of Israel as uniquely cruel, uniquely artificial, uniquely unjust.

Does it ever give leftists pause for thought that they have this myopic hatred of a country that was founded as a refuge for a people who had been expelled from or slaughtered in every other country? Apparently not – or no more than their deluded belief that Israel is “white”.

The left always focuses on the European Jews who sought refuge in Israel after the Holocaust (those privileged Holocaust survivors, how dare they?!), but more than half of Israel’s Jews came from Middle Eastern countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Morocco, which kicked them out. They did not “colonise” Israel. They came to the country of their ancestors, with the support of the United Nations, because it was the only option they had left.

And yet today’s progressive leftists treat the creation of Israel as uniquely cruel, uniquely artificial, uniquely unjust.

“In the first half of the twentieth century, millions and millions of Europeans were displaced from their homes along ethnic lines and there was forced migration all around the continent,” says Dave Rich, head of policy at a charity that provides security and advice to the British Jewish community.

“Look at countries today like Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Germany: these are all also relatively new countries in terms of where their borders are. And yet only Israel is treated as some kind of fake country dreamed up by Victorian imperialists.”

I ask him why this is.

“It’s because they don’t want to have to think about Europe’s history,” he replies.

“Instead, they can focus on the Jews and make TikToks saying the Jews were these homeless people who the Palestinians took in, out of the goodness of their hearts, and the Jews then stole their country. You have to remember, a lot of modern activists don’t even remember the Oslo Accords, never mind the Holocaust, so they can invent a completely false narrative that Israel was created by Western powers as a colony.”

After October 7, many politicians on the left, especially in the UK and US, felt compelled to share their thoughts about how Israel should react to the vicious pogrom. Like de Gaulle, they thought Israel should do nothing. It is very hard to imagine British Labour councillors feeling entitled to lecture, say, Australia, about how to conduct itself just after had it been brutally attacked.

Just two weeks after October 7, an associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies argued in The Guardian that Israel must stop “weaponising” the Holocaust, but that October 7 should be seen within “the historical context of Israeli settler colonialism”. So Israel shouldn’t mention the Holocaust – in which two-thirds of Europe’s Jews were wiped out – when discussing Hamas, whose original charter called for a genocide of the Jews (which you’d think a professor of genocide might mention in his article, but no).

This paradox is common parlance on the left after October 7: the Holocaust is irrelevant, the 1948 war essential. The mental contortions some people will adopt to justify violence against Israel, and to argue that Israel has no right to defend itself, really are extraordinary.

Palestinians deserve better than Hamas and it’s strange that more activists don’t say this.

Some will argue that the death toll in Gaza since October proves that these intellectual descendants of de Gaulle were right: Israel shouldn’t have retaliated. But I find this mentality baffling. The scale of civilian deaths in this war is horrific, and Israel should be doing more to minimise them and to allow more aid to reach the Palestinians.

But Hamas put Israel into an impossible position, having to defeat an enemy that deliberately embeds itself in hospitals and other heavily populated areas, an enemy that has specifically said it wants to wipe Israel off the map. What other country would be chided by outsiders after 1200 of its citizens had been so brutally murdered and 250 taken hostage? When the killers crowed about their savagery and promised to do it again?

Why is Israel so entirely blamed for attacking Hamas, and Hamas given a free pass for using their own citizens as human shields? Why do people on the left not care when Muslims kill Muslims, or – in the context of Israel and Palestine – Muslims kill Jews, but Jews killing Muslims drives them completely insane with rage?

What is it about Israel that attracts such a disproportionate amount of attention from the West? I used to think that maybe Westerners hold Israel to a higher standard and that their so-called support for Palestinians is actually just the racism of low expectations. After all, Palestinians deserve better than Hamas and it’s strange that more activists don’t say this.

This is an edited extract from Blindness: October 7 and the Left by Hadley Freeman, published in the May edition of The Jewish Quarterly.

About the author

Hadley Freeman

Hadley Freeman is a journalist and author. Her books include House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family and Good Girls: A Story and Study of Anorexia.

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