Loony left and Israel

I had this one all set to go last week, complete with a cute-but-cocky EXCLUSIVE tag at the top. The violent radicalism of socialist anti-Zionism on campus has come to the fore this past month in the context of protests against Israel's war against Hezbollah.

Then The Age went and published the story:

The Socialist Alternative tactics are outlined in an in-house publication.

Discussing an incident at Melbourne, when a socialist stall was overturned, Daniel L. says the best response is to "immediately make a huge fuss — denounce them loudly, screaming ‘you're a murderer, you support George Bush's war, you support killing innocent people in the Middle East, you're fascist scum' and so forth. When we did this it had a huge polarising effect with people coming up afterwards to show their support. Often this was from the point of view of freedom of speech, rather than a willingness to support fighting Israel. But that doesn't change the fact that it is excellent terrain for us."

One writer, Vashti, says "two young Lebanese guys came up and asked if they could beat up the Zionists".

Daniel says of this: "They knew which side they were on and were willing to fight. We do not want to start fights with the Liberals ourselves, but if Lebanese people do it's a good thing and we're f---ing well with them."

The "in-house" publication at the centre of the controversy is a very revealing piece. You can access it here.

There's fun for the whole family in that thing. Like a newly-opened box of chocolates, everyone can reach in and grab their favourites. Here are mine:

Overall, by campaigning agreesively around the issue, being willing to stand up to the Zionists and try to create a fuss, we have had real success and been able to find a significant audience - mostly among Arabic or other non-white students. - Corey.

Corey demonstrates his opposition to racism by treating it as a decisive characteristic in the people he's seeking to attract.

(O)ur Students against War and Rascism (sic) meeting had about 50 popele at it!! We maanged to keep the zionists (sic) out, and the meeting was full of emotion and urgency. The one person who was shaking his head in disagreement during Dougals (sic) introduction was instantly labeled a zionist (sic) and rascist (sic) by Dougal, and shortly after this guy left, sensing how isolated he was there. -Francis.

Now there's a win for free speech and democracy.

Then there's this one here:

It's no surpise then, following the events at both Melbourne Uni and Mondash, that Zionists felt the need to asser their racism and fetish for genocide and mass slaughter of Arab people. - Chris dP.

Down side: glib accusation of genocide.
Up side: Chris dP reckons we deserve a capital 'Z'.

All this reinforces what we already knew about the far-Left: they're obsessed about Israel, certainly far out of proportion with its interest in other regions and potential injustices. Just why this is so is an interesting question. The traditional explanation is flat-out anti-Semitism. This is part of the story, but only a small part.

My theory is that since the end of the Cold War, the interest of the Left has shifted away from seeing the world in terms of people's relationship to the means of production, and toward people's relationship to colonialism. Look at the support the Left has extended for a variety of regimes in South America and Africa, many of whom are flatly anti-democratic, but all of whom have proud anti-colonial credentials. As Europeans, Americans or Australians, the Left see colonialism as the great stain on their nation, one that they need to repent for. The Middle East is seen as a frontier in the battle against colonialism. The Palestinians are posited as the indigenous people of the land, and the Israelis are the European colonial power. As with previous struggles against colonialism, there is no room for compromise: only the exit of the colonial power is considered an acceptable solution for the Left.

So long as this is the pervasive narrative that is used to explain the Middle East conflict amongst the left, opposition to Israel will remain fierce. The fact that this narrative is grossly flawed (the Jewish presence goes back millenia; the 'colonials' are the majority group with no alternative nationality; Israel is a minnow compared to its numerous large rivals) matters little so long as the radical Left refuse to consider it.

It's worth remembering that for its first several decades, many on the Left were supporters of Israel. The narrative at that time was that Israel was the plucky cosmopolitan democracy in a region of hostile states. Its existance was also symbolic of the worst excesses of the far Right.

It seems like a long long time ago.


boy_fromOz said…
What you're thinking of is the shift from 'Old Left' to 'New Left', which predates the Cold War's end. Wallerstein calls it the "1968 world revolution": disillusionment with the Left establishment - social-democratic parties in the West, Stalinist states in the Soviet bloc, postcolonial regimes in the Third World - and rise of supposedly more egalitarian 'social' movements (civil rights, radical feminism, counterculture, green movement etc). Hence the shift of concern from transforming the relations of production to expunging the legacy of western imperialism and racism.

This of course coincides with the Six-Day War and Israel's acquisition of Gaza and the Westbank, bringing a large Arab population under Israeli control for the first time.

So it's no surprise that Israel becomes the new intellectual whipping post during the 1970's-80's. This is the bloom period for the postcolonial movement in the humanities, whose posterboy happened to be a Palestinian.
Jeremy said…
They're against racism and aginst war. Unless either are used against Israel or the US. Then it's a justified struggle against oppression.
Anonymous said…
No offence, Ari, but you probably shouldn't make a point of other people's misspellings and typos when your own blog entries are typically full of them.

The Age article uses a lot of tendentious argumentation and selective sourcing to create a talked-about scandal-piece, but ultimately it seems to betray the same kind of dour triviality that characterises most uni politics. It deceptively shoehorns the issue of campus political violence into the new journalistic genre of "anti-Semitic attacks on the rise", thereby making a joke of both. It's non-serious enough to cut the quotation about the "young Lebanese guys" from its context of "during a fracas with the Zionist Young Liberals today a couple of young Lebanese guys came up..."

The left's disproportionate "obsession" (if you want to call it that) with Israel is prompted largely by that nation's position as chief ally of the US in what is, geostrategically, the key region on earth. Israel's mistreatment of Palestinians may not be worse than Russia's actions towards Chechens, but politically it is more important.

The left's increasing concern with what occurs in peripheral parts of the world-system, like Lebanon, stems from general political quiescence in the developed countries, intellectual confusion about what they can do in this situation, and clear-eyed recognition (shared by their enemies) that the Third World is crucial political terrain.
Peter said…
My distaste for the present Israeli administration has nothing to do - at least not conciously - with my nation's previous colonial experience. It does however have everything to do with a firm belief that Israel should bloody well know better.

If Israel really is this shining light of democracy in a see of icky, nasty sorts why does it continually act like the school yard bully?

Overt military action in this case makes no sense to me. When has overt war against a guerilla enemy ever worked? Name me one time. Afghanistan? Viet Nam? Iraq? There's a bunch more.

I just don't get it, Ari. This whole thing is just an eye for an eye. If you can name a single time in world history when that kind of thing did anything but make the whole world blind, I'll recant.

Israel is behaving like it wants to escalate things. Like they want to polarise the world community.

Lets bring it closer to home. My mum and her brother have a tense relationship. Mum thinks he doesn't do enough to help with their ageing father. My uncle feels excluded.

Mum says she wants him to do more, but has a habit of criticising him in front of Pop, knowing full well Pop will never cut her off in front of others. I don't like to think she does this deliberately, but can she really be so stupid as to think such behaviour won't make the problem worse?

Israel's policy toward Palestine is flawed. Deeply flawed. And in saying that, don't take it to mean that I think the Palestinians are any better. Far from it. But the way they're going about it is never going to succeed. And I think they're a bunch of clever folk who really ought to know that. Which leaves me wondering, as per my question and analogy above, just why they really are doing it.

Oh and being accused of being anti-Semite for criticising a particular administration sucks arse too.

Finally, on a cheekier note, Nick beat me to it about your spelling. You can get off your high horse there, tiger :)
Anonymous said…
School yard bully? If only I'd come across such bullies when I went to school. That sounds like exactly the same old myopic left shit that Ari just commented about. Israel should know better than an eye for an eye, blah blah. Maybe instead they should turn the other cheek? I'd suggest that cheek turners are just about out of cheeks by now. Israel should wind the window down and point their two other cheeks in your general direction.
Peter said…
Anonymous, did you actually read my comment or just grab the para that was easiest to diss and run with it?

Yes, Israel should turn the other cheek. Of course it should know better than an eye for an eye. Because what they're doing now will never succeed. Never.

Commonly - and I'm not quite sure you've done it here - but often, those who speak against criticism of Israel have formed the view that the one criticising Israel doesn't respect its right to exist or its nationhood in general. Nothing could be further from the truth. I've read enough Chaim Potok in my life to have some small understanding of the zionist cause. I don't object to it, don't reject it and on balance believe Israel as an idea is pretty sound.

To return to the analogy in my original comment, I want mum and my uncle to get along. I want Israelites to live in peace. Its just that the way Israel is approaching this problem is not the best way to achieve that. Indeed it is no way to achieve that.

And in case you're wondering, I do draw a moral equivalence between the Israeli and Palestinian causes. It's curious to me that the Israeli's of all peoples can't seem to allow the Palestinians a homeland. Ironic, non?

Since you seem to need me to spell it out for you, Anon, I'm suggesting that the current Israeli administration doesn't want peace with Palestine. I'm questioning their motive for acting in such a futile way when I suspect that they are smart enough to know that it won't work. That the whole thing is one giant exercise in international wedge politics.

And from that I'm drawing the conclusion that they don't respect Palestine's right to exist any more than Palestine recognise theirs. In this they are reducing themselves to the very low level of their extreme and unreasonable opponents and as I said at the beginning, they should bloody well know better!

If you're going to respond, Anonymous, better that you actually address my comment than just jump on the jingoistic bandwagon. Thanks.

And hiya, A- :)
Anonymous said…
I'm sorry that you felt attacked. You shouldn't feel accused of anti-semetism, you clearly aren't like that (just wrong, that's all).

The only reason I addressed just select aspects of your post was to keep the thread specific to Ari's blog item, and avoid turning it into a debate about Israel. That is, that the far left are so fixated and obsessed with their ideology that they end up with completely irrational conclusions.

As for Israel, I think you are plainly incorrect. Of course the present adminstration/coalition does want peace, as have past ones. Do you really think any deomcracy actually likes having a conscript army? They are a tiny and genuinely frightened country, not some big bad imperialist sadist. The left is happy to create bullies wherever convenient.

The 2000 labour party offered the most courageous and brave deal ever and had it's 'other cheek' bitten right off. (Sorry, sorry, I know I promised not to digress, and anyway Ari has written lots of good stuff about disengagement and the new post-Sharon Kadima party.)

Anonymously yours,
Lisa said…
I sense you're right about this Ari. There are clearly problems with many things Israel does and its response to the soldiers being kidnapped was disproportionate. But any true liberal thinker is not going to use this as a grounds to excuse wrongs of middle east states and non-state militias.

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