The sun scorched grass made for the stomping ground. Organisers estimate 150,000 turned out to express their solidarity with the people of Gaza. It was a great Saturday to march from Portland Place to Hyde Park. The usual suspects made an appearance - from George Galloway and Seamus Milne to Jeremy Corbyn and Tariq Ali - with the addition of impassioned speeches by Palestinian speakers. The day ended with Arabic singing, echoing out by speaker and microphone over a multitude of flags representing different countries. That was solidarity in force - a value all too trivialised today.
I met up with a good friend of mine on the march and we caught up and discussed the issue at hand. We talked about the mediocrity of the liberal consensus in the media. It would sound quite conservative, to an American ear at least, to dismiss liberals and the media as predominantly liberal. Except, as socialists we can't help but remember that the liberals turned their guns on the radicals in 1848 and ever since then they have never ceased to compromise at the expense of the common good. "Compromise is good" they proclaim, even in the face of slavery. Don't have any radical thoughts, you'll end up committing misdeeds if you hold such thoughts. Phil Ochs was right on.
There is a corporate liberal establishment, it has a left-wing and a right-wing and a centreground for good measure. The glossy progressive crowd of liberals gravitate to outlets like The Guardian and The New Statesman. The top prizes go to Hadley Freeman and Eleanor Margolis. It was a tough choice. Freeman stammered about in her column for a while. She bemoaned the Tricycle Theatre story and, implicitly, the calls for a cultural boycott of Israel. She told us that she despised "being told what to think" (by whom?) and "lazy assumptions" (of what?).
It is infuriating that the liberal factions in both countries in which I have nationality insist on taking such a slanted, kneejerk view of Israel. Just as the pro-Israel sentiment in the US so often shades into prejudice against Muslims, so the anti-Israel one in Britain slips all too quickly into anti-Semitism.
Jews are not Israel (something liberal Jews have been saying for years) but nobody – not a London theatre, not even Steven Spielberg – has the right to tell them what to think about it, or to ask them to prove their good Jewish credentials by either supporting or condemning it. Watch yourself, Europe. Some of your roots are showing.
For a whole month Hadley Freeman has written nothing about the Palestinians. She did find the time to write about Kim Kardashian's ass, George Clooney, the World Cup, Molly Ringwald, and unshaven armpits. One shouldn't have to speculate too hard about her priorities. Not a fucking word about Netanyahu's assault on Gaza. It has nothing to do with Jewishness. War crimes are not unique to particular 'races' or religious sects. The truth is that the liberal base of support for Israel is in a bad shape and has been for a while now. Jonathan Freedland has admitted as much. And Norman Finkelstein has been saying this for yonks.
It used to be easy to pretend that the Israeli government are a force of progress in the Middle East. A liberal democracy surrounded by backward and reactionary dictatorships. Israel is pictured as an encircled state in need of support and defence. Its enemies are too awful, and even more numerous. This narrative was easy to uphold until 1967 for a number of reasons: 1) there was a majority of Arab states opposed to Israel's existence and to any settlement until then; 2) the Palestinian case was unheard and subsumed into this sea of Arab 'barbarism'; 3) Israel was a social democratic country (except when it came to the Palestinians, of course) with a significant degree of equity.
Today, Israel is no longer social democratic and has become a hyper-nationalist state in terms of its internal discourse. Mainstream politicians stand up and label African refugees as a "cancer" without any whiff of self-consciousness. Ethiopian Jews have even been sterilised. That's before we get to foreign policy. At the international level, we find the UN Security Council is completely gerrymandered by the United States on the side of Israel and against any resolutions in favour of a two-state settlement. This began in January of 1976 when a resolution was proposed with the support of the PLO and most Arab countries, in fact, most countries in the world. The US vetoed it.
So now liberal Jews have a dilemma and many have just gone quiet, while others get defensive. On July 24, Eleanor Margolis churned out a blog called 'The left's insistence on Jews apologising for being Jewish is anti-Semitic'. Keep in mind, Ms Margolis had written not a word about Israel and Palestine, and the suffering of Palestinians, in her New Statesman column since she started out there in 2013. At this point, the IDF had launched its ground invasion of the Gaza Strip after the downing of the Malaysian airplane over Ukraine distracted the world media. She equated criticism of Israel and sympathy with the Palestinians with support for Hamas:
... throughout the most recent bout of violence between Israel and Palestine and all the others before it that I can remember, the problem of anti-Semitism on the Left has been illuminated. While you’d basically have to be a brick wall to fail to sympathise with the Palestinians, the Left (as usual) has gone very quiet when it comes to condemning Hamas. Either that, or they’ve actively condoned their actions. Although Lib Dem MP David Ward has since apologised for tweeting his support for Hamas’s rocket attacks, the fact remains that Hamas are often painted as the good guys. Hamas are not just anti-Israel, they’re anti-Jewish, which, can I just remind everyone, is racist. Their charter, which explicitly calls for the mass killing of Jews, makes this abundantly clear. I hate to break this to you but, if you refuse to condemn Hamas on this point, at least, you’re an anti-Semite. I don’t give a shit how much you love Curb Your Enthusiasm: you’re still an anti-Semite. Or at least an anti-Semite by-proxy.
Notice the total absence of evidence for the assertion that the Left has taken the side of Hamas and has an anti-Semitic agenda. She refers us to David Ward's tweet in which he stated "The big question is - if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? - probably yes." Not a particularly pro-terrorist statement, it was an empathetic statement, just as Ehud Barak was not making a pro-terrorist statement when he said "If I were a Palestinian at the right age, I would have joined one of the terrorist organizations at a certain stage." Of course, Barak was posturing as a great peacemaker and as Prime Minister he would terminate negotiations with Arafat rather than face the realistic chance of a peaceful settlement.
As a self-described "sapphic cynic" Margolis tends to blog about gay liberation and her own lived-experience as a Jewish lesbian. I wonder how much of this thinking applies to lesbians and gays living in the Arab world and living under Israeli blockade and occupation. Instead Margolis tells us that she struggles to dismiss the claims of Douglas Murray and Melanie Phillips: first, the claim that the anti-war movement is 'anti-Semitic' and, secondly, the bizarre claim that the critics of Israel deplore its actions as 'disproportionate' because they wish more Jews were dying. This is garbage. Total garbage.
For starters, more Israeli soldiers have died in this bloodbath than they did in Operation Cast Lead and that's largely a result of the strategy undertaken by Hamas (which they seem to have borrowed from Hezbollah). No one on the Left was cheering on Hamas, they wanted the killing to stop, and wished it had never begun. Actually criticising Israel for being 'disproportionate' is a pretty weak criticism. Israel was not responding to Hamas, they were initiating the attack in the first place. Netanyahu attacked the Gaza Strip after Hamas and Fatah forged a unity government - which agreed to renounce violence and recognise Israel - because he is opposed to a peaceful settlement. Margolis goes on to conclude:
This notion that Jews should be ashamed of themselves over Israel isn’t exclusive to publicity-hungry, aging rock stars. When I was at uni, the student union implemented a campus-wide boycott of Israeli produce, to wit, one slightly manky orange. During the campaign, I remember arguing with one pro-boycott activist who proudly announced that her grandmother, right after the creation of Israel in 1948, had renounced her Judaism out of disgust. It struck me as sad that someone would abandon their identity because of the actions of a select few that share it. This incident, which lodged itself firmly enough in my mind for me to remember it five years later, is a perfect example of the Left’s insistence on Jews apologising for being Jewish.
And, for the record, I’m about as willing to apologise for being Jewish as I am to renounce my homosexuality. In case you’re reading my column for the first time, that translates as “not especially willing.”
No one on the Left is calling for Jews to apologise for being Jewish or to feel ashamed. The problem with Israel is not a Jewish problem, it's a state problem - the problem of nationalism. It is the same problem which has led to catastrophe after catastrophe in Europe and in a lot of other places too. The Palestinians are an occupied and besieged people and the Israeli state has no doubt been affected by its role as an occupying force. It's political discourse has degenerated.
As for anti-Semitism, the anti-war march was unanimous "Are we anti-Semitic?" asked a speaker. "NO!" shouted the crowd. "Are we anti-Zionist?" he added. The crowd responded, almost as unanimous, "YES!" And that's a distinction that has been lost in the whirlwind faux commentary. This line was heard on more than one demonstration. I saw no anti-Jewish banners or signs and heard no anti-Jewish chanting. I did see one or two Hezbollah flags, granted. I even saw an ISIS flag. But that's more of a rejection of Western foreign policy than anything else. The US has never ceased from interfering in the Middle East and for good reason - oil!