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The Return of the Progressive Atrocity

It is the responsibility of Western activists to know who and what they support, and to separate themselves—openly and decisively—from programs and regimes that are predicated on violence and repression.

· 21 min read
The Return of the Progressive Atrocity
Photo by Amir Hanna on Unsplash

All lies and jest,
Still a man hears what he wants to hear,
And disregards the rest…

~Paul Simon, “The Boxer”

In 1957, Albert Memmi addressed the question of the Left’s relationship with terrorism in his book, The Colonizer and the Colonized. Memmi was a Tunisian Jew, equally committed to socialist Zionism and anticolonialism. The Left tradition, he observed, “condemns terrorism” as “incomprehensible, shocking and politically absurd. For example, the deaths of children and persons outside the struggle.” 

But Memmi’s suppositions were outdated even as he wrote. The history of the modern Left’s romance with terrorism—not the “old-fashioned” version aimed at czars or imperial officials, but the kind directed against unarmed civilians—had already begun. It started with the Algerian War and gained momentum throughout the 1960s, ’70s, and beyond with the emergence of the Red Brigades, the Baader Meinhof Gang, the Irish Republican Army, the Japanese Red Army, the Weathermen, and the panoply of organizations included in the Palestine Liberation Organization and, especially, its Rejectionist Front. The latter held pride of place: “For the Sixth International, the Palestinian resistance is a banner ... an inspiration for the revolt of the dispossessed, both in its ends and in its means,” proclaimed Mohamed Sid-Ahmed, a prominent Egyptian leftwing intellectual and activist.

It was at this time that the oxymoronic and ethically repellent concept of what the late Middle East scholar, anti-colonialist, and socialist Fred Halliday criticized as “progressive atrocities” gained credence on the Left, particularly within the Palestinian movement and among the groups supporting it. Of course, the Palestinian national project—like Zionism—has always contained a variety of ideologies ranging from peaceful coexistence to the elimination of the other. (The latter tendency is appallingly prevalent among many members of Benjamin Netanyahu’s current government.) But it is no exaggeration to say that the Palestinian movement, even before the founding of Israel in 1948, has been defined by terror more than any other, and that terrorist groups have always been prominent within the movement.

In the age of the “progressive atrocity,” PLO terrorist attacks on Israelis, Jews, and civilians throughout the world were hailed as instruments of liberation. A very partial list of such incidents would include the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics (the games continued, nonetheless) and the Lod Airport massacre the same year (death toll: 26, along with at least 80 injured); the Ma’alot massacre of 1974, in which 115 Israelis, mainly schoolchildren, were taken hostage (resulting deaths: 31); the Entebbe hijacking of 1976, in which Israeli and other Jewish passengers were separated from others and threatened with death (most were rescued by Israeli commandos); the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, in which a civilian bus was highjacked (death toll: 38, including 13 children; 71 wounded); the 1982 attack on the Chez Jo Goldenberg kosher restaurant in Paris, considered at the time to be the worst incidence of antisemitism in France since the Holocaust (death toll: six, with 22 injured); and numerous other instances of air piracy. Various international groups, especially Baader Meinhof of Germany and the Japanese Red Army, sometimes assisted their Palestinian brothers “in solidarity.” Not all leftists or leftwing organizations supported these actions, but to criticize them was a sign of “bourgeois moralism” as Ghassan Kanafani, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, put it. (Kanafani, who was also a gifted writer, was assassinated after the Lod attack by the Mossad.) 

Curiously, none of the groups that employed terrorism, other than the Algerian National Liberation Front, achieved its aims—well, sort of. The Algerians gained their independence, but the regime established by the NLF remains one of the most repressive on Earth—the NGO Freedom House ranks Algeria as “not free,” its worst category. The revolutions that did succeed—the Chinese, Vietnamese, Cuban, Nicaraguan, and South African revolts—weren’t nonviolent, but they largely refrained from attacks on unarmed civilians. Indeed, Marxist movements had traditionally shunned terror against civilians on both moral and political grounds. Terror against civilians demoralizes ordinary people and almost always pushes them to the Right, often into the arms of authoritarian leaders; terrorism exalts the singular act at the expense of building a mass movement. André Malraux’s 1928 novel The Conquerors, set during the failed Chinese Communist uprising of 1925, opens with a dramatic act of terror; it is Garine, the book’s hero and a Marxist, who opposes this. The dire state of the Palestinian movement today suggests that there is an inverse relationship between the use of terror and the achievement of freedom.

In recent years, the Left’s embrace of terror seemed to have ebbed; you won’t find many defenders of al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, or Boko Haram. The notable exception has been groups devoted to the destruction of Israel: Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, all of which still garner enthusiasm and deluded admiration. One might have thought that an orgy of sadistic murder, of the kind that Hamas committed on October 7th, would have inspired serious moral and political self-interrogation. As the past four weeks have illustrated, however, the exact opposite is the case.

The extraordinary nature of the pro-Palestinian demonstrations that have swept through the capitals of the West—demonstrations that began before Israel dropped a single bomb on Gaza—has, perhaps, not been fully appreciated. Horrific massacres of unarmed civilians are, unfortunately, taking place right now in South Sudan, Congo, Ethiopia, Syria, and Darfur. Unforgivably, the so-called international community usually ignores them. But none inspires cries of esteem for the perpetrators and acclaim for their crimes. And nowhere are the victims—defenseless civilians, including children and their mothers—blamed for being murdered. That is what is happening now. The deadliest single day in the post-Holocaust history of the Jewish people has been greeted in some quarters with joy and—to be blunt—an entirely undisguised hatred of Jews.

Many of the sentiments that have been expressed—on social media, during street marches, and in the pages of various publications—reveal an astonishing distance from anything that might be considered rational political judgment and ordinary humanity. At the “All Out for Palestine” rally in Times Square, held just one day after the massacre, elated chants of “700!”—the number of estimated Israeli deaths at the time—rang out, and demonstrators made throat-slitting gestures. A speaker at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally in Brighton, England, also held on October 8th, described the attacks as “beautiful and inspiring.” The image of a hang-glider—just like the ones Hamas used!—with a Palestinian flag has gone viral on the web, posted by everyone from Black Lives Matter/Chicago to neo-Nazi groups, which gives intersectionality a whole new meaning.

It is likely that many of these groups—especially those composed of privileged students who promiscuously toss about words like “genocide,” “settler-colonialism,” and “fascism”—have scant (if any) knowledge of Middle East politics or history, and couldn’t tell you the difference between the river and the sea. Many are simply advertising their “anticolonial” credentials, though I imagine that the usually stern Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran must be smiling in amazement as he sees just how many protestors in the West echo his thoughts and subscribe to his plans—openly articulated—to destroy the “Zionist entity,” even if they don’t quite know that they’re doing so.

But (presumably) knowledgeable intellectuals were also quick to jump into the fray. In the New Left Review, Britain’s leading Marxist journal, Tariq Ali praised the terrorists for “rising up against the colonizers” and implied, bizarrely, that the murders resulted from Palestinian frustration with Israel’s recent enormous pro-democracy demonstrations. In the London Review of Books, Amjad Iraqi noted the horrifying nature of the attacks but praised them for “shatter[ing] a psychological barrier,” though it might be argued that civilization depends on the maintenance of such barriers. 

In Dissent, a journal with which I have long been associated and that was formerly the home of Michael Walzer’s liberal-left Zionism, history professor Gabriel Winant described Israel as a “genocide machine” and argued that Israeli victims should not be grieved. Joseph Massad, a tenured professor at Columbia who teaches Middle Eastern studies and intellectual history, was unable to contain his enthusiasm: the attacks were “innovative,” “astonishing,” a “major achievement,” “awesome,” “incredible,” and “a stunning victory”; he wondered with excitement “if this is the start of the Palestinian War of Liberation.” (Thousands have signed a petition demanding that Massad be fired; tempting though this is, I maintain that these are the times to defend free-speech principles.) Some student organizations do have ties to the region and, presumably, know what’s going on there. The inaptly named Students for Justice in Palestine, the most bloodthirsty of student groups, declared “Glory to Our Martyrs”; described the massacre as “a historic win”; and demanded, “Do not let Western media call this terrorism. This is DECOLONIZATION.” 

To equate such pro-Hamas groups and activists with being “pro-Palestinian” should be a misnomer, just as it would be to call violent settlers in the West Bank “pro-Israel.” Yet the clear and often overtly expressed implication—of the demonstrators, the articles, the cascade of statements and open letters—is that the October 7th attacks and the Palestinian national project are synonymous. If not, why do so many demonstrators lustily echo the Hamas program? (At my own university, much to my shame: “We don’t want no two states, we want all of it.”) Even among those who would never actually align themselves with a terror group, there is cursory—and sometimes zero—condemnation of the killers, which is replaced by censure of Zionism as a presumptively racist-imperialist project and by hasty pivots to the so-called “root cause” of Hamas’s violence.

Why the euphemistic language, as if the Left is too delicate to look atrocity in the face? At Columbia University, 130 professors, prominent scholars among them, characterized the massacres as a “military operation,” which unfortunately echoes Vladimir Putin’s description of his invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation.” (October 7th was also quite special.) In the New York Review of Books, some of our country’s most esteemed writers, including Ta-Nehisi Coates and Richard Ford—who surely know the difference between language that clarifies and language that occludes—described the murderous rampage in an odd way: “On Saturday, after sixteen years of siege, Hamas militants broke out of Gaza.” 

Why the cowardly inability to face the cruelty: the infants murdered with sharp objects, the heads without bodies and vice versa, the terrorizing of children, the women stripped naked and shot point-blank, the burning of entire families, the mutilations, the torture, and perhaps most of all, the jubilant laughter of the killers as they accomplished their tasks? Letters (here, here, and here) signed by thousands of artists, writers, academics, philosophers, and journalists in the United States and United Kingdom—Tilda Swinton! Jonathan Lethem! Nan Goldin!—have castigated Israel without ever mentioning the Hamas attacks. Why this desperate attempt to “disappear” October 7th, as if it is already ancient—or irrelevant—history? The mealy-mouthed evasions and pretzel-like contortions of the cultural elite are an ignoble thing to behold. Jewish Lives Matter is, clearly, not a rallying cry for many on today’s Left.

In 1979, leftists who supported the Iranian Revolution had a rude awakening when the mullahs came to power and promptly executed them, along with secularists, union organizers, intellectuals, feminists, and everyone else who fit into the enormously capacious category of a counterrevolutionary. There was a lesson here: Activists have the responsibility to know who and what they support, and to separate themselves—openly and decisively—from programs and regimes that are predicated on violence and repression. Similarly, those who imagine that Hamas’s slaughters may have promoted “liberation,” “justice,” and “freedom” for Palestinians, as the banners demand, have a big surprise in store. 

Unlike Iran in 1979, though, there’s no mystery as to what kind of state Hamas (an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement) aims to create; we need only look at what it already has created. This time, no one can plead ignorance. There’s little liberation, justice, or freedom to be found in Gaza, where there are no opposition political parties, no elections, and no freedom of religion, the press, or protest. Opponents are arrested, tortured, and sometimes executed. (Yahya Sinwar, a head of Hamas’s armed wing, was known as “the butcher of Khan Younis” for his brutality toward other Palestinians.) Abortion and homosexuality are outlawed (what are those protestors with “Queers for Palestine” signs thinking?); mentioning trans rights would be unwise. It is legal for husbands to beat their wives, and so-called honor killings go unpunished. The ruling clique is notoriously corrupt, and though Gazans are very poor, Hamas is a very rich organization. “I Stand with Palestine!” demonstrators and writers proudly proclaim while lauding Hamas for having “rejuvenated a sense of political possibility” and hastening “the hour of liberation.” But what, exactly, are they standing for? And what kind of liberation will this be? Aside from the Taliban, Hamas has established the least progressive pseudo-state on Earth. The lesson of Iran has apparently not been learned; history is repeating itself not as farce but as tragedy. 

Much has been written about the occupation; much more needs to be. In no way do I minimize the increasingly brazen, homicidal violence of some settlers, or the conduct of the crazy messianic zealots in the current Israeli government. An absolute precondition for any political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians will be the end of the Netanyahu coalition and its ideology, as well as the defeat of Hamas. But Hamas isn’t opposed to the occupation, and it has made this position abundantly clear. It has responded to every move toward Palestinian sovereignty, including Israel’s unconditional withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the signing of the Oslo Accords, with deepening violence, including rocket attacks and suicide bombings. (David Grossman recently told the New Yorker that had Hamas turned Gaza into a peaceful and prosperous enclave, as many Palestinians and Israelis had hoped, subsequent withdrawals from West Bank settlements would have proceeded.) What Hamas calls “usurpation” means Israel itself, regardless of borders. Any political agreement, including two states or even a binational one, is blasphemy: “So-called peaceful solutions and international conferences” stand “in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement,” its founding document and subsequent actions make clear. 

A Different Concept of Death
An interview with author and intellectual Paul Berman about Hamas’s ideology and Western blindness.

The events of October 7th have clarified to Israelis from across the political spectrum—and should to everyone else—just what it means to make Palestine judenrein, as Hamas’s founding document and its current leaders promise. Indeed, the only way to “free Palestine from the river to sea,” as thousands of demonstrators worldwide are chanting, is to kill (or at best expel) all the Jews who live there, which is precisely what Hamas openly states is its primary goal. (Rep. Rashida Tlaib recently released a video in which she endorsed this demand, which she then ludicrously tried to spin as “an aspirational call for ... peaceful coexistence.” Perhaps she imagines that the millions of Israelis expelled from Yemen, Morocco, Iraq, Syria, and a host of other Arab countries will be offered the “right of return.”) Hamas specifies that every Muslim, including women and “the slave,” is duty-bound to join in the eschatological struggle to cleanse Palestine of “the Jews,” whom it identifies as the world’s most powerful force and mankind’s greatest enemy. October 7th was the practice of that principle. 

The determination of many on the Western Left to either ignore this program or refuse to believe it—despite Hamas’s consistent candor about its aims and means—is a sign of intellectual Orientalism: Palestinians are viewed only as helpless, reactive victims rather than people who generate ideas and actions for which they can be held accountable. But of course they do create political worldviews and programs, and Hamas has been especially voluble of late in explaining its future plans. Just last week, Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad affirmed that his organization planned many more October 7th-type attacks until it “annihilates” Israel; a week later, Hamas spokesman Taher El-Nounou told the New York Times, “I hope that the state of war with Israel will become permanent on all the borders.” This makes calls for a “mutual ceasefire,” in Tlaib’s words, nonsensical.

In fact, a ceasefire (as opposed to a humanitarian pause) would be entirely unilateral on Israel’s part, which raises the question of why Israel would lay down its arms against a forthrightly eliminationist enemy that holds more than 220 hostages. What would happen the day after that one-sided cessation? (Hamas has shot almost 10,000 rockets into Israel, including Tel Aviv, since October 7th; in the north, Hezbollah launches attacks.) Apparently, Hamas should be allowed to keep its bombs and bomb factories, assault rifles, drones, grenades, missiles, rockets, and tens of thousands of fighters as it plans future mass slaughters. How this will lead to anything approaching peace, as its advocates insist, rather than to war ad infinitum, as Hamas promises, is bewildering. The other option, of course, is that many believe that unending death and destruction are precisely the conditions that Israelis deserve.

Hamas does not recognize the category of “civilian” when it comes to Israelis, which is why a straight-faced, high-level Hamas spokesman could tell Britain’s Sky News: “We didn’t kill any civilians.” He wasn’t exactly lying; that’s just how he sees it. What is less well known—but is key to understanding the humanitarian calamity in Gaza right now—is that the group does not recognize the category of civilian when it comes to Palestinians. Nathan Thrall, formerly head of the International Crisis Group’s Arab-Israeli project and a frequent critic of Israel, has pointed out that Hamas undoubtedly knew that the extraordinary cruelty of these attacks would be met with an extraordinarily deadly Israeli response. “Clearly, this act by Hamas is suicidal,” Thrall said the day after the massacre. “I think that the attacks are virtually guaranteed to bring civilian deaths [in Palestine] on a greater scale than we have seen.”

Amir Tibon, a leftwing journalist who lived in Kibbutz Nahal Oz (where 14 were killed and five kidnapped), observed that on October 7th, Hamas “knew they had signed the death certificate of thousands of Gazans. For them it was a price worth paying for the joy of murdering my teenage neighbor and kidnapping children. They knew Gaza would suffer terrible, shocking destruction. They did it anyway.” Hamas has since affirmed what Thrall and Tibon knew: “Without a doubt, it was known that the reaction to this great act would be big,” Khalil al-Hayya, a top official, told the Times. In fact, Hamas has always found that carnage in Gaza—and the hatred for Israel that it engenders—is among its very best tools. Dead Palestinian babies and dead Israeli babies both serve its purposes, albeit for different reasons. The fact that this is incomprehensibly perverse doesn’t make it less true.

Israel is, of course, accountable for the decisions it takes, including the siege of Gaza, which I believe is morally wrong, and the ground invasion, which isn’t.  Though it did not seek this war, it is fully responsible for its actions and their consequences, including unintended ones. The civilian toll in Gaza is appalling. But the enormous numbers of unarmed Palestinians who have been, in Hamas’s parlance, “martyred” are no problem for the leadership: as the group’s founding document explains, “Death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of ... wishes.” That is not mere rhetoric; as the massacres unfolded, senior political leader Ismail Haniyeh insisted that “victory or martyrdom” are the only choices. Ordinary Palestinians, who had no say in the attacks, may see things differently. They are stunned by and terrified of the fury of the Israeli response. 

Even as the corpses pile up, Hamas remains unconcerned; just last week, Hamad brushed off civilian casualties by explaining, “We are called a nation of martyrs, and we are proud to sacrifice martyrs.” Moussa Abu Marzouk, another spokesman, has insisted that the group bears no responsibility for the fate or well-being of Gazan civilians and has acknowledged that its extensive network of underground tunnels is meant to protect Hamas fighters, not civilians. (Unlike the “martyrs,” including children, whom Hamas is proud to sacrifice, its fighters are safe underground where they hoard stocks of food, fuel, medicine and, of course, weapons. Much of the senior leadership, however, lives in luxury in Doha, Tehran, and other cities.) Hamas’s desire for dead Gazans has never been more evident than in this war. It has not joined the international calls for a humanitarian corridor, and it refuses to release the kidnapped hostages, which is the precondition for ending the siege.

There is, and always has been, another tradition, another sense, of what it means to be “progressive” and to stand with the oppressed. In 2011, Fred Halliday wrote an essay titled “Terrorism in Historical Perspective.” It is the most intellectually and morally lucid work on the subject that I know. Halliday addressed himself to his comrades on the Left and made a crucial argument: Any movement that claims to represent an oppressed people must act in an ethical way even if it is not in power and perceives itself as weak. 

Oppression is not a carte blanche for severing heads from bodies, shooting hundreds of young festival-goers, bludgeoning people to death, murdering children in front of parents and vice versa, killing naked women point-blank, and kidnapping babies and the elderly; there is no universe in which these are revolutionary, emancipatory, or anticolonialist acts, much less “beautiful” ones. Sadism and violence are not synonyms. Sexual torture cannot be anti-imperialist—nor is it an understandable, much less inevitable, response to oppression. An eliminationist program is not a freedom charter. History has proved, again and again, that terrorists and freedom fighters aren’t the same, which is why the former never achieve anything approaching either liberation or justice. There is no room for “yes, but.” Why, when it comes to the deaths of Israelis, is this so hard to understand? 

The Western Left’s response to October 7th will, I believe, be viewed as a moment of moral corruption on a par with the defense of Stalin’s purges, Czechoslovakia’s antisemitic show trials of 1952, the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and Poland’s antisemitic expulsions of 1968, along with the denial of the Khmer Rouge genocide (see under: Chomsky, Noam) and the adulation of China’s vicious Cultural Revolution. Since October 7th, there have been a handful of liberal and Left writers who have written bravely and honestly: Jonathan Freedland and Howard Jacobson in the Guardian, Michael Walzer in the Atlantic; Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times, Alan Johnson and Cary Nelson in Fathom, Seyla Benhabib on Medium. They are, alas, exceptions. Halliday’s leftism—the leftism of humane universalism rather than anti-imperialism—is in eclipse, as was Memmi’s.

Except in Israel. Somehow, that nation of genocidal-white supremacist-fascist-settler-colonials has produced a Left that still adheres to the traditional principles of universalist dignity and equality, and that isn’t too squeamish to recognize terrorism for what it is. It rejects Manichean reductionism—something it can ill afford—and can therefore hold more than one thought at a time. It understands that Israel is a powerful country and that it is existentially threatened by its enemies. It understands that it is a perpetrator of the occupation and a victim of terrorism. It knows that one can oppose the way in which Netanyahu’s government is conducting the war while also avowing that a war must be fought. It understands that vanquishing Hamas and defeating the fanatical ultra-nationalists in its midst—and in its government—are not only related but utterly interdependent. It rejects the concept of collective guilt, whether of Israelis or Palestinians. It has a pretty good understanding of what antisemitism is. Of necessity, it comprehends tragedy. Its tone is sober rather than histrionic. These are the people who have done more to defend Palestinian rights and promote Palestinian sovereignty than all the West’s self-aggrandizing decolonialists, boycotters, and anti-imperialists combined.

Michael Sfard is one of Israel’s most important human-rights lawyers; he has spent his life defending Palestinian rights inside and outside of courtrooms. He recently condemned, in the harshest terms, Israel’s political response to October 7th:

Israel today is a country and society where ... lawmakers from the ruling party are openly and unashamedly calling for a “second Nakba,” where the defense minister orders a denial of water, food and fuel to millions of civilians, a country whose president, Isaac Herzog, Israel's moderate face, says that all Gazans are responsible for Hamas’ crimes.

When the political and military leadership loses all restraint and approves ideas about a massive blow to civilians, we’re creating a society where the process of stripping away the humanity of the people on the other side of the border has been completed. And when that happens, the inferno is near.

But he also addressed his (putative) allies:

Not far from us, on their own way to the black hole, hover those who call themselves members of the “progressive left.” They’re finding it hard to unhesitatingly condemn—and without fleeing to the “context”—a satanic orgy of destroying civilian Israeli communities near Gaza, along with their residents. Some are even blabbering something about decolonization being an ugly process; that’s what happened in Algeria and Kenya, for example.

I read that and die of shame. Maybe you didn’t understand, but the struggle to end the occupation and achieve independence for the Palestinian people is part of the universal struggle to defend everyone’s human rights, not vice versa. The idea of the sanctity of human life, the noble idea that every person has basic rights that shouldn’t be undermined, isn’t a tool for implementing Palestinian independence but the other way around. 

The Western Left, basking in the safe, prosperous cities of the liberal democracies, lives in a very different world from the one Michael Sfard inhabits. Its moral rot may have suddenly become clear, but an ethical collapse takes time to develop. October 7th reveals the long-simmering theoretical confusions, and the moral void, that dominates many of today’s “progressive” movements. A Left that is fixated on “decolonization” mistakes a death cult for a liberation movement and is unable to recognize a bloodbath, even one that was filmed, and publicized worldwide, by the killers themselves. A Left that, rightly, demands absolute condemnation of white-nationalist supremacy refuses to disassociate itself from Islamist supremacy. A Left that divides the world between racists and antiracists and is obsessed with “people who look like me” can’t understand that the clash of two national movements has nothing to do with color or race.

A Left that celebrates diversity vilifies one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse countries in the world. A Left that prizes itself on defending refugees castigates a nation founded almost entirely by refugees—among the most immiserated and persecuted in history—as “settler-colonial.” A Left that divides the world between noble “native” peoples and the aliens who pollute them reproduces the neo-fascist worldview of the far-Right, from Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen. A Left that lauds intersectionality hasn’t noticed that Hamas’s axis of support consists of Iran, famous most recently for killing hundreds of protestors demanding women’s freedom; the homicidal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad; and Hezbollah, another fundamentalist Islamic group that is dedicated to Israel’s destruction and that terrorizes, and sometimes assassinates, fellow Lebanese who oppose it. What kind of Left gets into bed with such forces? Nor has it noticed that, since October 7th, ISIS and al-Qaeda have urged Muslims to step up worldwide “operations against the Jews” in solidarity with Hamas. 

And so, as always, the eternally vexing Jewish Question emerges, though many on the Left seem to think it’s been answered. A Left that has spent years, and spilled mountains of ink, tediously insisting that anti-Zionism cannot morph into antisemitism is unable to discern, much less clearly denounce, a militia of avowed Jew-killers. A Left that sees systemic racism in every nook and cranny—and in every (white) heart—can’t recognize the systemic antisemitism that results in mass murder. “I killed 10 Jews with my own hands!” a Hamas terrorist exulted as he called his parents, in the midst of the October attacks, to tell them the good news and send photos to prove it. That cry—both modern and ancient—must also be seen as a root cause of October 7th; that, too, is a key part of its “context.”

Individually and collectively, Israeli leftists have expressed their sorrow, their shock, and their anger at the Western Left’s betrayal. Crucially, they have tried to educate their supposed comrades about what a true Left response—to both the occupation and October 7th—must be. A group statement signed by some of Israel’s most prominent intellectuals read in part: 

Many of our peers worldwide have expressed strong opposition to Hamas’s attack and have offered unambiguous support for its victims. Prominent voices in the Arab world, too, have made it clear that there is no justification for sadistic murder of innocent people. However, to our dismay, some elements within the global left, individuals who were, until now, our political partners, have reacted with indifference to these horrific events and sometimes even justified Hamas’s actions. ... And there are even those—no small number—for whom the darkest day in our society’s history was a cause for celebration.

This array of responses surprised us. We never imagined that individuals on the left, advocates of equality, freedom, justice, and welfare, would reveal such extreme moral insensitivity and political recklessness. ... We emphasize: there is no contradiction between staunchly opposing the Israeli subjugation and occupation of Palestinians and unequivocally condemning brutal acts of violence against innocent civilians. In fact, every consistent leftist must hold both positions simultaneously. 

Sociologist Eva Illouz was even more blunt. She closed a recent article in Haaretz with this farewell note:

Many Arabs, within Israel and without, have shown the compassion the doctrinal left has so shockingly lacked. They have stood by our side. It is them with whom we must build a party of humanity determined to bring justice and peace. The global left has made itself irrelevant from now on. 

The Left in Israel, unlike the global Left, recognizes that Hamas must be eliminated, not appeased. “A country that doesn’t kill the people who tried to murder my daughters, and those who sent them, has lost its right to exist,” Tibon wrote. Civilians in Gaza must be protected whenever possible, but Hamas’s concealment of fighters and weapons within the civilian population and civilian sites guarantees that the war will be extremely ugly. Postwar, new political landscapes will emerge, though only a fool would predict what they’ll be. (One thing is clear: the political leaderships of both peoples have led them, and each other, to ruin.) October 7th, Tibon wrote, “hasn’t changed my belief, based on a cold, calculated reading of reality, that in the long run we must find ways to share this land. ... But first we must survive.” It has become obvious that there are many on the Left who dispute that last sentence.

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