Anyone seeking to understand the pathology of hate that lies behind the anti-Israel BDS movement can do worse than to read ‘The Seventy Year Nakba’ by Barnaby Raine on the web site of Independent Jewish Voices.
This piece was written about six months ago at the time of Israel’s 70th Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day), an occasion marked by Hamas’s attempts to penetrate the border between Gaza and Israel. It has only recent come to my attention and contains many of the ‘tricks of the trade’ which we have come to associate with the campaign of demonisation being waged against Israel and its supporters. It requires a response.
As is so often the case, the article is almost entirely free of either facts or evidence.
We are warned which way this is going to go in the following passage:
‘The world’s journalists watched streams of unarmed people walk towards soldiers and then return on stretchers. The dead included an eight-month-old baby. They had only stood near a “border” imposed on them to keep them from their homes.’
Well no, they hadn’t. There is overwhelming evidence that there were persistent violent attempts to penetrate the border, and that many of those present were anything but unarmed. Hamas subsequently claimed over 50 of them as its own operatives.
In fact, there are so many questions that need to be asked about this passage. Such as, what was Hamas’s motive for organising the ‘demonstration’? (The word ‘Hamas’ never even appears in the article, a curious omission given that it was they who organised the event). Or, what were they trying to achieve in ‘walking towards the border’, and what would they have done had they managed to cross it? Of course, Barnaby never tells us. Not because he doesn’t know the answer – one suspects he knows it only too well. Or again, why was an ‘eight-month-old baby’ present? An eight-month old baby who doctors later admitted died of a pre-existing condition. We are never told.
Then there is this. ‘A century ago the Balfour Declaration turned Palestinians into a negative in their own land – they were defined only as “non-Jews” unworthy of the political rights that Europe could safely entrust to its settlers.’
To anyone who knows the history this is of course a monstrous distortion of the facts. The Balfour Declaration explicitly acknowledged the existing Arab community, and made a condition of the creation of a Jewish homeland to not prejudice the rights of the existing community. Unfortunately, the following decades saw widespread and repeated attacks on Jews, necessitating the division of the two communities. This division was accepted by the Jewish community, and rejected by the Arab community, which launched more violence. To blame the current predicament on the Balfour Declaration is perverse.
The theme of the piece – insofar as one can discern a theme – is the question which opens it. Namely, why is there no Palestinian Gandhi? This is not a question I have heard before, but let’s follow it through for the moment.
One point that should stick out is the contradiction between that question and Barnaby’s account of the border action itself. After all, according to Barnaby this was indeed a Gandhian event. Remember those ‘unarmed people walk[ing] towards soldiers’? Or alternatively (we’re not sure which) who merely ‘stood near a border’? If either of these versions is true, the leaders of Hamas must indeed be Gandhis – albeit ones who stayed safely in the rear while the more photogenic victims bore the brunt. Yet in posing the question Barnaby is tacitly admitting that this is not so. That in fact the ‘Palestinian cause’ has always been characterised by a significant degree of violence, including against civilians, including against children. And if that is the case, why should this action have been any different? And how could the Israelis, or any government, allow the breach of its borders and the slaughter that would inevitably have followed?
In fact, there is a simple reason why there is no Palestinian Gandhi – because you can only use Gandhian tactics in pursuit of Gandhian ends. (Sadly, of course, not always then). But the ends of the Palestinian leadership, Hamas but also the PLO, are anything but Gandhian. They are not about fighting imperialism or colonialism. They instead involve the violent displacement (or worse) of another people from the only home they have – that of the Jews from Israel. This is the nub of the problem, and one which not all of Barnaby’s rhetoric can disguise.
He does of course attempt to disguise it. Hence his bizarre claim that ‘ostensibly radical Palestinians… want the dissolution of a regime predicated on ethnic difference and its replacement by a state that guarantees equal rights before the law irrespective of ethnic origin.’ Really? Has Barnaby actually read the Hamas charter? Or the Palestinian Authority law making it a capital offence to sell land to Jews? Or the school texts which encourage the slaughter of the Jews? Or heard about the flight of Christians from Palestinian-controlled areas? Which is the regime actually ‘predicated on ethnic difference’?
Nor, of course, does he appear to have read the stories of actual Israelis – not least those (approaching a million) who were ethnically cleansed from Arab and Muslim countries and who have made their new homes in Israel. Because that would challenge the morality tale of absolute evil on one side and saintly victimhood on the other which Barnaby paints.
Because make no mistake, this is a dehumanising narrative. Old-fashioned Marxism, to which he briefly alludes, painted the proletariat as the repository of all that was good, noble, and progressive. By contrast, classes deemed reactionary were consigned to the rubbish bin of history. In today’s anti-imperialist leftism, it is peoples, races and genders which are branded as on the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ side of history, and the latter cheerfully consigned to the flames. In this tale, the Jews – sorry `Zionists` – are on the wrong side and therefore do not have the right to be considered a people.
So the actual living, breathing country known as Israel is reduced to a historical type. It is a Sparta, no less – a term redolent of regimented militarism and the absence of individual thought and creativity. To those of us who know the real Israel – in all its chaotic, creative, argumentative, maddening and inspiring complexity – this is of course a travesty and a lie. But it is a necessary lie. Because how else except by painting Israel and its people as this faceless mass of cold-hearted killers can you justify supporting, and rhetorically whitewashing, the clerical fascists and would-be genocidaires of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade?
There are many questions raised by this article, but they are not the ones which Barnaby himself poses. Such as what strange quirk of our culture leads a privileged young Jewish man to turn himself into an apologist for fundamentalist Jew-haters? And what is it about the appeal of totalitarian ideologies that exerts such fascination on those born with all the blessings of a free society but none of the sense of how fragile such a society may turn out to be?