A person lives in many realms. One’s sexual identity is not the same as one’s ideological identity, though they may inform one another. We are multiple, but not fully intersectional, beings. I am a young liberal Zionist in the diaspora and so have had occasion, over the past bloody months, to see just how complicated my multiple identity is. This was made manifest during a period in which I was both deeply rattled and also called upon to act, to take part in the inflamed public conversation, to demonstrate the humanity which is the single tool powerful enough to staunch the bloodletting that has plagued the Palestinian and Jewish peoples since the early 1900s.
Zionists must learn that their children will never be safe so long as Palestinian children are not safe. Palestinians must learn the same. The horrors of 7 October were succeeded by the horrors in Gaza and I needed to keep my head, to monitor my own pain and to direct it with prudence. Hysteria and despair were not responsible indulgences. (I have rationed both.) Now was not a particularly good time to discover that the left has a Jewish problem.
Strictly speaking I did not discover this on 7 October. I come from the Zionist far right and spent my childhood marinating in a doctrine which preaches the dehumanisation of Palestinians. When I fled that world for the liberal community, I recognised immediately that progressive leftists feel about Israelis the way radical Zionists feel about Palestinians: these are not real people. So the grotesque anti-Semitism manifested brazenly by far too many leftist leaders did not surprise me. It did, however, shock me. And it angered me.
Cheering the beheading, rape and murder of innocent people is shocking even when it is not entirely surprising. And of those who did not cheer the terror, the great majority were either too slow or totally incapable of renouncing it. That too is shocking.
Something did surprise me, though. I was surprised by my own fear of the left’s hatred and bloodlust. I expected to be angry, not afraid. My fear has two primary concerns: I fear for my own and my family’s safety, and I fear for the possibility of peace in the Middle East. The left, I see now, is among the collectives which imperil both.
Its refusal to consider Israelis as human beings has made it an obstacle to the establishment of a Palestinian state. This is not mere rhetoric: this is an acute, rational horror. If the left’s attitude to Israel starts and stops with the insistence that it ceases to exist – a bizarre formulation indeed: the war crimes of no other state are met with cries for its elimination – anyone who works towards peace is lambasted as a traitor.
Pressure from the global left is one of the only forces that has the power to stay Israel’s hand. It has the capacity to assist Palestinians’ whose sole recourse is to engage with a state, the worst excesses of which systematically dehumanise them. The Jewish people have learned over 2,000 years that our safety is dependent on the existence of a Jewish state. It has been one of the great tragedies of the modern period that Jews had to watch their transition from powerlessness to power come at the price of another people’s degradation.
The awful reality is that every government commits egregious crimes and yet their power renders them necessary partners in the establishment of a more just society. American leftists have remarked that they will never forgive themselves for the tax dollars they paid which financed the destruction in Gaza. They are right to be sickened by their role in this horror. But as they keep correctly hectoring, context matters. That other countries commit war crimes does not make Israel’s less ugly. But we must ask why the extermination of only Israel is repeatedly called for by people on marches the world over who have never been there. Young American leftists protested against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they never demanded that the US had lost its right to exist because of them.
To influence Israel, one must be willing to recognise it. Since leftist leaders cannot bother to do this, they cannot be of real use to Palestinians. This is a betrayal of their own cause. It is also tragic for the liberal Zionists, whose integrity depends on forcing Israel towards justice. The only allies we have in that effort are those heroic Palestinians who agitate for peace. I have been moved to tears several times in the past weeks to see expressions of Palestinian love and support for Israeli neighbours who are grieving. This magnanimous humanity is our only balm, our only hope. But leftists abroad accuse such Palestinians of being complicit in their own oppression. Of what use is a cruel and dogmatic left in a cruel and dogmatic world?
This article is part of the series What It Means to Be Jewish Now.