Israel and the far left – What is the root of the tension

Israel and the far left – What is the root of the tension

One thing I have never fully understood is the enigmatic relationship that exists between Israel and the far left of political discourse. I can recall the early 00’s and the accusations of anti-Israel bias emanating from politicians and thinkers of this political inclination. Whether it was Baroness Jenny Tonge, George Galloway or even figures in entertainment like Annie Lennox (previously married to an Israeli) and Ken Loach there was always an intensity when it came to the subject of Israel. When you also consider the fact that Israel was founded by the socialist inspired enterprise of Kibbutzim, the antipathy is somewhat strange. It has now got to a point where a global movement in the BDS exists purely for the purpose of boycotting and exerting international pressure on Israel. Other groups such as Stop The War and The Socialist Worker exhibit similar levels of antagonism. In short, there really is no country in the world that attracts such level of hostile organisation on this scale. 

The far left has had a bordering on obsession with condemning the legitimacy of the state of Israel for decades. And whilst Israel has its fair share of problems (name me a country which doesn’t) there are so many things which make it a beacon of pluralism that any liberally inclined person should applaud. Firstly, its democratic and I mean really democratic to the point where coalitions are as commonplace as the rain is in the UK.  It is also probably the only place in the Middle-East which embraces the LGBT community in such an open way – even allowing pride to take place in socially conservative Jerusalem. Israel is constantly pioneering new technologies with startups emerging from every orifice of the country. But despite all that it has going for it, Israel faces levels of vitriol that should be reserved for nations around the world that abuse human rights on a regular basis. So why the special attention? It is really something that I have struggled to get my head around. So here are a few salient factors that I feel shape the left’s attitude towards Israel.


  1. The current government – This is probably the most right-wing government that Israel has ever had in its history. Netanyahu’s Likud is being propped up by other even more religiously conservative parties such as Bayit Yehudi, Shas and United Torah Judaism. A number of people in Israel will be at odds with this current set up, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The nature of democracy is about debating different views. There would have been plenty of people who would not have approved of Labour’s Ehud Barak and his overly generous stance towards Yasser Arafat in 2000. No one is right, no one is wrong this is just the nature of a flourishing democracy with so many different views. Yet, the global left doesn’t seem to like the fact that Israel currently has a right-wing government. Guess what? That’s the choice the country took in free democratic elections.
  2. The Palestinian problem – I could write a whole piece on this subject for it remains the most intractable of conflicts. But the fact that this issue remains unresolved does not equate to Israel’s existence being somehow illegitimate. It is perfectly fine to debate this issue without resorting to petty remarks and questioning the right of Israel to exist. Do countries that are far worse proponents of abusing their own citizens (Syria, Saudi Arabia, Democratic Republic of Congo to name a few) have their legitimacy as nation states questioned the way Israel does? I have my doubts. Equally, look at places like Australia, New Zealand and even the Unites States. All three of these countries could be said to have behaved badly towards their respective indigenous populations in the past. But do people question their right to exist?
  3. A client of America and enabler of imperialism – So the equation works out like this: America, the apparent ‘imperialistic monolith’ gives money and aid to its ally Israel. America is a place where a lot of Jews live, so this, in turn, makes Israel a proxy of America and an enabler of imperialism. This is yet again another ridiculous accusation that is often levelled at Israel, which is tenuous at best and utter fallacy at worst. By this logic, every single Israeli government and American administration would get along seamlessly. The recent example of Obama and Netanyahu’s very fractious relationship shows that there has been a difference of opinion and outlook in how both nations understand the regional difficulties. Former President Jimmy Carter also had a very conflictive stance towards Israel in its negotiations with Anwar Sadat’s Egypt in 1979. America undoubtedly has powerful pro-Israel lobby groups in the form of AIPAC and the more left of centre organisation J-Street. But, equating this to unconditional support to the point where Israel is essentially a client state of America is factually incorrect and totally ignorant.
  4. Israel is racist – I mean come on look at the above. I don’t think anyone denies the Palestinian problems and the enormously complex issues that surround this subject. But, Israel is not a racist state. Israel is a burgeoning hub of multiculturalism which is unique for a region where intolerance and discrimination are commonplace. Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Christians, Drewes, Ethiopians and Armenians all live side by side as citizens of Israel. Does this mean that racism doesn’t exist in Israel? Of course not. But how is this different from other countries. Yet when there are Yazidis, who have been ethnically cleansed by Isis in Syria, and huge swathes of Coptic Christians in Egypt, who are routinely abused, it is fantastic that there is somewhere where this type of systematic racial abuse does not occur.

Despite the overwhelming evidence above, the hard left will always harbour ill feelings towards Israel, regardless of it being the sole progressive democratic nation in the Middle East. Perhaps, facts are not the true reason for the disproportionate amount of hostile attention given towards Israel. Maybe there is something else? Maybe it’s more intangible and can’t be explained in a way which is erudite or coherent? But with geopolitics in such a bad place surely there are bigger things for the left to focus its attentions on than a country who should surely now be judged by normal standards and not the typical hysteria that greets any heightened tension or conflict.

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