The Left’s fiasco flotilla: Betraying Zionism and liberalism

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 6-7-10


This month, in Jerusalem, Way Off Productions and AACI are premiering Arsenic, The Musical, an original musical based on Arsenic and Old Lace. In this charming, energetic production, the exceedingly normal star, Mortimer Brewster, suddenly realizes he is surrounded by homicidal lunatics – including his two doddering old aunties. What a fitting metaphor for Israel’s read of the flotilla fiasco, wherein purported “peace activists” pummeled fellow human beings with metal rods and the whole world went crazy, blaming Israel while Israel felt assailed.

There is, of course, much to criticize in Israel’s actions. However, amid all the righteous indignation targeting Israel, will any leftists criticize the Turkish jihadists who masked their violent intentions by blustering about human rights and humanitarian aid? Who will defend Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals? Who can cry for the people of Gaza AND the tattered teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., who would have despised having his non-violent philosophy hijacked by these goons?

Some prominent American Jews are complaining that Zionism betrayed liberalism. They ignore modern Zionism’s big broad tent while caricaturing Israel in all its chaotic complexity and democratic diversity as a McCarthy-ite theocracy slouching toward fascism. In fact, liberalism remains compatible with Zionism, having helped spawn it. But today’s hypocritical left, driving recklessly because of its moral blind spots, repeatedly betrays both liberalism and Zionism.

Honest liberals could not support Hamas; a theocratic, dictatorial, anti-Semitic terrorist movement that snuffs out any signs of liberal life that try sprouting in Gaza. Consistent liberals would recoil from the jihadist associations of the IHH, the Turkish organization calling itself the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, while ferrying rogues lacking identity cards, flush with cash and armed for a fight. True liberals would make time to protest North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean ship – purposely killing three times the number Israelis mistakenly killed this week. They would protest Pakistani violence, Saudi Arabian sexism, Iranian repression while rushing toward nuclear weaponry, Islamic homophobia, the brutal trampling of individual rights throughout the Arab world. Wise liberals would understand that the left’s selective indignation, represented by the human rights establishment’s obsession with Israel, undermines liberalism’s core ideals, abandoning millions who need help throughout the world.

Some trace this leftist betrayal to liberalism’s nineteenth-century tug of war between universalism and particularism. Yet liberal nationalism triumphed, epitomized by the US and implemented widely as democracy spread throughout the West. Some modern anti-Zionism, especially among Jews, stems from a faux cosmopolitanism – an inability to see how particularism, nationalism, rootedness in an identity, can better fulfill universal ideals. Today’s toxic hypocrisy picks and chooses among particularisms, for example, romanticizing Palestinian nationalism while demeaning Jewish nationalism. More broadly, the New Left holds Western democracies to artificially high standards while giving a moral free pass to non-white, non-Western autocracies.

This perverse double standard is younger. After World War II, the virtuous struggle against colonialism, imperialism and racism created what we could call “Che Guevara rules”. In advancing civil rights, in defeating colonial regimes, revolutionaries like that Argentinean Marxist taught that, in any national struggle, white Western powers are always wrong, indigenous people of color are always right, and that anything goes for those deemed to be oppressed in opposing the oppressor. In the 1970s, Soviet propagandists pushed further, redefining human rights from protecting individuals against their states to protecting the supposedly weak against the powerful, which usually meant virtuous Third World countries against decadent Western democracies.

The New Left’s addiction to these revolutionary theatrics and Identity Politics violated liberalism’s defining enlightenment rationalism. Liberalism abhorred unreason, considered violence a last resort, and even in its nationalist expressions valued universal individual rights and consistency of results. All of a sudden, “identity” trumped “politics”; who you were determined what rights you had and became more important than what you did. Palestinians could get a free pass to be terrorists; Israelis were scorned even when defending themselves.

This deviation from liberalism was a racist condescension masquerading as anti-racism. When someone in the conflict was cast as of color, the rules changed. Whites were consistently assumed to be wrong and held to higher standards. While supposedly sympathizing with the “other,” white leftists treated many people of color as morally inferior, as somehow absolved of the normal moral restraints.

This strategy was formalized in the UN General Assembly’s 1975 Zionism is Racism resolution. The US Ambassador to the UN Daniel Patrick Moynihan and his Israeli colleague Chaim Herzog understood they were defending Western Civilization’s guiding principles. They recognized the attack on Israel as an attack on democracy and decency. They warned that the language of human rights and the UN itself would be diminished, that hypocrisy and selective indignation would trump consistency and the rule of law. What Moynihan called this “terrible lie” has outlasted the Soviet Union’s fall and even the resolution’s repeal in 1991.

Shortly before the UN passed the resolution, the British writer Paul Johnson wrote in The New Statesman:

The world is increasingly governed not so much by capitalism, or communism, or social democracy, or even tribal barbarism, as by a false lexicon of political clichés, accumulated over a century and now assuming a kind of degenerate sacerdotal authority.”

The Palestinians, with the help of their Soviet puppeteers and a restive Third World imprisoned the Arab-Israeli conflict in these political clichés. For decades now, the Palestinians have cleverly used these clichés to pillory Israel, indicting Israel as embodying all three great sins, as a racist, imperialist, colonialist state.

How tragic that so many leftists have drunk this potion laced with arsenic, poisoning the language of human rights, the UN itself, distracting humanitarian organizations from many important tasks, in this collective pile-on against Israel. How frustrating that Israel stumbled into the trap this week, allowing jihadis not only to do violence to our soldiers but to the West’s and liberalism’s core ideals.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. His next book will be about the Zionism is Racism resolution of 1975.

He can be reached at


Middle East Farce Turns Tragic: Armed “Peace Activists” versus Paintball Commandos

By Gil Troy, The Mark News, 6-1-10

Armed Pacifists Vs. Paintball Commandos

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As the raid on the Turkish flotilla demonstrates, both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wish to appear virtuous but trust only strength.

The strange and sobering world of the Middle East conflict has now introduced a new phenomenon, the armed “peace activist,” seething with hate, professing pacifism, masquerading as an humanitarian, pounding away at another human being with a metal pole. The American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Amid all the indignant denunciations of Israel, with the Jewish state’s flag being burned the world over, it is nevertheless possible to hold two, seemingly opposing, groups of ideas at once. First: Israel’s commando raid was ill-conceived and poorly executed. The tragic human casualties and Israel’s diplomatic catastrophe should have been avoided. And the party with the greater firepower holds the greater responsibility, especially when it is a democracy. But at the same time, these alleged “peace activists” pulling weapons rather than pulling a Gandhi should give us pause. This was not a humanitarian operation but a power play. And the violence that began – on one boat – was clearly planned and intentional.

The expected street theatre, actually sea theatre, turned violent because of the Turkish activists’ ambush. In five of the six boats the Israeli navy boarded, everyone followed the anticipated script. These passive protesters trusted that images of armed commandos deployed against unarmed civilians would achieve their PR goals to embarrass Israel and weaken international support for the Israeli-Egyptian blockade against Hamas’s control of Gaza. Yet, as the videos show, the boaters on the Turkish ferry the Marmara swarmed the Israeli soldiers, who initially held their fire. Israel clearly sought to avoid the kind of bloodbath which occurred. Apparently, the soldiers initially were armed with paint ball guns for crowd control. As one soldier later complained, “We went into war, and all we had were toys.”

Some of the injured Israelis were stabbed, two were shot, one had his skull crushed. Some rioters had been recorded earlier shouting “Jews, remember Khyabar, the army of Mohammed is returning,” referring to the Muslims’ seventh-century defeat of Jews. Israelis described the mob scene as an attempted “lynch” – Israelified English for “lynching,” evoking the brutal mob murder on October 12, 2000 when two Israeli reservists were killed after making a wrong turn into Palestinian territory. One report suggested that the Israeli soldiers only began shooting thirty minutes into the confrontation – when their lives clearly were endangered.

The pro-Palestinian side’s failure once again to “go Gandhi” on the Israelis reflects the great crime of Palestinian nationalism, namely its unrelenting hatred for the Jewish State. This hatred is reflected in the vicious anti-Semitic rhetoric often deployed against Israel, the continuing calls for Israel’s destruction, and the violence on the Marmara and elsewhere. This hatred has blocked repeated attempts at compromise. Many Israelis – and well-intentioned outsiders – treat the conflict as a matter of borders to be drawn while too many – but not all – Palestinians treat the conflict as a state that needs to be destroyed.

That hatred looms large in the struggle over Gaza. Israel’s blockade of Gaza does not make sense unless you read Hamas’s charter, with its anti-Semitic rhetoric and calls for Israel’s destruction, or remember Hamas’s suicide bombs and Kassam rockets. Israel – along with Egypt – is blockading Gaza because Gaza is run by theocratic terrorists. The fact that Hamas and its supporters use humanitarian rhetoric, that they have hijacked the language of human rights, that they have won over much liberal support, does not make them worthy of those ideals. In fact, this masquerade, legitimized by its international enablers, makes Israel only feel more embattled, just as the harsh rhetoric delegitimizing Israel makes it all the more difficult to nurture the kind of trust and mutual respect necessary for compromise and peace.

Here, then, is the true Middle Eastern farce, which this week turned tragic. With pacifists wielding clubs pitted against naval commandos armed with paintballs both sides dance on the head of pin, seeking to appear virtuous while ultimately trusting power. True peace will not be attained, until both sides trust the power of virtue. The challenge for the international community is to nurture that trust on both sides, rather than siding with the armed peace activists over the paintball commandos.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University.