Pro-Palestinian rally in Harvard Yard with signs accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza • Credit: AFP

Intellectual victimhood and Israelis’ obsession with “Global Left betrayal”

Come on, is that what you think is so urgent now? The big question, after all, is not how we (Israelis) will continue to live with Judith Butler or listen to Jarvis Cocker, but how we will live here, with the Palestinians, in this land.

The Palestine Project
5 min readOct 27, 2023

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By Noam Sheizaf • [Translated by Sol Salbe]

Judging by the columns and opinion pieces in Haaretz this week, the war in Gaza is but a footnote to a much larger and tragic event, which is the Global Left betrayal of Israel.

The amount of text poured on Harvard student associations, on Judith Butler, and on the artists’ petition, is inversely proportional to the interest of many of the same writers had in Gaza itself over the past 15 years, and the actuality of life there. How much space has been devoted to about a million young people born after Hamas came to power, who have lived under constant siege and bombardment? How much coverage has been given to the epidemics of suicides and addictions in the Gaza Strip, about the largest prison in the world that was fostered an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, using technology and occasional bombings? Nothing upon nothing. The West Bank got a little coverage, but Gaza was a black hole in consciousness. That’s why this aggressive demand for acknowledgment of our pain feels so hollow now, even though this time we are really entitled to it (I don’t write “aggressive” as a metaphor. The same Harvard students who signed their inane statement (and inane it was) got their names published and documented online, along with calls never to hire them. Performances and events by speakers and artists who expressed support for the Palestinians’ right to a life of dignity and freedom are cancelled throughout the US and Europe. People are fired from their jobs because they wrote “Free Palestine” somewhere.

And if that’s not enough, many of these texts are written in an haughty style, with all kinds of caricatured descriptions of disconnected students in Europe and phrases like “Progressive Madness” (how fun it is to be [homophobic ultra-Rightist MK] Avi Maoz for a day!). What really comes out from them is the grotesque nature of a cultural and intellectual class that roll-plays the West while turning a blind eye to the dystopia that our country has built right next door. Literally it is one of the demented places on earth. And then it’s a surprise when it all explodes in our faces. Of course, some of the writers are decent and some of the texts are more nuanced, and the motivations are sometimes worthy, but the general drift is unmistakable, especially in the face of such a flood of articles.

The sharpest and perhaps most extreme example is Chaim Levinson’s text (link in the comments). I will not deal with the historical nonsense he writes (“Israel was not established by the superpowers, but against the superpowers”), but rather with his tantrum in light of the fact that Judith Butler, who was palpably upset and very explicitly condemned Hamas, dared to speak of context while dealing with the events of 7 October. The context, Levinson writes, is the murder of Jews, and nothing else. And here it is again: a person who screams out demanding the acknowledgement of their pain while forbidding the mere mention of the fact that they are standing on someone else’s head. A journalist who speaks against context, and calls others superficial. Then, of course, comes the inevitable psychological arrogance: “These statements are the self-righteous mindset of scholars sitting on prestigious college campuses in the US.”

How easy it is to think of the world as a bunch of rich whites who read too much of Franz Fanon. How easy it is to ignore the words of Fanon himself, who spoke of the moment when the occupied descends into the most violent barbarism, and of the terrifying appearance of the celebratory aspect in the face of horror, or of the zoological language that the occupier adopts to describe the occupied. How easy it is to ignore the depth of the academic debate on the subject (Rashid Khalidi, the Palestinian historian from Colombia, was among those who made it clear that even in an anti-colonial struggle there is no right to murder children, link in comments. And there were many more like him). The bottom line is that clinging to the caricature of the detached pro-Palestinian student — and this entire intellectual victimhood — is all a distraction. We are in the midst of the most violent weeks in the history of the conflict, we have never suffered and inflicted such atrocities, and no one has any intention of stopping. The intellectual or journalistic job right now is to think about the difficult matters. To ask the dangerous questions, to see where we are going, to think of an alternative to a policy that has been proven bankrupt, not to ingratiate ourselves with the mainstream, but rather to take risks against it. What is needed right now is courage, and our quarrel with the Global Left is the very opposite.

Come on, is that what you think is so urgent now? The big question, after all, is not how we will continue to live with Judith Butler or listen to Jarvis Cocker, but how we will live here, with the Palestinians, in this land. When you explored your victimhood, the right has been reshaping reality, just as it did after the Second Intifada and after the Disengagement. Already, it is constructing the narrative about there being no one to talk to, and that we need to apply force more force and only force. The Right beginning to talk loudly about transfer, at a time when it is the Right-wing policy that has exploded in our faces. The reality is Gaza, not the metatext about it. The question is how we proceed. The question is how do we — leftists, liberals, whatever we call ourselves — once again take ownership of the reality of our lives away from the mad forces that run it now, on both sides. The question is this war, and where it will lead, and here there are really no easy answers, or those which will bring 600 sympathetic responses. It’s time to get your hands dirty. After 7 October this should be obvious.

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