People walk amid debris from Israeli airstrikes in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, Oct. 11, 2023. (Samar Abu Elouf/The New York Times)

October 11, 2023

FATTAL | On Israel, Direction of Anger and Liberation

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TW: Genocide, Anti-semitism, Islamaphobia, Sexual Violence

Getting on the bus for a weekend out-of-town on Thursday, I was already thinking about Israel. I’d stumbled upon a Jacobin article about Ken Loach (the socialist filmmaker who comes up a lot in English-speaking Europe) defending the director against longstanding claims of antisemitism as he releases his final film. I’d only seen one Loach film, and can’t speak too deeply about him, though his subjects and labor focus are to me unambiguously commendable. As for the anti-semitism, I remained unconvinced by the specific allegations refuted either in the Jacobin article or in my due diligence “both sides” readings of his accusers. I watched The Old Oak yesterday. It was lovely. Maybe I’ll review it sometime. 

I was thinking about Israel again 36 hours later because it’s the sort of thing you do when the country gets plunged back into the news cycle overnight. Looking for something to do away from home I wandered with my partner into an OxFam charity shop and picked up a short book about Jews and the Left from a socialist(?) publisher singularly obsessed with Leftist anti-semitism. I read it on the train, reminiscing on that united turn-of-the-century Jewish proletariat, feeling wholly unsatisfied by the failures of early Marxists to predict Fascism and ending entirely ambivalent concerning the essay’s conclusion on Israel… I remain unconvinced about anti-semitism on the Left. 

The online discourse that filled the void left by my book has been nauseating. Little more should be expected of American conservatives, but advocating for genocide seems like a new low. Nor would I have anticipated much more from politicians, but when a government which has expressed nothing but contempt for international law promises brutal, previously unforeseen vengeance, a show of unambiguous military support sounds criminal. For those on the other side, I can understand the temptation for excitement in a region that has borne an overwhelming amount of suffering for Palestinians, but we can and should at the very least stop short of celebrating the sexual violence and indiscriminate killing of children that has been a part of the attack. 

I think it’s valuable to be clear about what happened. Any response needs to start by  addressing a profound power differential that leaves Palestinians without viable means of protest. We should contextualize this against the Great March of Return, where the Israel Defense Forces responded to largely peaceful protests with disproportionate violence, or the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, an attempt at international nonviolent resistance consistently slandered as unacceptable (even to the point of criminalization). We must remember the decades of occupation and years of blockading marked by catastrophic state-sponsored violence. Even absent the borderline genocidal collective punishment the IDF has just amplified, it becomes challenging to look at the history and see anything other than an imperial power being met with violent resistance. 

The response by Hamas is horrifying, there’s no other way about it. But it’s just as striking in that it represents a momentary period of Israelis feeling the anxiety and violence that has been perpetrated against Palestinians on a daily basis. It is more than fair to condemn sexual violence or violence against civilians: I contend that successful liberation necessitates asking a lot of liberators, and that war crimes cannot be a part of that. But we should never concede that liberation is itself bad or unproductive: Gaza does not cease to be an open-air prison for the innocent, and Israel does not cease to be an oppressive state engaging in persistent human rights violations with the unambiguous support of the United States. Conservatives arguing against moral equivalency are right, there is no comparison: One is an Apartheid state backed by the most powerful militaries in the world and the other a small armed insurgency with (at best) the tepid support of a few Muslim neighbors. 

To everyone already furiously typing a response: I get it. I’m Jewish, half-Israeli. My grandfather fought in the Yom Kippur War after fleeing anti-semitism in Iraq. I went to those same Hebrew School classes that conflated Judaism with right-wing Zionism and taught us to be wary of any critique of the latter. And I understand the anxiety: Real anti-semitism remains a part of life here and abroad, and there are plenty of fundamentalists who preach it (though perhaps less than many hardline Zionists preach virulent Islamophobia). It’s tempting to fall into the propaganda machine and get caught up in a presentist read of undeniably awful images. But the only way to perceive Israel as innocent or their response as righteous will be to engage in a total dehumanization of Palestinians (like this), repeating the exact same process that has persisted as the centerpiece of both Israeli and American policy for decades. 

I’m a leftist in large part because of a fear of fascism, the horrors it wrought upon my community and the ease with which capitalism can descend into it. The lessons to be learned from fascism are not a singular fear of anti-semitism, or a total retreat into Jewish ethnocentrism, but rather a skepticism of imperialism, ethnocentrism, militaristism or dehumanization wherever it might live. Lessons will not be found opposing bottom-up resistance to oppression, but rather in the collective punishments doled out in response to such resistance. The only way fascism sustains is by creating the conditions under which terrorism becomes the sole means of resistance and then exploiting that terrorism for political support. To offer that political support is to enable fascism. 

As Jews, we are more than familiar with the struggle for liberation. We’ve advocated for it relentlessly in the past: labor activism in the United States, revolution in Russia and Popular Front action in Western Europe. We’ve been brutally suppressed, subjected to state violence and forced to respond with guerilla or “terrorist” tactics. Now (and for years), one of those perpetrators of state violence has been Israel. And for those who want peace, for those who actually want an end to violence, there exists only one legitimate solution. It starts and ends with Palestinian liberation: End the occupation, end the settlements, free Palestine. 

Max Fattal is a junior in the School of Industrial Labor Relations. They can be reached at [email protected]