Why the British Left has come to revile Israel

Israel embodies the success of not just the nation-state, but of Western liberal democracy.

February 9, 2017 22:07
3 minute read.
PEOPLE PROTEST against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he visits British Prime Minister Theresa

PEOPLE PROTEST against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he visits British Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street on Monday. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The morning of July 4, 1976 – the day of the Entebbe raid – is one of my earliest memories.

Growing up in Uganda, that day left two big impressions on my five-year-old mind.

First was that feeling of elation – all too short-lived – in the adults around me that at last the tyrant Idi Amin might at last have met his match. Second, I saw the Israelis as the good guys. Unequivocally.

Back in Britain 40 years later, that last view is not one everybody seems to share. Entebbe proved to be the last time Israel could count on broad sympathy across the political spectrum. The British Left had already abandoned its longstanding support for Israel after its stunning victory in the Six Day War. Within a few years of Entebbe, it had decisively turned against Israel.

Left-wing contempt for Israel is now pervasive. From the trades unions to the universities, the Guardianista media to the Labour Party, it’s taken as read that Israel is in the wrong. In an era when the British Left has never been more divided, anti-Zionism seems to be the great unifier.

But why has the British Left come to revile Israel? Is it because kibbutz-style socialism has given way to modern capitalism? Or because Israel is no longer the plucky underdog? Or perhaps because Israeli voters have the chutzpah to keep electing rightwing governments? What’s clear to me is that much of the hostility to Israel has nothing to do with the ostensible reasons given. The issue of settlements or Palestinian statehood, it seems, has become a stick with which to beat the Jewish state.

Far from trying to prevent further conflict, the leftist coalition of boycott backers and Hamas apologists are actively promoting it.

Instead, I suspect that anti-Zionism flows from a different source: hostility to the idea of national self-determination.

National self-determination may have been a left-wing ideal a century ago, but not today. Instead, leftists have come to revere supranational institutions: the UN, the ICC, and the EU.

Today’s self-styled progressives prefer laws made by international treaties and courts to those passed by elected national legislatures.

They see fealty to the rules of an imagined global community as more important than the obligations of any real community. They support government by remote technocracy over government by the people.

Underlying supranationalism is a loss of faith in the West. Leftwing politics is now rooted in a Rousseauist disdain for Enlightenment liberalism and the basic principles of democracy, private property, and free markets that have created unprecedented prosperity.

Leftists have ceased to be progressives, and become reactionaries.

If Israel is anathema to the modern Left, it’s because it represents the antithesis of their whole worldview.

It embodies beautifully the ideal of national self-determination.

Over many centuries, Jewish families toasted one another with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

And then in 1948, it came true.

Israel embodies the success of not just the nation-state, but of Western liberal democracy.

Leftists can’t forgive Israel for thriving while the supranational order has failed. While the UN has become a soap box for despots and ayatollahs, Israelis have built a forward-looking, hi-tech, prosperous, egalitarian country that puts its dysfunctional, illiberal neighbors to shame.

So instead of acknowledging Israel’s success, they distort it.

They make out that its prosperity has been won only at the expense of its neighbors, while the chaos engulfing those neighbors owes solely to its presence.

In short, the British Left can’t see Israel straight because it has lost its own moral bearings.

Faced with the cognitive dissonance between supranationalist dogma and the reality of Israel’s achievements, they choose the dogma. Look no further for posttruth politics.

Douglas Carswell is UKIP’s only member of Parliament. His book Rebel: How to Overthrow the Emerging Oligarchy will be published in April by Head of Zeus.

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