Confessions of a lapsed leftist

The controversy that erupted in the wake of Larry Derfner’s recent attempt to come up with a “justification” for Palestinian terrorism reminded me once again why I’ve felt for some time that my lifelong allegiance to the left is crumbling.
Indeed, by now I must reluctantly conclude that despite my decades-long record as a Labor voter, I’ve turned into one of those boneheaded right-wingers who can’t understand that it would only be for their own good if they adopted the view that Israel deserves all the blame for the statelessness of the Palestinians and that it is therefore quite obvious that Palestinian suffering, caused by Israel, entitles Palestinians to launch terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens.
Needless to say, it would be really really right-wing to point out that not so long ago, the Palestinian President breezily dismissed of a state comprising the equivalent of all the disputed territories held by Jordan and Egypt before 1967, and that he complacently told the Washington Post that he was in no hurry to get back to negotiations because there was “a good reality” in the West Bank and “people are living a normal life.”
So you think one should take the words of the Palestinian President seriously? Perhaps you are concerned about opinion polls that document the persistent Palestinian refusal to accept the legitimacy of Jewish claims to the Land of Israel? Maybe you have a problem with the glorification of “jihad” and “martyrdom” so prevalent in Palestinian society? You think the fact that thousands of rockets rained down on Israel after we withdrew from Gaza should be taken into consideration for plans to establish a Palestinian state? Maybe you even believe there is a lot to the argument that today’s anti-Zionism is often heavily indebted to yesterday’s antisemitism?
If that’s what you think and believe, you better get used to being called a right-wing hardliner who must be suspected of racist or even fascist leanings – and please, no complaints if you’re considered a threat to world peace and humanity in general.
But what about our ostensibly great appreciation for freedom of speech and the idea that no matter how outrageous an opinion might be, a reasoned debate will always allow the better argument to prevail?
Unfortunately, reasoned debate is hardly possible when arguments are not examined on their merits but embraced or rejected on the basis of the ideological labels that can be attached to them; likewise, there is little chance for reasoned debate when well-documented facts that don’t fit the requirements of political correctness are suppressed or dismissed.
From my perspective as a lapsed leftist, it seems that there is a lot of intellectual laziness, if not outright dishonesty in today’s political debates, and perhaps because I’m a lapsed leftist, I feel that this is all too often the fault of the left. Indeed, I think that Larry Derfner’s controversial post and his subsequent apologies and explanations are merely an illustration of a much broader phenomenon. 
Mind you, Derfner’s personal blog can be found at “” and unsurprisingly, in his writings there, he couldn’t resist the temptation to label his critics “right-wing” – a practice that just a few months ago, he himself seems to have found objectionable.
To be fair, Derfner didn’t indulge in the ‘nasty-right-wing’ vs. ‘noble-left-wing’ game when he published yet another explanation for his misguided justification of Palestinian terrorism on the website of The Forward.
But I felt it was rather revealing when he wrote there:
“For the last few years, my most urgent political message has been that the occupation oppresses Palestinians, and that oppressed people who cannot get their freedom peacefully can be expected to try by violent means, so for the sake of justice and peace on both sides, Israel should get rid of the occupation.”
I’m afraid there is bad news for Mr. Derfner: his “urgent political message” isn’t needed, because there are few Israelis, and very few Israel-supporters abroad, who think that the occupation is a wonderful thing that should go on forever. 
It seems that Larry Derfner suffers from the same blind spot that afflicts much of the left in Israel and elsewhere: they have failed to notice that the Israeli left, aka the peace camp, won long ago. There are plenty of polls that document Israeli support for the two-state solution and there are also plenty of political statements and actually implemented policies that illustrate the fact that what was once the Israeli left’s signature issue has become a mainstream position championed by all major political parties.
Does anyone really need reminding that it was Ariel Sharon, the “father of the settlements,” who turned his back on the Likud and established Kadima in order to implement Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza? Gaza is no longer occupied, even if up to this day people like the veteran Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat disingenuously claim that the “Gaza Strip is still under Israeli occupation.”
And does anyone really need reminding that – notwithstanding the fact that the withdrawal from Gaza failed to diminish Palestinian hostility, let alone bring peace or security for Israeli citizens – Kadima contemplated further Israeli withdrawals and scored the highest number of Knesset seats in Israel’s last two elections? Does anyone need reminding what Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas almost exactly three years ago, on September 13, 2008?
And does it really count for nothing that Binyamin Netanyahu officially declared:
“We do not want to rule over them [i.e. the Palestinians], we do not want to govern their lives, we do not want to impose either our flag or our culture on them. In my vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect.  Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other.”
This sounds to me as if Larry Derfner’s “most urgent political message” has reached even Israel’s current prime minister.
But as I noted before, the left has a big blind spot when it comes to acknowledging that the peace camp has won in Israel. When I read Derfner’s post in The Forward, I chanced upon another article there that offered a grim “Tale of Two Israels.”
One Israel is presented by Likud MK Danny Danon, who is quoted as suggesting that Israel should “annex all of the West Bank.” This is a somewhat misleading quote, because Danon made clear that, while he envisaged such an annexation as a response to the unilateral Palestinian bid to get UN recognition for a state, he would not want to annex Palestinian population centers. In any case, Danon supposedly epitomizes “Israel’s precipitous and dispiriting rightward turn.”
The other Israel is presented by social protest activist Daphne Leef, who, together with her fellow-protesters, is described in the words of an ardent admirer as endowed with a simply awesome “intellectual-emotional capacity” that renders the protesters “much, much wiser than the whole governmental class.”
The reader is then presented with the conclusion that “Israel is suspended between Danon and Leef.” Interestingly, there is also an approving remark that the “protesters have carefully avoided any explicit link between their disgust with the current leadership and with the occupation, although the linkage is quite clear to many of them.” And guess who is not part of this awesomely admirable disgusted crowd? Why, “the militant settlers and the Russians,” of course.
Thankfully, I’m one of those lucky lapsed leftists who live in a different Israel: it’s not “suspended between Danon and Leef,” “militant settlers” are a small minority, and “the Russians” are a vibrant part of society.
However, I believe that this whole debate should not be just about Israel. To be sure, it was only a coincidence that Derfner’s justification for Palestinian terrorism against Israel came at a time when we approach the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Derfner was apparently content to think about a justification for terrorism only in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – which to a lapsed leftist like me reeks a bit of the double standards that are so often applied to Israel.
So what happens if Derfner’s basic formula – that the “victimized” are entitled to target their perceived “victimizers” with terror attacks – is applied to other cases? The answer is obvious: there is hardly a terror attack that could not be “justified” – particularly given the fact that we live in an age where mere perception is widely regarded as a valid basis for individual and collective conduct.
Another equally obvious point is that Derfner’s basic “justification” for terrorism was anything but original. Indeed, the outraged reaction to his post was rather astonishing in view of the fact that since 9/11, it has become quite fashionable to come up with “explanations” or outright justifications for terrorism – at least when the terrorism is directed against Western targets and is committed by Muslims who, in the politically correct view of the world, always have “understandable” grievances.
Let me conclude by illustrating this point with a recent example that has nothing whatsoever to do with Israel or America; however, the comments I will quote are by the popular Swedish author Henning Mankell who reportedly believes that it is not astonishing that some Palestinians “decide to become suicide bombers;” indeed, Mankell has supposedly declared that it is “strange that there are not more of them.”
Now let’s first consider Mankell’s comment on the suicide bombing in Stockholm in December 2010, which was carried out by an Iraqi-born Muslim who had acquired Swedish citizenship:
“This is the first suicide bomber in Scandinavia and I am surprised that so many are – surprised. It reminds me of when the passenger jets crashed into the towers in New York. I never understood the surprise that followed. Wasn’t this exactly what we had expected? A situation where the extreme, the desperate and the furious attacked the western world that for so long had humiliated Muslim countries. An attack that would be understandable but nevertheless wrong and worthy of condemnation.”
Contrast this with Mankell’s comments on the massacre in Norway, perpetrated this July by an ethnic Norwegian. Displaying his shallow understanding of Hannah Arendt’s problematic concept of the “banality of evil”, Mankell argues:
“In her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Arendt tries to understand the minds of those people who are prepared to indiscriminately kill their fellow humans without empathy. Often they are ordinary people who cherish their gardens and play with their dogs and their children. No one on the street would ever suspect them of being a deranged murderer.”
“What we know about the man in Norway indicates banality, too. He is torn apart by an inner rage. He is opposed to Muslims. He is opposed to different types of people meeting in a multicultural society. He detests the ambitions of globalism and is willing to attack the very idea of the modern age. He is a cold-blooded Don Quixote tilting at people who live and breathe.” […]
“One could say that what happened in Norway is a ghastly return of the Übermensch mentality that was the mark of Hitler’s Nazism which occupied and tortured Norway during the second world war. At least we now know one thing that we might not have been certain of before yesterday: people can find the justification for acts of terrorism in all religious, political and ideological contexts. Now we know that those who claimed that terror is always synonymous with the Islamic faith were wrong. The distant and in many ways idyllic Norway, the country with the oil and the wealth, is suddenly exposed to the banality of evil.”
Isn’t it rather sad that there are apparently a lot of confused leftists in search of a winning formula that would distinguish neatly between sort-of-justified terrorism and Nazi-like truly evil terrorism?