Progressives are harming Palestinians, not Israel - opinion

By giving corrupt, oppressive and extremist Palestinian leaders moral exemptions, progressives merely exacerbate daily hardships experienced by Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) receives a poster of al-Aqsa Mosque from then-Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal during a meeting in Damascus in 2005. (photo credit: REUTERS/HANDOUT JS/KI)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) receives a poster of al-Aqsa Mosque from then-Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal during a meeting in Damascus in 2005.
(photo credit: REUTERS/HANDOUT JS/KI)

I will never forget my conversation with a Palestinian builder in 2018. He lived in a nearby Palestinian town and was working on a renovation on my kibbutz in the West Bank. Every morning, he and his co-workers entered our kitchen and used our food to make themselves breakfast. One morning, to our surprise, he sat down to join the group I was with.

While I don’t recall the entire conversation, I’ll never forget his outburst about the well-known corruption plaguing the Palestinian Authority. He viciously attacked the PA, accusing it of stealing from Palestinians, and asserted that anyone who spoke out against the PA would be “nigmar” – finished – pretending to slit his throat while saying this.

Palestinians are all too familiar with the corruption and human rights abuses committed by Palestinian officials, yet many progressives seem willfully blind. Rather, they have adopted an uncompromising view of the conflict, in which Israel is the sole aggressor, and the Palestinians are righteous, immaculate victims.

But in painting Palestinians as collectively incapable of sin, progressives have forced themselves to ignore commonplace abuses in Palestinian society. In so doing, not only have they betrayed their own values, but they have empowered those in the region with no regard for equality or human rights.

And it is Palestinians who suffer as a result.

Around 2,500 BDS protesters are seen flocking to the Port of Oakland, California, to stop a cargo ship operated by the Israeli-based ZIM company from unloading in protest of Operation Protective Edge, on August 16. 2014. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Around 2,500 BDS protesters are seen flocking to the Port of Oakland, California, to stop a cargo ship operated by the Israeli-based ZIM company from unloading in protest of Operation Protective Edge, on August 16. 2014. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Students for Justice in Palestine, a pro-Palestinian grassroots organization with over 200 chapters across the United States, promotes “a world where everyone’s basic needs are met and their rights respected.” Yet its founders have been linked to organizations such as Hamas, a group that allows ‘honor killings’ – the murder of women guilty of ‘sexual immodesty.’ Under Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip, 51% of women suffer gender-based violence.

The BDS movement, a leading pro-Palestinian organization popular in progressive circles and among some progressive members of Congress, claims to advance “freedom, justice and equality.” Despite this, however, it has well-documented ties to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Yes, that same Hamas allows ‘honor killings’ to run rampant in Gaza. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad also receive funding from Iran, a country that jails women for seeking gender equality.

What Israel’s harshest critics on the Left also fail to realize is that singling out Israel encourages the continuation of objectionable Israeli policies, with disastrous consequences for Palestinians. When progressives throw absurd accusations of “apartheid” or “genocide” at the Jewish state, it simply causes Israelis to dig in their heels and become more insular.

It is no coincidence that the 1975 UN resolution declaring Zionism a form of racism – the brainchild of Soviet propaganda, and a trope increasingly popular in progressive circles – occurred alongside breakthroughs for Israel’s settlement movement. When Israelis are told that their very existence is racist and illegitimate, they build a mental wall and strengthen their own resolve.

Not only does the pursuit of this perverse ideological goal enable the perpetuation of Palestinian extremism, but it silences the many Palestinians who, unlike their supposed progressives ‘allies’ in the West, seek genuine dialogue with Israelis.

I was recently in Bethlehem, and, just like the contractor I met in 2018, my Palestinian cab driver embarked on a diatribe about the “billions” stolen by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his associates.

He is not alone in his hatred of the PA. A 2019 poll conducted by Aman Coalition, a Palestinian corruption monitor, saw 91% of Palestinian respondents claim they don’t trust the PA, and with good cause. Ex-PA president Yasser Arafat is believed to have stolen $1 billion in aid, while Abbas has been accused of hiding $600 million of the $1.4 billion he received following Arafat’s death.

Hamas also joined the bandwagon, with previous chief Khaled Mashaal’s net worth estimated at around $2.6 billion. This, from the leader of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which in 2010 had a GDP per capita of $876. To put that in perspective, the American GDP per capita that year was over $48,000.

A 2018 report from Human Rights Watch also leveled damning accusations, claiming the PA and Hamas have “established machineries of repression to crush dissent.” According to the report, Palestinian authorities “routinely arrest people whose peaceful speech displeases them and torture those in their custody.”

It’s not just political opponents, however, who suffer under the current Palestinian leadership. For years, Palestinian authorities have ruthlessly cracked down on LGBT behavior. In the West Bank, the PA has a history of outlawing LGBT activism, while being gay in Gaza places one’s very life at risk – Hamas is the ultimate enforcer of the ‘crime’ of being gay.

Instead of calling out these egregious abuses, progressives are increasingly content with calling Jewish supporters of Israel “baby killers.”

By giving corrupt, oppressive and extremist Palestinian leaders moral exemptions, progressives merely exacerbate daily hardships experienced by Palestinians. Accusing Israel of wantonly massacring Palestinians in Gaza may garner moral virtue points on Twitter, but it also encourages leaders like Abbas to continue stealing millions in financial aid, while many Palestinians are forced to survive on a meager $400 a month.

If progressives truly care for Palestinians, they must start by empowering them to combat oppressive Palestinian officials. By all means, advocate for a Palestinian state, but what good will come of it if Palestinians don’t trust their own leadership? For all those on the Left who constantly denounce Israel but refuse to call out abuses in Palestinian society, it is high time to take a good look in the mirror and ask who is the real danger to Palestinians.

The author is an Australian writer who focuses primarily on Israeli and Jewish issues. Twitter: @joshrfeldman