Terra Incognita: A radical left that became a radical right

There will always be radical true believers whose ostensible cause, whether it is animal rights or environmentalism, leads them to do things that are diametrically opposite to the values they hold.

Ezra Nawi (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Ezra Nawi
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘I give their pictures and numbers to the [Palestinian] Preventive Security Forces…the Palestinian Authority catches them and kills them. But before it kills them, they get beaten up a lot.” This sentence was uttered by a radical activist in a recording broadcast on Israel Channel 2’s Uvda program last week. Various reports have named the speaker as Ezra Nawi, “a far-left activist from the pro-Palestinian Ta’ayush group.”
The startling revelation, as the JTA headlined the incident, “Left-wing Israeli says he helps kill Palestinians who sell land to Jews,” has become a tempest in the Israeli political teapot. It comes amid numerous controversies surrounding left-wing NGOs and a kulturkampf in the state between Left and Right.
For the Left, anyone who claims to be acting on behalf of anything “left wing” is deemed holy and untouchable, no matter their deeds and clear immorality of their actions. For the Right, which itself is full of skeletons of similar extremist activity in the closet, these activities merely add proof to the notion that the left supports Palestinians so wholeheartedly it would shake hands with the devil in order to further their cause.
The story of Mr. Nawi is not in itself particularly interesting.
There will always be radical true believers whose ostensible cause, whether it is animal rights or environmentalism, leads them to do things that are diametrically opposite to the values they supposedly hold. That is because the nature of fanaticism is such that the ends justify the means. To create a “workers’ paradise,” many of the “workers” have to be sacrificed for the “common good.”
What is more interesting is the milieu that Nawi is reported to have operated in. Haaretz noted, “the investigative report also shows Nawi and a Palestinian member of B’Tselem plotting to meet a Palestinian land broker with the alleged intent of turning him in to the Palestinian security services.”
At the same time many have begun to attack Channel 2 for airing a program that casts a critical eye on this issue.
“Ta’ayush is a thorn stuck in the wall-greased machine of the Israeli army,” writes one writer, and therefore the Channel 2 program sabotages the good work by pointing out this shocking story. Uvda has been accused of conducting a “McCarthyist delegitimization” assault on the poor left-wing groups who only want to aid Palestinians.
Rather than left-wing intellectuals and NGOs totally disassociating themselves from the activities of those extremists who boast of “turning over collaborators” to the Palestinian version of Israel’s Shin Bet, and who then boast that those they turned over were tortured or killed, many have doubled down in their support of such activities.
For them, the broader context of “occupation” and Israel’s actions make such things excusable.
What’s ironic here is that in the name of opposing what many on the left see as Israeli fascism, there is blanket and unquestioning support for Palestinian fascism. This kind of support for the fascism of liberation movements and “revolutions” goes as far back as the twisted support Joseph Stalin received from supposedly “liberal” voices in the West. It goes back to the support the various thuggish liberation movements in Africa and Asia received in the West from the very people who opposed right-wing thuggishness at home. The same Americans who protested US militarism at home were enthralled with the same militarism of Vietnam. It goes back to the support the Ayatollahs and religious extremists in Iran received from the likes of Michel Foucault, supporting religious extremism abroad, while rejecting it at home.
An example of this Janus-faced opposition of violence at home while accepting it abroad is a 2001 oped by Hebrew University professor and Israel-prize winner Zeev Sternhell, who often pens articles with titles like “Signs of Fascism in Israel Reached New Peak.” In 2001 he claimed “many in Israel, perhaps even the majority of the voters, do not doubt the legitimacy of the armed resistance in the territories themselves. The Palestinians would be wise to concentrate their struggle against the settlements, avoid harming women and children, and strictly refrain from firing on Gilo, Nahal Oz or Sderot; it would also be smart to stop planting bombs to the west of the Green Line.”
Let’s unpack that statement. “Legitimacy of armed resistance” and “concentrate their struggle” refer to the Palestinian campaign of terrorism waged against Israel in the second intifada. What was this “resistance”? Blowing up buses, killing children, murdering civilians? The academic sketches out his suggestions: It would be “smart” not to put bombs west of the Green Line. But if Israelis live east of the Green line? Then just don’t harm women and children? Under the guise of activism for Palestinian civil rights, these kinds of bizarre excuses for Palestinian extremism bubble to the surface. Perhaps it is true that many in Israel do not doubt the “legitimacy” of “armed resistance?” If that is true, then Israel is a scary place, because one has the option to either live among the radical Right that has little care for Palestinian human life, or the leftists who apparently have little care for the right to human life of human beings who live too close to the Green Line, or who are adult males.
Why did human life become negotiable? Some connect the Palestinian struggle for rights to other civil rights campaigns such as Martin Luther King. Did anyone say it would have been better if King and his followers had reacted to the bombing of a black church by bombing white men at church? Did anyone suggest that turning over “black collaborators” to be tortured and murdered by members of the Black Panthers, would somehow further the cause of African-Americans? Did anyone seriously think the acts of violence in South Africa or India by the “resistance” actually gained the upper hand in the longterm struggle? No. Just the opposite. The acts of violence, the terrorism, have often harmed civil rights struggles.
So why in the name of Palestinian human rights is there a milieu in Israel that has been inured to Palestinian violence and right-wing nationalist Palestinian militarist extremism? Why is it that so many on the extreme left have adopted the terminology of accepting that “collaborators” be tortured or executed? The very people who preach “rule of law” and against torture and death penalty in Tel Aviv, will say it’s fine in Ramallah? What Israel needs is a new declaration of human rights that the Right and Left will adhere to, and both of which will reject the extremists on both sides who collaborate together in excuse of murder. No more pretending that killing people is a “struggle” and for the “greater good.”
Ostracize those who call others “collaborator” and who use the podium of intellectualism to accept extremist violence. Demand strict human rights on both sides of the Green Line. There is no such thing as an amoral Hobbesian world that exists just because you cross an invisible line. It doesn’t suddenly make lawless right-wing violence acceptable any more than it makes acceptable shooting down Jewish civilians just because someone decided they were “settlers” and acted as judge and jury for their execution.
There is nothing worse than this immoral hypocrisy that says “I want human rights and moderation” in Tel Aviv, but I accept fascism and nationalism as long as it goes by the name “Palestinian.” In fact, those who support Palestinian extremism as some sort of “armed struggle” do a great disservice to that struggle. Instead of supporting the rifle, and garroting of people in the name of “resistance”, why not support human rights and the legal struggle for them as the highest form of resistance.
The ridiculous extreme nationalism may seem romantic in Ramallah, but its no more romantic than the nationalism at home.
You can’t have good extremist nationalism in one place and bad nationalism in another.