Many have commentated that Israel has received less criticism, and even more support, from governments around the world than during previous military operations. Leaders or influential figures such as David Cameron, Tony Blair, and the indefatigable Steven Harper have laid the blame for the present conflict squarely with Hamas, and the calls for “restraint” or “proportionality” from many others have seemed little more than going through the motions. There is a widespread appreciation at senior political levels that Israel had no choice but to take action against deadly rockets and tunnels of terror, and that the IDF’s efforts to spare civilian casualties have been exemplary.
However, far away from the heights of governments, the anti-Israel campaign has taken a significant turn for the worse. Just as organisms that live amongst debris and detritus change and adapt quickly, so the dark sewer where hatred of Israel lives and breeds is now witness to a fundamental evolution in the nature of that enmity.
In what may now seem like halcyon days, protestors in the past wished to replace Israel with a “secular democratic state”. They supported the PLO while turning a blind eye to its habits of hijacking planes or murdering children in their schools, and argued their case on far-left premises.
Now the secular PLO is eclipsed; today’s campaigners are proud to march in support of a very different organization – Hamas.
They may claim to be on the left, but declare their allegiance to a movement which denies rights to women, executes gays and imprisons, tortures or murders any dissenters. Their hatred of Israel is so strong that idealistic young socialists stand shoulder to shoulder with fascism.
Not only is Hamas’s political orientation profoundly different from the PLO and Israel’s old enemies on the left, its tactics also represent a total change. For Arafat, terrorism was (at least presented as) a means to an end and a necessary evil. For Hamas, as is demonstrated openly by their words and deeds, violent jihad is an integral part of their ethos, as it is for other Islamist movements. Yet one doubts that these young idealists would attend rallies on behalf of Al Qaeda, Boko Harem or ISIS, and no bystander would profess to take a neutral position in the struggle for human rights against those terrorist oppressors.
Even the pretense that anti-Israel campaigners were not ant-Semitic (despite the inability to explain why they objected to Israel’s “occupation” but never to China’s or Turkey’s or Morocco’s, and why 100 tragic Palestinian casualties mattered so much more than 100,000 Syrian, or five million Congolese) has been dropped. Marchers in Paris barricade not the Israeli Embassy, but a synagogue; Facebook posts cry that “Hitler was right” (whilst ironically comparing Zionists to Nazis). Hamas’s explicit desire to eradicate Jews is comfortably overlooked, or endorsed.
Thus the secular socialists of yesteryear are eclipsed by open supporters of Islamic, fascist, murderous anti-Semitism. We need to ask why does this matter, and why has it happened.
It matters because the protestors of today will be the opinion-formers of tomorrow. Today’s politicians and leader-writers were the students of the eighties and nineties, which is why the PLO-style anti-Zionism that flourished on campuses then has now entered the mainstream of political debate. Thus we can expect that the vicious, anti-semitic version permeating today’s subculture will seem conventional within a generation. Perhaps we should check now that we know where our nearest exit is.
And why has opposition given way to hatred? Why is the face of protest no longer that of an intellectual seduced by a warped understanding of anti-colonialism but is now a balaclava-clad Islamist with a rock or Molotov cocktail in hand?
Some would say that this is a result of the spread of radical Islam into the population of Western nations and the failure to stand up to fascism for fear of the Islamophobic label. But my conclusion is based on a much longer view of history and is hence even more pessimistic. With great sadness, I have concluded that we are learning that anti-Semitism was not mortally wounded by our “modern” enlightenment as we may have thought in the last few decades. It was merely sleeping, subdued by the post-Holocaust awareness of its terrible potency. But with the passage of seven decades and two generations, the anesthetic has worn off. The swastikas, the chants, and the sympathy when a terrorist organization stockpiles rockets and creates a vast labyrinth of tunnels solely for the purpose of killing Jews, are not aberrations, but part of an inexplicable yet existential reality in the fabric of civilization.
Our good and true friends exist, but they are few and becoming fewer. We must look around, open our eyes, and see that, as usual, we are the people who dwells alone.