Why a leftish-of-centre Catholic academic philosopher in the UK is still supporting Israel (and will continue to do so)

Why am I, notwithstanding my previous work for Syrian Muslim refugees in the UK and my vigorous opposition to Islamaphobia, vocally supporting Israel in this terrible war? Well, let me state my conclusion here at the beginning, quite simply and clearly:

Even putting aside the vicious history of offences against the Jewish people, of which I as a Christian am deeply ashamed, at this time – granted the terribly wrong things including ethnic cleansing and massacres of whole communities done in the last hundred years by both sides – at the present moment when change must come, there is more chance of that change occurring through the continued survival of the only democratic country in the Middle East, which is to say Israel, than through the elimination of that country by Hamas.

Required to make a choice (as indeed I think we currently morally are) Israel has an ethos I as a British citizen, and I suspect most of my fellow Brits of whatever political persuasion, could live in. From what I gather, a country under Hamas would not be liveable in, either by me or by most of my compatriots including those who flock onto the streets advocating the elimination of Israel and the creation of a country under Hamas that they presumably intend for others than themselves.

Make no mistake – clearly the foundational motive of Israel at the moment is simply to survive as an independent country and to determine its own future like any other independent country. The aim of Hamas, on the other hand, is at the moment the same as it always has been and the very justification for the creation and actions of Hamas – to eliminate Israel. This is a stated goal of Hamas and all those who support Hamas and their recent actions, whether you prefer as I do to call them actions of barbaric terrorism or the legitimate actions of freedom fighters.

Hamas’ own documents (see, e.g. their founding document, the Hamas Charter) show that after the destruction of Israel and presumably from their base in what will now be greater Palestine, their longer term aim is with the support of their allies in the Middle East and elsewhere the complete elimination of Jews globally and, of course, it seems clear the global spread of their form of Islam.

That, I take it, is (to say the least) antisemitic and genocidal and is in certain crucial respects in keeping with a major concern and aim of Hitler and his Nazi party. How could I, British, the son of a brave soldier captured fighting against Rommel at Tobruk, support that?

Hence it seems clear that in this war, if one accepts as I do that change is drastically needed in Israel and the Palestinian territories, such change is more likely to come in a way I would prefer, and I think is appropriate and morally right, through a democratic regime, through the continued survival of Israel, than through the triumph of Hamas with its neo-Nazi genocidal antisemitic goals.

Note that none of this entails support for specific actions taken by the government of Israel, the IDF or any other particular group or person in Israel or elsewhere. I am in no position to comment on that. On the other hand my own support for Israel in this war against Hamas is premised on the basis that drastic change is needed – and I mean by that, change entailing justice and fairness and equal treatment for all interested parties involved, in other words safety and peace for e.g. Israeli Jews and for Palestinian Arabs – and such change can only come through the survival of Israel and not through the triumph of Hamas.

As a Christian seeking justice and fairness in Israel and the Palestinian territories, I simply cannot see that would be furthered by triumph of Hamas over Israel in a war which is so starkly polarised and uncompromising.

Granted all this, I accept that Israel has a right to defend itself and its people against any attempt by Hamas or those that share the goals of Hamas to destroy it. Israel has the right (indeed the duty) to ensure its own survival and hence its victory in this war. How that is to be done is a matter for Israel and Israelis to consider, and of course for others in the global community to hold Israel to account legally and morally in the same way it holds to account any independent country fighting for its survival against an uncompromising enemy.

I strongly support Ukraine in its fight against Russia. I do not expect Israel to be held to account for its actions any less than Russia. But equally, attempts to hold Israel to account more than other independent countries such as Russia or indeed Syria or Iran seem to me to be appallingly lacking in equal treatment and are no doubt simply fuelled by antisemitism.

Note, incidentally, that in all this I make no distinction between Israel and Israelis, Zionists and Zionism, Jews and Judaism, or any other interested party. It is not up to me to make such distinctions. As I understand it, no such distinctions are made by Hamas. The only relevant distinction to be made here is between those who wish Israel to survive as an independent country and those who seek its complete elimination.

When I was in Israel and the West Bank some years ago it soon became obvious to me that the political situation there was a very complex one (much more complex than well meaning ‘Liberals’ in the West tend to assume) and it was advisable for me, as someone not directly involved, to avoid taking sides while of course always seeking in my views and actions to advocate and further the common good.To seek the common good is for all of us an imperative of human being and participation. To be seen to take sides in the complex situation of Israel, I thought at that time, was not.

But in the present situation it is clear things have to change. There is no middle ground between the continued existence of Israel and its cessation. Hence the common good requires now taking sides, at least in a relevant and appropriate way. Moreover (as those who know me will recognise) in a matter of moral engagement I do not think it is enough (or by no means always) simply to state a position and smile. Moral engagement often demands vigorous (indeed enthusiastic) action, at least whatever action is appropriate and possible for me under the prevailing circumstances.

Thus I conclude that if I want change in Israel and the Palestinian territories in the interest of justice and fairness for all parties, then I have to support Israel and hope for the victory of Israel against its enemies such as Hamas and those who back and share the goals of Hamas. Moreover I have to engage in actions to show and advocate my support of Israel and my dismay – a moral dismay, moral censure – of those who would fail to support Israel at this time, not to mention those who actively advocate and engage in support for Hamas and its goals.

Note finally, again, that this entails support for the victory of Israel. It does not in itself entail support for specific people, or actions taken by the Israeli government, Israelis, or the IDF to bring that victory about. Nor does it entail as such any specific commitment to what should happen after Israeli victory has been gained.

That would require different considerations. Anyway, it would be up to those with a stake in the victory and their future happiness and security. But morally, in the interests of the common good, my own position and hope is premised on the need for radical change towards justice and fairness, equality and democratic rights, for all parties.

Of course that requires the survival first of Israel as a country, and advocacy and action on my part to ensure its survival. This seems obvious to me, dear friends and family. So, to quote Luther, ‘here I stand. I can do no other’.

About the Author
Paul Williams is Emeritus Professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy and the former Head of Religion and Theology at the University of Bristol, UK. He is the author of many books and articles mainly on Buddhist philosophy, particularly in Tibet and a professed lay member of the Dominican Order (Order of Preachers) of the Roman Catholic Church. Since retirement he has been particularly involved in support for Syrian and Ukrainian refugees in the UK, and since October 7th 2023 in outreach and support where appreciated for Jewish friends and contacts.
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