I’ve recently witnessed a very odd phenomenon taking place in the world of geopolitical alignments. Many young liberal commentators have been calling on Noam Chomsky (renowned linguist who is also a pro-BDS icon for some reason) to hang up his boots and retire; Max Blumenthal, a left-wing blogger who has written entire books trashing Israel, getting absolutely roasted on Twitter by progressives; John Mearsheimer of the infamous “Israel Lobby” book, which promoted many anti-semitic tropes of Jews controlling the US government getting taken to the woodshed by left-wing commentators.
None of this blowback is about their stance on Israel of course. It’s because they have all come out in favor of either Ukraine acquiescing to Putin’s vile demands for territory, or have outright supported his war of terror on the Ukrainians.
And they’re far from the only supporters of boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning Israel who are mysteriously supportive of Russia’s ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and colonization of Ukrainian territory.
Norman Finkelstein, who wrote a book that minimized the Holocaust and claimed Israel uses it to justify its “war crimes,” got demolished by his former fans on Reddit. Ali Abunimah, the truly awful Electronic Intifada guy, claimed Israel supports “Ukrainian Nazis” against Russia. George Galloway, the horrendous former Labour Party parliamentarian and friend of Hamas, got run out of Scottish politics for being a Russian apologist. Roger Waters, former Pink Floyd frontman whose former bandmates want nothing to do with him over his blatant antisemitic support for terrorism, got curb stomped for defending Russia at the United Nations. And how about Jeremy Corbyn? Oh, you better believe he was on Team Russia right from the outset.
Literally everywhere you look – every single person who you know as a prominent anti-Zionist BDS supporter – if you look them up there’s a roughly 95% chance they’re on record justifying Putin, and often getting A LOT of flak from their former fans.
Note that this is separate from the frankly bizarre (but widely commented on) Russia inversion between Republicans and Democrats that has been going on since Trump ran for office. In fact, some far-right commentators like Tucker Carlson have actually embraced some of these far-left icons in an incredible demonstration of the horseshoe theory of politics.
Interestingly, while “The Squad” has generally been publicly pro-Ukraine, both Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar both voted against military funding for Ukraine, a rarity for members of the Democratic caucus. Let’s even give them the benefit of the doubt, in that they tend to be against any military funding for basically anything, it is a little… questionable… that the few left-wing congressional representatives who are pro-BDS are also anti-funding for Ukraine.
So why is this?
I wish I had a definitive answer, because if your position is that Israel is a “foreign colonizer” and an “occupier” you would think that Russia launching a totally unprovoked invasion going back to 2014 would be a perfect analogy to the country you accuse of doing the same thing in Gaza and East Jerusalem. Ukraine, to my knowledge, was not even guilty of launching thousands of rockets at Belgrad or St. Petersburg for the 30 years or so before Russia decided to declare the Donbas region as breakaway republics.
So what gives?
Well, I do have a couple of theories. The first is that the Russian Federation, and its predecessor the Soviet Union, was a pretty overt funder of the PLO, as well as Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt, and Hafez al Assad’s Syria. Russia today continues to be the primary sponsor of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the totalitarian Iranian regime. There’s a reason that when you see Hamas, Fatah, the Taliban, and Hezbollah firing machine guns into the air, they’re generally not holding M-16s – those are AK-47s. Russia and the Soviet Union have funded terrorist organizations and Middle Eastern dictators for decades.
Furthermore, many (though not all) of these people are self-described “tankies” – people who glorify the USSR, China, and other communist regimes and support their use of tanks to crush dissent from Hungary in 1956, to Czechoslovakia in 1968, to Tiananmen Square in 1989.
But that’s inconceivable right? The BDS movement – and especially Chomsky, Finkelstein, Mearshimer, Blumenthal, and the rest of this crew – is “peaceful” and only espouses “non-violent” tactics to achieve their goals. Don’t they?
This brings us to the second theory, which is that these people are, and always have been, massive frauds and hypocrites. The bottom line is that if you’re ok with Hamas and Hezbollah as the de facto government of Gaza and Lebanon, but you also are allegedly in favor of gay rights, women’s rights, trans rights, and liberal democracy in general, you’re kind of… full of it, right? You can say whatever you want about Israel’s government (especially its current government), but the official policy of Hamas, Fatah, and Hezbollah is and always has been that Palestine and Lebanon must be Judenrein, must be GayAndTransrein, and that women must be second class citizens at best.
How else do you explain their obsession with Israel, but their apologism for Gaza, Lebanon, Iran and disregard for Saudi Arabia and Syria? Blumenthal and many of the others are actual apologists for Bashar al-Assad, who has slaughtered more Palestinian civilians since 2010 than Israel has killed in counter-terror operations since the First Intifada in 1987. And there is no terror campaign by Palestinians in Syrian refugee camps against the Assad regime. Precisely how many Palestinian bus bombings have there been in Damascus? How many rocket attacks against Homs? There is no intifada in Syria, yet the Assad regime has been destroying the lives of innocent Palestinians for more than a decade.
And none of this even mentions the state terror that Jordan waged against Arafat’s Fatah organization during Black September and the various Lebanese civil wars, or battles between Hamas and Fatah themselves. Nor the discrimination and racism shown towards Palestinians in Middle Eastern countries. Nor their expulsion from Kuwait in the 90s.
But yet… not a peep from the BDS crowd.
So, is it possible that maybe their primary hangup is not “colonialism” or “apartheid” or “ethnic cleansing” or “disproportionate force,” all of which Russia has been guilty of in the Donbas since at least 2014? Did people forget that Russia downed a Ukrainian civilian airliner nearly ten years ago? This is something that Israel would never do, not even the most hardline right-wing Ben Gvir-wannabe psychopaths’ sickest dreams.
For years, Russia has been literally abducting tens of thousands of Ukrainian children and sending them to Russia, has lobbed hundreds of cruise missiles at purely residential/non-military targets, and has been literally raping and pillaging its way through the limited areas of Ukraine they have managed to occupy with Putin’s mercenary and prison-populated horde of an army. There’s a reason the Ukrainians refer to the Russian invaders as orcs.
All of these horrendous war crime charges are levied at the Israel Defense Forces by the very people I mentioned above. There has never been a shred of evidence of even one IDF command committing these WWII-style war crimes. And while there have been instances where IDF soldiers have broken the law, in every case there has been a court martial and investigation and often convictions and prison time. In Russia, state TV glorifies the behavior of their “army” and openly calls for genocide against Ukraine. And Putin is undeniably a dictator. Can you imagine what would happen in Moscow if they had one night of protests like the kind Israel has had against Netanyahu every Saturday night for nearly six months?
Supporters of Israel have a huge opportunity to lay down a marker and draw a clear line in the sand between supporters of liberal democracies – even imperfect ones at risk of backsliding – and the Russias of the world. Progressives who are genuinely invested in human rights and justice need to know that they can support indigenous peoples, liberal democracy, and oppose colonialism, occupation, ethnic cleansing, and genocide; they can support the rights of innocent Palestinians, Jews, and Ukrainians.
But they can not, at the same time, support Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, Hassan Nasrallah, and Ismail Haniyeh.