Life & Times – Horror in the Middle East. Choosing sides

Children look at seized weapons from IS (Islamic State) on September 6 ,2015 in Kobane, northern Syria. Several Turkish soldiers were killed on September 6, 2015 in a major attack in southeastern Hakkari province suspected to have been carried out by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, reports said. AFP PHOTO/YASIN AKGUL

In the community centre where I play bowls, on a Thursday evening the room next to the bowls hall is used for meetings by the local branch of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). They have talks, show films, engage in discussion, and I’ve often thought that I might be better occupied in with them discussing politics rather than playing bowls next door. But I’ve never done that, and recently, when I looked through the window on the door from their meeting room to the bowls hall, I was all the more tempted. I noticed that, though they only had a small attendance, there were banners, posters and leaflets about the current Israel-Hamas conflict strewn everywhere. They carried predictable slogans such as Stop the Genocide, Free Palestine, Stop the Attacks in Gaza, Defeat Islamophobia.

I didn’t attend the meeting, but I did look in to buy a copy of their newspaper, the Socialist Worker. And all that made me reflect not just on Israel and Gaza but also on the attitude of left-wing organisations like the SWP towards the situation there, on the fact that they are all, without exception, staunchly supportive of the Arab side and profoundly hostile to Israel. From many quarters it is being said that this is a form of the oldest hatred, anti-semitism. But I find that hard to accept, since I know personally a number of the people who attend those meetings in the community centre and nothing I know about them suggests to me they are anti-semitic. In the same way, I find it hard to accept the claim made recently that London has become a ‘no-go zone for Jews’ during weekend pro-Palestinian marches. I have observed these marches at first hand myself on two occasions and, despite the anti-Israel slogans, I have seen no display of anti-semitism. I don’t of course doubt that some of those on the marches who are Muslims do not distinguish between Israel and people of the Jewish faith, nor do I doubt that many others in society with anti-semitic prejudices are using the situation to indulge their hatred of Jews. But nothing I saw among the large number of likely non-Muslims on the demonstrations, despite their obvious anti-Israel fervour, led me, Jewish by birth and upbringing as I am but of no religious faith, to attribute to them anti-semitic motives.

Crime scenes
But if it’s not anti-semitism, what is it? What makes them (and the left generally) want to give such unique prominence to horror and injustice in this one particular situation rather than talk about any of the other comparable or manifestly worse situations that exist in many other parts of the globe?

A recent issue of the Socialist Standard gave voice to this very question. It featured on its front cover the caption ‘Crime Scene Investigation’ and listed six horror scenarios taking place in the world at the moment – Yemen, Gaza, Ukraine, Congo, Syria and Iraq. It could have listed many other examples of groups of people, many of them minorities, being horribly oppressed and downtrodden (eg, Kurds in Turkey, Rohingya in Myanmar, Uyghurs in China, civil war in Sudan). Yet we see no particular protest about these scenarios by the groups and individuals demonstrating about Gaza. So why the focus on Israel alone? And why, when a situation like the current one arises, do they harden their already existing anti-Israeli stance and dedicate themselves to campaigning solely against that country and its government?

As previously indicated, I see no evidence for anti-semitism as the motive. I attribute it rather to the anti-Americanism on the left of Western politics which dates back a long way and, despite all changes in circumstances, still survives. It goes back to the old nostalgic belief that there was somehow something good and positive about the first country to call itself ‘communist’ or ‘socialist’, ie, the old Soviet Union, and therefore more or less automatically something bad and negative about those countries and their governments that opposed it, and in particular the United States which had the most power and influence and to a large extent dominated and dictated the policies of the Western world. America was therefore the major enemy of the left and, despite everything that has happened since the end of the Soviet Union, that remains as a residual, almost visceral, feeling on the left and resurfaces with a vengeance whenever a situation arises in which a country is seen as being supported by the United States or is, in any sense, one of its clients. And this is the position of Israel today. And so, almost instinctively, without anti-semitism needing to enter into the equation, Israel and whatever action its government may take has to be opposed by those on the left because in it actions the hand of the American oppressor is seen.

So, no anti-Houthi demonstrations despite the fact that the Houthi terrorise the Yemen, operating stringent policies of repression against all who oppose them and against women and gay people; no demonstrations against Russia’s bombing of civilians in Ukraine; no demonstrations against mass slaughter and rape in the Congo; no demonstrations against China’s brutal treatment of the Uyghurs; and no demonstrations against the vicious slaughter and expulsion of the Rohingya by the military government in Myanmar. The common denominator of all these situations is that there is no obvious American hand in or support for the repression taking place.

Socialism as it really is
This is the kind of thing I would have tried to say if I’d attended that SWP meeting in my community centre. I would not have accused those present of anti-semitism, since I do not believe them to be anti-semitic, but I would have challenged them to examine their motives for such a disproportionate focus on only one of capitalism’s crime scenes compared to the very many others. And I would have invited them to consider joining with the Socialist Party to campaign not for better or ‘fairer’ conditions within capitalism (which at bottom is what they do) but for getting rid of the system that gives rise to those conditions and replacing it by a leaderless, borderless, moneyless world of voluntary cooperation and free access to all goods and service based on the principle of from each according to ability to each according to need – which is what ‘socialism’ really is.


One Reply to “Life & Times – Horror in the Middle East. Choosing sides”

  1. Most of the Left believe in ‘the Israel Lobby’. This is the belief that the major British political parties (Conservative, Libdem, Labour) are controlled by the Israeli government; there is something a bit anti-Semitic about that.

    Another reason why the Left focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict is because the mainstream media focuses on that conflict. For example, how often does the MSM report on the war in Sudan?

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