What makes the left vilify Israel? – Martin Bright

Martin Bright

Martin Bright

This piece by Martin Bright, is from the Jewish Chronicle.

When I stood down as political editor of the New Statesman at the end of last month, I decided to write my final piece for the magazine about Israel’s military intervention in Gaza.

In my three years at the left-wing publication, I had written regularly of my concerns at the rise of radical Islam in Britain and the growing influence of organisations sympathetic to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood among young Muslim activists. I rarely wrote about Israel/Palestine, but it was not difficult to see that it was a touchstone for NS readers for whom, generally speaking, support for the Palestinian cause is an article of ideological faith.

The piece I wrote was pretty moderate stuff (liberal hand-wringing some would call it). It was impossible to justify the brutality of the assault on Gaza even if you accept that Hamas is a viciously antisemitic crypto-fascist organisation devoted to the destruction of Israel (which I do).

One reader calling himself “Bob” captured my position pretty accurately when he wrote on my blog that my argument seemed to be: “I just don’t know who to blame… it’s a bloody mess… I almost despair.”

Others were not so charitable, taking me to task for daring to challenge the poisonous alliance of Islamists and totalitarian leftists who gathered to the Palestinian cause (as they had done to the anti-Iraq war cause before it).

“It is not the left who are stealing land and slaughtering kids. This execrable person has set up a straw man in order to justify his arguments,” said “stevem”.

One regular visitor to my blog who calls himself “gnueo” called my article a “cesspit” and suggested that I would have to take partial responsibility for the destruction of Israel when its evil deeds brought about its inevitable demise.

Many of the more unpleasant comments were removed by the New Statesman’s tireless web editor, who has the misfortune to wade through thousands of words of this vitriol every day.

Others have written about the open sewer that the blogosphere becomes as soon as the subject of Israel is raised. Just last week in these pages, Daniel Finkelstein of The Times made some helpful suggestions for dealing with nuisance correspondents. Like him, I have found that a polite response can sometimes unsettle the more rabid reader, which is why I take time to engage with people who post on my blog.

However, in my time at the New Statesman I have become convinced that there is something else going on here.

People on the left get more passionate about suffering brought about by the Israel-Palestine conflict than they do about almost any other subject.

I discovered just how deep this feeling ran earlier this year when I wrote about a trip I had made to Israel as a guest of Bicom. I tried at the time to address the question of why the British left had fallen out of love with Israel. It is hard to believe now, but it was once a great liberal cause. On the face of it, the answer is simple: before we discovered the Palestinians, Israel represented the hope that enlightenment values might triumph in a world of horror and cruelty. The end of the love affair came about because liberals could no longer tolerate the Israeli state’s systematic oppression of the Palestinians.

But it is not entirely explicable in these terms. Why are we not marching in the streets against British and American “war crimes” in Afghanistan where civilians are being killed on a regular basis? And don’t the five million people killed in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo deserve a mass demonstration or two? And what about Darfur, which seems to have slipped from our collective sympathy radar?

There is a perfectly innocent explanation for this, in which the reaction of the liberal left seems entirely rational. The unresolved situation of the Palestinians represents an open sore in the Middle East. Without a resolution of the situation, the stability of the whole region is threatened. The actions of the Israel government are therefore not just perceived as inhumane, but as uniquely irresponsible.

But even taken at face value this explanation is unsatisfactory. Surely if the values of the left mean anything then we should not be selective in choosing the peoples whose suffering we champion. Should we take to the streets only when oppression has a global strategic significance?

There is, of course, another explanation for the left’s hostility towards Israel, of which JC readers will need no reminding: the suffering of the Jews was once seen as exceptional and now their capacity for inflicting suffering is regarded exceptional, too.

I hesitate to call this antisemitism, but I do sense a feeling of relief in parts of the left that Israel now represents for them the ultimate expression of the oppressor state.

Martin Bright is the former political editor of the New Statesman

This piece by Martin Bright, is from the Jewish Chronicle.

14 Responses to “What makes the left vilify Israel? – Martin Bright”

  1. Nature Says:

    I submitted this complaint on 06.02.09 to the BBC:

    I was listening this morning to the news show (06.02.09) on BBC radio 4 at about 8:40am. An interview was held with Marc Regev, the Israeli spokesman and Sarah Montague. As a listener I was horrified to hear the hate and the revolt in Sarah Montague’s voice toward mark Regev. She blatantly rejected his claim that Hamas was responsible to the collapse of the ceasefire, by saying “this is simply not true” this is a blunt and unprofessional statement of a journalist who do not accept the turns of events in Israel and tries to vilify the Israelis for the their reaction to Hamas terror attacks. I do not recall any journalists interviewing Hamas terrorists on BBC rejecting any of Hamas claims whether they hateful or fabricated, however, Sarah Montague did not have a problem claiming that Marc Regev was simply lying. Furthermore, this journalist had a silence too long in a sentence when she was trying to find her words to describe Hamas militants, this was almost to imply that she was trying avoiding calling Hamas as freedom fighters. She had to think hard until she was able to pronounce “Hamas militants”. I have grave concern of this horrible journalistic misconduct to show a biased and a blatant hate toward an interviewee, and I call for her resignation. This is too serious for just an apology.

  2. Mikey Says:

    I don’t know about anyone else, but Martin’s article reminds me quite a bit of Nick Cohen’s article in the New Statesman a few years ago –


  3. Englender Says:

    “But even taken at face value this explanation is unsatisfactory. Surely if the values of the left mean anything then we should not be selective in choosing the peoples whose suffering we champion. Should we take to the streets only when oppression has a global strategic significance?”

    Precisely, but paradoxically it is also the case that one of the reasons the Arab Israeli conflict has such “global” significance is because so many liberals in the west chose to give it such a significance.

    From an objective point of view how is this conflict more significant than the Indian Pakistani dispute which could involve nuclear weapons?

    I am still left with the nagging feeling that there is something about Jewish sovereignty which drives people to the edge of insanity.

  4. Gil Says:

    I concur with Martin Bright’s assessment of many of the commenters on his blog. Some of them don’t bother to conceal their rabid antisemtism. You can see this also on Damian Thomson’s Catholic blog in the Daily Telegraph (see reactions to the Bishop Williamson story) and of course the Guardian’s CIF – although on the latter many are deleted.

    However, can we have a little perspective here: The benefit to many commenters in the blogsphere is anonymity. Perhaps the numbers of anti-semites on the Left are slightly inflated. We simply don’t have enough information to determine whether or not: 1. people are posting using multiple identities; 2. How many of them actually live in the UK. There could be many who are posting from countries in which the polity is traditionally vehement in its attitude towards Israel and Jews, in the Middle East perhaps.

    Isn’t it also true that in a poll conducted recently (I believe reported in the JC), most people SUPPORTED Israel in the current conflict with Hamas. At any rate the numbers were not so anti-Israeli as one would believe. Isn’t this of some encouragement? I suppose, not if you think that most of those were ‘Right Wing’.

  5. Shmuel Says:

    “Hamas is a viciously antisemitic crypto-fascist organisation”

    Hamas could not be less cryptic about its antisemitism and fascism. The Nazis tried to hide much of what they did; Hamas enshrines its antisemitism in its charter while it kills its political opponents in the light of day.

  6. Mark Says:

    “The unresolved situation of the Palestinians represents an open sore in the Middle East. Without a resolution of the situation, the stability of the whole region is threatened.”

    Yes but is this actually true? Lets assume that the Israel/ Palestine dispute were solved tomorrow. First there would be those who would simply reject any settlement that left Israel standing. Who can doubt that that line would be taken by the “plus Royaliste da la Roi” left?

    Second, it isn’t difficult to see any number of disputes that might replace it in the catalogue of real or imagined Islamist perceived slights to the faith. Just look at the geography of the Muslim world – sandwiched between a vast swathe of Africa and Asia (taking a bit of Europe too). In the nature off things there are alway going to be dispute between Islamic nations and their non Islamic neighbours to North and South. And again a left that has hitched its wagon to Islamism would dutifully follow.

    Of course one could say that there is something particularly insulting to Islam about Israel but there is nothing that hasn’t happened in Israel’s case that hasn’t happened e.g. in other circumstances in which Islam has lost territory – Spain for instance – and bear in mind these guys have very long memories.

    The only possible reason why Israel might be seen as a special insult to Islam is because it represents a victory for the Jews – a people Islamists see as uniquely despicable. It is the resentment in short, of the thwarted superior – think poor Southern whites in the US after the Civil War. And I wouldn’t take any bets that if that truth were to become received wisdom as it should, our western left wouldn’t continue to follow the Islmist line blindly here too.

  7. Lynne T Says:


    To your point, the anti-Israel/anti-Zionist left has been absolutely blind to the extent to which the Arab/Muslim world rejected a two-state solution from the time of the Palestinian Mandate and continued to do so, despite the peace agreements Israel concluded with Egypt and Jordan, choosing instead to blame Israel entirely for 60 years of refugee camps, suicide bombers, the security barrier etc..

    Bright also fails to note the extent to which those same rejecting states have contributed to the poisoned enviroment by propagandizing Muslims throughout Asia and Africa to believe that the Palestinians’ suffering is the greatest crime in the world, and which is used to justify a lot of corruption and oppression in countries that are not even slightly affected by I/P.

    Another factor in the left’s animosity toward Israel goes back not to Israel’s battlefield victories in ’67 and ’73, but from the Soviet Union’s cultivation of alliances with a number of Arab states and promotion of the Palestinian cause that really started in the 1950s with Nasser in Egypt.

  8. academic Says:

    Martin Bright gives a refreshingly reasonable and fairly balanced summary. However, he still downplays the role of antisemitism. As “proof” of the existence of antisemitism in British responses to Gaza, take a look at this shocking news item just yesterday:


    And notice that this man was one of “our people” at the High Commission in Islamabad and then deputy ambassador to Kabul, so he will certainly be better informed than most about civilian death and destruction perpetrated by British and American forces fighting against the Taleban!

  9. Sabato Says:

    “He is responsible for all the UK’s diplomacy in that area and for briefing Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is Jewish.”

    That might explain Miliband’s own views on Israel.

  10. Saul Says:

    Yes, Sabato. Jews’ politics is driven and determined by their religious affiliation.

    All Jews everywhere and at all times are imprisoned by their belief sysyem.

    Therefore, no Jew should ever be allowed into any position of government because they, as the Bruno Bauer say, Jews will always put their narrow interests before the universal interest.

    So, let’s all organise to keep Jews out of public office, or, why stop there, private office too.

    You are truly the progressive face of politics!

  11. Mark Says:

    Lynne T

    Thanks for your response. I am aware of the Soviet pro Arab argument and perhaps it goes some way towards an explanation. However the “left” we are dealing with today probably does not see itself as following Soviet foreign policy – or Soviet anything else. If they were around at the time they were probably those who saw the USSR as “state capitalist”.

    My point is that asserted I think by Sherlock Holmes – that once you have discounted all the probably explanations only the improbable ones remaining must include the answer – or something like that!. Antisemitism on the left might be thought improbable but its isn’t impossible and I am unconvinced by other explanations for the Left’s hostiity to Israel.

  12. Sabato Says:

    Saul you are often a pretty decent poster but you missed the boat on this one. Please calm down.

    Miliband’s policies on dealing with terrorist organziations like Hamas has been confused, to say the least and not just on Israel. He has angered India with his pronouncement on dealing with Pakistani based terrorist organizations and during the conflict with Hamas he has been all over the map. Accusing Israel and Hamas equally and then having to retract what he said.

    My point in the post above was that if Jew haters like Rowan Laxton were responsible for making such policy I am not surprised at the confusing results.

    Here is an article in the Telegraph decrying this confusion:

    “David Miliband is wrong on the war on terror
    The Foreign Secretary’s posturing is more about his own interests than the national interest.”


  13. Yves Says:


    I read Sabato’s comment differently. I hear him saying that — unfortunately — Paxton’s counsel may be shaping Miliband’s (sometimes unsympathetic) views of Israel.

  14. Saul Says:

    “pretty decent”……….I’m bloody brilliant!!!!!

    Yves and Sabato – it is this idea that lies behind the “Israel Lobby”; that governments are at the whim of those who advise them. Fortunately, matters are never that simple.
    (and I an equally critical of the concept of “national interest” – look what has been committed according to that dictum).


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