Another series of those recurring, grim provocations from what we might call the “paraglider left” took place in recent weeks. In New York City, a speaker at the People’s Forum—a “movement incubator” that has received millions of dollars from the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund—told an audience to extended applause: “When the State of Israel is finally destroyed and erased from history, that will be the single most important blow we can give to destroying capitalism.” It was a pure expression of what the 19th-century social democrat August Bebel called “the socialism of fools”: the anti-Semitic belief that Jewish wealth and power lie behind the injustices of capitalism. Days later, pro-Palestinian protesters in Gotham targeted Mount Sinai Hospital and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, accusing both of participating in genocide for having received donations from “billionaire Zionists.”

In Oakland, meanwhile, the City Council debated a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Israel and Palestine. During the deliberations, speaker after speaker headed to the mic to oppose an amendment that would have added language condemning Hamas’s terrorist assault on southern Israel on Oct. 7. Viral video from the chamber showed numerous speakers denying that Hamas had beheaded or raped anyone, insisting that the Israel Defense Forces were the murderers responsible, cheering the Hamas “resistance,” and equating denunciations of Hamas with white supremacy; the amendment critical of Hamas was voted down 6 to 2. A similar outbreak of atrocity denial from Palestinian solidarity protesters occurred in January at a congressional candidates’ debate in Palo Alto.

Why focus on street radicals and campus cranks, when hundreds of thousands of Gazans are starving, and when the United Nations’ emergency-relief chief has warned that “the great majority” of the roughly 400,000 Gazans at risk of famine are now “actually in famine”? Why devote any time at all critiquing municipal-government resolutions that have zero influence over the conflict, at a time when IDF bombardments of the Gaza Strip appear to have killed more civilians after mere weeks of war than Russia has in Ukraine after almost two years? Who cares what a random film-studies prof with a blithe misreading of Frantz Fanon shouted into a bullhorn, when the World Health Organization has reported that infectious disease is soaring in Gaza as a result of the collapse of health care, water provision, and solid-waste collection?

“The discourse” is already chock-full of condemnations of broken moral compasses. What could be added? Fine. I concur. I condemn all that, and for the record, I condemn Hamas. That’s all appalling. But get your priorities straight, comrade! Get out in the streets and mobilize for peace and justice now!

“The rest of us marching for peace are tarred with the same brush.”

Nevertheless, even as those of us who oppose the war pour into the streets demanding a ceasefire and, ultimately, an end to hostilities, we must disobey the injunction to only act and not think. A deeper consideration of the paraglider left is needed, because it isn’t true that it amounted to a handful of fringe idiots. The phenomenon is too widespread to ignore. It keeps happening. And every time it happens, the rest of us marching for peace are tarred with the same brush. Western Hamasniks must be opposed, not just because they frequently espouse odious views about the Jewish people, but also because they undermine the struggle for Palestinian liberation and sabotage the possibility of a just peace.

Palestine-solidarity demonstrations have filled the streets of Washington, London, Sydney, and many more cities worldwide. Millions have marched since the bombardments began. The vast majority of the protesters have been ordinary people aghast at the slaughter in Gaza that unfolds on their screens nightly. They aren’t, for the most part, celebrants of Hamas terror like the speakers in Oakland or deniers of atrocity like those in Palo Alto. Attempts to slander the protesters as such have failed; the marches are only growing.

But what the moment demands of the left, and of all people of conscience, isn’t large mobilizations for their own sake. The mobilizations are supposed to serve a purpose: pressuring Western governments to seek a just and permanent end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The paraglider left makes Palestine solidarity protests more easily dismissed.”

So no matter how large the current demonstrations, every time Western Hamasniks intervene—every time they grab mics at rallies and chant anti-Semitic slogans, violently intimidate Jewish students on campus, vandalize the windows of Jewish businesses, publish open letters celebrating or winking at atrocity, deny that Hamas terrorists decapitated or raped anyone while suggesting that if they did, it was good anyway because all Israelis are “settlers”—all our efforts toward peace and justice are undermined. The paraglider left makes Palestine-solidarity protests more easily dismissed by the broader public and by the politicians the movement aims to bring onside.

Hamas apologetics also make it harder for committed pro-Palestinian elected representatives to put forward their case to those not already persuaded. Meanwhile, progressive elected officials who are less focused on the Palestinian cause, but who still might otherwise have been open to speaking out, now recognize that doing so will associate them with Hamas apologists.

In Europe, the Hamasniks have also strengthened the disciplinary hand of governments to censor and punish pro-Palestinian expression. Where many ordinary, apolitical people and organizations might once have thought such censorship a breach of freedom of speech, they now pull back, wondering if the movement is indeed inciting violence. We can certainly lament cowardice and double standards here. We can point out the hypocrisy of so many “anti-woke” free-speech warriors who have now predictably fallen silent in the face of mainstream censorship of the left or shamelessly embraced calls for bans on marches and the arrest of protesters. But the performative radicals certainly aren’t helping.

For two decades or longer, elements of the Israeli right and their allies in the West have maintained that to support Palestinian rights was to endorse the slaughter of Jews—and now a not insignificant number of people on the left have handed them ample proof for their case. As Haaretz has extensively documented, Netanyahu propped up Hamas for many years to forestall any return to the peace process and to weaken the Palestinian Authority. This perverse feedback loop didn’t stop on Oct. 7. The more punishing the Israeli response, the greater the number of Hamas recruits and the less likely the broader Palestinian populace will be to accept any compromise. This makes a revival of the peace process and agreement of a just peace less likely.

The Israeli left and Palestinian secularists are all too aware of this malign symbiosis. Abdullah, a 30-year-old Gaza resident whose two nieces have been killed by the bombing but who also fears to give his last name, lest Hamas militants summarily execute him—like they have so many others for speaking their mind—recently wrote in a Haaretz opinion piece:

Hamas is an oppressive, ideological, religious organization that steals our freedom, enslaves us, abducts us at gunpoint, and suppresses any voice that opposes it. Hamas rejects the idea of the civilian state, which it sees as a desecration of everything holy and a violation of Shariah law. It’s a religious, totalitarian, tyrannical government that restricts freedom of expression. It’s an exact copy of the Iranian regime…. The only ones prospering from the war are the far-rightists on both sides. They are shamelessly using the war and blood for political gain.

In the months and years leading up to Oct. 7, Israel had been roiled by the largest demonstrations the country had ever witnessed, targeting Netanyahu’s multiple corruption scandals, his attempt to hobble the Supreme Court, and the far right’s presence in his coalition. Over time, some on the Israeli left had made headway with the argument that the nation’s internal political crisis was inseparable from its treatment of the Palestinians.

Two months before the Hamas terror attacks, some 3,000 Israeli citizens, including academics, religious leaders, and public figures, had signed a petition calling “attention to the direct link between Israel’s recent attack on the judiciary and its illegal occupation of millions of Palestinians.” The signatories declared that “the ultimate purpose of the judicial overhaul is to tighten restrictions on Gaza, deprive Palestinians of equal rights both beyond the Green Line and within it, annex more land, and ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population.”

“Cultivating solidarity between the global left and the Israeli left … should be an urgent priority.”

To be sure, one can never understate the influence of the Israeli left. Progressives in the Jewish state were politically isolated even before the Hamas attacks. But to the degree that they were achieving any success, it potentially assisted the revival of the peace process by linking the question of the occupation to the mass democratic movement against Netanyahu. These actions had the potential to assist the Palestinian cause: In any peace process, the stronger the left’s position domestically in Israel—even if still very weak—the greater the chance of a more just outcome for those under occupation.

Hamasnik performative radicalism, however, has cut off Israeli leftists at the knees domestically, isolating them even further. The lack of solidarity from the global left leaves many demoralized and deactivates them. As some 60 leftist Israeli academics and peace activists complained in an open letter: “We never, never imagined that individuals on the left, advocates of equality, freedom, justice and welfare, would reveal such extreme moral insensitivity and political recklessness.”

Again, if the goal is a revival of the peace process and the delivery of a just and permanent settlement for both peoples, then cultivating solidarity between the global left and the Israeli left—not just with Palestine (and solidarity with the Israeli left is solidarity with Palestine)—should be an urgent priority.

And the same goes for secular and moderate forces in Gaza and the West Bank, who are just as isolated as their counterparts across the Green Line. Palestine must not only be freed from Israeli occupation, but from the Islamist fundamentalism and human-rights abuses of Hamas, and from the corruption and authoritarianism of Fatah. There hasn’t been an election in Gaza since 2006. Hamas militants are no friends of liberal democracy and civil liberties, let alone democratic socialism or LGBT rights; they terrorize Palestinians, not just Israelis.

“77 percent of Arab Israelis opposed the Oct. 7 attacks.”

Note also that 77 percent of Arab Israelis opposed the Oct. 7 attacks; most of the rest were just unsure, with minuscule numbers actually supporting them. Eighty-five percent of Arab Israelis opposed taking hostages. Thus, most moderate, non-Stalinist forces—creaking terrorist groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine are secular but hardly progressive—among Palestinians on both sides of the 1967 line recognize that the liberation struggle is a fight against both the occupation and Hamas.

So when the performative radicals cheer on Hamas, they are not merely throwing the Israeli left under the bus, but progressive Palestinians along with them. The paraglider left is undermining those in the region whose democratic left politics are most like their own. Israelis aren’t going anywhere, nor should they, and neither are Palestinians. The only path is for the two groups to live together side by side in a just peace. And so the international left, to the extent that it has any influence, must be doing everything it can to strengthen the admittedly weak forces of secularism, democracy, and equality—the forces most able to press for a just peace.

The paraglider left is finally a catastrophe for the wider progressive movement. The deeply embarrassing behavior of these ultras threatens the political credibility the left has gathered over the past two decades by opposing the Global War on Terror, skewering neoliberalism in the wake of the financial crisis, and pointing out the limitations of markets in response to climate change.

This performative radicalism is also producing crippling schisms and departures within left-wing organizations, unions, and parties. The wisdom, experience, and institutional knowledge of veterans of the Democratic Socialists of America is being lost as older members resign in frustration. The image, unity, and organizing work of Canada’s largest public-sector union has taken a hit as a result of one of its leaders voicing support for the Oct. 7 attacks (for which he has since apologized). In France, the New Ecological and Social People's Union (Nouvelle Union populaire écologique et sociale, or NUPES), a fragile unity of social democrats, communists, greens, and the radical left—the first left-wide political alliance since the 1990s—is at risk of breaking up as a result of leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s refusal to describe the actions of Hamas as “terrorist.”

Most damaging of all, this juvenile behavior is alienating the left as a whole from the vast majority of ordinary working people. Everything else that the left does, from advocating for Medicare for All and a Green New Deal to the recent union drives and strike renaissance in the United States, is threatened when growing numbers of “normies” think of progressives as nothing but a bunch of terror-loving (or terror-denying) anti-Semitic freaks.

It is possible to oppose indiscriminate bombing of Gaza and to condemn Hamas, to call for an end to the occupation and for a return of the hostages, to back Israeli civil society in overthrowing Netanyahu and his far-right allies and to want an end to the Hamas dictatorship in Gaza, to support the rebuilding of democratic left forces in both Israel and Palestine, and to push for a revival of the peace process as soon as possible—all at the same time.

Indeed, it is more than possible; it is the best hope for justice.

Leigh Phillips is the author of Austerity and the Collapse-Porn Addicts.


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