One of the reasons why fights over the Middle East (whether they involve BDS or some other propaganda effort) tend to immediately be cast in terms of Left vs. Right is because the majority of attacks on the Jewish state these days come wrapped in Left-leaning vocabulary.
This is not to say that card-carrying right wingers like Pat Buchannan or outright fascists like David Duke don’t also hurl thunderbolts at the Jews and their state on a regular basis. But even they tend to use terminology that has long become familiar to both Israel’s defenders and defamers.
For instance, with a few exceptions you will no longer even hear Israel’s most ardent foes talk about throwing the Jews into the sea or readying for a massacre that would rival the Mongols (language Israel’s hostile neighbors used repeatedly during the first two decades of the state’s existence). Instead, complaints (which range from reasonable-sounding to hysterical) draw upon the language of human rights and international law to make the case that Israel is the world’s greatest violator of both.
In fact, individuals and groups who use this terminology to make their case against the Jewish state do not simply see themselves as Progressives but insist that their issue defines who does and who does not deserve this label.
This is why those traveling under the BDS banner routinely accuse liberals who do not follow their lead of being PEPs (“Progressives for Everything but Palestine”), encapsulating in a single inelegant phrase the assumption that support for anything other than Palestinian demands (whatever they happen to be this week) represents an abandonment of liberal principles.
The key to understanding this phenomenon is seeing how ineffective it is trying to use this same accusation in reverse. For instance, I don’t think I’ve met a single Israel supporter who, at one time or another, has not expressed the notion that Progressives who claim to champion the rights of women and gays (for example) can possibly favor the Arabs (who crush the rights of both) as opposed to Israel (which probably has the best record with regard to gender and sexual equality in the world).
Activists with this mindset (which I once had and still possess to some degree) are perpetually shocked to find out how ineffective such “reverse-PEP” arguments are when directed against Israel’s most ardent foes.
Gay rights is the perfect example of an issue that should demonstrate both the yawning chasm between Israel’s approach to human rights vs. its opponents, and the hypocrisy of anyone claiming to champion liberal values who fights to expand the territory in which the murder of gays is politically and religiously sanctioned.
But try to bring this contradiction to the attention of self-styled, pro-Palestinian, “progressive” groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and you will soon find yourself being accused (and accused and accused and accused) of “Pinkwashing,” a fake phenomenon invented by JVP types to avoid this issue entirely by casting it as part of an evil plot by Israel’s friends to “change the subject” from whatever it is the Israel-dislikers insist is the only thing we’re allowed to talk about.
The reason behind this strategy of avoidance (as well as the shrillness that accompanies it) is that Israel’s foes (who have no answer regarding the glaring contradictions of their claimed ideology) assume that if they simply ignore their opponents and shriek their own accusations ever louder, eventually others will tire of trying to get a response out of them, leaving the field open for debate to continue on the Israel-haters own terms.
The behaviors we see from Israel’s loudest accusers (dividing the Left into “true Progressives” who toe the BDS party line and “false” ones who do not, ignoring all facts and arguments that they cannot respond to, and never relenting from perpetual attack mode) all have precedent in the argument which framed the Left during the last century as much as hostility to Israel defines it for this one: the role of the Soviet Union (and support thereof) as the touchstone for commitment to revolutionary change.
It is to this subject that Wistrich turns to first in From Ambivalence and Betrayal, and I shall turn to next.