Fearful Symmetry in Israel and Palestine (Part 3)

Finding a Just Peace Somewhere in the Faultlines of Seismic Despair

This is the final part of a three-column response to the terrorist attacks against Israel by Hamas and the subsequent reaction of Israel in its attacks on Gaza. My approach over the three columns has been to reject an either/or approach to the conflict and to embrace a both/and approach. In other words, I offer a criticism of the terrorist attack by Hamas and of those who refuse to condemn such an attack, followed by a criticism of the response by Israel’s military. I do not view the actions of Hamas as those of heroic liberators. In fact, I have compared their actions to those of the Einsatzgruppen (German death squads responsible for the mass murder of Jews during World War II). At the same time, I offer a trenchant criticism of the historical treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank by the Israeli government.

In Part One, I began by condemning the vicious, medieval and mind-numbing assaults on innocent Israeli citizens, including the savage torture and murder of men, women and children, by Hamas. There is, in my mind, no justification for Hamas’ vicious, medieval and mind-numbing terrorist assault on October 7. I further condemned Hamas’ charter that advocates for the destruction of Israel and maintained that Israel has a right to defend itself. I emphasised my support for Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers, some of whom I was privileged to meet during various visits to Israel over the years. I was raised in a Christian family whose father had a close connection to the Jewish community. My father served in the Royal Canadian Engineers and saw action against the Nazis in the Netherlands, where, after the war, he was billeted in a Jewish home with a family that treated him as their son. I grew up acutely aware of the struggle of the Jewish people throughout history. In Part Two, I shifted focus, aiming my critique at the disproportionate response to the terrorist attack by the Israeli Defence Forces and the historical mistreatment of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territories. I also criticised the use of violent religious ideology in fomenting hate by both Israelis and Islamist supporters of Hamas.

In this final response, I make a case against fascist ideology that was once believed exiled to history’s annals but that now casts its foreboding silhouette across a panorama of countries such as the US and Israel, where the delicate equilibrium between individual liberties and the collective good teeters perilously on the precipice of religious nationalism. In this dance with darkness, the architects of authoritarianism wield a rhetoric both enchanting and insidious. They shroud their ambitions in the language of patriotism, exploiting the very ideals cherished by the nation. A poetic tableau emerges of two charismatic figures, Trump and Netanyahu, corroded by the malevolent influence of authoritarianism. The judiciary, intended to be an impartial arbiter, is perverted to serve the interests of a singular vision. The vibrant image of democracy begins to fade, replaced by the muted tones of autocracy.

When speaking about fascism, it’s always wise to keep in mind the astute observation made by Federico Finchelstein in the respected journal Foreign Policy about past fascist leaders: a classic technique of fascists is that they always deny what they are and ascribe their own features and totalitarian politics to their enemies. A case in point: the fist-pumping Trump who likes to denounce fascists as a way of deflecting from his plans to humiliate and destroy his political enemies utterly. During an Independence Day event at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, South Dakota, on July 3, 2020, Trump railed against the spectre of a far-left fascism: ‘In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted and punished. It’s not going to happen to us.’ Here, Trump brings into stunning relief the ‘contradiction between his words denouncing tyrannical invisible forces and his actual dictatorial leanings.’ Finchelstein could not be more accurate when he writes that ‘these are times of confusion when the racist right depicts itself as democratic while falsely presenting fascism as an ideology of the left.’

In his far-right propaganda film Death of a Nation, the political provocateur and potentate of charlatanism, Dinesh D’Souza, famously harnessed his vintage sophistry into the service of projecting his fascist sentiments onto liberals by making the case that fascism is a left-wing movement. In point of fact, the name of Hitler’s political party, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, was a clever ploy by Hitler and his circle of evil to deflect from their autocratic rule and to disguise the fact that he sent socialists and communists to die in concentration camps. Appropriating language from exponents of ideas that issued from different political streams only proves that Hitler’s political legerdemain was as clever as it was ruthless. Finchelstein cites the famous historian of fascism, Zeev Sternhell, who warned that ‘fascists have always been on the extreme right. They emerged from a long tradition of anti-Enlightenment thought that developed in reaction to the French and American revolutions and against the notion that universal values such as pluralism, equality and freedom should be defended. Fascism stands as the most radical outcome of this revolt against universal values.’ Fascism, we need to be clear, is an anti-left and anti-liberal counterrevolution. It appropriates the vocabulary of the left and places it at the service of right-wing oppression. It is a global form of political violence and racial and national domination that stands firmly against liberalism, Marxism and democracy.

Finchelstein writes that, for Sternhell,

fascism always had two essential components: 1) a brand of anti-liberal and anti-bourgeois tribal nationalism based on social Darwinism and, often, biological determinism; and 2) a radical, formerly leftist, anti-materialist revision of Marxism. Thus, fascism combined anti-rationalist thinkers like the French Catholic chauvinist Charles Maurras and Georges Sorel – a leftist anti-Marxist philosopher who proposed myth and violence as a road map for revolutionary politics – and reformulated nationalist and social themes in an extreme right-wing form.

Fascism is a form of political extremism that appropriates ideas from both the right and the left. But make no mistake, it is a right-wing political movement. In Sternhell’s view, ‘If the left sought rights for all, fascism wanted no rights for people who were ethnically or racially distinct or who behaved or thought differently. In other words, fascists attacked political and ethnic minorities in the name of the nation and the sacred.’ We can see this in that way that Trump reconnects populism with key elements of fascism through his glorification of violence, his attacks on immigrants, his racism, his mocking of the disabled, his sexism, his photos holding the Bible, his claim to be the ‘chosen one,’ his criminality and the weaponisation of his office against his enemies. Trump is an Al Capone character: a criminal, an overlord, a narcissist, a grifter and an egomaniac. He has pulled the wool over the eyes of an electorate that sorely needs a critical education and a moral compass. Trump and his followers could use some remedial reading on democracy and social justice. Finchelstein writes:

At Mount Rushmore, Trump argued that ‘the radical ideology attacking our country advances under the banner of social justice. But, in truth, it would demolish both justice and society. It would transform justice into an instrument of division and vengeance, and it would turn our free and inclusive society into a place of repression, domination and exclusion.’ Trump’s sense of emergency and claims of an imminent threat to the nation – as he narrowly conceives of it – represent the closest he has ever come to a fascist form of argumentation. Contrary to what he proclaimed at Mount Rushmore, it is Trump who is constantly undermining democracy and inclusion – and his nativist populism is anchored in the fascist past.

Three years after his Mount Rushmore speech, Trump set a new watermark for fascist rhetoric. The then ex-president attacked his opponents and critics in a Veterans Day post on Truth Social and a campaign rally speech in New Hampshire, using language redolent of the ravings of Hitler and Mussolini, a language designed to dehumanise his enemies:

‘We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections,’ Trump said, dredging up lies about his 2020 election loss that fuelled the January 6 insurrection. ‘They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American Dream.’

Steven Cheung, one of Trump’s campaign spokesmen, derided those who tried to compare Trump’s rhetoric to that of Hitler or Mussolini with the following bone-chilling warning: ‘Those who try to make that ridiculous assertion are clearly snowflakes grasping for anything because they are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome and their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.’

Republicans in the United States have threatened to dismantle the country’s Department of Education. If Trump decides it’s more efficacious to keep it, should he be re-elected, perhaps he will follow in the footsteps of another Republican president, Ronald Reagan, and appoint somebody like former Secretary of Education William Bennett, who famously defended his proclamation that ‘If you wanted to reduce crime you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every Black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.’ Not long ago, Donald Trump laid out his plan to deal with the ‘major problem’ facing America today: ‘[W]e have pink-haired communists teaching our kids.’

Trump argued that the Founders intended to protect teaching schoolchildren religion, and the intention of the Constitution was to mix religion, politics and education: ‘The Marxism being preached in our schools is also totally hostile to Judeo-Christian teachings, and, in many ways, it’s resembling an established new religion. We can’t let that happen. For this reason, my administration will aggressively pursue intentional violations of the establishment clause and the free exercise clause of the Constitution.’ Trump is playing to the current moral panic about schooling and left-wing ideological capture, including ‘forcible conformity engendered by DEI, CRT and the like.’ To date, twenty-eight states have passed at least 71 bills controlling what teachers and students can say and do at school. School libraries have been purged of books, subject-matter restrictions have been put in place, and teachers face potential legal threats from parents. While Republicans are riding the wave of white outrage against Critical Race Theory and critical pedagogy, very few members of the American electorate seem to care. Thom Hartmann offers this quotation from the annual PRRI American Values Survey that found:

Americans overwhelmingly favour teaching children history that includes both the good and bad aspects of our history so that they can learn from the past, versus refraining from teaching aspects of history that could make them feel uncomfortable or guilty about what their ancestors did in the past (92% vs. 5%).

There are no substantial partisan differences, though Republicans favour excluding aspects of history slightly more (7%) than Democrats and Independents (both 4%). There are few differences across religious traditions or demographics. This consensus holds up across different levels of exposure to critical race theory: 92% of those who have heard a lot about critical race theory, 94% of those who have heard a little, and 93% of those who have heard nothing about it state that we should teach children the good and bad of history.

Nonetheless, they note: ‘[A] majority of Republicans (54%), compared with 27% of independents and only 7% of Democrats, believe that teachers and librarians are indoctrinating children.’

Hartmann is correct that the United States is heading towards a separate but equal educational system. Florida and several other Red states are now offering vouchers that can be used at private or religious schools to every student in the state. What champions of the vouchers don’t tell you is that ‘69 per cent is unaccredited, 58 per cent are religious and nearly one-third are for-profit.’ Hartmann points out that students use the vouchers to flee underfunded public schools, which sink deeper and deeper into financial trouble and are less able to attract good teachers. But here is the rub, according to Hartmann:

Because the vouchers never cover the full cost of private school tuition (typically they pay for half to two-thirds), the truly poor can’t use them: the result is the public school system becomes ghettoised, leading to even more flight by middle- and upper-class (white) people. Once the public schools are dead and the state has transitioned entirely to private schools, the state will claim budget problems and begin to dial back the amounts available for vouchers…. This will widen the relationship between the educational and wealth divides; the racial and class cleavage will become so great that the state will have effectively gone back to a ‘separate but equal’ educational system. Which, of course, is the GOP’s goal.

Fascists, like current factions of the Republican Party, fear that an educated public may turn against them. It is in their best interests to keep them ignorant. But fascism is not simply a threat to the US. It is a threat to the entire world. Consequently, it is with great urgency that we begin to connect the crisis of capitalism to the rise of fascism, militarism and the potential for genocide in societies worldwide. Gaza presents a textbook case for those willing to concede that the world capitalist system has entered a new crisis and that the worst is yet to be seen.

William I. Robinson and Hoai-An Nguyen have written brilliantly on the impact of global capitalism on the potential for the creation of a genocide industry, relating how Gaza serves as an immediate warning signal that genocide could potentially emerge as a political strategy in the future, addressing the enduring conflict between surplus and surplus humanity. What follows is taken from their recent analysis. While the military landscape of the Gaza war remains uncertain, the authors maintain that that Israel and its supporters in the core states of the world capitalist system are undeniably losing the political battle for legitimacy. The initial months of the Gaza siege seemed to solidify a Washington-NATO-Tel Aviv alliance willing to normalise ethnic cleansing, even at a significant political cost. UN experts hailed the groundbreaking decision from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as a beacon of hope for the beleaguered civilians in Gaza, who have endured catastrophic humanitarian crises, widespread destruction, and the horrors of mass violence, injury, and lasting psychological scars. The ICJ’s verdict acknowledged the credible possibility that Israel’s actions could constitute genocide. As part of six provisional measures, Israel has been instructed to utilise all available means to prevent genocidal acts, including combating incitement to genocide, ensuring the delivery of aid and essential services to the besieged Palestinian population in Gaza, and preserving evidence of crimes committed within the region. The Palestinian plight has resonated deeply with global publics, particularly the youth, injecting fresh vigour into the ongoing global uprising of working and popular classes.

This surge has heightened the political contradictions of the crisis. In the United States, where these words are written, there has been an exceptional surge of solidarity with Palestine, led by a younger generation of Jews disassociating themselves from Zionism and the Israeli state. As the authors point out, the Palestinian flag, prominently displayed in street demonstrations, sports events and on social media platforms, has evolved into a symbol of popular discontent and a global intifada against the prevailing status quo. According to the authors, the crisis of world capitalism in the 1930s laid the groundwork for the ascent of fascism in Europe, the violent disintegration of the international political and economic order, and a devastating second world war. Preceded by an era of extravagant capitalist indulgence amid escalating inequalities and growing mass dissatisfaction, the so-called Gilded Age witnessed unbridled capital hurtling towards a crisis of overaccumulation, culminating in the crash of 1929. The global financial collapse of 2008 marked the initiation of a new era of overaccumulation and persistent stagnation. A crucial insight from the work of Robinson and Nguyen is that the political economy of genocide in our contemporary era is defined by this crisis, and we on the left must do our best to make sure that this does not occur anywhere around the globe through our efforts at geopolitical analysis and activism.

The predicament of surplus capital is inherent to capitalism, but, in the past couple of decades, it has reached unprecedented levels. Leading transnational corporations and financial conglomerates have reported record profits concurrently with a decline in corporate investment. The transnational capitalist class has amassed staggering wealth, surpassing reinvestment possibilities. The disproportionate concentration of the world’s wealth in the hands of a few, coupled with the accelerated impoverishment and dispossession of the majority, has made it increasingly challenging for this transnational capitalist class (TCC) to identify new outlets for unloading vast accumulated surplus. Robinson and Nguyen maintain that as traditional avenues for surplus capital dry up, new outlets must be violently created, relying on debt-driven growth, unrestrained financial speculation, the pillaging of public finance and state-sanctioned militarised accumulation to sustain the global economy amid chronic stagnation. This is a compelling insight with frightening premonitions of world-historical consequences of our own making.

Key to the analysis by Robinson and Nguyen is their keen observation that before genocide could be considered, two prerequisites had to be addressed. Firstly, the role of Palestinian labour in the Israeli economy had to be resolved. The establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 involved the violent expulsion of Palestinians, but it also led to the incorporation of Palestinian labourers for various jobs. This created a tension between the goal of ethnically cleansing the state and the economic need for cheap, ethnically demarcated labour. In the 1990s, Israel began resolving this tension by gradually replacing the Palestinian labour force with migrant labour through transnational mobility and recruitment.

The second factor that Robinson and Nguyen underscore was the imposition of Israel’s ‘closure’ policy in 1993, sealing off Palestinians in occupied territories and escalating settler colonialism. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from various countries started labouring in the Israeli economy. Unlike Palestinians, these migrant workers are not subjected to the apartheid system, as their temporary migrant status effectively achieves social control and disenfranchisement. In the aftermath of a Hamas attack, Israel deported Palestinian workers and considered hiring foreign workers to replace them. The authors maintain that the Palestinian masses, once a tightly controlled and super-exploited labour force, have become surplus humanity standing in the way of capitalist expansion. Gaza symbolises the plight of surplus humanity globally, exacerbated by decades of globalisation, neoliberalism, and the potential increase in surplus humanity due to conflict, economic collapse and climate change. The tension between the economic need for super-exploitable labour and the political need to neutralise rebellion is evident globally, with borderlands becoming zones of death.

For genocide to become an option aligned with global capital accumulation, Robinson and Nguyen argue that there also needed to be a new political-diplomatic dispensation for Israel’s economic integration into the larger Middle Eastern and global economy. All countries must struggle to ensure that genocide is never an option, anywhere in the world, and factoring in all the conditions that give rise to the political economy of genocide, including militarised accumulation, financial instability and geopolitical considerations, becomes a responsibility all countries must share. The 2003 US invasion of Iraq and subsequent globalisation of the Middle East have seen massive transnational corporate and financial investments. Israel’s integration with capitals from the Middle East and global circuits of accumulation have led to common class interests between Israeli and Arab capitalists, transcending political differences. The Abraham Accords in 2020 marked a shift toward normalisation between Israel and Gulf states, promoting deeper regional integration through transnational capital. However, the authors go on to argue that Palestinian resistance has disrupted this normalisation, putting it on hold. The global corporate and financial elite, meeting in Riyadh, expressed concerns about how the Gaza war has escalated geopolitical tensions globally, contributing to long-term financial instability and stagnation.

The authors point out that each emerging global conflict presents fresh opportunities for profit-making to counteract economic stagnation, such as militarised accumulation. Following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, there was a notable surge in the shares of military and security firms in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. This was driven by the anticipation of a significant increase in global military spending. Similarly, the Gaza war serves as a fresh stimulus for militarised accumulation, with substantial funds flowing to Israel from the US, other Western governments and international arms dealers. Orders at major arms companies worldwide are approaching record highs. In the eyes of some financial executives, such as one from Morgan Stanley, the siege of Gaza aligns well with their investment portfolio. While historical wars have traditionally provided essential economic stimulus and facilitated the disposal of surplus capital, there is something qualitatively new happening now with the ascent of a global police state. The authors report how overcoming the limits to growth requires the adoption of new technologies focused on death and destruction, portraying barbarism as the face of capitalist crisis. This could potentially lead to a genocide industry – and it could occur in many places around the world – and the left must work together transnationally in order to make sure that this does not occur under any costs. Welcome to hell, it’s just around the corner.

In the words of Yeats,

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And, in the words of the authors:

Militarised accumulation to control and contain the downtrodden and marginalised and to simultaneously sustain accumulation in the face of crisis lend themselves to fascist political tendencies. In the context of a transnational capitalism in crisis, genocide becomes profitable to the extent that it is inextricably linked to opening up new opportunities for accumulation through violence. Palestine has become an exemplary space for carrying out such a project on a wider global level, a site for the exercise of new forms of absolute despotic power that has no need for political legitimacy. This is more than old-fashioned settler colonialism; it is the face of a global capitalist system that can only reproduce through bloodshed, dehumanisation, torture and extermination. The crisis is cracking up political systems and undermining stability everywhere. The centre collapses. Consensual mechanisms of domination are breaking down as the ruling groups turn towards authoritarianism, dictatorship and fascism. The battle lines being drawn in the Middle East reflect global battle lines. Gaza is a real-time alarm bell that genocide may become a political tool in the decades to come for resolving capital’s intractable contradiction between surplus capital and surplus humanity. The breakdown of hegemonic order in earlier epochs of world capitalist crisis were [sic] marked by political instability, intense class and social struggles, wars and ruptures of the established international system. Let us recall that the prelude to WWII was the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 and the fascist dictatorship that was its outcome. The global future may be at stake in Palestine.

The fascist tendencies highlighted by Robinson and Nguyen are well underway in manifesting a full-blown fascist imaginary craftily installed within the Israeli political regime. At present, we are seeing fascist politics playing out in Israel’s crackdown on anti-war expression in Israel, and the consequences of this crackdown on the country’s minority Arab population that effectively criminalises expressions of solidarity for the plight of the Palestinians. Israeli protesters are displaying serious concerns about the possibility that Israel is planning to conquer Gaza and annex a large part of the West Bank. Israeli protesters, let it be said, are supporting Palestinians and not conflating them with Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organisation, the philosophy of which is rooted in a radical antisemitism that is at the foundation of Islamism. Its goal is the destruction of Israel. ‘Islamism’ developed in the 1930s and 1940s in Egypt and Palestine, and it offers a selectively interpreted Islam, claiming that the core of Islam is anti-Jewish. Islamists claim that the Koran supports their radical antisemitic views. Hamas is a fascist organisation that can be traced to the historical offspring of a political alliance forged among Third Reich leaders, Arab nationalists and Muslim religious authorities during World War II. Their mission has been to destroy ‘Zionist invaders,’ and they have ideological links to the Muslim Brotherhood and its role in the 1948 war and the 1968 attacks on Israel when terrorist organisations began to establish bases on the southwestern slopes of Mount Hermon, on the border between Syria and Lebanon (in the Bible it is the place where the Watcher class of fallen angels descended to Earth).

Both Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu have a history of courting fascist dictators. Trump has spoken highly of dictators such as Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s president, Viktor Orbán, while Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has gone out of his way to forge alliances with ethno-nationalist leaders from countries that in the past have enacted anti-Jewish legislation and played a role in the genocide of Jews during World War II. Netanyahu, leader of the far-right Likud Party, is counting on his ability to integrate his country into the nationalist, racist and anti-Semitic Eastern European bloc, which remains extremely hostile to Islam. Ian Buruma writes that ‘In today’s political environment … being pro-Israel and anti-Semitic is not a contradiction. In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the even more radical members of his cabinet have a great deal in common with the right-wing nationalist figures in Europe and the United States with whom they have aligned.’

Israel has turned to Cyprus, Greece and Romania for joint military exercises. In so doing, Israel seeks a counterweight inside the European Union by reaching out to eastern European states that express a significant anti-Muslim sentiment and do not condemn Israel for its activities in the occupied West Bank. Netanyahu has chosen to collaborate with anti-Semitic neo-Nazi movements across the world. He has forged a relationship with Geert Wilders, leader of the largest party in the Dutch parliament, who holds strident anti-Muslim views, which is his trademark. Orbán, for his part, has cited Israel and Hungary as ‘models of successful conservative communities.’ But he has also said that Hungarians ‘do not want to become peoples of mixed race.’

Despite their practised denial, Israeli politicians are actively seeking to establish relationships with fascist governments. Anshel Pfeffer writes:

The Israeli government has warm relations with the ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland and Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz government in Hungary despite the anti-Semites within these parties’ ranks and despite the systematic way in which both governments have downplayed the collaboration of local populations with the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust. Israel justifies the close ties by the fact that Hungary and Poland support it within the European Union and that, officially, the local authorities and security forces protect the Jewish communities from any real anti-Semitic violence. But Israel is playing with fire. The wave of xenophobia in Europe may not yet be targeting Jews, but history has shown that it is always but a matter of time.

Because Israel is a strong ethno-nationalist, anti-migration state, far-right countries seek to establish stronger relations with it, some of them to prove they are not antisemitic. In 2016, Benjamin Netanyahu sounded very much like Trump when he remarked: ‘In our neighbourhood, we need to protect ourselves from wild beasts,’ referring to Palestinians. And not unlike radical rabbi Meir Kahane, who likened co-existence with Palestinians to ‘co-existence with cancer.’ The far right in Israel does little to hide its ethno-nationalism and its aversion to the cosmopolitanism of the Jews of the diaspora, which it associates with multiculturalism, interculturality and multiethnicity.

Alberto Toscano reports that, ‘[i]n a collective statement, the Birzeit University Union of Professors and Employees has spoken of “colonial fascism” and of the “pornographic call to death of Arabs by settler Zionist politicians across the political lines.”’ Toscano writes of the mounting awareness in the public discourse throughout Israel of the insipient right-wing fascism in the latest Netanyahu government and Israeli society at large, especially in the wake of protests against the recent judicial reforms ‘aimed at eviscerating the vaunted autonomy of Israel’s Supreme Court.’ Toscano is worth quoting at length:

Four days before the Hamas attack, the newspaper Ha’aretz published an editorial under the heading ‘Israeli Neo-Fascism Threatens Israelis and Palestinians Alike.’ One month earlier, 200 Israeli high school students declared their refusal to be conscripted thus: ‘We decided that we cannot, in good faith, serve a bunch of fascist settlers that are in control of the government right now.’ In May, a Ha’aretz editorial opined that the ‘sixth Netanyahu government is beginning to look like a totalitarian caricature. There is almost no move associated with totalitarianism that has not been proposed by one of its extremist members and adopted by the rest of the incompetents it comprises in their competition to see who can be more fully full fascist,’ while one of its editorialists described an ‘Israeli fascist revolution’ ticking off all items in the checklist, from virulent racism to a contempt for weakness, from a lust for violence to anti-intellectualism.

Netanyahu and the Israeli far-right seek international recognition for their occupation of Palestinian lands, and far-right countries and ‘fellow sovereign’ constituencies are more likely to provide cover for Israel’s occupation and exclusionary nationalism, including right-wing Christian evangelical groups. The ideological convergence between extremist neo-fascist countries and Israel is meant to braid together the international discourse of the far right and to slicken a common defensive line against both Islam and the European and US left who, for the most part, support fair treatment of refugees, immigrants and minorities. The idea of ‘the threat of Islam’ is the common denominator that allows far-right countries to cooperate across national borders, while their leaders advertise themselves as defenders of the Judeo-Christian West and do not hide their hostility to the Palestinian national project. It should come as no surprise that Israel is the second largest arms exporter to India (a country run by Narendra Modi, head of the ruling far-right Hindu Nationalist Party) after Russia. That the anti-Enlightenment policy of fascism does not belong in an egalitarian country is precisely Netanyahu’s point, which explains his willingness to cooperate with the xenophobic European far-right. Yet what is at stake in these feral arrangements is democracy itself.

It is important to remember that while Zionists first sought to establish a Jewish homeland,

it was never intended to be exclusive to Jews. The Jews who arrived in Israel and made it their home were not native to the land, and only Orthodox religious Jews believed that it was given to them by God. Kahane, who certainly believed that, was actually born in Brooklyn, New York (and in 1990 was assassinated in Manhattan). His view is largely shared by evangelical Christians in the US who believe that Jews are doomed unless they embrace Christianity when the Apocalypse finally strikes.

In Part Two, I spoke about the prophetic pronouncements in Biblical narratives and how they have been manipulated to oppress others. They have certainly seen their way into US politics with the far-right Christian Nationalists. And they are a problem in Israel and throughout the Middle East. The current Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, ‘laid out the theological bases for his genocidal intent to “abort” any Palestinian hopes for nationhood and repeat the Nakba’ when he declared in an interview:

When Joshua ben Nun [the biblical prophet] entered the land, he sent three messages to its inhabitants: those who want to accept [our rule] will accept; those who want to leave will leave; those who want to fight will fight. The basis of his strategy was: We are here, we have come, this is ours. Now, too, three doors will be open, there is no fourth door. Those who want to leave – and there will be those who leave – I will help them. When they have no hope and no vision, they will go. As they did in 1948. […] Those who do not go will either accept the rule of the Jewish state, in which case they can remain, and, as for those who do not, we will fight them and defeat them. […] Either I will shoot him, or I will jail him, or I will expel him.

Mention of the Book of Joshua is notable as it also served as an ideological reference for the secular David Ben-Gurion in the early years of the State of Israel. The Old Testament paean to destruction echoes disturbingly today: ‘So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded. And Joshua smote them from Kadesh-Barnea even unto Gaza’ (Joshua 10:40-41).

I began this three-part series with a salute to the peacemakers and the educators. The illiberal governments exemplified by the far-right extremists in the Republican Party and the far-right factions in Israel exhibit similar reasons for supporting the establishment of a fascist state, but their geopolitical specificity mandates different approaches to making that happen. The fight against fascism in Israel is complicated by the fact that the majority of young people in Israel identify as right-wing. A 2022 poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute found that 73% of Jewish people surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 identified as right-wing compared with 46% of people polled over the age of 65. A blockbuster report by Ronan Bergman and Adam Goldman reporting from Israel documented how Prime Minister Netanyahu knew the details of the coming Hamas attack a full year before the horrors of October 7, which echoes the ‘intelligence failures’ of the Bush administration on 9/11 in the United States. Thom Hartmann writes that ‘Bush, after all, was informed a full month before the twin towers were struck that an attack was coming in the infamous August 6 “Bin Laden Determined To Strike Within the United States” memo that the CIA sent an officer to Texas to hand-deliver to Bush.’

In a chilling and urgent report from Truthout, Distinguished Professor William I. Robinson of UC Santa Barbara, a courageous public intellectual and political activist, reports that Israel has formed a clandestine Task Force to carry out covert propaganda campaigns at US universities, coordinated by Israel’s foreign affairs and diaspora affairs ministries. Robinson warns that as the world ignites with fury over Israel’s barbaric assault on Palestinians in Gaza, the battlefront extends to American campuses, where the commitment to academic freedom and free speech are now fiercely contested. No longer content with mere influence, the Israeli government has launched a brazen assault from the highest echelons of power, aiming to muzzle dissent through intimidation and coercion, as reported by Israeli media outlet Ynetnews.

As my three-part series on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict attests, I utterly condemn the terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas where hundreds of Israelis were brutally slaughtered with unimaginable savagery. Yet, at the same time, I have been critical of Israel’s attacks on Palestinians in Gaza, which, according to the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees, have killed 12,300 children in the last four months compared with 12 193 children killed between 2019 and 2020 globally. As much as I care deeply for the Jewish population worldwide, and admire the efforts of Jewish peace activists, it is impossible to look away from the retaliatory attacks by Israel that amount to war crimes against the Palestinian population. However, students and professors need to be careful if they decide to protest against Israel’s actions.

In a chilling revelation, Robinson has unspooled Israel’s sinister clandestine operation against students and university professors, led by none other than Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, deploying a task force to orchestrate campaigns of shame and pressure across US universities. This insidious plan, meticulously drafted by senior government officials, seeks to silence voices critical of Israel’s atrocities by inflicting personal, financial and professional ruin upon students, faculty and administrators who dare to speak out. Under the guise of combating anti-Semitism, the Israeli government’s blueprint outlines a sinister agenda to tarnish the reputations of those advocating for Palestinian rights, rendering them pariahs in academic and professional circles. By leveraging economic leverage and wielding influence over university administrations, Israel seeks to stifle dissent and ensure compliance with its oppressive policies.

The repercussions of this campaign are, Robinson notes, already chillingly evident. University presidents have been forced to resign not for opposing Israeli war crimes, but for failing to quash Palestine solidarity movements. Professors find themselves suspended or barred from teaching for expressing solidarity with Palestinians. Off-campus, employees face retribution for daring to speak out against injustice, while artists and authors see their work censored for daring to challenge the status quo. Moreover, Israel’s assault extends beyond mere intimidation, with plans to weaponise the legal system against organisations advocating for justice in Palestine. By manipulating definitions of anti-Semitism to conflate criticism of Israel with bigotry, Robinson warns that the Israeli government seeks to criminalise legitimate dissent and silence opposition through legal persecution.

Even on campuses purportedly dedicated to diversity and inclusion, voices of solidarity with Palestine are suppressed, as seen in the indefinite closure of spaces like the Multicultural Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Such actions not only undermine academic freedom but also betray the principles of justice and equality. In the face of this onslaught, it’s imperative, claims Robinson, that we recognise the true nature of Zionism – an ideology rooted in racial nationalism and colonial oppression. Attempts to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism are not only disingenuous but also serve to perpetuate injustice and silence dissent. Now more than ever, we must stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and resist efforts to muzzle our voices. The struggle for justice in Palestine is inseparable from the broader fight for freedom and equality worldwide. As the forces of oppression escalate their attacks, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to truth, justice and the liberation of all peoples.

As global outrage mounts over Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza, the pillars of academic freedom and free speech face an unprecedented assault on American university campuses. This onslaught doesn’t merely stem from university administrations and pro-Israeli factions; shockingly, it emanates directly from the highest echelons of the Israeli government. In a narrative largely overlooked by Western media, Israeli news outlet Ynetnews exposed a clandestine campaign orchestrated by the Israeli government to coerce silence from students, faculty and administrators. Furthermore, as Robinson reports, the plan outlines strategies for the Israeli government to liaise with professional unions, pressuring them to act against ‘anti-Semitism’ and influence university leadership. This coercion has already led to the blacklisting of pro-Palestinian students by major law firms, instilling fear within universities of damaging their reputation by association with ‘anti-Semitic’ individuals. In essence, this covert campaign seeks to stifle dissent and dissenters without leaving the direct fingerprints of the Israeli state. Through intimidation and economic coercion, it aims to silence voices advocating for Palestinian rights and justice, casting a chilling shadow over academic discourse and freedom of expression on American campuses.

In striking displays of the repercussions of this strategy, the presidents of Harvard University (Claudine Gay) and the University of Pennsylvania (Elizabeth Magill) were compelled to step down in early 2024 and late 2023, respectively. However, their resignations were not prompted by their stance against the Israeli-perpetrated war crimes or their advocacy for Palestinian lives. Instead, they faced pressure due to their perceived failure to crack down sufficiently on Palestine solidarity movements within their campuses in defence of free speech. This wave of censorship has swept through universities across the United States, resulting in the dismissal of some professors.

Robinson adds that off-campus, a chilling wave of repression by corporations has targeted employees expressing opposition to the Israeli targeting of hospitals on social media. Truthout has documented instances of retaliation by law firms against employees and recruits. Furthermore, artists have seen their exhibitions cancelled simply for posting pro-Palestinian messages, and authors have had their book talks suspended for signing petitions against the genocide. Such silencing tactics have become commonplace across the nation.

Under the banner of the ‘Legal Axis,’ the Israeli government’s plan involves taking legal actions, potentially outside the bounds of conventional law, against activities and organisations deemed a threat to Jewish and Israeli students on campuses. Although the specifics of what ‘outside the law’ entails remain unspecified, Israel intends to collaborate with elements of the US Department of Justice to devise legal strategies. While Columbia University’s suspension of campus chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine garnered significant attention, similar crackdowns on pro-Palestinian activism have occurred at numerous other universities, according to Robinson.

As Robinson points out, unlike conventional lobbying groups confined to Washington, the Israel lobby exerts its influence across the entire US landscape, spanning both public and private domains. Notable organisations like the American Israeli Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) play a pivotal role, directly financing political campaigns at federal, state and local levels. In the current election cycle, AIPAC is anticipated to funnel an astonishing $100 million to sway outcomes, favouring candidates aligned with the Zionist agenda. Despite its significant influence, it’s notable that AIPAC isn’t mandated by the US government to register as a foreign government agent. As evidenced in works like We Will Not Be Silenced: The Academic Repression of Israel’s Critics, authored by Robinson and Maryam Griffin in 2017, these organisations employ various tactics to persecute dissenters. Scholars have been denied employment opportunities, tenure and promotion while facing rejection for funding and expulsion from institutions. Student organisations advocating for Palestinian rights have encountered harassment and sanctions, with individual students even facing threats of expulsion or legal prosecution.

The tactics employed by the Israel lobby constitute a chilling playbook, encompassing character assassination, selective misquotation, distortion of facts, fabrication of falsehoods and an outright disregard for truth. These tactics are often accompanied by gaslighting, blacklisting of targeted individuals and instances of political and economic blackmail. In some cases, threats of violence are even employed to intimidate dissenters. Administrators are frequently pressured or coerced into compliance, sometimes through the threat of financial donations being cut off by influential Zionist donors. Politicians are also enlisted to exert pressure on university officials, further stifling opposition. It’s worth noting that Zionist academics, administrators and politicians frequently participate in these campaigns, perpetuating the cycle of suppression.

Robinson personally experienced a relentless six-month campaign in 2009 aimed at his dismissal from the University of California at Santa Barbara. His offence? Publicly denouncing ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ a brutal 22-day assault on Gaza from late 2008 to early 2009, which resulted in the deaths and injuries of thousands of Palestinians. The then-director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, went as far as flying from Washington to Santa Barbara to meet with university officials, urging my termination. In 2014, Robinson detailed this ordeal in an exposé published by Truthout, shedding light on the campaign waged against him. The argument presented in the text emphasised the distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, asserting that criticism of the Zionist ideology and the actions of the Israeli state does not equate to hatred or prejudice against Jewish people. It suggests that conflating the two serves to silence legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and actions toward Palestine by labelling it as antisemitic.

Here are the key points of Robinson’s argument:

  1. anti-Zionism vs. antisemitism: the text argues that while antisemitism involves discrimination or prejudice against Jews, criticism of Zionism is focused on the ideology and actions of the Israeli state, not the Jewish people as a whole
  2. manipulation of antisemitism: the text suggests that pro-Israel groups manipulate accusations of antisemitism to suppress criticism of Israel, using definitions of antisemitism that include opposition to the State of Israel or comparison of its policies to those of the Nazis
  3. historical context: the text provides historical context, linking Zionism to other forms of racial nationalism such as Nazism and Manifest Destiny; it argues that Zionism, like these ideologies, promotes the concept of racially pure homelands and justifies actions such as ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism
  4. the weaponisation of trauma: it discusses how Jewish grief and memory of the Holocaust are exploited to garner support for Zionism, portraying Israel as the protector of Jews against existential threats; this narrative, according to the text, is used to justify Israeli actions, even if they involve human rights violations or genocide
  5. resistance and activism: the text calls for resistance against what it perceives as the Israeli government’s attempts to suppress criticism and control the narrative; it highlights the role of anti-Zionist Jewish organisations and activists in advocating for Palestinian rights and challenging the dominant pro-Israel narrative.

Overall, Robinson’s text presents a perspective that seeks to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israeli policies from antisemitism, arguing that conflating the two serves to undermine free speech and the struggle for justice in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Peter Hudis argues that the push by the Republican Right to eliminate critical examination of race, gender, and sexuality from school curricula, spurred by the increased social awareness catalyzed by the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, has expanded to target academics who criticise Israel. Notably, many Democrats, including liberals, have joined this effort. This alignment between Republicans aiming to stifle critical discourse and mainstream Democrats seeking to silence criticism of Zionism creates a challenging situation for liberals, who strive to avoid being perceived as indifferent to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives or as facilitating the far right’s assault on what remains of US democracy. Ironically, by accepting the notion that criticising Zionism and the oppressive policies of the Israeli state is inherently antisemitic, liberals inadvertently contribute to the suppression of legitimate discourse. It’s worth noting, according to Hudis, that the far Right’s enthusiastic support for Israel often harbours antisemitic undertones, such as the propagation of stereotypes about Jewish influence in global affairs or apocalyptic beliefs tied to Evangelical Christianity.

The convergence of these narratives demonises legitimate criticism of Israel’s actions, conflating it with antisemitism. This trend was exemplified in the ‘Take Our Border Back’ rally in Texas, where speakers propagated conspiracy theories linking Jewish organisations to immigration issues, echoing sentiments that fueled the violent antisemitic attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018. Hudis writes:

What Nazi ideologue Joseph Goebbels decried as ‘exaggerated Jewish cosmopolitanism’ is exactly what the far Right has been railing against under a different name for years – with the new wrinkle that it is now coupled with total support for an Israeli state that massacres Muslims and Palestinians while acting as US imperialism’s closest ally.

A striking example of this was the ‘Take Our Border Back’ rally in Texas on February 2, which included Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent and Christian nationalist Lara Logan as speakers. Michael Yon, a regular guest on Steven Bannon’s ‘War Room’ podcast, also addressed the crowd, stating: ‘These immigrants flooding over our border is being funded by Jewish money – Jewish, that’s right – by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, they are funding the people to come here and shout ‘Allahu Akbar.’

Robert Bowers, who murdered 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018 in the bloodiest antisemitic attack in recent US history, justified his act by expressing animus for the HIAS’s [originally the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in New York City], support for immigrant rights.

Despite the reality that the greatest threat to Jewish lives in the United States emanates from the racist far Right, Hudis maintains that certain political figures like Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and Nancy Pelosi have distorted narratives, accusing left-wing critics of Israel of antisemitism. This rhetoric only serves to reinforce the far right’s narrative and hinder constructive dialogue. While some anti-Israel sentiments may indeed be antisemitic, conflating all criticism of Israel with antisemitism overlooks the nuanced realities. It is imperative to distinguish between legitimate critiques of Israel’s policies and antisemitic rhetoric. The recent wave of protests against Israel does not inherently embody antisemitism; rather, it reflects a growing global concern for human rights and justice.

The condemnation of left-wing critics of Zionism by centrist Democrats directly feeds into the racist narrative propagated by the far Right, despite their attempts to deny it. Hudis asserts that while some entities opposed to Israel espouse antisemitic beliefs, such as the Yemeni Houthi militia with its slogan ‘Death to America, Death to Israel, a Curse Upon the Jews,’ this doesn’t justify military actions like bombing Houthi bases in Yemen. It highlights a prioritisation of economic interests over addressing Israel’s destructive actions in Gaza and the West Bank.

Additionally, some individuals on the left hold antisemitic views. Hudis points out that August Bebel famously referred to popular antisemitism as ‘the socialism of fools’ 150 years ago. It is inherently antisemitic to generalise that all Jews inherently support Zionism or that all Israelis, regardless of their individual backgrounds or political beliefs, are complicit in the actions of their government. The Marxist principle of acknowledging two distinct societal realities within a country is, Hudis notes, fiercely opposed by racists of all kinds. However, there’s no evidence to suggest that the recent surge of protests against Israel over the past four months is driven by antisemitic sentiments.

Hudis draws our attention to a recent document addressing the intertwined topics of Zionism and anti-Semitism: the Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism, drafted by figures from Jewish and Middle East studies in March 2021. This declaration was crafted in response to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s tendency to equate criticism of Israel with hatred towards Jews. Hudis makes clear that, according to the Jerusalem Declaration, it is not considered anti-Semitic to criticise or oppose Zionism as a form of nationalism. Additionally, it asserts that supporting arrangements that ensure full equality for all inhabitants ‘between the river and the sea’ is not inherently anti-Semitic, regardless of whether these arrangements manifest in two states, a binational state, unitary democratic state, federal state or any other form. Furthermore, the Declaration emphasises that criticising Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza, its regional role, or any other influence it wields globally does not constitute anti-Semitism. It explicitly mentions that pointing out Israel’s systematic racial discrimination against Palestinians is not anti-Semitic either. Moreover, the Declaration clarifies that criticism, even if deemed excessive or contentious, or perceived as reflecting a double standard, does not inherently qualify as anti-Semitic.

Hudis also addresses the practice of double standards that is pervasive among apologists for bourgeois society. Examples include the United States and the European Union’s differential treatment of Ukraine’s resistance to Russian imperialism compared to Palestine’s struggle against Israeli imperialism. Similarly, conservatives and liberals often decry human rights abuses in certain countries like China, Venezuela, or Myanmar, while turning a blind eye to crimes committed by US-allied regimes such as Saudi Arabia, India or Guatemala. This politics of double standards is not limited to one side of the political spectrum; it also characterises segments of the left. For instance, while condemning Israel’s actions against Palestine, they may remain silent on atrocities committed by other regimes. Hudis uses the examples of the Syrian regime’s killing of civilians in Aleppo or Russia’s ethnic cleansing in Mariupol, Ukraine.

I disagree with many US leftists who refuse to condemn Hamas because Hamas is viewed as an oppressed group. In their view, Israelis cannot plead self-defence if they are historically viewed as oppressors. Oppressors can’t defend their oppression of others if those ‘others’ attempt to resist. The leftist position goes something like this: Because Israelis have oppressed the Palestinians since the Nakba in 1948, and, since capturing Gaza during the Six-Day War in 1967, and have forced Gazans to endure life under what has been described as apartheid and open-air prison conditions, the Israelis cannot claim to be defending themselves when attacked by Hamas, a group whom these leftists view as attempting valiantly to resist the oppressive conditions imposed on them by Israel. Those who refuse to condemn Hamas do so, apparently, because they don’t want Israel and Hamas to be seen as equivalent entities. Israel is the oppressor, and Hamas is the oppressed. Period. I agree that Hamas and Israel are not equivalent in blame, but, to my mind, this position is untenable overall because taking such a position denies that Hamas is a reactionary, Islamist organisation, that it committed crimes against humanity on 10/7, and that it has never tried to ally with progressive elements among the masses in the Arab world. That said, they are not equally guilty partners. The International Court of Justice’s verdict acknowledged the credible possibility that Israel’s actions could constitute genocide. Very likely there are Hamas members who would like to perpetrate genocide on the Israeli people, but they do not have the military capacity to do so. In any case, there is no excuse, in my mind, that Hamas should escape condemnation. Once Hamas intentionally carried out acts of barbaric violence against innocent Israelis, including children and infants, they lost any moral credibility as resistance fighters; In fact, I would not dignify them with that term since what they did constitutes a war crime, a crime against humanity. One could say that their attack was understandable, given the historical conditions endured by Gazans under Israel’s iron fist, but it would be egregious to call them resistance fighters or support them. What they did must be condemned. Combatants in wars can only attack enemy combatants and military targets, not civilians and civilian objects. Indiscriminate attacks that fail to distinguish between combatants and civilians are forbidden and constitute war crimes.

But the strategies and tactics of Israel must be more vehemently criticised because they have the power to inflict more devastation on Hamas and have chosen to exercise it, knowing that thousands of children will die in the onslaught. They are willing to sacrifice hundreds of innocent lives in order to kill one Hamas militant. Defenders of Israel point to the carpet bombing of German cities during WWII as a tactic that helped hasten the end of the war. Israel’s ‘mowing the grass’ bombing strategy is justified, they claim, citing the ‘area bombing’ campaign during World War II. This tactic was developed by the head of RAF Bomber Command, Arthur Harris (commonly referred to as ‘Bomber’ Harris), during the height of the Anglo-American strategic bombing campaign against Nazi Germany in World War II. As I mentioned in a previous article, there was considerable controversy after the war about Harris’s use of ‘area bombing.’ Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother unveiled a statue of Harris outside the RAF Church of St Clement Danes, London, in 1992, and was jeered at by protesters who considered Harris a war criminal. Not a single member of the cabinet attended the unveiling. The statue was often vandalised and had to be kept under 24-hour guard for months. During World War II, the US and the Nazis also area bombed (known as ‘carpet bombing’) both military and industrial sites along with schools, churches and homes. The US also used carpet bombing during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. There were huge protests throughout the US against carpet bombing during the Vietnam War and during the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign that opened the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yes, ugly events happen during war. But this is no excuse for what the IDF refers to as ‘mowing the grass.’

When examining the war between Israel and Hamas, I take a ‘both/and’ approach rather than an ‘either/or’ approach. Both Israel and Hamas are to be criticised for their actions. Israel bears the most responsibility for inflicting violence, given its destructive power as a military force, and its willingness to accept civilian casualties. Nemat ‘Minouche’ Shafik, Shafik and David M. Schizer, the dean of the Columbia University Law School and co-chair of the university’s task force combatting antisemitism, define antisemitism as follows: ‘It’s bias against Jewish people, which can manifest as ethnic slurs, stereotyping, Holocaust denial, double standards as applies to Israel, and antisemitic tropes.’ This is a reasonable definition. If the International Criminal Court can condemn Israel, then it seems reasonable that students ought to be able to criticise Israel for its treatment of Palestinians and the conduct of its wars without being labelled antisemitic, should they refrain from antisemitism so defined.

Critics of both Israel and Hamas should take into account international humanitarian law (IHL), the legal framework governing armed conflicts and military occupations, particularly in the context of the ongoing hostilities involving Israel and Palestinian armed groups. It becomes increasingly crucial to delve into the precise legal definitions of terms such as ‘war crimes’ and comprehend their implications within the realm of law. IHL, also known as the laws of war, has a rich historical lineage, with its modern incarnation delineated in the Geneva Conventions of 1949, alongside other pertinent treaties and customary international law. Clive Baldwin notes that this body of law binds not only states like Israel but also non-state armed groups such as Hamas, despite their inability to formally ratify these treaties. Crucially, the principles of IHL are non-reciprocal, meaning they are applicable irrespective of the actions of opposing parties. Violations, including the deliberate targeting of civilians or the imposition of collective punishment, can, argues Baldwin, never be justified by referencing alleged violations committed by the other side or invoking power imbalances or other injustices.

The laws of war are specifically applicable during armed conflicts or occupations, distinct from other legal frameworks such as international human rights law, which governs state responsibilities to protect individuals’ rights at all times. International humanitarian law dictates the conduct of hostilities and mandates compliance from all parties, regardless of the legality of their decision to use force. Moreover, IHL extends its jurisdiction to situations of occupation, requiring occupying powers to ensure the humane treatment of the population under their control and provide for their basic needs, including access to food and medical care. Regardless of any claims to annexation, an occupying state does not acquire sovereignty over the occupied territory under IHL.

Fundamentally, the cornerstone of international humanitarian law in conflict situations is the imperative to distinguish, at all times, between combatants and civilians. This is crucial. Civilians and civilian objects must never be the target of attack, with parties obliged to undertake all feasible precautions to minimise harm to non-combatants and their property. Additionally, under IHL, individuals detained during conflicts, such as prisoners of war, must be treated humanely, and practices such as taking hostages or using people as ‘human shields’ are strictly prohibited. Moreover, notes Baldwin, parties to conflicts are obligated to provide effective advance warning in the event of attacks that may impact civilian populations, although the efficacy of such warnings depends on the circumstances.

Importantly, as Baldwin points out, the issuance of warnings does not absolve parties from their responsibility to protect civilians, who must not be targeted under any circumstances. Even if civilians fail to evacuate following warnings, they remain entitled to protection, and attackers are mandated to undertake all feasible measures to safeguard their lives and well-being. Any statements or actions intended to instil fear and terror among civilian populations are expressly forbidden under international humanitarian law.

Since 1967, Israel has maintained control over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, collectively recognised as the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Despite Israel’s assertion, its withdrawal of ground forces from Gaza in 2005 did not signify the end of occupation. Instead, as Baldwin points out, Israel has retained significant control over Gaza, encompassing territorial waters, airspace, the movement of people and goods (barring the border with Egypt), and crucial infrastructure, effectively confining the region like an open-air prison. According to International Humanitarian Law (IHL), as the occupying power, Israel is obligated to ensure the basic needs of Gaza’s population, including provisions for food and water. Moreover, International Human Rights Law underscores Israel’s legal responsibilities towards the OPT’s inhabitants, considering the prolonged duration of occupation.

Furthermore, while other governing bodies within the Palestinian territories may wield authority over segments of the population, their responsibilities to safeguard human rights do not absolve Israel of its duties as the occupying power. War crimes are egregious transgressions against the laws of war perpetrated by individuals with malicious intent, whether deliberate or reckless. Such acts encompass intentional attacks on civilians, the taking of hostages, and the imposition of collective punishment.

Attacks targeting civilians or displaying indiscriminate violence, not only breach the laws of war but, when executed with criminal intent, amount to war crimes. Those who perpetrate war crimes, along with those who order, aid, or abet them, bear criminal responsibility. Baldwin notes that commanders and civilian leaders may also be held accountable under the doctrine of command responsibility if they were aware or should have been aware of crimes committed by subordinates and failed to prevent or punish them adequately.

The deliberate killing of Israeli civilians, along with the abduction of hundreds as hostages by armed groups, constitutes war crimes, as does the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israeli communities. According to the Israeli government, approximately 1,400 Israelis have lost their lives since October 7th. Meanwhile, Israel’s relentless bombardment of the densely populated Gaza Strip, home to 2.3 million people, has resulted in the deaths of over 7,000 Palestinians, including nearly 3,000 children, as reported by the Gaza Health Ministry. In some instances, entire blocks and significant portions of neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble by bombs. Baldwin has reported that Israeli forces have employed white phosphorus – a substance that ignites upon contact with oxygen – on densely populated areas, causing horrific and severe burns. White phosphorus burns can penetrate to the bone, and burns covering just 10% of the body are often fatal.

Furthermore, Israel has imposed collective punishment on Gaza’s population by cutting off essential resources such as food, water, electricity, and fuel, constituting a war crime. Similarly, the deliberate obstruction of humanitarian aid to civilians in need is another war crime. Previous instances of hostilities, including those in 2021, have seen serious violations of the laws of war by both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups, as documented by Human Rights Watch.

Concerns also arise regarding Israel’s directives leading to the displacement of a significant portion of Gaza’s civilian population, a measure permissible only if necessary for civilian security or due to imperative military reasons. It is imperative that the displaced population be allowed to return promptly, as permanent displacement constitutes a crime. Additionally, asserts Baldwin, the Israeli occupying authorities have perpetrated and continue to perpetrate other international crimes, notably with West Bank settlements. The transfer of civilian populations into occupied territories, whether directly or indirectly facilitated by the occupying power, constitutes a war crime. Human Rights Watch, among other rights organisations, has found evidence of Israeli authorities committing crimes against humanity, including apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians. The systematic oppression of Gaza’s populace forms part of these ongoing crimes.

Accountability for international crimes is essential. The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague holds jurisdiction over war crimes and other serious international offences committed within or originating from the OPT, recognised as the territory of the State of Palestine, an ICC member state, and by Palestinian nationals. Hamas violates international law by embedding military personnel and assets in densely populated areas. These actions create moral and strategic dilemmas for Israel to be sure. There is also an ideological and information war in progress. Hamas adeptly exploits civilian casualties in Gaza – whether resulting from its own actions or those of the IDF – to fuel international criticism of Israel. Through a carefully orchestrated media campaign that leverages standard progressive talking points (such as ‘liberation from settler colonialism’ and similar slogans), Hamas portrays Israel as the aggressor, conveniently overlooking its own legal violations and genocidal intent. In doing so, Hamas not only elicits sympathy but also deflects attention from its own wrongdoing. Israel accuses Hamas of weaponising international law.

Brian Resnick points to a certain moment of journalistic reporting by Yuval Abraham that for many, revealed the Israel-Hamas war to be so maximalist and open-ended that it has become ‘an era-defining catastrophe.’ Zack Beauchamp recalls Abraham’s terrifying report that shocked the world:

At the end of November, Israeli reporter Yuval Abraham broke one of the most important stories of the war in Gaza to date – an inside look at the disturbing reasoning that has led the Israeli military to kill so many civilians.

Citing conversations with ‘seven current and former members of Israel’s intelligence community,’ Abraham reported that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had changed its doctrine to permit far greater civilian casualties than it would have tolerated in previous wars. IDF leadership was greenlighting strikes on civilian targets like apartment buildings and public infrastructure that they knew would kill scores of innocent Gazans. ‘In one case,’ Abraham reported, ‘the Israeli military command knowingly approved the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in an attempt to assassinate a single top Hamas military commander.’

Abraham’s reporting showed, in granular detail, the ways that this war would not be like others: that Israel, so grievously wounded by Hamas on October 7, would go to extraordinarily violent lengths to destroy the group responsible for that day’s atrocities. In doing so, it would commit atrocities of its own.

According to Beauchamp: ‘By inflicting mass suffering on Palestinians without a long-term plan for addressing the political consequences of their misery, Israel is playing right into Hamas’s hands. The current Israeli approach is less likely to destroy the militant group than to strengthen it.’

The Biden administration has remained shamefully silent on Israel’s shift towards extremism and has all but ignored the current debates in Israel surrounding fascism. Biden needs to understand that fascism is not the personality trait of one leader but an ideology that traffics in violence, racism, xenophobia and hatred of the other. It is what drives Netanyahu and other far-right Israeli politicians to want to create a Jewish state dominating both sides of the Jordan River, even if it means supporting fascist-religious parties Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism. It is embedded in the violent religious anti-Zionism and antisemitism of Hamas, cruelly evident in its Al Aqsa Flood October 7 torture and massacre of Israeli families. It is what drives Trump to desire reelection for the sake of self-aggrandisement, personal vanity and political vengeance. Post-truth anti-intellectualism, the neo-fascist wing of the Republican Party, a social media enterprise that functions on emotionality, rage and outrage, the conflation of socialism and the ‘state capitalist’ communism of the Stalinist era, vicious attacks on the teaching profession and LGBTQQIP2SAA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit [2S], androgynous and asexual) communities, climate change denial, the cultivation of an ethno-nationalist-America-First-and-Make-America-Great-Again-zeitgeist that translates into little more than Make Fascism Respectable Again, is simply serving the greed, avarice and militarism of the so-called ‘free enterprise system’ that powers the engines of US democracy. We need the educators and the peacemakers before the world is set on fire.

The best we can hope for when pondering the future of fascism is that it rots before it can do more harm and that its legacy gets exhumed, once and for all, like dictator Franco’s decomposing body, removed from its resting place beneath a three-thousand-pound slab of granite inside its grand prison-labour-built monument, a neoclassical basilica built of granite, festooned with fascist insignia, set eight hundred feet into the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, in a valley of pines on the outskirts of Madrid known as the Valley of the Fallen – and then dumped in a municipal cemetery. We don’t want to end up like the good people who failed to stop another monstrous dictatorship. Franco kept the mummified right hand of St Teresa of Avila at his bedside as a talisman, under the coverlet of his pillow, next to the alarm clock. Can you imagine the frail Generalissimo, in his final hours, frantically waving his hand at encroaching demons, ready to carry off his soul?

Could the conflagration that besets Israel and Palestine finally bring us to realise that ecumenism is an existential necessity for both survival and transcendence? We are counterintuitively confronted by abstractions pertaining to knowledge about God, whether we are Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or belong to other religious affiliations. Perhaps at this historical inflection point, where the world teeters on atomic algorithms of mutual self-destruction, we don’t so much need to find the light of God, but, rather, we need to enter more deeply and fully into God’s darkness. As Denys Turner contends, following in the steps of Thomas Aquinas, arguments for the existence of God don’t help us understand what God is, since we can only know God by what God is not. The God that reason can prove to exist is always already contained within the limits of the reason that constructs the proof of God. A God of the proofs is simply not God at all. And reason invariably leads us to such a conclusion. A God that can be proved rationally is no God. Reason, in this sense, is not a finite circle but a spiral, perhaps even a double helix, but without a beginning or end. Reason opens up the incomprehensible, and it is that incomprehensible something that we know to be God. Insofar as reason breaks into the mystery of the Godhead, it can point where God is present in its absence.

In this way, God becomes an absent presence, unavailable to reason yet not entirely without attributes. If we can know God better by faith than reason, then that is at least something that we can attribute to God. We are irrevocably calibrated to our environment, to our ecosystem, to a particular ecology of meaning, or epistemic habitat or logos – a recursive, structured reflection – and that presents limits on what we can or cannot know in relation to God. Perhaps the only way to know something about God is to participate in the mystery of God, to discover various manners of knowing God. But, ultimately, we are confronting a mystery. As Turner notes:

The French Catholic existentialist Gabriel Marcel once said that one should never confuse a mystery with a problem. A problem asks for a solution, a solution that resolves the problem; and if you are bright enough, or conduct enough research, or consult those who know, you will find the solution to it, like the solution to a quadratic equation: once solved, the problem is laid to rest. But mysteries do not yield to investigation, argument, proof or categorisation. Mysteries can never be solved. They cannot be gotten to go away. Indeed, the deeper you enter into a mystery, the deeper the mystery gets. The gap between where you are with it and where the mystery lies never decreases, it only ever increases; nor can you think your way out of a mystery, for to do so is to reduce the mystery to the standing of a problem. But if you cannot think your way out of a mystery you can pray your way into one. Indeed, prayer is the only way there is into a mystery. Before a true mystery, the mind can only give way. You can’t crack it, you can only surrender to it and the mind boggles – you bow before it and you say, humbly, ‘Amen.’

How various peoples who have been antagonists for so many years will live in peace is not a formula that is to be arrived at by politicians or diplomats. It is to enter into an everyday dance with the darkness of God and surrender to its mystery without assuming that surrender is some kind of epistemic cowardice or disobedience to a commitment to truth. Religious triumphalism can only lead to worldly desire, to an epistemic intolerance of others, to our desire for the desire of the Other. It is only in our humility before the darkness of God that we hear the whispers of a different narrative, an ecumenical, interfaith and interreligious narrative that speaks of unity in our differences, one embodying resilience, freedom and the pursuit of a more perfect union. One that can rehumanise the global commons. One that can stretch across the centuries.

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McLaren, P. (2023). Fearful Symmetry in Israel and Palestine (Part 3): Finding a Just Peace Somewhere in the Faultlines of Seismic Despair. PESA Agora. https://pesaagora.com/columns/fearful-symmetry-in-israel-and-palestine-3/

Peter McLaren

Peter McLaren is Emeritus Professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. From 2013-2023 he served as Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Co-Director and International Ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice, The Paulo Freire Democratic Project, Attallah College of Educational Studies, Chapman University, USA.