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The Left, Israel and the “Holocaust” in Gaza

[This article also appears on Harry's Place.]

Israel's offensive against Hamas in Gaza has triggered the expected response on the international Left. In a 1,500 strong protest yesterday at the Israeli embassy in London, protestors carried signs referring to the “Holocaust” in Gaza. Emails racing around the net talk of “genocide”. The mainstream media speak of an Israeli “blitz”. Some editorial writer somewhere has surely already used the expression “final solution” to describe what Israel is trying to do.

Soon they will run out of the well-worn analogies to Hitler, and then what? Will someone compare what Israel is doing to other mass slaughters?

Let's see – an effective one might be to compare it to that much larger massacre of Muslims, the one that took place back in 1982. Ten thousand dead, maybe double that number.

I'm referring to Hafez al-Assad's slaughter of his Muslim Brotherhood opponents in Hama. You will be forgiven if you thought I was referring to something Israel did in Lebanon.

No, the Left will probably not use Hama in its slogans. It would cause confusion to carry banners reading “No More Hamas!” That might be misunderstood.

If you compare Israel's offensive against the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood to what Arab countries have done in similar situations, you'll immediately grasp that Israel is at the bottom of the league table when it comes to massacres.

The Algerian and Egyptian armies, for example, wouldn't blink at the numbers being killed in Gaza.

In their wars against Islamist extremists, they've killed many more. In the first decade of the recent civil war in Algeria, it's estimated that 160,000 people were killed.

Does anyone remember violent protests by the Left at the Algerian embassy in London? Or banners comparing the Algerian leaders to Nazis? Or the term “Holocaust” used to describe what was going on?

Critics of Israel moan and complain that Israel is trying to overthrow a democratically elected government of a neighboring country. But the Algerian army was doing something even worse: it was trying to keep from power the democratically elected rulers of its own country.

The difference between Israel and what Assad did in Hama or what the Algerian army did for a decade against the Armed Islamic Group, is not in the victims. The hundreds of dead Hamas fighters and those killed by Assad were surely brothers in arms. It's not because of any particular sympathy for Islamic fundamentalism that secular Leftists in places like London come out into the streets.

It's not the victims – no one cares about the victims. It's who's doing the killing that matters.

What infuriates much of the Left is that Israel is using a tiny fraction of its military power to try to restrain its enemy from firing rockets against Israeli civilians.

I should emphasize that phrase: a tiny fraction of its military power.

If Israel were really trying to kill as many Palestinians as it could, were really aiming at genocide, there wouldn't be 300 dead. The numbers would be far higher – on the scale of the slaughters carried by Assad in Syria, or the Algerian generals, or even that darling of the Left, Saddam Hussein.

What the Left objects to here is not the numbers dead – even one dead Hamas fighter enrages them. And 10,000 dead Islamists in Syria aren't even worth mentioning, not even for the sake of an analogy. The Left objects to Israel, in principle, doing anything at all to defend itself.

Ask any of the demonstrators what it is exactly that Israel should do to defend itself from the incessant rocket fire from Gaza and you won't get any practical sugestions. You might get blank stares. The more articulate ones will tell you that you have to solve the root problem. The problem being occupation.

Of course there's a difference between what the mainstream, moderate Left in the West means when they say “occupation” and what Hamas means.

A Hamas spokesman appearing on the BBC on the first day of the offensive explained that the Palestinian people had the right to defend itself, having lived under occupation these past sixty years.

Let's ignore for the moment the fact that Israel withdrew all its settlements and all its soldiers from Gaza in 2005. Though you really have to ignore that to understand how the Gazans have been struggling against “occupation”.

Instead, let's focus on how long the occupation has been going on. From June 1967 until today, the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, plus residents of the Golan Heights and earlier on, Sinai, lived under Israeli occupation.

But that's forty-one years. Not sixty years. Sixty years means that the “occupation” refers to the existence of Israel itself.

Even under ferocious aerial bombardment, the Hamas regime tottering, its leaders still think that the very existence of Israel is the problem.

Defenders of Israel like to point out that Hamas, unlike the PLO, has never changed its fundamental belief in the need for the destruction of Israel. There are probably more references to the Hamas Charter in pro-Israel publications than in those produced by its own supporters.

That charter says “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it”. That's not an obscure phrase buried deep inside the document, dug up by scholars. It's not an after-thought or an amendment. That's paragraph two of the Hamas charter.

And if you think that Hamas doesn't really mean this, or forgot it, or has changed its views in the twenty years since the charter was written, listen again to the Hamas spokesman when he talks about “sixty years” of occupation.

That's not a slip of the tongue. That's a core belief of the Islamists.

The mainstream, moderate Left is not nearly so critical of Israel. Unlike the hysterical anti-Israel demonstrators with their banners about the “Holocaust” in Gaza, this Left is mostly concerned about “proportionality”.

You can see where that wouldn't be an easy thing to put on banners or to chant, which is why you don't see demonstrations on this theme. You won't hear about a “Coalition to Stop the Disporportionate Use of Force by Israel”. No one is chanting “Israel has a right to defend itself of course, but that response must be proportionate and limited”. Not very catchy, is it?

The notion of proportionality is so divorced from the real world that it must have come from somewhere in academia – or theology. Or both.

Let's return to London, for example. It's 1944 and the city is once again facing a blitz. (A real “blitz” -- not an Israeli blitz.)

This time, German bombers can't make it through, but Hitler's scientists have managed to make rockets with warheads that are relatively ineffective, cannot cause all that much damage, but it's all they can do. Germany is losing the war, the Allies have air superiority, and all that the Germans can do is fire the V-1 missiles at London.

About 10,000 of them were fired and a fourth of those reached London. You'd think that the impact of 2,400 rockets hitting a densely populated urban area would be devastating. But they actually killed just over 6,000 people.

That's a terrible number – 6,000 innocent lives lost.

But that's an afternoon's work for the Assad family in Syria. Saddam killed nearly as many in one poison gas attack on one town, Halabja.

The Nazis were firing the one weapon they had that could reach England, that could cause their enemy pain, and that weapon was ineffective because the Germans were already weak and were losing the war.

What would have been a proportionate Allied response?

It's not just a silly question – it's insane. It was the middle of world war. During such a war, you don't ask if this or that enemy attack warrants this or that response.

There was no Allied response to the ineffective V-1 rocket attacks. Instead, Allied forces went on to crush the Nazis and win the war.

And certainly in the last year of that war, many, many more Germans died than died in England. And many of those dead Germans were innocent civilians, victims of a terrible tragedy unleased upon the world by their own leaders.

If there is an analogy to be made to the second world war here, it's not the usual Leftist view of Jews turned into Nazis, inflicting genocide on weak and innocent Palestinians.

A more accurate analogy is the ferocious Allied assault on German in the final months of the war when the Germans were much weakened.

The Qassam missiles are Hamas' V-1 rockets. The Israeli Air Force is the RAF.

Israel is defending itself against an uncompromising fascist enemy, and while it is entirely legitimate to debate its tactics and to insist that it make the utmost effort to spare civilian lives, a decent Left should have no difficulty to say which side it is on.


The current fighting can be compared to the internal Palestinian fighting when Hamas carried out its coup in Gaza.

In one week of fighting in June 2007, according to the Palestinian Committee on Human Rights

"This latest round of fighting took the lives of 161 Palestinians, including 41 civilians. This figure includes 7 children and 11 women. Additionally, at least 700 Palestinians were wounded."

Dear Eric ,

I wholeheartedly agree with Your article in defence of Israel - The Left should be be supporting Israel in this war .

It's great to know that there are still some Socialists that consistantly stand up for Democracy - Thankyou for everything that You do to to organise Solidarity for Trade Unionists & The People's of The Free World .

Fraternally ,

Ian .

I wonder sometimes if it is not best to put oneself in Israel's position before condemning their actions in Gaza. Ask, yourself first, what would you do if you were confronted with rockets raining on civilian households day and night -- from neighboring peoples hell bent on your destruction. Ah to be able to see the world from a sky raining missiles rather then an armchair.

There is no excuse for war crimes!

Fellow Worker Lee,

I wanted to start off by saying that I am a regular reader of your column in the Industrial Worker and a frequent visitor to LabourStart. I am dismayed that you are defending the indefensible actions of the Israeli military, rather than aknowledging the human rights catastrophe of F-16s dropping tons of explosives onto the most densely populated place on earth. Gaza is a ghetto in the classical sense, home to some 800,000 children. What Israel is doing is collective punishment, which is a war crime.

This most recent pre-election massacre isn't about Hamas or quassam attacks. It is about winning an election and reinflating the shamed ego of the Israeli military which was defeated in Lebanon in 2006.

The occupation of Gaza never ended - Gazans have been suffering under a brutal, almost total shut off of water, fuel, food, and medicine since Sharon's "disengagement." FW Lee's clumsy attempts to tear down leftist straw men, as well as his strained historical comparisons fall on their face. Gazans are not Nazis or Germans. Israelis aren't the British being bombed in WW2.

I am curious, why do you feel the need to defend Israel's blatent violations of international law? What is next, an editorial condemning Israeli draft resistors?

As an American Jew, as a former Zionist, and as an industrial unionist, I have been silent for too long. I can't be silent in the face of this latest conflict, which is not a war, but is a massacre.

I urge all unionists to educate themselves about the situation and to have the moral courage to stand against the war crimes being perpetrated by Israel.

An excellent article! How refreshing to know that there is someone in the socialist camp who truly understands the situation and is not blinded by puerile rhetoric.
Israel goes to extreme lengths to try to avoid civilian casualties, often at the expense of its own soldier's safety.During this operation it has been warning the citizens of Gaza of forthcoming air strikes by telephone and leaflets dropped from the air. If Israel was trying to "massacre" the people of Gaza it wouldn't bother to try to warn them to take cover and in all honesty could have done it on the first day. Israel is not at war with the people of Gaza - it is at war with a terrorist organisation which has disturbingly little concern for its own people's welfare and safety.
Let us all hope that both the Israeli and Palestinian people will be able to find peace and prosperity in this coming year.

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Dear Eric, excellent article! (But I wouldn’t expect less from you…).
What dismays me, however, are people the likes of your fellow worker, Clayton Levine, who just NEVER LET THE FACTS CONFUSE THEM!

I am in full agreement with the article Eric has written and would dearly love for him to send a copy to Mr George Galloway M.P. a lifelong anti zionist and Israel basher who has a radio show on Talk Sport 1107 am . His pro palastinian diatribe is delivered frequently on his show. Ideally if Eric could phone in one weekend and shut him up this would be an absolute pleasure. Keep up the good work

Dear Eric please forward your article to George Galloway on Face book