Saturday, December 2, 2023

No Respect: Bernie, Gaza, and Liberal Zionism

No Respect: Bernie, Gaza, and Liberal Zionism

Jim Kavanagh

After Israeli strikes on houses in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, November 1, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Al-Masri/File photo 

With a New York Times op-ed on November 22nd, Bernie Sanders chimed in with his take on what’s happening in Gaza right now, and what must be done to “balance our desire to stop the fighting with the need to address the roots of the conflict.” It’s worth examining his piece as an example of the liberal-Zionist framework of thought, which begins with the assumption that Zionism is a necessary and virtuous project that "we" must support and that takes priority over everything else in the context, including the lives of Palestinians, and ends—after conjuring a happily-ever-after version of Zionism that pleases the minds and consciences of Western liberals like himself—right where it started.

Bernie begins by insisting that “we must first be cleareyed about facts” and immediately recounts the facts he finds relevant thusly:

On Oct. 7, Hamas, a terrorist organization, unleashed a barbaric attack against Israel, killing about 1,200 innocent men, women and children and taking more than 200 hostage.

Unfortunately, Bernie’s account of root facts is tendentious and factually incorrect. It does not “address” but obscures “the roots of the conflict,” by starting “On Oct. 7.” It is not clear-eyed but tendentious in trying to pass off as fact the characterization of Hamas as “a terrorist organization.”

Bernie’s use of “terrorist” here echoes the hypocrisy of all Western mainstream politicians and media, and it’s worth delving into.

Reign of “Terror”

Of course, “terrorist” is a terrible word, almost always used dishonestly—and Bernie knows it.  Even Ronald Reagan knew that “One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.” Insofar as it can be used factually, the word “terrorism” denotes a tactic used sporadically by virtually every state army and armed resistance group in history.

Those who support a group’s objective never dismissively use “terrorism” to describe its actions, let alone to condemn the group. They accept such tactics as unfortunate and morally problematic, but non-dispositive, elements of a legitimate struggle. On the other hand, when a group whose objective they oppose uses the same tactics, they insist that group must be condemned and eliminated. It’s never the tactic, always the objective, that’s the deal-breaker, the thing that determines when and how “terrorism” will be used.

Nobody had more contempt for this hypocrisy than the proudly self-identified “terrorists” who were the vanguard fighting founders and, latterly, Prime Ministers, of the Zionist state—like Menachem Begin, who embraced the title of ”Father of terrorism in all the world,” and Yitzhak Shamir, who wrote an article forthrightly entitled “Terror,” saying:

Neither Jewish morality nor Jewish tradition can be used to disallow terror as a means of war…We are very far from any moral hesitations when concerned with the national struggle….First and foremost, terror is for us a part of the political war appropriate for the circumstances of today, and its task is a major one: it demonstrates in the clearest language, heard throughout the world including by our unfortunate brethren outside the gates of this country, our war against the occupier.

Despite the West's cartoon villainization of Hamas, it cannot be dismissed as some “terrorist” gang. Hamas is an anti-colonial resistance movement with political and armed wings, like the ANC in South Africa or the IRA/Sinn Fein in Ireland. Indeed, in a contrary sense, like the Zionist movement, which was a comprehensive political movement that included “terrorist” tactics as it deemed necessary for its struggle to dislodge and replace the British as the “occupier” of Palestine. Every person in the world—including Bernie Sanders, who knows all this—who accepts and defends the result—Israel—is, precisely, accepting Zionist “terrorism” as an unfortunate and morally problematic, but non-dispositive, element of what they consider the fundamentally important struggle for a Jewish state.

Those of us who recognize that Hamas’s action on Oct. 7th—however morally problematic—changed the course of history in favor of the fundamentally important cause of Palestinian liberation from colonial rule will not brook any moral posturing about “terrorism” from those who support the much worse actions that enabled and enable that colonial rule. Even less will we brook passing off that posturing as fact. However liberal Zionists like Bernie want to fool themselves into believing otherwise, it’s not Hamas’s tactics, but the cause it fights for, that they oppose.

Bernie’s description of Hamas’s October 7th attack as “barbaric” is also a characterization, not a fact. Whether it’s a clear-eyed or befogged characterization will, for many, depend on the accuracy of Bernie’s assertion that it “kill[ed] about 1,200 innocent men, women and children.”

“Innocent” is, again, not a clear-eyed, unambiguous fact. For the sake of present and future judgement of all military actions by all parties, can Bernie clarify whether the word applies equally to the “more than 350 troops, police, and security personnel” killed as to the other men, women, and children? According to the Israeli government, “Israeli soldiers and civilians killed about 1,500 attackers that day” [my emphasis].

That’s right, bet you didn’t know that more Hamas fighters than Israelis were killed on October 7th. Partly because, as Scott Ritter describes, “armed security teams of several Kibbutzes—drawn from the so-called ‘civilian’ residents…were able to mobilize [and] repel the Hamas attackers. The reality is that every Kibbutz had to be treated by Hamas as an armed encampment, and as such assaulted as if it were a military objective, for the simple fact that they were—all of them.”

So, it’s clear that, including armed civilians, more than 350 of the 1200 people killed were fighting. Nothing wrong with that; it’s just that they might not be considered as “innocent,” and their deaths as “barbaric,” as if they were slaughtered while sleeping in their beds.

Bernie is picking up the “barbaric,” “terrorist” language introduced by Israel to promote the diversionary narrative that the Hamas operation was not an act of anti-colonial resistance, but a politically and militarily senseless rampage motivated by nothing but the desire to kill Jews. But, as Ritter says: “what happened on October 7 was not a terrorist attack, but a military raid”—for him, “the most successful military raid of this century.”

Hamas breached Israel’s “Iron Wall” in 29 places, took out observation and communications infrastructure, fought and defeated “two battalions of the Golani Brigade [and] other vaunted IDF units,” penetrated at least three military installations, including the “headquarters of the Gaza Division, the local intelligence hub, and other major command and control facilities with brutal precision,” and seized and destroyed tanks and other military vehicles.

Hamas’s purpose was not to kill Jews; it was to demonstrate its power to fight the IDF successfully, to forcefully reassert Palestinians’ presence on the world stage, and to take hostages to exchange for some of the thousands of Palestinians that Israel has held in indefinite administrative detention.

The Hamas operation was a successful attack on the military apparatus of Zionist colonialism that has been imprisoning Gazans in what, in 2004, Giora Eiland, then head of Israel’s National Security Council, called "a huge concentration camp." In response to the Hamas breakout after 19 years living in that concentration camp, Eland now advocatesshut[ting] down everything that happens economically in Gaza. Goods and gas, fuel and electricity and water and food… the only way is to create a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza.” “Barbaric,” Bernie?

We also know, it’s a clear-eyed fact, that Hamas did not kill all those 1,200 people (if that’s the final number). An unknown number of them were killed by Israeli helicopter and tank fire, per the Hannibal Directive, “which dictates that Israelis taken captive should be killed by the military rather than left in the hands of Palestinian militants.” As Israeli pilot Col. Nof Erez says: “Hannibal Directive was probably deployed because once you detect a hostage situation, this is Hannibal…What we saw here was a mass Hannibal.” The kind and extent of damage—explosively burnt-down homes and hundreds of burnt-out cars—confirms this.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev has told us that at least 200 burned bodies initially identified as Israelis were in fact Hamas fighters. These fighters were burned along with Israelis in sites that were demolished with powerful and incendiary weapons that Hamas fighters did not carry with them on October 7th to immolate themselves with. It’s not AK-47s and RPGs, but Hellfire missiles that do that kind of damage.

Indeed, Israeli police have acknowledged that “helicopter pilots killed Israelis at or near the Nova music festival [and] an Israeli tank killed 12 Israelis in just one home in Kibbutz Be'eri,” including 12-year-old Liel Hatsroni. Israel used its false claim that Hamas murdered Liel, which the world’s media accepted, to rile up a global campaign supporting ruthless revenge against the “terrorists.” Liel and 9-year-old Emily Hand, whom Israeli also falsely announced Hamas had killed, but who was returned home by Hamas alive and well (after her father said her "death was a blessing" because it was better than her being taken hostage), were used by the Israeli government to promote the narrative of Hamas “barbarism” that Bernie repeats.

Bernie can judge Hamas’s actions any way he wants. He can ignore “the roots of the conflict” and construe all the armed fighters as “innocent” as babes in their cribs, and all the Israelis burnt in their homes by IDF missiles as the victims of Hamas “barbarism,” on the grounds that Hamas launched this attack. He can do this honestly as long as he: 1) Obeys his own admonition to “first be cleareyed about facts”—including the fact that Hamas did not kill those children, did not behead 40 babies, did not bake a baby in an over, etc., 2) Acknowledges that the Israeli version of events was carelessly or deliberately false, precisely and emphatically on those elements most useful to establish Hamas’s “barbarism”; 3) Acknowledges the clear-eyed fact that the IDF killed some unknown number of the 1200 (at most 850 non-combatant) Israelis on October 7th and we therefore do not know how many unarmed, non-combatant civilians Hamas killed; and 4) Dismissing all those false claims, states the clear-eyed facts that he thinks qualify Hamas’s action as “barbaric” and applies the same word and judgement, using the same criteria, to all military actions by all parties.

Bernie won’t do this. He and all pro-Zionist politicians and media need to keep implicitly accepting Israeli falsehoods, and explicitly and insistently repeating the narrative of Hamas ”barbarism” based on those falsehoods, because they are necessary to keep attention from facts that support the other understanding of this event on October 7th: that it is was an extraordinarily successful military action of anti-colonialist resistance against the Zionist regime. Their dedication is not to clear-eyed facts but to Israel.

The insistent narrative of Hamas’s terrorism on October 7th is designed to hide the embarrassing story of Israel’s defeat on that day. Hamas barbarism is a diversion from Israeli humiliation.

Proportional Representation

As he continues his op-ed, we can note how differently Barnie treats Hamas vs. Israeli killing. He promotes Americans' identification with Israeli Jewish over Palestinian Arab lives by translating Israeli casualties but not Palestinian ones into US population equivalents.

The 1200 Israeli Jewish deaths on 10/7, at the hands of “barbaric,” “terrorist” Hamas were, he takes pains to point out, “On a per-capita basis…the equivalent of nearly 40,000 [American] deaths, more than 10 times the fatalities that we suffered on 9/11.”

He then tells us that (non-barbaric, non-terrorist) Israel killed “more than 12,000 Palestinians, about half of whom are children” in Gaza, but he does not make the parallel observation that, on a per capita basis (updated to today’s data—14,532 Palestinian deaths), that’s the equivalent of over 2,000,000 American deaths, more than 700 times the fatalities that we suffered on 9/11.

That difference in presentation makes a difference in how concretely the American reader can identify with those killed, and Bernie knows it. In his carefully written op-ed for the NYT, there is no possibility that Bernie Sanders accidentally chose to avoid the obvious parallel construction and make one group’s death toll more concrete to the American reader than the other.

Free At Last

Like every liberal Western Zionist, Bernie drips with concern for the “long-suffering Palestinians” who, he understands, must “have a chance at self-determination,” as he then goes on to explain the limits of the “self-determination” that “we”—i. e., liberal Western Zionists—will allow in Gaza. Of course, “new Palestinian leadership will be required.” Hamas “must” be “removed from power,” he declares—but only because he’s so concerned about the long-suffering Palestinians: “Gaza must have a chance to be free of Hamas.”  We can “hopefully giv[e] the Palestinian Authority the legitimacy it needs to assume administrative control of Gaza.” Rest assured, though, he is also declaring: “There can be no long-term Israeli occupation. [my emphasis]”

In other words, “we” must rearrange the situation in Gaza to alleviate Palestinian suffering within a new political framework that eliminates Hamas (and, I presume, any other armed resistance movement), installs some magically re-legitimized PA, and ends Israeli occupation after some not-long time—i.e., when Israel thinks it’s secure.  Gazans will be so grateful to be free at last of Hamas, and, coincidentally, it will be good for Israel too.

The level of supercilious arrogance here is astonishing. Even more astonishing is that so few Americans recognize it. This is quite evidently an attitude that treats the Palestinians as unruly children who need to have their affairs managed by “us” for their own good. For Bernie and “concerned” liberal Zionists, Palestinians are sympathetic when they're suffering in peace, “barbaric” when they're fighting for justice.

This attitude is absolutely not respectful—indeed, it is contemptuous—of the Palestinian people.

It's nice that Bernie recognizes: “The only way these necessary changes will happen is if the United States uses the substantial leverage we have with Israel… The blank check approach must end.” And it’s nice that some Democrats in Congress are advocating to “attach conditions to an emergency infusion of security aid for Israel.” But guess what: “No Democrats have said they would not back the package.” Continuing their decades-long charade, they will all repeat their verbal expressions of “concern” for the plight of “long-suffering” Palestinians, but they will not actually do what’s in their power to deprive Israel of the weapons to bomb the crap out of Gaza, and anywhere else it wants. They are much too respectful of the Israelis to do such a thing.

Being respectful would mean really taking account of “our” failures and the “need to address the roots of the conflict,” and recognizing that Palestinians themselves have the right to fight to end their long suffering from colonial domination “by all available means, including armed struggle.” Respectful would be to understand that the Palestinian Authority, as even the NYT recognizes, is “deeply unpopular and widely seen as a subcontractor to the Israeli occupation,” as will be any “leadership” selected by the U.S. with Israel’s approval. Respectful would be to understand that Hamas is now more popular among the people of Gaza and the West Bank than ever, because it did change the course of history in one day, and it “and other armed groups are the only ones they can trust to protect them,…to achieve tangible results and [have a] willingness to fight for the Palestinian cause.” Being respectful means accepting that Palestinians have the right to choose any political leadership they wish—including Hamas, and it’s none of “our” goddamn business to tell them otherwise. You know, like the respect we give Israelis.

Really respectful, and maybe even capable of gaining some respect, would be to recognize and renounce this posture of supercilious arrogance that “we” have been speaking from for decades, and recognize and renounce that “our” ostensible concern for the Palestinians in all this was always subject to, and superseded by, concern for saving the Zionist project.

The Good New Gaza Bernie and Western liberal Zionists are trying to conjure is a Gaza that must, first of all, be good for Israel. They're trying to replace the real Gaza and real Palestinian people, who fight for liberation from colonial subjugation, with a fantasy version that will agree to accept that subjugation in order to ease the minds of Western Zionists.

No Country for Old Bernies

In their fevered delusion that they can rearrange the world in their own image, alongside the imaginary Palestinians they conjure up, Bernie and Western liberal Zionists replace the reality of Zionism with a fantasy version that fits, and ratifies, their version of themselves. They think there’s some kindler, gentler version of Zionism that some Israeli government, wished for by nice people like them, will adopt and some faction of nice, Zionist-accepting Palestinians like them will graciously accept.

In Bernie’s world, if only the Israelis would get rid of “right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu,” and replace him with a liberal Zionist like the sainted Yitzhak Rabin, all could be fixed. You see, Bernie recognizes that there are “extremists” on both sides. Of course, Bernie and his “we” cannot demand that Israelis “must” eliminate popular even blatantly fascist political parties, and arm a military force to bomb the crap out of them until they do. Much too respectful of Israelis for that.

What Bernie and liberal Zionists don’t want to know (or admit they know) is that Zionism is a different country than the Upper West Side simulacrum they’ve concocted in their minds. They think and do things differently there. There is no good, liberal Zionism lurking in the wings, just waiting for the right nudge from peace-and-equality-loving Americans like Bernie.  And, however Bernie deludes himself, the Palestinians know it. Yitzhak Rabin ordered the Israeli army to break the bones of Palestinian protesters. He would never have done that to Israeli Jews. No Israeli leader would ever demolish the homes of Jewish families whose one member was charged with a crime, as every Israeli leader has done to Palestinians for years. Israel isn’t liberal Manhattan; it’s, at best, Jim Crow Mississippi. And it has to be.

Today, behind Netanyahu are the even more fascist Ben-Gvir and Smotrich. Because the Israelis elected them. Today, the Zionist leaders, with the backing of at least many of its Jewish citizens, are determined to demolish as much of Gaza as possible, kill as many Gazans as they want, and force the remnant to leave, finishing the work of eliminating non-Jews from Greater Israel that every Israeli leader has been doing—sometimes with constant, gradual pressure, sometimes with bursts of ruthless violence, always with the help of Bernie and his ilk—since 1948.

Bernie and Western liberals do not recognize, and will probably resist to their death recognizing, the actual framework that clear-eyed, clear-thinking Israelis and Palestinians have always recognized:  it's Jewish-supremacist colonialism—per B’Tselem, “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea,” in which “All Palestinians living under Israeli rule are treated as inferior in rights and status to Jews who live in the same area.” As such, it requires extermination, expulsion, and subjugation of Palestinian Arabs, who are the inconvenient majority of the population in that area.

Bernie and Western liberal Zionists do not want to recognize they are killing and expelling Palestinians because they are not Jews. And they do not want to recognize that they are supporting colonialists and fascists because they are. The Israeli Zionists know exactly what they're doing.

None of the horror in that is going to be, or has ever been, washed away by Western liberals who want it to be something else.  

Same As It Ever Was

No matter what Palestinians think, Hamas is barbaric and terrorist and must be forcibly removed and excluded from power by “us” because it understands and acts on a clear-eyed understanding of those facts and that colonialist framework. Israeli political factions that also, as they all do, understand and act within that framework, in ways that are orders of magnitude more barbaric and terrorist than Hamas, can be criticized and regretted, but “we” can never presume the right to remove and exclude them from power, if that’s what Israelis want. That’s Bernie's stance. That's the Zionist stance. That's the stance in which Israeli Jews are respected as a people in a way that Palestinian Arabs are not.

With his banal discourse of “barbarism,” and “terrorism,” Bernie has not made a considered judgement about the ethics of political violence. In using these words to oh-so-sympathetically demand control of Palestinian lives and abet their slaughter, all Bernie and Western liberal Zionists have done is picked a side—the side of the colonialists who are exterminating and expelling Arabs—and supported it, pretending (to themselves, first of all) they were doing something else. That's all they've ever done, and that's what Bernie is doing here.  

I think this pretense is a deep psychological and political necessity for Bernie and Western liberal Zionists, but at this point it’s ridiculous, insulting to everyone’s intelligence, and deeply dishonest to keep it up. It deserves no respect.

Everyone knows what’s going on. In order to “finish ’48,” Israel is carrying out an ethnic cleansing war in Gaza (and in the West Bank), has deliberately killed over 20,000 people including 8,000 children, targeted and killed doctors and journalists and their families in their homes, targeted and destroyed hospitals, schools, and UN refuges, driven over 1.5 million people out of their demolished homes, and will continue and intensify doing that. None of this is accidental or collateral damage, or has the purpose of fighting Hamas or saving hostages. And anyone of Bernie’s stature who pretends not to know that is lying.

There’s nothing more dishonest than Bernie hiding his support for Jewish supremacist colonialism behind: “we must grapple with the complexity of this situation that too many people on both sides want to wave.” Honest would be to say: “Yes, I know it’s Jewish supremacist colonialism, and I know that Israelis are exterminating and expelling Gazans, and, while I don’t like and will try to mitigate how nasty it is, I will support it—will not use my power to stop it—because…”

Bernie may object to the slaughter taking place in Gaza now, but he has already accepted and ratified the slaughter on which Israel was built. He knows, but doesn't want to acknowledge, what the Israelis and the Palestinians know and say: it's the same slaughter


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Related articles: Israel’s Solution to Gaza: War on IranFirst and Foremost, Colonialism Must End

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