The Left’s Problem With Israel

As events of recent days make clear, an ideological cancer continues to grow on the political left across the West: an obsession with Israel that morphs into anti-Zionism and, yes, at times even anti-Semitism.

The cancer is particularly acute within Great Britain’s Labour Party. But it’s infecting America’s left as well, with Bernie Sanders downplaying Israel’s security challenges and exaggerating Palestinian suffering while a top aide lashes out at Israel in vile terms.

Depending on the prospects of progressive parties across the West in the coming years, this cancer has profound implications for the foreign policy of the U.S. and its allies as well as for the global standing of Israel – which, as its critics often ignore, remains the lone democracy in the world’s most turbulent region.

U.S. or European governments under certain leftist elements could revisit longstanding Western ties to Israel, feel less compelled to protect the Jewish state at the United Nations and other global bodies and prove less helpful as Israel’s supporters fight efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state.

To be sure, anti-Israeli hostility is not confined to the left. The extreme right, which is making political inroads particularly in Europe, has long offered its own ugly mix of Israel-bashing, Jew-hating or both.

Nor is Israel’s isolation a new story. It is, as Joshua Muravchik explains in his 2014 book Making David Into Goliath, the product of decades-long academic trends and global anti-Israeli efforts that have transformed the Jewish state in the world’s eyes from plucky underdog to colonial oppressor.

Nevertheless, the Israel obsession, revolving largely around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is infusing the politics of the left more profoundly than that of the right. It manifests itself in a singular focus on Israel as a supposed bad actor on the world stage, in wildly outsized claims about its human rights abuses and in a blatant disregard for the relentless terror, rockets and other security challenges that it faces.

Merriam-Webster defines anti-Semitism as “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.” Particularly in Great Britain, the left’s hostility toward the world’s only Jewish state seems to reflect not just Israel-hating but, increasingly, Jew-hating as well.

“Our party has a problem that it needs to face up to,” Labour parliamentarian John Mann wrote late last week in an op-ed in London’s newspaper The Mirror. “We need real leadership from the top with a plan and a framework for action to get rid of the cancer of antisemitism once and for ever.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (who calls Hezbollah and Hamas representatives his “friends”) has supported, and appeared in a promotional video for, a British pro-Palestinian charity that – The Daily Mail reported last week – funded a festival where Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip performed a play in which they pretended to slash Israelis with knives and kill them with machine guns.

By then, Labour was embroiled in scandal over Labour-ite and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s remarks that Hitler was a Zionist before he became a Jew killer – thus, equating Nazism with Zionism. Livingstone then said that Israel refuses to teach its children the truth about Hitler, that he (Livingstone) couldn’t be a Jew-hater because he’s had Jewish girlfriends and that he’s the victim of a longstanding campaign by the “Israel lobby” to label Israel’s critics as “anti-Semitic.”

Livingstone’s remarks came a day after Corbyn suspended parliamentarian Naz Shah, who, on Facebook in 2014, called to “relocate” Israel’s Jews to America so that Palestinians could “get their life and their land back.”

Nothing nearly as ugly has appeared in comparable U.S. circles. But Sanders, who represents a sizable and enthused wing of the Democratic Party, has displayed disturbing tendencies on occasion.

Sanders, who abstained from a 2014 Senate resolution supporting Israel’s efforts to defend itself from rocket fire, visited Baltimore in late April and compared its poverty with conditions in the West Bank – even though infant mortality, on which Sanders was focused, is far worse in many other unnamed places.

More tellingly, we learned earlier in April, Sanders’ Jewish outreach director wrote a Facebook post last year in which she cursed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, referring to Israel’s retaliation in 2014 for rocket fire from Gaza, said he “sanctioned the murder of over 2,000 people.”

Across the West, historical revisionism, a soft spot for terror, calls for Israel’s dismantlement, an ignorance of its security challenges and a singular focus on its supposed sins all add up to a disturbing mindset that raises serious questions about what would happen to Western relations with the Jewish state if certain leftist forces gained power.

Lawrence J. Haas, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, is the author of the new book Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World.

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