Carrying Water for Jeremy Corbyn

By Jamie Palmer

How things have changed. When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party in 2015, British conservatives could scarcely believe their luck. Labour’s crazy lurch into the mouldering weeds of anachronistic hard Left politics was supposed to usher in a long and possibly terminal spell in electoral oblivion. Labour moderates were inclined to agree, and Corbyn’s listless dispatch box appearances, comically inept comms operation, and consistently dire polling figures seemed to bear these fears out.

Nevertheless, in deference to party loyalty and the democratic will of the membership, Labour MPs attempted a show of unity for a while. But outside the parliamentary party, in the press and the blogosphere, Corbyn’s ascension provoked a furious backlash from Labour centrists and moderates. In electing Corbyn, these critics argued, the membership had committed an act of self-lacerating naivety and unpardonable irresponsibility. Not only were his dusty Marxist politics an electoral liability in a forward-looking 21st century Western liberal democracy, but his longstanding associations with and support for anti-Semites, conspiracists, terrorists, theocrats, and totalitarians were morally disqualifying.

Political debates over crime and social policy, health and welfare, taxation and economics, and so on can be bitterly divisive. But they deal with complex issues about which people of goodwill from across the political spectrum ought to be able to reasonably disagree. Governing in a democracy is not easy, and nor is navigating a fraught and cynical geopolitical landscape. Jeremy Corbyn may rail self-righteously against Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia from the stump; taking such a position is easy given the barbaric nature of the regime there, and doing so costs him nothing. But should he be elected prime minister, he will discover that he too must accommodate that distasteful alliance in the national interest. Compromise comes with the responsibilities of power, which is precisely why inflexible ideologues are better suited to protest than governance.

The alliances Corbyn has made over a long career as a backbench MP and activist, on the other hand, have been unconstrained by the demands of statecraft and geopolitical diplomacy. His outspoken solidarity with terrorist actors like the IRA and Hamas, and his support for the savage revolutionary theocracy in Iran and the Chavez regime in the starvation state of Venezuela, were all freely chosen positions and affirmations of political conscience. When Corbyn appeared on Iran’s propaganda channel and declared that the killing of Osama Bin Laden and Bin Laden’s premeditated murder of nearly 3000 American civilians were somehow comparable tragedies, it was an expression of his own ethical worldview, not some mealy-mouthed diplomatic fudge.

Such arguments, however, left Corbyn’s supporters unmoved. Some of them shared his jaundiced view of Israel and America and the West more broadly as no better­ – and quite possibly worse – than their despotic enemies. Others had barely heard of Hamas, still less bothered to familiarize themselves with the organisation’s Hitlerian charter or its long record of pitiless suicide murder. If Corbyn said his casual description of such people as ‘friends’ was a requirement of his self-appointed role as an international peacemaker then that must be what it was. Here, they decided, was a gentle idealist who spoke softly about injustice and made his own pots of jam. Everything else was just so much mass media defamation from right-wing elites threatened by a sense of virtue they were too jaded or corrupt to understand.

But this latter view required Corbyn’s more benign supporters to overlook rather a lot. The anti-Zionist ideology he had vehemently espoused throughout his political career emboldened and empowered a particularly nasty section of the radical Left, and the Labour Party soon found itself consumed by an ugly anti-Semitism scandal. The Chakrabarti Report into the controversy commissioned by the party leadership was supposed to put a firm lid on the matter. But when the author of that insipid document was rewarded for her efforts with a peerage, it only exacerbated the divisions it was designed to heal.

It took almost a year of catastrophic headlines and tumbling poll numbers before the parliamentary Labour Party finally roused itself to opposition amid the rubble of Britain’s disastrous 2016 EU referendum. In the view of Labour MPs (and many other sensible observers besides), Corbyn’s sullen foot-dragging had undermined the Remain campaign, a cause for which he had only ever been able to muster tepid support. But in marshalling their subsequent leadership challenge, Labour rebels passed over Corbyn’s totalitarian apologetics with an embarrassed cough and focussed instead on his electability deficit.

This near-sighted strategy was an attempt to appeal to Labour members’ instinct for political self-preservation while flattering their policy preferences. It was entirely self-defeating. Owen Smith offered himself as a younger, more affable, and more electable version of Jeremy Corbyn, and unimpressed Labour members, already smarting from the attempt to overturn their previous vote, duly returned Corbyn with another thumping mandate. The rebels sank into despondency and grimly awaited electoral demolition, consoled only by the knowledge that this would at least allow for the rebuilding of a sane left-of-centre party.

Instead, the June election stripped Theresa May of her parliamentary majority and rebel Labour MPs of their only anti-Corbyn argument. With varying degrees of reluctance and enthusiasm, senior party figures appeared before news cameras like scraping subjects to declare themselves delighted by Corbyn’s electoral vindication and to offer stomach-churning apologies for ever having doubted him. If any of them were alarmed by the consolidation of the hard Left’s control of their party, they could hardly raise ethical objections at this late date now that they were within spitting distance of Downing Street.

However, a more dismaying shift had also occurred outside of the parliamentary party and it began almost as soon as the election date was announced. Progressive bloggers and commentators who had hitherto written passionate condemnations of left-wing anti-Semitism and of Corbyn’s fraternal links with terrorists suddenly discovered that such considerations were not disqualifying after all. In handwringing articles, such transgressions were now redescribed by these same writers as something more like undesirable flaws – regrettable of course, but not the kind of thing that should prevent them or anyone else from voting Labour when there was Conservative austerity to oppose. And once the votes were all counted, they too dutifully lined up with their parliamentary colleagues to recommend unity and a ‘reset’ of relations with the leadership, which they now decided ought to be ‘given a chance’.

But if opposition to the Tories’ political programme was the most pressing consideration of the day, then why all the sound and fury about anti-Semitism and so forth from these quarters in the first place? Raising those unseemly matters had only served to embarrass the Labour leadership and had risked inflicting further damage to the party’s electoral prospects. On the other hand, if these things really were disqualifying, then surely opposing Corbynism at the ballot box (where it really mattered) was no less urgent than it had been a few weeks previously.

It is hard to say with any certainty whether their conscientious objection would have made much difference to the end result. Nevertheless, their votes made them complicit in a hostile takeover of their party they had once vehemently opposed, and in cementing Corbyn’s grip on the leadership. I have since read hopeful musings that the election result was a fluke brought about by an uncommonly useless Conservative campaign and the aftershocks of the Brexit referendum. Corbynism has now peaked, these voices claim, not least because those who voted Labour secure in the knowledge Corbyn couldn’t win will not take that risk a second time.

This analysis may prove prescient but I’m sceptical. Perceptions matter in electoral politics, and the election replaced the aura of incompetence and doom surrounding Corbyn’s leadership with an aura of plausibility overnight. No longer is he simply a cranky footnote in Labour Party history, but a serious prime ministerial prospect. Now that moderates are queuing up to endorse him and carry his water, the stigma they had once striven to attach to the Corbyn brand is evaporating. Next time around, it is not control of the Labour Party that will be at issue, but control of the country and its government. This ought to be particularly alarming at a time when Europe is menaced by threats of Islamist violence, rising anti-Semitism, and Russian revanchism that Corbyn is ideologically unwilling and unable to oppose.

The choice faced by Labour moderates at the next election is not dissimilar to the dilemma faced by ‘Never Trumpers’ after the 2016 Republican convention. For those conservatives, a Trump presidency was a uniquely dangerous and repulsive prospect for reasons that went beyond questions of electability or reasonable differences over policy. Trump’s unstable temperament and gruesome admiration for autocratic rule were defects that superseded all considerations of party loyalty. Not only did these conservatives refuse to vote for Trump, but they used their positions as writers and commentators to do whatever they could to thwart his campaign. Trump’s widely unexpected election victory only increased their political isolation. Spurned by the incoming administration as treacherous and out-of-touch, and distrusted by Democrats, they found themselves stranded for the first time in their lives in political no man’s land.

Labour moderates can expect similar treatment. Even as the expectation of electoral defeat loomed before them, their protests about Corbyn’s manifest unfitness for office were swept aside with derision and contempt. Now that their leader’s position is secure, Corbynistas are in no mood to be magnanimous or conciliatory. Speaking at a Progress event on 24 June, the former broadcaster turned activist Paul Mason had a characteristically blunt message for Blairites:

If you want a centrist party this is not going to be it for the next ten years. If it’s really important to you to have a pro-Remain party that’s in favour of illegal war, in favour of privatisation, form your own party and get on with it!

Appearing on the BBC’s political discussion programme This Week a few days previously, Blairite MP Liz Kendall had done her best to put an optimistic gloss on things. Listening to her, the former Conservative MP turned commentator and broadcaster Michael Portillo could hardly contain his incredulity:

You make Mrs. May sound like a realist. What has happened to your party is it is now firmly in the grip of [hard Left campaigning organization] Momentum. And you know better than anybody that these are very nasty people. And these people are going to drive the likes of you out of the party, they’re going to have you deselected, they’re going to pursue you on social media . . . Suddenly you, and Chuka Umunna in particular, make it sound like the only disagreement you had with Jeremy Corbyn was that he might not win . . . Your party has been taken over by a very dangerous hard Left, people who have sympathized with terror over the years, and these people are now within a hair’s breadth of taking power in this country. And you should be more worried than I am about that.

The truth is we should all be worried. In both the US and the UK, the political parties in power during the Iraq War and the 2008 economic crash have both surrendered to powerful populist insurgencies. For all their differences, these insurgencies are united in their contempt for the post-WWII liberal international order and for their own party establishments. They are anti-NATO, scornful of the European Union, hostile to immigration, Putin-sympathetic, and led by agitators who thrive on the politics of mass rallies and online mobs, unconcerned by – and sometimes openly solicitous of – the bigotry and racism they trail in their wake.

Accusations of racism and questions of experience and basic competence didn’t stop Trump and they may not stop Corbyn either, despite copious evidence for both. Americans are now paying a steep price for ignoring these criteria and British voters can expect the same chaotic result should they decide to reward Corbyn’s vapid sloganeering with the task of actually governing the country. Amidst all the fawning tributes to Labour’s marvellous election campaign, the catastrophic policy interviews given by Corbyn and his shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, and the small matter of extravagant but uncosted manifesto promises, have been quietly forgotten. Meanwhile, shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s reckless description of the Grenfell Tower fire as “social murder” is a reminder of the breathtaking cynicism with which unscrupulous demagogues will inflame grief and rage in the pursuit of political expediency.

Having spent a political lifetime barking into loudhailers at protests and demos, Jeremy Corbyn is scarcely better prepared to shoulder the complex responsibilities of national governance than Donald Trump was. And should a Corbyn administration come to pass, progressives of integrity will be needed to pick up the pieces when it is all over, and to recover what remains of the moral health of left-wing politics. If the radicals who spent the ‘80s and ‘90s griping that they had been disenfranchised by the neoliberal consensus are now in control of the Labour and Republican Parties, it is because they understood something that moderates had better grasp: that luck is when patient preparation meets opportunity.

For now, the outlook for Labour moderates is bleak. Many of them have devoted a lifetime to Labour Party politics and must now contemplate the loneliness of political homelessness and exile. But, like the conservative anti-Trumpers, they should look beyond the horizon of their own tribal politics, fight their corner, and await their moment. Those who opt instead for capitulation before radical populism will not only forfeit their dignity; a movement that considers them worthy only of unqualified disdain will swallow them whole.

In 2002, the Left’s ambivalent response to the 9/11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan led American political theorist Michael Walzer to write an essay for Dissent asking, “Can there be a decent Left?” By this he meant an internationalist Left that does not strive to find equivalence between liberal democracies and the theocratic fascists who slaughter their citizens; a progressive Left that has not surrendered its liberal values to masochism and moral relativism; and a democratic Left that prefers political debate to the cult of personality that currently holds the Labour Party in its jaws. In Britain, that kind of Left is in greater peril than ever before. And now that Jeremy Corbyn stands on the threshold of power, the need to speak up in its defence has only become more urgent, not less.

Tunisia, Terror, & Internet Chomskyism

Social Media’s Che T-Shirt

by Navi Singh

After an Islamist terrorist atrocity has occurred, it is becoming increasingly popular for people – throughout political commentary in the UK – to counter the presumed ‘mainstream’ narrative usually by doing one of three things: engaging in whataboutery, highlighting perceived media double-standards, or essentially rationalising the perpetrator’s actions as constituting “resistance” or “retaliation” against a far greater evil: Western governments.

Why are these attitudes so popular, particularly among the younger generation? You could guess that these individuals are embittered (“spoilt” would be my preferred choice of word) and perceive their governments in a negative light because of comparatively trivial domestic shortcomings or minor maladministration. Consequently, unrestrained hatred directed towards the Conservative Party over their failure to adequately reprimand gargantuan corporations or punish avaricious bankers, for instance, often clouds their overall world-view. This is disastrously short-term egocentric thinking.

Yes, I’m not particularly fond of Mr Cameron, his party, their Thatcherist antecedents or unrestrained capitalism (whatever that means). But I hate theocratic totalitarianism more – because theocracies have an inherently supremacist nature. Theocracies are effectively analogous to systematically racist societies, because it stratifies society through religion in the same way Nazi Germany, for instance, subjugated ethnic minorities on the basis that they were degenerate sub-humans. Anathematising entire peoples as being inferior (whether that is biologically or religiously) is dangerous territory indeed, because it dehumanises. Dehumanisation is often a precursor to genocide or any other form of methodical persecution. Notwithstanding any physical repercussions, supremacist ideologies do not cultivate a particularly conducive environment for pluralistic ideals to flourish.

Moreover, theocracies are decidedly irreconcilable with the libertarian values that we cherish. As the constitution and legislature is derived from a (usually puritanical) interpretation of scripture, free-exchange of ideas and open discussion are necessarily obliterated because blasphemy injunctions prevail. That is the problem.

Denying Western “propaganda” and actively endeavouring to undermine the government’s official standing on these matters, by rejecting the fact that the terrorists are malevolent and the victims are innocent, becomes an expression of recalcitrance. It’s cool. You’re anti-establishment, dude! Long live the revolution! It is social-media’s equivalent to wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt in public. Does attention-seeking and a desire to be different and outrageous, also come into it? It probably does. Prominent celebrity Russell Brand – who has reinvented himself as a social-commentator – is testament to this. Brand – who dismissed attempts to commemorate the victims of the recent Tunisia beach massacre as “total bullshit” – has garnered a reputation somewhat for courting controversy. The same man, incidentally, referred to the perpetrators of the CharlieHebdo attacks in Paris as “young”, “bewildered” and “pitiable”. Correspondingly, references to the European colonisation of North-Africa and Western interventionism throughout the Middle East swiftly followed the Tunisian revelations, as they did when news broke about the CharlieHebdo shootings. Twitter became an incendiary firestorm as young, disillusioned revolutionaries began to type away, fulminating relentlessly about the hypocrisy of their own Western imperialist governments in their collective condemnation of this attack, carried out by oppressed brown people. “#WhitePrivilege,” they exclaimed. “Foreign-policy,” they shrieked.

Now imagine, for a second, if the situation was reversed. I mentioned earlier how Russell Brand described the murderers of Charlie-Hebdo’s staff with a triumvirate of flowery, borderline sympathetic adjectives. The question is: would he have produced similar language when discussing the character of Dylann Roof? Absolutely not. If anyone had used the words “young”, “bewildered” and “pitiable” in the same sentence as ‘Dylann Roof’, they would have faced instant and ubiquitous vilification, understandably so – because it’s decidedly unconscionable to talk about a mass-murderer in this way. It’s even more inappropriate to draw up extenuating circumstances for the murderers by attempting to justify their grievances, because ultimately, nothing can vindicate the gratuitous slaughter of innocent churchgoers, tourists and cartoonists. Nothing. Yes, I said it. Nothing.

Subsequently, consistency in our application of moral judgements is of paramount importance in examining world affairs. We should not allocate different standards to mass-murderers because of their nationality, their culture, or their personal background. Such an approach is invidious and partially symptomatic of the ‘soft-bigotry of low-expectations’ psyche that afflicts so many of the modern Left. Dylann Roof was instantaneously regarded as the epitome of unadulterated evil by almost everybody I encountered on social media. It’s a shame the Tunisia situation couldn’t have been straightforwardly encapsulated in a similar manner. To paraphrase Sam Harris: “Innocent tourists have been killed. End of moral analysis”.

Glenn Greenwald and the hierophants of an alternate imperialism

By Tom Owolade
A set of attacks happen in close proximity to your neighbourhood, and initially your response is emotive. Initially emotive and then analytical. You try to adduce from these attacks the reasoning that underpins them. You try to explain the casus belli of these horrendous atrocities. In reaction to the mainstream declaration that these admittedly atrocious acts are “acts of terror”, you investigate the meaning of the word ‘terror’- its functional significance. As a righteous opponent of the establishment, you feel obligated in trying to understand the intentions of these acts. This, in reaction to the establishment’s pronouncement that these acts are the acts of primitive, unconscionably savage bedouins. You side with the oppressed in reaction against their oppressors, you understand their reaction to be oppressed in reaction against their oppressors condemning their reaction, and continuing to oppress them. You are in essence an anti-imperialist, an unflinching critic of a nefarious global empire. You feel disinclined to straightforwardly condemn the oppressed in reaction against the simplistic condemnation of the oppressors. You have to contextualise their actions, in reaction to the establishment’s lack of context. As a fair-minded, analytical yet morally righteous person, you understand the importance of understanding why they hate us. Why they react, often violently, to us. Why we have blood on our hands, not them. Why we are the aegis of all moral depravity, and they’re the necessary blowback to our ubiquitous , callous, financially driven, imperial, war on terror.

In a piece for the Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, explaining an attack that took place in Canada against a Canadian soldier, contends:

it’s not the slightest bit surprising or difficult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of Canadian bombs and bullets would decide to attack the military responsible for that violence.

Understanding the reaction of the oppressed – the disenfranchised malcontents – is basic analytics. They hate us because we ruined their lives. As a result of this, all moral carnage that they inflict upon us is ultimately our fault. Is this reasoning faulty? Does it ultimately abrogate responsibility from the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, and disproportionately concentrate responsibility on the victims of these heinous crimes? Yes, and yes. Greenwald goes on, however and develops this dysfuctional reasoning by adding:

The only surprising thing about any of it is that it doesn’t happen more often.

Of course, as an analytical and a morally righteous person, it is right we express incredulity at the fact that the victims of our oppression, our imperialism, don’t react more violently against us. But of course, Mr Greenwald is not an analyst, or at the very least not a sophisticated one. He is an anarcho-libertarian moralist though, one who marinates in the perpetual loathing of a single subject: the West. Hatred that is so pathological and so myopic, not only does it rationalise the vicious barbarity of any pronounced anti-westerner, but it desensitises him to common decency. Which morally decent person would, in an immediate reaction to a wanton act of murder, contend that the west had it coming?

But, isn’t this a critique, a necessary critique, of western exceptionalism? A view which propounds that the west is an exceptionally benign force in geopolitical global affairs. Such a view is absolute baloney of course? Right? What about the irredeemably disastrous interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the alliance with wicked gulf states such as Saudi Arabia who export a toxic version of Islam; Wahhabism? What about them, hey? But of course by concentrating all of your rage, anger and moral indignation exclusively at the West one is not offering a non-partisan or cogent exegesis on western exceptionalism. Rather, what one is expressing is a foul version of it’s doppelgänger – “westisexceptionallybadism”. Such a viewpoint can be bifurcated into two key elements, dysphemistically admonishing the various imperfections of the West in one instance. And then euphemistically rationalising the malignant, and often irreducibly internecine motivations of anti-western actors. All this is demonstrative of what I consider to be an alternate type of imperialism-inverser imperialism. A viewpoint that analyses geopolitics (especially of the third world) through a parochial framework which abrogates non-western actors of moral agency and concentrates blame exclusively on the West.

One column which exemplifies some of the elements of inverser imperialism is a Huffington Post piece by Jennifer Izaakson – who is, incredibly, a Phd student at UCL. The piece is from last December, and follows the sentencing of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale – The Woolwich killers. In the piece, Izaakson says two especially noteworthy things. She first says:

It is the politicians who have radicalised young Muslim men.

And then she says:

Keep in mind who really has blood on their hands- the politicians.

Why can’t the people who have blood on their hands be the people who literally have blood on their hands? In other words, what is functional significance of expressing such a statement? To me it’s quite clear. Like all dogmatic doctrines, Inverser Imperialism is predicated on certain a priori assumptions. The subaltern – the victim of the oppression – are infantilised as ethereal victims. The oppressor West, even in the face of being unambiguously attacked, are the primary agent of all moral turpitude that is visited upon itself. Now to me this sounds like a politicised version of Stockholm syndrome, a diluted version that fits the peculiar dynamics of political discourse, but retaining the same essence: extroverted self-loathing.

Furthermore, inverser imperialists view the subaltern as resistors rather than instigators, as revolutionaries rather than reactionaries but who react rather than act out of their own volition. Because to act of one’s own volition would be to acquire moral agency – moral agency being an essential component of moral responsibility. Being a moral agent is also a status that is attendant with personhood. However, the incorrigible burden of the white man means that the victims of our imperialism are impervious to the possibility of personhood. The victim-victimser dialectic is retained and entrenched. Rather than assigning them the moral status of persons, they’re the vessels of western animosity. Rather than viewing them as ends in themselves (to quote Kant) they’re a projection of western self-loathing.

I’ll go on: rather than emboldening them and seeking to inspire in them the universal values of democracy and human rights, we persist in subordinating them to codes, barriers and immutable conventions. Supposing for example, that the authentic subaltern is inherently reactionary – that is to say female oppression, execution of gay people and suicide bombing are their by the by status as victims – is a racist view. Racist, as it conjugates values with identity. Enlightenment and progressive values are not therefore the inalienable rights of man, but are, ipso facto, the realisation of being white/western. Conversely, believing in divinely ordained oppressive laws, rather than man made civil laws are, if not an essential component of being (for arguments sake) a Muslim, one which should at least be tolerated and treated with equanimity. I’m sorry, you can tolerate the persecution of gay people and apostates and the delegitimisation of women’s autonomy all you want – but don’t traduce those who refuse to tolerate these ignominies by labelling them racists. The irrational and indeed pathological hatred of Muslims does exist and ought to be combated unequivocally. What is noteworthy of course is that bigots and inverser imperialists share a belief that to be authentically Muslim entails espousing a set of views that happen to be retrograde. Bigots generally believe that liberal secular Muslims practice taqiyya – are in essence closet extremists – whereas inverser imperialists belief that liberal, secular Muslims are raving neocon stooges for the establishment. Their difference is a superficial one; the difference between indiscriminate hostility and indiscriminate masochism.

Why is there still a visible taboo in extending full solidarity to unapologetic liberal, secular Muslims like Maajid Nawaz and Sara Khan? Why does a Muslim, who for example argues that homosexuality and Islam are not incompatible and supports the right to represent the prophet Muhammed, still induce elementary feelings of confusion, bewilderment and surprise even amongst seemingly secular, liberal non-muslims? And concomitant to this, why are the strident opponents of people who believe in the innate malfeasance of homosexuality and the strict impermissiblity of religious representations, viewed with more opprobrium than the people who support these illiberal, anti-secular ideas? People who loathe liberal democracies and the values it endorses.

I have an answer: the West as it is, and connected to the West are the values it endorses, ought be resisted because the ethereal victims of the West’s undying oppression side against the West and the values it endorses, and so we must also side against the West and the values it endorses. This is the perfidious implications of such a doctrine, warped in its sense of nobility. “Anti-imperialist” “pro-peace” “pro-justice” “sympathy with the oppressed” “tolerance”. But at its essence it’s just warped and not noble. Anti-imperialist, ss long as it’s against the West. Pro peace, as long as it’s “peace” for the victims and only the victims of the West. Pro-justice, as long as it’s justice against the West. Sympathy with the oppressed, as long as it’s the oppressed of the West. Tolerance, even if it will mean tolerating groups that are intolerant of your very existence.

I don’t mean to sound orotund, but I think it’s fair to say the left are in the midst of an intellectual civil war. Sectarianism has always existed in the left but in the past few decades the conflict has become particularly more pronounced around certain issues. This is a war that is fought between unapologetic, anti-totalitarian cultural objectivists and the hierophants of inverser imperialism, who to varying degrees rationalise, excuse and apologise for the most extreme version of the subaltern. Who view them as collective vehicles for self-flagellation, rather than individual ends in themselves. Who misunderstand indissoluble hatred for reasoned resistance, and who are desecrating a great intellectual tradition.

Siding With The Philistines: Exhibit B and Index on Censorship’s Julia Farrington

Promotional still for Brett Bailey’s artwork Exhibit B.

On the 24 September, the UK saw the closure of yet another controversial artwork in response to the mobilisation of protests. The installation Exhibit B, conceived and directed by the South African artist and provocateur Brett Bailey, takes as its starting point the 19th century phenomenon of ‘human zoos‘, and is described by Bailey as follows:

What interests me about human zoos is the way people were objectified. Once you objectify people, you can do the most terrible things to them. But what we are doing here is nothing like these shows, where black people were brought from all over Africa and displayed in villages. I’m interested in the way these zoos legitimised colonial policies.

Since 2012, Exhibit B has played in some 19 cities before arriving in London and received considerable acclaim. Lynn Gardner in the Guardian called it “both unbearable and essential”, Allan Radcliffe in the Times called it “remarkable . . . powerful and upsetting”, and Neil Cooper, reviewing the installation for the Edinburgh Festival (and perhaps putting his finger on the masochistic pleasure in which Bailey invites his Western audiences to marinate), revealed that “the guilt [Exhibit B] provokes is devastating”.

Others, like Laura Barnett at the Telegraph were less sure. Acknowledging its merits, she nevertheless found Exhibit B to be “a highly problematic” and possibly exploitative piece of work. She did not, however, call for its closure. Nor, to my knowledge, did any other serious-minded writer, whatever their view of its worth. And, whether it succeeded or not, Bailey’s work was generally agreed to have been at least intended as an indictment of Western colonialism.

But soi-dissant anti-racist activists were in no mood to be so tolerant or broad-minded, and they did not hesitate to accuse both artist and production of outright racism. In Berlin, Bailey’s work was greeted with furious protests and, upon learning that Exhibit B would be performed at The Barbican in London, a Birmingham activist named Sara Myers started an online petition, demanding the immediate withdrawal of Bailey’s “racist” work. “If Brett Bailey is trying to make a point about slavery” Myers instructed, “this is not the way to do it.” This sentiment was rewarded with nearly 23,000 signatures.

Protests outside the venue followed, blockading the road, and on 24 September, the Barbican announced, with regret, that it was cancelling all shows:

Due to the extreme nature of the protest outside the Vaults, regrettably we have cancelled this evening’s performance of Exhibit B as we could not guarantee the safety of performers, audiences and staff. We respect people’s right to protest but are disappointed that this was not done in a peaceful way as had been previously promised by campaigners.

For those committed to the defence of free inquiry and artistic expression, this is not a complicated matter. And it would be only slightly more complicated if the work in question were indisputably racist. The right of artists to express themselves as they see fit must be inviolate, as must the right of audiences to make up their own minds about the merits of what they produce. It bears repeating that an axiom of free speech advocacy is the willingness to defend the expression of opinions with which one vehemently disagrees.

But in a dismal op-ed for the anti-censorship advocacy organisation Index on Censorship, its associate arts producer, Julia Farrington, found herself unable to do any such thing. Her article, it should be noted, appeared on the Index website on 22 September – that is, after the petition and protests had been launched but before Exhibit B‘s cancellation. By 25 September, Index had found it necessary to issue an unsigned clarification of their official position, stating:

Those who read [Julia Farrington’s] article following the cancellation and our short comment on it have interpreted our stance as one that in some way excuses or condones the protesters and the cancellation of the piece. This was certainly not our intention . . . People have every right to object to art they find objectionable but no right whatsoever to have that work censored. Free expression, including work that others may find shocking or offensive, is a right that must be defended vigorously.

This must be news to Farrington, whose defence of Bailey’s right to conceive and present his work is tepid in the extreme. Instead, her article takes the side – with minimal equivocation – of those noisily declaring themselves offended by it.

Although Sara Myers’s petition explicitly demands the Barbican cancel its performances of Bailey’s work – and although Farrington does mention this fact – she persistently misdescribes Myers’s transparently censorious campaign against venue and artist as “a boycott”. And it is the protestors to whom she awards credit, without irony, for “ensuring dialogue is happening”.

Like them, she had not seen the work for herself at the time of writing. Nevertheless, “what interests me here,” she explains, “is the mindset of the institution presenting this piece of work and whether it considered, if at all, the possibility of a hostile response.” Contrary to appearances, it is the Barbican which is unmasked as the real villain. They did, she concedes, commission a public debate on the matter, but their hand was forced by the protests which, she argues, were themselves a product of the venue’s insensitivity and incompetence. Farrington justifies this conclusion by declaring her belief that:

The role of the arts institution . . . is to manage the space between the artist and the audience.

And with that she burdens the venue with responsibility for the row. Actually, the role of an arts institution – be it a cinema, theatre, or gallery – is neutral: to provide space for the exhibition of work and to promote said work as it sees fit. Those who elect to exhibit challenging material should be supported in their efforts, not presented with further obstacles.

To insist that venues and institutions “manage the space between the artist and the audience” as a precondition to exhibiting potentially controversial content will only help further deter the emergence of provocative art. (“We are thinking of exhibiting Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò at your local. Please read the attached synopsis and let us know your thoughts.”)

Not only would such a process be time-consuming, cumbersome, and – I would imagine – expensive, but it would also present a number of practical problems. Who, for instance, decides what level of potential offence and provocation demands prior consultation with outraged community activists? And who decides which of the activists’ subsequent demands are reasonable? And, most importantly, what exactly does this alleged obligation to “manage the space between the artist and the audience” actually require of the venue?

To Farrington, I imagine the phrase seems collaborative and cuddly. But in this context “manage the space between the artist and audience” sounds a lot to me like a euphemism for “listen to community concerns and make the requested changes accordingly.”

It is instructive to listen to Sara Myers debating one of the actresses in the work on Newsnight. Amid Myers’s various complaints about offence and bad taste, and her demands for an apology and “holistic reparations”, she averred that she would “not necessarily” seek to interfere with an artist’s vision. All she wanted, she announced, was to be consulted.

But then would she feel satisfied if, once her views had been heard and taken into account, the work in question remained unchanged? Interestingly, by way of an answer to this yes/no question from presenter Kirsty Wark, Myers turned her attention to the moral deficiencies she perceived in the production:

There’s no whiteness in that exhibition. All there is is black people standing in various cages with chains…

A reductive piece of critical analysis, to be sure. To Wark’s hypothetical that scenes involving the degradation of blacks required a “white representation,” she nodded: “Yes, it needed to be balanced.” I don’t know what I dislike more; the presumption of the words in that sentence or the pedagogical tone in which they were uttered.

Myers never did get around to giving Wark a straightforward answer, but it was evident to me that she was not about to be appeased by any amount of consultation so long as the show went ahead unaltered. Had it done so, I imagine she would have denounced the consultation efforts as a cosmetic sham designed to shut her up and pressed for further direct action.

But Farrington was not satisfied that the protestors’ concerns had been adequately dealt with either. She described the two hours alotted to the public debate commissioned by the Barbican as “woefully inadequate”, and welcomed the activists’ call for further “engagement and dialogue”:

As anticipated the debate changed nothing in the short term, the work will open this evening as planned, but there was an urgent call for a longer, fuller discussion which hopefully Barbican will respond to as a matter of urgency.

Myers’s petition is unambiguous in its demand for the censorship of Exhibit B. And the jubilation with which she and her supporters welcomed the news of the performance’s closure, two days after Farrington’s article appeared, speaks to their true motivations. These are not people interested in opening dialogue but in policing it and closing it down.

How on earth did a free speech advocate find themselves so far on the wrong side of an elementary free speech debate? The nature of the performance, its subject matter, and perhaps most importantly, the skin colour of the protesters, appear to have presented Farrington with a conflict. She is a free speech advocate. But she is also clearly sympathetic to the view that structural racism and institutionalised white privilege are the ‘root cause’ of everything. Certainly, as far as UK arts and culture goes, she accepts its alleged ‘institutionalised racism’, a priori. As she puts it:

Surely it cannot be possible for the Barbican to stand by a work that purports to confront “colonial atrocities committed in Africa, European notions of racial supremacy and the plight of immigrants today” and not see that it is holding up a mirror to itself.

Index on Censorship does not speak for the victims of ‘structural racism’. There are other organisations which devote their time and resources to that. In her capacity as a writer for Index, Farrington ought to have shelved her reservations about such matters, and concentrated on the most immediate threat to free speech: the intimidation of artists and venue by a censorious campaign.

But she prefers to resolve her ideological dilemma with a rhetorical sleight of hand. She concludes her article:

I defend Brett Bailey’s right to present these horrendous atrocities from the past – anything else is censorship . . . But the more potent issue here, is the perpetuation of institutionalised mono-cultural bias preventing the Barbican, and the vast majority of British arts institutions, from fostering and delivering a truly relevant cultural programme. This untenable form of censorship must be addressed and continue to be addressed long after Exhibit B has been and gone.

So it turns out that Farrington has been anti-censorship all along. Not the common-or-garden type right in front of her eyes, of course, but something more profound and subtle; the censorship of minority voices by stealth.

In support of her accusation, Farrington relies on two rather dubious expert witnesses. She quotes Mark Sealy, artistic director at Autograph Black Photographers, who demands that public funding be withdrawn from those who don’t fall into line by employing the right people or producing the right kind of content. The basis for this draconian recommendation is a highly implausible (and unsubstantiated) claim that “since 1980s it is progress zero”. Part of what is needed, we may infer, is the involvement more people like Sara Myers who will arbitrate on what kind of material is and is not acceptable to their respective communities.

Then we meet Jenny Williams, described as an “independent arts consultant”. Williams appears to think what’s needed is a thoroughgoing policy of Multiculturalism in the arts and a stricter balkanisation of funding allocated to minority communities:

The Arts Council funding of arts infrastructure is not fairly representing the 14% black and minority communities. 14% of ACE’s overall three-year investment of £2.4bn would equate to £336m – that’s £112m per year. The black and minority ethnic community contribute around £62m per year into the overall arts budget. Yet, the current yearly figure currently invested in black and minority ethnic-led work is £4.8m.

The outrage of this apparently monstrous pie-dividing injustice, by the way, appears to rest on an assumption that black and minority ethnic audiences won’t look at or listen to anything not made by their own ethnic or racial group. But by enlightened roads such as these will we journey to a land where all art and culture is politically acceptable and socially responsible.

As Farrington must surely be aware, the fanatical pursuit of this conformist dystopia is not restricted to the arts. A recent article in Spiked by Frank Furedi entitled “Academic Freedom Is a Big Deal” looks at troubling examples of this kind of doctrinaire thinking on campus:

Intolerance towards the academic freedom of other colleagues is invariably represented as not what it really is – the silencing of unconventional or objectionable views – but rather as an enlightened defence of those who would be offended by unconventional or objectionable views. From this perspective, the advocacy of a genuinely open intellectual culture, where scholars are encouraged to take risks and question everything, is an abomination.

Academic freedom and artistic freedom – both of which, in different ways, are dedicated to the pursuit of truth – are extraordinarily precious components of open societies. And both are in danger of being compromised, not just by moral puritans of the right, but also by moral puritans of the left – those for whom the enforcement of their own idea of ‘social justice’ and the immediate redress of grievance trump all scholarly and aesthetic concerns.

It is fantastically unwise for an organisation like Index on Censorship to indulge such people. Anti-censorship advocates, whatever their views about related issues, owe it to themselves to defend art and scholarship from the manoeuvres of activists like Sara Myers, and to do so without equivocation. Farrington’s article subordinates that responsibility to ideological views concerning the nature of racism, social justice activism, and identity politics, which are wildly beyond her brief. In a confused attempt to position herself as the friend of the weak, Julia Farrington has misidentified both villain and victim and sided with censorious philistinism. The people power embodied by Myers and her fellow malcontents, of which Farrington writes with such admiration, was a sinister and coercive force from the start.

I take no pleasure in criticising Index on Censorship. They do valuable work and are, by some accounts, a rather embattled organisation at present. But in their handling of this controversy, they abdicated their responsibility to defend those in whose interests they speak. When their associate arts producer marvelled at the 22,500 signatures the petition to close Bailey’s work had by then accrued, she should have stopped to consider this: it is precisely at times like these that artists and performers engaged in challenging work most need the support of people like her.

This is a cross-post from the Jacobinism blog.

Sunny Hundal: Gaza, Falsehoods, Moral Equivalence

By Jamie Palmer

At a time when the Middle East is convulsed by conflicts in which neither party has much to recommend them, the war in Gaza benefits from a rare moral clarity. A liberal democracy and the world’s only Jewish State came under attack by an openly eliminationist and genocidally anti-Semitic totalitarian terrorist organization. In a saner world, support for the former from democrats of all stripes would be a foregone conclusion. But, alas, we live in this one.

The Left’s deranged hesperophobic tendency has, of course, gone completely berserk. But images of broken Palestinian children being removed from the rubble of Gaza – often presented as if the conflict is about nothing else – have helped to give their hysterical views a veneer of reasonability, and their madness has begun to infect the opinions of otherwise clear-minded people.

One such person is Sunny Hundal. I have many differences with Hundal, but he is not someone who can be readily bracketed with anti-Western head-bangers like Mehdi Hasan and Owen Jones. Hundal supported military intervention in Syria and, domestically, he has been supportive of counter-extremism efforts by organisations such as Quilliam to combat homegrown radical Islam.

The Gaza war, however, has completely screwed up his critical perspective, and he has gone beyond simply condemning Israeli policies and actions, and has endorsed the Tricycle Theatre’s recent refusal to host London’s annual Jewish Film Festival as long as it accepts funding from the Israeli embassy.

His recent Guardian debate with Nick Cohen on the subject opens with a paragraph of anti-Israeli half-truths, canards and falsehoods, and since they form the moral basis of his call to boycott the Festival (to which I’ll return), they should be dealt with.

The issues are complex, and the first of them unfortunately necessitates a stat-heavy response, but I’ll be brief as I can:

“There is a very strong case Israel is systematically abusing human rights by keeping Palestinians under a goods and people blockade.”

The Israelis are not capable of unilaterally enforcing a blockade of Gaza since Egypt controls the Rafah border crossing. Furthermore, a post by Elder of Ziyon has just reminded us of the following:

  • Crossings closed due to their vulnerability to terrorism have no effect on imports because those remaining open are more than capable of meeting Gaza’s needs. Israel invested 80m shekels expanding the Kerem Shalom crossing for this purpose and it is never at maximum capacity.
  • Israel does not impose a limit on Gaza’s exports (although Israel no longer imports them).
  • Besides a small list of “dual use” materials, Israel imposes no restrictions on Gaza imports either, and allows dual-purpose goods to be imported under certain conditions. Israel’s anxiety about such materials has been vindicated by the discovery of the sheer scale of the tunnel network Hamas has been busily constructing.
  • Israel’s naval blockade, like the closure of crossings, is a response to Hamas terrorism not its cause. Incidents like the Karine-A affair have made Israel understandably nervous about arms arriving in Gaza by sea.

The Kerem Shalom crossing, incidentally, remained open throughout the conflict, despite continuous Hamas rocket fire from Gaza, until – in an act of Palestinian incompetence or perversity – it was itself subjected to rocket attack on Sunday August 10.

Before that, according to the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs:

On August 6, 236 trucks carrying 4,196 tons of goods and supplies entered Gaza via Kerem Shalom Crossing. Among the trucks that entered were:

131 trucks carrying 2,526 tons of food

5 trucks carrying 27 tons of medicine and medical supplies

43 trucks carrying 313 tons of humanitarian supplies

6 trucks with 110 tons of equipment to help repair infrastructure.

1 truck carrying 7 tons of agricultural supplies

A team of 22 doctors from the West Bank entered the Gaza Strip in order to assist current medical staff.

Further shipments are detailed on the same site, but overall between the start of Operation Protective Edge on 8 July and the ceasefire on 5 August, Israel transferred 40,550 tons of supplies into Gaza via Kerem Shalom.

Since Israel imposes no restrictions on food, fuel and medicine passing through the crossings, Hundal should be required to explain why he is blaming Israel for Gaza’s terrible hardship and exonerating Hamas and the PA of their own responsibilities to Palestinians.

The medical shortage – according to the PA – is caused by Hamas theft. The fuel shortage is caused by Hamas’s refusal to pay market prices for fuel from Israel or to accept Egyptian fuel through Kerem Shalom. Hamas found it could enrich its officials at Gazans’ expense by imposing exorbitant taxes on fuel and other materials imported illegally through the smuggling tunnels. Which is why it is Hamas and not the Israelis who impose limits on what may enter Gaza legally through the crossings.

As Ynet recently reported, the upshot of all this is that while Gaza languishes in poverty, rampant theft and corruption has allowed Hamas to become “a movement of millionaires”.

As for people:

The IDF acceded to the request of hundreds of Palestinians who hold foreign citizenship to leave the Gaza Strip. The Erez Crossing in northern Gaza also remains open to Palestinian pedestrians for humanitarian cases.

Does Hundal realise that last year, the nation he accuses of being a systematic abuser of human rights treated 180,000 Palestinians in Israeli hospitals? Or that Israel opened a purpose-built field hospital on the Gaza border to treat Palestinians injured in the current conflict?

For good measure, Hundal goes on to claim that Israel “denies Palestinians clean water”. This is also false, not to mention inflammatory. Israel has met and even exceeded its obligations under Oslo with respect to the division and provision of water resources. Hamas, on the other hand, has been in repeated breach, and it is the excessive drilling of ‘pirate wells’ that has caused Gaza’s water supply to become contaminated by seawater.

For a full analysis of the various issues relating to water resources, see this fairly comprehensive article and supporting documentation posted at the Gatestone Institute.

“There is a very strong case Israel is systematically abusing human rights by continually building illegal settlements on their land despite international agreements”

Even if one puts the illegality of the settlements beyond dispute, this is a ridiculous assertion. While I share Hundal’s implied dislike of Israel’s ideologically irredentist strain, the actual construction of settlements beyond the Green Line does not necessarily prejudice a 2 State agreement, still less constitute a “systematic abuse of human rights”.

Many of the largest settlement blocks will be incorporated into Israel anyway under an agreement, and compensated with land swaps from Israeli territory bordering Palestine. Outposts will be dismantled and evacuated, just as they were when Israel withdrew from the Sinai and Gaza. It will be difficult and painful, and the Israeli government needs to do more to prepare public opinion for these concessions, but in the event of an agreement it will get done.

Meanwhile, Hundal may wish to ponder why it is that the settlement of Jews within what will one day be Palestine is such an egregious sin in the first place. Approximately 1.7m Arabs live safely and freely as members of Israeli society, afforded equal rights, protections, and equality before the law. Will Palestinian Jews be permitted to remain in their West Bank homes should they wish to do so? Will it be safe for them to do so? Or will a 2 State agreement necessarily require the removal of all Jews from the territory?

When people agonise about the construction of Jewish settlements, I can’t help noticing that there are very few Jews left in the rest of the Middle East. Ancient Jewish populations have long since fled or been driven out of neighbouring Arab countries, their remaining numbers reduced to triple, double or even single digits. It would seem there are those for whom it is an act of forbearance to hem Jews into the sliver of the Middle East constituting Israel proper.

Hamas, of course, with whom Israel is at war, refuse to grant even that. Israel is often accused of being a racist nation. But the stark contrast between Israel’s imperfect but genuinely pluralist society and those of its neighbours is one worth considering when assessing the moral balance in this conflict.

“There is a very strong case Israel is systematically abusing human rights by ignoring the peace process”

No there isn’t and this allegation reveals an astonishing ignorance both of what actually happened during the most recent round of negotiations, and of the reasons for their failure. Beginning with the second of these, the talks most certainly did not collapse due to Israeli indifference. On the contrary, as The New Republic’s report disclosed, Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni tried to persuade the Palestinians to return to the table.

Lest it be forgotten, Israel released 78 pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were serving time for the murder of Israeli citizens. Israel got nothing tangible in return. Only a commitment to temporarily suspend applications to international bodies, which, in any case, the Palestinians violated before the talks had even fully collapsed.

When it became clear that the Palestinians were unprepared to commit to continued negotiations, irrespective of whether the final prisoner release went ahead or not, Israel cancelled it. The announcement of a unity government with Hamas destroyed whatever remained of the process.

But, more to the point, belief in the idea that Israel has ignored the peace process requires a wilful failure to appreciate the commitment and flexibility Bibi Netanyahu and Livni showed on the core issues during negotiations themselves.

For a detailed analysis of the Kerry talks and the reasons for their failure, see this excellent post over at the anonymous mugwump blog (which also addresses the issue of settlements in more depth).

“Last week both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused [Israel] of war crimes, and it wasn’t the first time.”

It sure wasn’t! But an accusation made is not an accusation proven, and Hundal would do well to handle Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports relating to Israel with greater caution.

In 2010, the Gita Sahgal affair revealed the scale of Amnesty’s moral confusion concerning theo-fascist ‘resistance’ movements. A similar confusion can be detected in their credulous coverage of the latest Gaza war. Despite abundant evidence provided by the IDF that Hamas uses human shields to protect military targets, and uses hospitals and ambulances for military purposes, Amnesty reports it is agnostic on these matters, while entertaining no such doubts about allegations of Israel’s egregious wrongdoing.

Both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have played fast and loose with the terms “indiscriminate” and “disproportionate” to describe Israeli military actions during this war, to the point where the seriousness of such language doesn’t appear to merit a second thought.

When the BBC published a report pointing out that a disproportionate number of Gazans killed by Israel during the war were fighting-age males, it appeared to dent HRW’s repeated charge that Israeli shelling of Gaza had been untargeted. Not to be deterred, HRW’s executive director Kenneth Roth responded by carefully balancing the likelihood of Hamas disinformation with the possibility that Israel had simply been targeting young men, irrespective of whether or not they were combatants.

The fact that both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty draw significant numbers of their staff pool from pro-Palestinian activist groups like the International Solidarity Movement and even pro-militant propaganda outlets like the Electronic Intifada, should give the fair-minded pause. As should the uncritical repeating of highly unreliable eyewitness testimony and uncorroborated statements by Hamas officials in their readiness – no, eagerness – to accuse Israel of war crimes before all the facts are in.

In October 2009, Robert Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch and its chairman for 20 years, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he expressed his dismay at the direction Human Rights Watch had taken since his departure, particularly in its approach to the Middle East. Earlier in the year, the organisation had accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. To which Bernstein objected:

In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch reports on Israeli crimes and violations are not to be dismissed outright, by any means. But, regrettably, nor do they have the automatic moral authority in this context that Sunny Hundal appears to assume.

In the opening paragraphs of his article, Bernstein also made a point pertinent, not only to the Middle East conflict in general, but also to the side-show quarrel over the Tricycle boycott:

At Human Rights Watch, we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses. But we saw that they have the ability to correct them — through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform.

That is why we sought to draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity in human rights. We wanted to prevent the Soviet Union and its followers from playing a moral equivalence game with the West and to encourage liberalization by focussing on dissidents[.]

One of these self-critical mechanisms is culture. Advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are attacking Israeli culture and academia, in order to narrow the available platforms on which pro and dissenting Jewish and Israeli voices may meet their opponents. For them, the debate is over.

This leads Hundal to justify his position on the boycott of the Jewish Film Festival with precisely the kind of moral equivalence Robert Berstein cautioned against. Hundal to Nick Cohen:

Britons have very limited options to influence the Israeli government, and boycotting their money is one of their very few tools. You’ve advocated boycotting Press TV and raised concerns about Russia Today in the past, partly because they are state-funded and toe that line. What if people accused you of singling out Persians or Russians? I’m sure you would agree with me in applauding any group that rejected Syrian, Hamas or Russian state money too.

The Tricycle was guilty of this same moral failing when – absurdly – its director protested that she would not hesitate to ban a Hamas-funded film festival on the same grounds.

If Hundal and the Tricycle, in their hurry to be seen as scrupulously even-handed, cannot see an objective difference between the propaganda arm of a totalitarian theocracy and the free forum for ideas represented by the Jewish Film Festival, then I suppose it follows that they should see no particular reason to support a liberal democracy as it defends itself from a fascist foe.

Bernstein’s article is an eloquent reply to this thinking:

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

Hamas is not a noble resistance movement and it has no interest in responsible or even competent governance. It is simply another head on the Salafi jihadi hydra currently tearing the Middle East to pieces. These groups are cults of death which will somehow have to be destroyed. When that finally happens it will be a deliverance for all those they terrify and control, including Gazans. If anyone’s skeptical on this point, I recommend spending some time listening to what Hamas actually say. And reading their foundational Charter.

Israel – tragically – is trapped in an occupation from which it has been unable to disentangle itself. Not because it is “ignoring the peace process” but because its government and its people understand the threats they face far better than Sunny Hundal and the deeply unsympathetic NGOs he cites.

As Israel responds to rockets fire and low-level incursions, Hundal prefers to offer tendentious claims about settlements and sanctions, and manages to excuse Hamas any responsibility for the dire state of the polity it governs. All to justify an attack on artistic expression; itself a spiteful proxy attack on the Middle East’s embattled democracy.