How the Palestinians Hijacked the Jewish Culture War
The Palestinians have manipulated many Jews into thinking morality, the bedrock of Judaism, is at the heart of the Palestinian cause. Reality suggests otherwise.
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In political science, a “culture war” is a type of conflict between different social groups who struggle to politically impose their own values and ideologies (beliefs, virtues, practices) upon others.
Often culture wars are based on abstract arguments about morality, meant to provoke political polarization through intentionally adversarial social narratives.
Indeed, morality is synonymous with Judaism — see: the 613 commandments — and thus the Jewish culture war, both inside the State of Israel and across the Diaspora, portrays the gaps between morality and reality.
In modern times, non-religious Jews usually adopt an idealist universalist approach to be their moral compass as citizens of relatively liberal societies. Jews and Judaism became Westernized in much of the Diaspora, and non-religious Jews who seek to remain ethno-religiously unique have to go out of their way to ensure that their duality of particularism and universalism does not warrant charges of dual loyalty.
Once upon a time, the Western political left sympathized with Zionism, but that changed substantially after the 1967 Six-Day War and Israel’s subsequent takeover of the West Bank (from Jordan) and Gaza (from Egypt).
Around this time, the Palestinian cause started becoming a mascot for left-leaning Western Jews. In some people’s eyes, Israel was an incarnation of American imperial power, or for one-time colonial struggles — especially for those who lack the historical knowledge (or are in denial) that Zionism is the single-greatest decolonization project on planet Earth.
Nowadays, and especially in the wake of October 7th, 2023, Israel’s mainstream morality emanates from realpolitik, a system of politics and principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations.
It is easy for Westerners living far, far away from the Middle East to point out all the ways that Israel, in theory, should do X or shouldn’t do Y, and then there’s the reality of inhabiting a tiny sliver of land in a volatile, historically anti-Jewish region, not to mention one of the only places in the Middle East without the world’s most in-demand resource: oil. And by “oil” I mean leverage.
Many have wondered whether the universal morality cultivated by left-leaning Western Jews can be reconciled with the conventional Zionist morality of realpolitik. But even Zionism has evolved since the Jews earned statehood in 1948, from predominantly socialist, non-religious ideals to the now more traditional Jewish character of the state, thanks to significant demographic transformations and a stubbornly hanging cloud of war.
Today, the Jewish state features a healthy majority of citizens who are of Mizrahi or Sephardic descent, and these types of Jews typically regard themselves as more right-leaning Jewish Israelis (more traditional and religious). Their counterparts, more left-leaning and usually Ashkenazi Jews (but not always) are likely to consider themselves Israeli Jews (more liberal and secular), similar to many of Israel’s founders.
More liberal and secular Jews, both in Israel and across the Diaspora, think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of Jewish moral failure, even though there has never been a mainstream Zionist doctrine that implicitly or explicitly encourages discrimination or antagonism toward any group of people, the Palestinians notwithstanding.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians have reconstructed their narrative many times, including with the help of the Soviets and their communist allies, who in the 1960s encouraged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to abandon his public desire to annihilate the Jews in Israel, and replace it with “liberating the Palestinian People” from Israel.
It was a far more effective communications strategy, and the first step in reframing the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews from religious jihad to secular nationalism, in a quest for political self-determination, a posture far less offensive to the West, especially in the wake of overwhelming guilt following the Holocaust.
Many liberal and secular Jews gobbled up this nonsense, regardless of the actual history, and in true self-defeating fashion, began championing the Palestinian cause as one of liberation and human rights — two grievances that are hard to counter — whereby Israel is the oppressor, the colonizer, the ethnic cleanser, the human rights abuser, the violent settler.
The on-the-ground reality suggests otherwise: Yes, the Palestinians deserve human rights just like everyone else in the world. They might even qualify for their own demilitarized, non-terrorist state alongside the Jewish one if they can get their act together.
But for now, the Palestinian cause is inherently more aligned with ethno-religious revenge and retribution. Hence why many Palestinians actually support Hamas’ massacre on October 7th, according to a variety of polls.
Until the Palestinians are able to fully accomplish said revenge and retribution — by eradicating Israel and establishing a Palestinian state in its place — they have strategically rigged the rules of the game to secure forever-refugee status, thus positioning themselves to be recused from even the slightest semblance of responsibility and accountability in the Israeli-Palestinian saga.
Israel also bears its fair share of responsibility and accountability in this saga, but it at least upholds democracy and other liberal values. Many of the Jewish state’s haters will point to the current extreme right-wing Israeli government that has been running the country since the end of 2022, but many of the arguments presently levied at Israel predate this governing coalition by a long shot.
Palestinian political institutions, on the other hand, have nothing to do with democracy and other liberal values. They are riddled with Jew hatred, non-Muslim prejudice, and the politics of envy — as if to tell their people, “Look what the Jews have built on the land of your parents and grandparents. That should be yours, and with us in power, it will be.”
Except the Palestinians in power, both in Gaza and the West Bank, continue to kleptocraticly enrich themselves while their people endure endless suffering precisely because of their leaders, not in spite of them.
There is no greater oppressor and human rights abuser of the Palestinians than Palestinian leadership, dating back to the 1960s when Yasser Arafat assumed chairmanship of the Palestine Liberation Organization. But instead of confronting their own leaders, the Palestinians have repeatedly taken their frustrations out on the Jews.
For example, during the peasants’ revolt in Palestine in 1834, which was precipitated by heavy Egyptian demands for conscripts, Palestinians attacked Jews throughout the region. In Safed, they took advantage of a defenseless Jewish population, looting and destroying their homes, as well as raping and killing. In Jerusalem, hundreds of Jewish-owned shops were raided and damaged. Jews were also murdered in Nablus and in Judaism’s second-holiest city, Hebron.
Throughout the 1800s and into the 1900s, murderous Palestinian rage against Jews made clear that Palestinian grievances have little to do with Israel or Zionism, capped off in 1929 when some 3,000 Muslim men armed with swords, clubs, axes, and daggers went from Jewish house to Jewish house in Hebron — stabbing, raping, and in some cases castrating and burning their victims alive.
At any given period of time since the 1800s, when Palestinians started referring to themselves as such, they have been more interested in making life hell on Earth for the Jews in their indigenous homeland, than in building meaningful, prosperous lives for themselves.
Over time, as the Jews learned to defend themselves against unrelenting Palestinian aggression, the Palestinians realized that the only war they might have a chance at winning is the “war of information” — really, a war of virulent propaganda that is easily adopted by people on a spectrum of ignorant to uneducated to antisemitic.
As one person aptly put it: “Israel has to defend itself for defending itself while defending itself.”1
In these people’s minds, there is no such thing as contrast. Suffering, irrespective of context or nuance, is suffering. The Palestinians are not a people who historically kill themselves and other Arabs and Muslims just as much as they kill Jews; they are a symbol for everyone who has any quibble, no matter how far-fetched or ridiculous, against the big bad wolves typically dressed as White men whose hobbies include colonialism, oppression, and racism — and whose middle names could very well be “privilege.”
To these people, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” sounds like an honorable call for liberation, even though the decades-old tagline also contains a clear and obvious threat: Freedom, in this case, implies the destruction of the State of Israel. This is absolutely the sense in which Hamas, currently the most popular Palestinian faction in both Gaza and the West Bank, parades this slogan.
To be fair, there are extremists in the Jewish world as well. Last year, for instance, Jewish Israeli extremists responded to a growing wave of Palestinian terrorism by taking the law into their own hands, burning Palestinian villages and property with the support of government ministers. While many Israelis, among them all the heads of the security organs of the state, condemned this Jewish terrorism, others ranged from ambivalent to sympathetic.
Make no mistake: Israel apologists who act as if the Jewish state and its citizens can do no wrong are also problematic. Israel is an impressive country by many marks, and it is also deeply ordinary. We should be proud but not pompous about our beloved country, and not be afraid to call out its shortcomings when relevant.
But for those who want to scold Israel in the name of “morality” at every beck and call, they should simultaneously answer questions like:
Why do the casualties in, say, Syria or Sudan, prompt less of your outrage?
How do you explain the phenomenon that female-minded organizations like UN Women and others, which have promoted women’s rights ad nauseam, did virtually nothing following the Palestinians’ sexual exploits on October 7th?
Whom among you has actually lived in the Middle East, where Western ideals are regularly mocked and threatened, and where Israel is the closest thing to the liberal values you so dearly uphold?
You see, the culture war tearing the Jewish world apart is not one of values, or even one of morality. It is one of reality versus conjecture. Reality suggests that history and context clearly show Israel’s attempt at morality, while surely imperfect, is actually quite impressive on the whole. Conjecture is nothing more than feel-good fantasies and fetishes that dangerously distort the dictum “I think therefore I am” into “I feel therefore it is.”
Seeing the world in black and white terms can be comforting, of course. It turns complicated issues into fairy tales of good versus evil, while a trophy of virtue for those who pick the “right” side — the so-called moral high ground. This is part of the age of polarization’s appeal: In this schema, the powerless can do no wrong, least of all to the powerful — and no group can be both.
In particular, because the “poor Palestinians” are cast as powerless, and Israel as powerful, it follows that Israelis cannot qualify as victims. Never mind the exile of Mizrahi Jews from Arab countries to Israel between the 1940s and 1970s. The Holocaust? That’s ancient history by now.
Now, it is all about the Palestinians who represent the most important link in the chain of quasi-liberation movements, as communist insurgencies claimed to be during the Cold War. I guess some people forgot that the Soviet Union fell, Marxism failed along with its cousins, and still, those who supposedly defend the values of the West are co-opted by a vision of a world that inevitably leads to poverty.
Liberalism is meant to promote individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise. In recent decades, the main leaders of the Western world have abandoned the model of freedom for different versions of collectivism, a socio-political philosophy that is tailor-made for quick and easy social media posts and protest signs, but obstructs the balance and nuance necessary to truly understand real-world situations. No less ones that are immensely historic.
If the issue is simply morality, of for example live and let live, well then, the Jewish state is perfectly positioned to play a part. But the folks that many liberal Jews are marching with in Western capitals, or otherwise complicitly supporting, do not advocate for the two-state solution as was suggested by the United Nations back in 1947, a full year before the Jews declared their independence in their indigenous homeland.
Instead, these “pro-Palestinian” demonstrators have made it loud and clear: They desire a Palestine that stretches “from the river to the sea” (even if they cannot name said river and said sea).
In this way, the Palestinian brand of “anti-imperialism” is absurdly imperialistic, and morality is just a tonic to make the hypocrisy go down easier.
Luai Ahmed on X