A tale of two massacres

The woke hatred for Israel is no longer just strange – it’s dangerous.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Identity Politics Politics World

Truth is the first casualty of war, they say. It’s the first casualty of virtue-signalling, too. Over the past week we have seen just how estranged from truth the West’s fashionable anti-Israel set has become. Something extraordinary happened: woke commentators and activists expressed more fury over a massacre that didn’t happen than they did over one that did happen. They made more noise over a massacre that exists mostly in their imaginations than they did over a massacre that existed in the real world, that shattered people’s lives in the most violent, horrifying and bigoted fashion imaginable. This tale of two massacres, of the real and unreal, sheds a harsh and unforgiving light on anti-Israel sentiment today.

It starts with events in Jenin in the West Bank last Thursday. Following numerous clashes over the past month between Israeli security forces and Palestinian residents of the West Bank, the Israelis launched a raid in Jenin in which nine people were killed. It was a massacre, people say. Israeli security forces slaughtered Palestinians, we were told. Democratic US congresswoman and Squad member Rashida Tlaib led the charge: Israel is an ‘apartheid regime that is killing Palestinian children [and] families’, she said the day after the Jenin incident. We must ‘honour the victims of the Jenin massacre’, she said, ‘by telling the truth about the apartheid government’. The word ‘massacre’ was widely used in the left media. Electronic Intifada called it an ‘Israeli bloodbath’. ‘Jenin’ and ‘massacre’ trended online. British people were encouraged to write to their MPs to register their disgust with Israel’s ‘brutal’ behaviour.

What really happened in Jenin? For all the talk of hateful, racist Israel gunning down Palestinian families, in truth it was a fairly straightforward military clash between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants. Israel was pursuing militants that it believes are plotting attacks. Seven of the people killed were gunmen who had opened fire in response to Israel’s raid. You don’t have to take Israel’s word for it – Palestinian militants themselves have said it was mostly their people who died. Islamic Jihad said two of its members were killed while ‘battling’ the Israelis. Four of the slain gunmen were claimed by Hamas. And one was claimed by an armed wing of Fatah, the faction of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Does this sound like a massacre, or like a bloody clash between opposing groups in a war-like situation?

The presentation of the clash in Jenin as a massacre shows how hyper-moralised, and thus morally distorted, the Western left’s take on Israel-Palestine has become. Their view of Israel as the world’s most evil state, an apartheid regime whose every military action is an act of bigoted bloodshed, blinds them to the complexities in that unstable region. Instead of this being a conflict between a state and those who oppose the existence of that state, it all comes to be seen as a cosmic showdown between evil and good, between Israeli wickedness and Palestinian victimhood, between the archetypal colonial power and the most tragic of colonised peoples. Every shade of grey is ruthlessly chased out when Israel is demonised and Palestine is infantilised in order to weave a simplistic black-and-white narrative that might flatter the moral pretensions of virtue-signalling Westerners but which does little to shed light on the truth of the troubles in the Middle East.

Indeed, truth itself is chased out by this hyper-moralisation. Across social media, the untruth about Palestinian civilians being massacred in Jenin spread like wildfire. We ended up with Rashida Tlaib, an actual congresswoman, using the phrase ‘killing Palestinian children [and] families’ in relation to a clash in which, by Palestine’s own admission, it was predominantly armed and active male militants that were killed. Islamic Jihad is a thoroughly regressive movement that wants to obliterate Israel and build an Islamic State of Palestine in which Sharia would rule and anyone who defies Sharia – women, gays, non-believers – would be suitably punished. Are these the kind of ‘victims’ Tlaib thinks we should ‘honour’?

Now let us turn to the other massacre of the past week. The real one. This was the shooting to death of seven Jews in a synagogue in East Jerusalem on Friday. On Holocaust Memorial Day. This was a real version of the kind of horror that some claimed, without evidence, had taken place in Jenin. It really was the slaughter of ‘children and families’, to borrow Tlaib’s words. Two of the victims were a married couple. One was a 14-year-old boy. And yet the woke set’s response to this real massacre was far more muted than their response to the one they largely made up.

Western politicians who went online to express horror over the slaughter in the synagogue found themselves bombarded by ‘pro-Palestine’ people asking: ‘And what about the killings in Jenin?’ Some media outlets hinted at a moral equivalence, or at least a moral link, between the Jenin clash and the synagogue killings. In its report on the synagogue slaughter, the BBC said ‘tensions have been high since nine Palestinians – both militants and civilians – were killed during an Israeli military raid in Jenin’. Have we really lost the ability to morally differentiate between an armed confrontation between soldiers and militants and the mass murder of unarmed civilians in their place of worship? These are not the same thing. In any way.

Listen: when people are targeted in a synagogue, they are targeted because they are Jews. The slaughter on Holocaust Memorial Day was an act of racist barbarism, akin to the grim assaults on Christian churches in Sri Lanka or mosques in New Zealand. ‘Explaining’ the synagogue massacre as if it were a normal or even understandable expression of the broader tensions gripping the Middle East shows just how unhinged anti-Israel sentiment has become. It is shocking that this needs to be said, but nothing – not the events in Jenin, not Israel’s recent incursions into the West Bank and Gaza, not the Israeli settlements – makes the mass murder of Jews for being Jews a comprehensible thing.

The past week suggests that the anti-Israel fury of influential Westerners is no longer just strange and prejudiced – it’s dangerous. It seems increasingly clear to me that the reimagining of Israel-Palestine as a war between dark and light, between the world’s most wicked state and the world’s most victimised people, is helping to nurture new and ever-more crazed forms of violence in the region. After all, if you are evil, then anything done against you can be justified, right?

So committed are some in the West to the narrative of Israeli evil and Palestinian good that they hold up Palestinians as the pitiable victims of massacres in the very week when it was Israelis, Jews in fact, who were the victims of a massacre. Their devotion to the ideology of Israel-hate clearly takes precedence over everything, even truth. That there has not been more moral and historical angst in the West over the massacre of praying Jews on Holocaust Memorial Day is abominable. It is a blot on the Western moral conscience. It tells us more about us than we would care to know.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Identity Politics Politics World


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