OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

The fracturing of the ‘progressive’ West

Leftists are now crying because suddenly, they feel the hot breath of the Jew-haters on their own necks.

A masked man holds an anti-Jewish sign at a protest near the Israeli consulate in New York on Oct. 17, 2023. Photo by Joe Tabacca/Shutterstock.
A masked man holds an anti-Jewish sign at a protest near the Israeli consulate in New York on Oct. 17, 2023. Photo by Joe Tabacca/Shutterstock.
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir, Guardian Angel, has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy, in 2018. To access her work, go to: melaniephillips.substack.com.

When Sir Keir Starmer became leader of Britain’s Labour Party after the hard-left Jeremy Corbyn was unseated, he vowed to rid it of the antisemitism that had exploded under Corbyn’s viciously anti-Israel leadership.

He purged the party’s most egregious antisemites and embarked on serious bridge-building with Britain’s Jewish community.

Many British Jews decided as a result that the party was once again a safe harbor. Now, however, in the wake of the Hamas pogrom on Oct. 7 and in the war that has followed, they have discovered that the Labour waters are still teeming with sharks.

True, Starmer is holding the line he took from the start, standing alongside Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in support of Israel’s right to defend itself against existential attack. But Starmer is under enormous pressure from a large section of his still widely anti-Israel party to withdraw that support.

Calls for a ceasefire have come from the Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar; the Labour mayor of London, Sadiq Khan; and the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. At least 13 shadow ministers have also joined calls for an end to the fighting, and 23 of the party’s local councilors have resigned.

Starmer, a former human-rights lawyer who subsequently crossed the ideological floor to become the country’s chief prosecutor, found himself hanging off his high wire without a safety harness when he told a radio interviewer who asked him if Israel was right to cut off water and power to Gaza: “I think Israel does have that right.”

The backlash that followed was enormous. Starmer tried to walk back his remark, and then made a speech in which he tried to balance his refusal to demand a ceasefire with “concern” over some of Israel’s actions and a call for a “humanitarian pause” to its bombardment to allow aid to enter Gaza from Egypt.

Few think that his attempt to straddle both sides will hold. Few can predict whether he’ll continue to face down the rising pressure from the left to turn against Israel or will give way to it.

This pressure comes from two overlapping constituencies: the anti-Israel left and the Muslim community. A similar problem is now on display within the Democratic Party and “progressive” circles in America.

When the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning Hamas for its barbaric atrocities, 15 Democrats refused to vote for it. True to form, Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) called for an end to “unconditional” military aid to Israel while Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said “this heartbreaking cycle of violence will continue” unless the funds are cut off.

An open letter from 100 Columbia professors called the pogrom in which Hamas butchered children in front of their parents, raped women, and burned and beheaded babies “a military resistance by a people who had endured crushing and unrelenting state violence from an occupying power.”

Some American Jews on the left have also supported the morally degenerate demand to prevent Israel from stopping the Iran-backed genocide. At a campaign event in Minneapolis, Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg shouted at U.S. President Joe Biden: “As a rabbi, I need you to call for a ceasefire right now.”

Such attitudes have caused shock and disorientation among some of these left-wingers’ erstwhile ideological allies. They are aghast to discover that people who have been shoulder to shoulder with them across the left-wing landscape—from identity politics to opposing Israel’s so-called “occupation” of the “West Bank”—are displaying indifference towards or even support for a depraved genocidal agenda against the Jewish people, and worse still, are now even accusing them of sharing in the oppression of the Palestinians.

The air is suddenly loud with their cries of anguish and betrayal.

Rabbi Sharon Brous, a “progressive” activist in Los Angeles who regularly slams Israel, described from the pulpit, with her voice reportedly breaking, her horror and feelings of “existential loneliness.” “The clear message from many in the world, especially from our world—those who claim to care the most about justice and human dignity—is that these Israeli victims somehow deserved this terrible fate,” she lamented.

One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. These are the people who have spent decades demonizing, defaming and delegitimizing Israel. These are the people who have sided with, sanitized and legitimized mortal enemies of Israel who teach their children to hate and murder Jews just because they are Jews.

These are the people who have remained wholly indifferent to the murderous attacks on Jews living in the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria—Israelis who have been butchered in their beds or who are regularly attacked by people stabbing them, ramming cars into them at bus stops or throwing rocks through their car windows to kill them.

To the left, however, those Israeli victims have been to blame for the attacks they have suffered because they are “illegal settlers.” To quote Rabbi Brous, the left said that “these Israeli victims somehow deserved this terrible fate” because they were people of whom the left disapproved and were thus airbrushed out of the scope of human sympathy altogether.

Now these leftists are crying because suddenly, they feel the hot breath of the Jew-haters on their own necks. For such “progressives,” it’s all about them. It always was all about them.

These people have supported Muslims against all adverse comment, denouncing any critics instead as “Islamophobic.” As a result, the profound and lethal Jew-hatred that is rampant throughout the Muslim world is ignored or denied.

Britain’s Muslim community said it was “deeply upset” by Starmer’s Gaza ceasefire remark. Yet its leaders have failed to denounce Hamas or express horror at the pogrom or sympathy for the Israeli victims.

For Starmer, Muslim support is critical to his electoral prospects. There are 14 times as many Muslims in Britain as there are Jews. In the 2019 general election, nearly 80% of Muslims voted Labour.

Just 0.5% of the British public is Jewish, and only about one-fifth of them vote Labour. There are just five parliamentary constituencies where Jews make up more than 10% of the population. In contrast, there are 108 constituencies which are at least 10% Muslim. Labour won 83% of those seats at the last election.

Starmer’s support for Israel is now jeopardizing that support. A survey by the research group Muslim Census which received 30,000 responses found a 66% drop in Labour support among Muslims because they are furious at Starmer’s position.

Yet Starmer knows that if he is seen to be abandoning Israel to attackers bent upon a second Holocaust, then he will destroy Labour’s claim to be a moral project. And if it is not a moral project, it is nothing.

It’s not just the Jewish community that’s so horrified by the mass support for barbarism displayed by the Muslim-led demonstrations and the “progressive” world. Thousands of other decent people are shocked and aghast at this evidence of a cultural monster that’s arisen in their midst.

Hundreds of thousands of British demonstrators have been chanting for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews with the police seemingly unable or unwilling to enforce public order laws.

When Starmer left the London think tank where he had made his speech, the police were forced to usher him into his car as dozens of demonstrators ran at the vehicle and drummed on the window shouting “war criminal” and “shame.”

Britain has sleep-walked into this. The core reason is that it has lost sight of what the nation stands for, and is no longer prepared even to define its core precepts and traditions, let alone defend them.

Israel is now fighting for its life and the lives of its people. It is doing so with ferocity because it understands the priceless value of the nation and the people that it is so painfully defending.

This is the crucial weapon in its armory that Britain no longer possesses—and that too many Jews and other “progressives” in America also appear to be determined to throw away.

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