OpinionIsrael at War

The terror of the right

The Oct. 7 atrocities produced a profound sense of disorientation for progressives because the Palestinian people whose cause they had promoted as the acme of conscience and enlightenment turned out to be savages.

The aftermath of Hamas's Oct. 7 attack on Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Oct. 27, 2023. Photo by Gili Yaari/Flash90.
The aftermath of Hamas's Oct. 7 attack on Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Oct. 27, 2023. Photo by Gili Yaari/Flash90.
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.

There’s a fixed belief in progressive circles that if only Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, were to be removed from office, there would be at least a sporting chance of peace in the Middle East.

On Monday night, in an appearance on an NBC show, U.S. President Joe Biden said that Israel must make peace with the Palestinians to survive. He warned that Israel’s “incredibly conservative government,” which includes the ultra-nationalist National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and others, was “going to lose support from around the world. And that is not in Israel’s interest.”

American officials repeat, like a steady drumbeat, that the reason the Israelis are so resistant to the imposition of a Palestinian state and insistent on mounting an attack against the last bastion of Hamas in Rafah, contrary to American instructions, is that Netanyahu is in hock to “right-wing extremists.”

Some believe that the Biden administration is working to replace Netanyahu with a more pliable alternative, such as war cabinet member Benny Gantz. Isn’t such interference in another sovereign state by seeking to lever out its democratically elected prime minister the kind of thing that the left routinely denounces as U.S. “imperialism”?

It’s apparently fine, however, for the Biden administration to do this to Israel because Netanyahu is, after all, leading a “right-wing extremist” government, which seems to mean he has no basis to be in power at all.

Of course, Biden is trying to appease the virulently anti-Israel wing of the Democratic Party, which is causing him a major election-year headache.

More fundamentally still, his administration won’t permit Israel to derail U.S. strategy for the region. Astonishingly, this involves empowering Iran, and ludicrously asserts that the solution to the Iranian war being waged against Israel and the West by using Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis as proxy terrorist armies is to impose a Palestinian state.

Biden wants Netanyahu gone because the Israeli prime minister is refusing to bend to American pressure and is standing in the way of the administration’s treacherous policy goals.

The “right-wing” meme is a potent weapon because it damns everything at which it is directed. To be “right-wing” in the circles that control Western culture is to be utterly beyond the pale. Everything bad is “right-wing,” and everything “right-wing” is bad.

In Britain, even newspapers that are relatively well disposed towards Israel frame the conduct of the war as disproportionately belligerent because, well, Netanyahu runs an “extremist ultra-right” government.

In Israel, the left-wing press pounds out daily the message that absolutely everything Netanyahu is doing in this war is bad because it’s designed to save his skin and keep himself in power.

Since both the “settlers” and the “right-wing” are demonized as evil by so-called progressives, any opposition to a Palestinian state is also demonized as evil.

All this ignores a number of facts. Since the genocidal pogrom of Oct. 7—and with Hamas threatening to mount such atrocities over and over again until Israel is destroyed—Israelis are united as never before in opposition to a Palestinian state. They are also overwhelmingly committed to continuing with the war until Hamas no longer has the capacity to mount such attacks ever again.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the “settlers,” Ben-Gvir or Netanyahu’s desire to save his own skin. It is due to the fact that the vast majority of Israelis understand that they are fighting for their lives.

People may detest Netanyahu, but they don’t detest his conduct of the war. They may hold him ultimately to blame for the systemic mistakes behind the catastrophic failure to anticipate the Oct. 7 attack. They may think that he should no longer be in office. They may believe that he is unprincipled, devious, hypocritical, narcissistic, power-crazed, corrupt and with a dangerous messiah complex, as he is painted by his enemies.

Yet none of that means that they think the war should be waged in any other way. None of their dismay at Netanyahu as prime minister means they believe that anyone else would or should prosecute this war any differently.

They understand that making peace depends not on Israel, as Biden insists, but on its Palestinian Arab aggressors. They understand that if Biden gets his way and Hamas survives as a military force, there will be more Oct. 7-style atrocities. They understand that the Palestinian state Biden is threatening to impose upon Israel will deliver Oct. 7-style atrocities on steroids.

And so the more Biden applies the thumbscrews to Israel, the more he will actually increase Israeli support for Netanyahu, who will be applauded for standing up to such an unconscionable betrayal and defending Israeli lives.

Some people dismiss the realities of Israeli opinion about the war and the “two-state solution” because all they can see is the apparently demonic figure of Netanyahu. Such people are obsessed with him. Many Israeli journalists see nothing but this hate-figure looming in front of them. He fills the entire visual space between the hater and the political horizon.

But it’s perfectly possible to dislike Netanyahu and want to see him gone from office, and yet support his determination to destroy Hamas or oppose the imposition of a Palestinian state, on the grounds that there is no alternative strategy that would protect Israelis against further genocidal attack.

So why are so many unable to distinguish between the man and the measures?

For a start, it’s so much easier to blame a man who can be removed from office rather than face up to a terrifying reality that’s far harder to address, such as the Palestinian Arabs’ implacable and brainwashed hatred of the Jews.

For exactly the same reason, it’s so much easier to believe that a Palestinian state would end that enmity, rather than face up to the actual evidence of a century of murderous Palestinian rejectionism that continues without end.

There’s also another reason, a clue to which was provided by certain reactions to the Oct. 7 pogrom both in Israel and abroad.

Among many “progressives,” the atrocities produced a profound sense of disorientation. This was because the Palestinians—people whose cause they had promoted as the acme of conscience and enlightenment—turned out to be barbaric savages.

Even worse, people the progressives had opposed and stigmatized as the “far-right” because they had regarded the Palestinians as murderous foes turned out to have been correct all along.

Worse yet again, some people on their own side actually turned on them for supporting Israel against Hamas. This was a terrible and destabilizing shock. That’s because the left is governed by a herd mentality. Their views have to conform to the opinion of similarly “enlightened” people. Anyone who isn’t part of the progressive herd is “right-wing” and wrong about everything.

Moreover, since progressives believe that they embody virtue itself, right-wingers aren’t just wrong but evil. Yet the Oct. 7 massacre revealed that the people supported by the progressives were evil.

This put progressives in a terrible bind. They couldn’t accept anything that revealed their own narrative to be so morally bankrupt.

So they exaggerated the plight of Gaza civilians in the war, for which they blamed Israel not Hamas. In response to the tsunami of antisemitism consuming the West as a result of the Palestinian cause they themselves promoted, they focused instead on the evils of “Islamophobia.” And they redoubled the attack on Netanyahu as their scapegoat.

As a result, both the Biden administration and others who demonize “the right” are supporting the insupportable. If they have their way, more Israelis will be murdered, raped, beheaded and taken hostage; there will be more Islamist intimidation, subversion and violence in Britain and America; and the West will find itself in a terrible war for its survival not against “right-wing” bogeymen, but against truly sinister enemies whom Western folly has so catastrophically empowered.

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