I am not a psychiatrist, but I’ve observed a kind of psychosis in far-left activists of the West who claim to be progressives championing the Palestinian cause: Israel Derangement Syndrome, or IDS.
Sufferers of this insidious illness don’t rationally advocate for Palestinians and criticise Israeli policies, in the same way they’d criticise other states. They are doctrinaire cultists possessed of an unadulterated, unhinged hatred for Israel, which they see as a uniquely evil state that must be eradicated. Until then, it will be their all-consuming, defining cause; never mind the Uyghurs, Kurds or Iranian women. In indulging in the delusion that the end (of Israel) goal will eventually occur, they are complicit in perpetuating the conflict and emboldening the despotic regimes that act against the interests of the very people they purport to champion, the Palestinians.
Corbynism is the most recent prominent example of IDS. While we will no longer be bombarded with its leader’s sneering visage, the animosity towards Israel that its dogmatism exemplifies, replete with conspiracism and terrorist sympathising, is unlikely to fade. And it is rising across the Atlantic.
The hallmarks of this anti-Israeli posturing cult include such garb as ‘free Palestine’ t-shirts, keffiyehs, and snazzy accessories daubed with Palestinian flags. Their social media is flooded with memes and Electronic Intifada articles about evil Israel, and little else. They proudly quote token anti-Israel Jews like Noam Chomsky. In their special language ‘peace and justice’ is code for ‘end of Israel’ and ‘resistance’ is code for ‘terrorism’. And they think they’re clever, rhyming ‘resistance is justified’ with ‘apartheid’ and ‘genocide’ in their street mob chants.
The derangement that Israel is the root of all evil requires certain tropes and conspiracy theories — such as that Israel was behind 9/11 and Isis — to make sense of a world that is too complex, nuanced, uncertain and daunting, for their ideology to accommodate. But when, despite their best efforts, Israel can’t be blamed for the Palestinian plight, you will not hear a whimper from them. Not about the Palestinians living in Lebanon who are denied citizenship, excluded from social services and prohibited from owning property and entering over 20 professions. Nor that Palestinians are among the worst affected by the Syrian civil war and that their community in Yarmouk has been decimated. Nothing about the Gazans whose protests against Hamas are brutally suppressed, or LGBT groups, women’s organisations and journalists increasingly persecuted by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. They’ll excoriate Israel (never Egypt) for the blockade on the Gaza strip and the poverty of its people, but ignore the fact that, despite the blockade and poverty, Hamas spends tens of millions building sophisticated tunnels under Israel and firing thousands of rockets at it, instead of building hospitals. And when President Abbas recently announced that he won’t allow the building of a US-funded field hospital in Gaza, silence.
Identity geopolitics prevail, under which it is only ‘oppression’ if it’s the right kind of ‘oppressor’. Sufferers of IDS are not pro-Palestinian, they’re anti-Israel. The Palestinian people are just a means to an end (of Israel). They don’t hold the corrupt and repressive Palestinian leaders to account or demand an end to their internecine fighting, nor do they condemn the other Muslim states and terrorist groups that use them as pawns. It’s better not to champion the Palestinian people if it involves impure thoughts that maybe Israel is not completely to blame for their predicament. Actually, it’s better that that predicament is perpetuated without improvement, lest people stop agitating for Israel’s destruction. IDS-sufferers have hijacked the cause and sacrificed its people.
Last year, UK MP Rosena Allin-Khan lobbied the Israeli deputy ambassador to the UK to increase the number of parental permits for Palestinian parents to accompany children being treated in Israeli hospitals. The response on social media was vituperative. As she said: ‘These views do nothing to support the most vulnerable Palestinians.’ Obviously, it would be better that Palestianian children suffer than anyone engage with Israel, or, heaven forbid, humanise its people in any way.
IDS-sufferers see themselves as actors in a morality play in which Palestinians are simply props. It’s an orientalist, post-colonialist colonialism, that dictates how Palestinians must behave. They are only permitted agency through violence, and must otherwise be victims.
Palestinians are not symbols. They’re not pawns. I’ve met and listened to many Palestinians who don’t think or act the way the woke Western-centric worldview demands. Their disillusionment with their factional leaders, lack of progress and democracy is significant and it is growing. But without freedom of speech, freedom of the press and a democratic process, or others who will listen to them and say what they can’t, rather than speak over the top of them, they won’t be heard.
One Palestinian man who is powerful enough to speak freely and be heard is the billionaire businessman Bashir al-Masri, a charismatic visionary I’ve met twice, in Rawabi, the impressive city he is building in the West Bank. He believes Palestinians must embrace the unique opportunity they have to build a state and prove they are capable of doing so, and that they should be leveraging off Israel’s thriving advanced economy. For this he is roundly criticised by Western Israel-haters, or ‘cappuccino sippers’, as he calls them.
Slowly, but surely, more Arab and Muslim voices are emerging with a similar message. Last November, the Arab Council for Regional Integration was launched and held a conference. The group, including journalists, politicians, diplomats and scholars, believes that isolating and demonising Israel is counterproductive, harms Palestinians and undercuts efforts to build a state.
While these voices — those that want dialogue and reconciliation, and to empower Palestinians to build a state alongside Israel — may still be the minority, albeit a growing one, it’s never those voices that we hear. Instead, we get the mouthpieces for the despotic regimes that prioritise perpetuating the Palestinian plight over co-operation with Israel. By clinging to the delusion that Israel will one day fall off the map, these people embolden rejectionists on both sides of the conflict. It is strange times indeed when the progressive voices of the Arab world are more pro-Israel and pro-peace than their deranged counterparts in the West.
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