Why the British left hates Israel

A successful post-imperial democracy founded on socialist lines should attract left wing support. Instead, it is reviled


By Douglas Carswell, January 21, 2010
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A generation ago, the British left was broadly pro-Israel. Perhaps it was the kibbutzim’s utopian blend of Zionism and socialism, or maybe because Israel was seen as the plucky underdog. Either way, the country could count on a fair hearing. Not so today.

Israel is now reviled by many on the left. If Britain is, in Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor’s words, “a hotbed of radical anti-Israel views”, blame must partly rest with those on the political left who have made hostility to the Jewish state acceptable in a way their grandparents would have thought offensive and absurd.

Israel is regarded with suspicion by many on the left, not because it is Jewish but just because it is a nation state. No country on earth better embodies the spirit of national self-determination — of a distinct nationhood for a people — than Israel. Over millennia, Jewish families have toasted one another with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem”. In 1948, it became a reality.

The left also, of course, continued to support the independence struggles, led by Gandhi, Nkrumah and Kenyatta, of former nations of the British Empire. But today, certainly where Israel is concerned, it is fashionable among the British left to reject the very idea of nationhood in favour of a belief in supranationalism.

Suspicion of Israel comes not from any serious consideration as to the rights and wrongs of West Bank settlements or the security barrier. Nor have its left-wing critics been swayed by the romantic fiction of TE Lawrence. Rather, British leftists view the Jewish state in diametric opposition to the institutions of international agreement they so revere — the International Criminal Court, European Union and United Nations.

In a parliamentary debate last week, Labour MPs queued up to attack Israel and defend the supranational ideal of universal jurisdiction. In the leftist mind, Israel is relegated for the same reason that supranational rules are elevated; international law, as defined by supranational courts, must take precedence over national laws, made by national governments. Legal obligations to a notional world community must come before the laws of any actual community.

Such a world view is inauspicious to Israel. Not since the globe was carved up into empires have we seen one group of people claiming an authority that transcends national self determination on such a scale. And however ironic it may be to see MPs from a once proudly anti-imperialist party lining up to attack national self-determination, the pretensions of supranationalism are, as Tzipi Livni has discovered, no joke.

The contemporary left appears to meander behind the 18th-century philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The founding father of cultural relativism, Rousseau contended that the primitive and pre-industrial were more noble than advanced Western society.

Israel’s very existence demonstrates that the western way of life is more rewarding than other, primitive forms, and is a repudiation of cultural relativism. Along with common law, property rights, women’s equality, liberalism and democracy in the space of a single generation, a new state turned desert into fertile land. Within two generations, high-tech business parks have sprung up in downtown Tel Aviv to rival anything in California. And what, meantime, of Israel’s neighbours? Precisely.

In the face of this, leftists have had to invent the myth that Israel is a wicked, exploitative, industrial power that has somehow bullied its way to success, and that its neighbours’ failings are of Israel’s making. To think otherwise would require an acceptance of the fact that some societies are more successful than others.

Twenty years ago, the reality (as opposed to myth) of the Soviet experience forced the British left to abandon its faith in Marx. Today, the truth of the Israel experience ought to force them to ditch Rousseau’s cultural relativism. But they prefer to distort the truth.

Douglas Carswell is the Conservative MP for Harwich and Clacton. He blogs each day at www.TalkCarswell.com

    Last updated: 4:35pm, June 3 2010

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