As far as political litmus tests go, we have been spoilt for choice over the last decade. The modern ‘progressive’ Left went off like a frog in a sock over Brexit and then had a splenetic meltdown over Trump, these two pro-working-class, pro-capitalist, democratic-populist earthquakes upsetting the Left’s elitist, woke worldview. Nor can we forget the Left’s sanctification of the Blessed George Floyd, the ‘mostly peaceful’ drug addict and violent career criminal whose death was a tripwire that no ‘good’ person could afford to stumble over whilst the defeat of The Voice referendum sent Australian ‘progressives’ into a complete tailspin. Their hysterical overreaction to a not-so-special virus, of course, unleashed their it’s-all-for-your-own-good inner authoritarian. On the other hand, normal people had a completely different take on all of the above.
To these political demarcation disputes, we can now add the Israel/Hamas conflict. Predictably those progressives who most furiously denounced Brexit and Trump as Hitleresque insurrections turned out to be quite fond of the quasi-fascist Islamist terrorists of Hamas, an affection they put on display before the bodies of 1,200 dead Israeli Jews even had time to cool. These progressives dominate the niche political market that is the Free Palestine movement. Almost to a man and woman and non-binary, the progressive class has glossed, or gloated, over the Hamas terror spree, the single greatest anti-Semitic atrocity since the Holocaust, and they have been eager to blame the Hamas massacre on … Israel.
On the progressive Left in Australia, Labor has been both-sides-are-to-blame mealy-mouthed at best, the Greens have been blunt propagandists for Hamas, whilst the goodthink media (the ABC, the Guardian, Crikey, the Conversation, the Nine rags etc) reflexively adopted the ‘Palestinian cause’.
Australia’s militant Left has been no different from its more mainstream peers. I was a part of Australia’s hard Left in a previous political life – I was a member of a few parties and grouplets (including those documented below) and I was the book reviewer for Green Left Weekly (but now find that paper about as toxic as a covid spike protein). The political posture of Australia’s hard Left on Hamas/Israel makes for a fascinating, if that’s the right word, case study of broader progressive thinking, if that’s the right word, on not just the Hamas-Israel conflict but the broader issue of identity (aka woke) politics.
Let’s start with Socialist Alternative, modestly self-billed as “Australia’s biggest revolutionary socialist organisation” (they’re the noisiest, at any rate). On October 8, one day after Hamas’ grisly pogrom, our downunder revolutionaries were swiftly on the job lamenting just how “sadistic and brutal” these “out-of-control killers” can be. But if you thought they were talking about Hamas, you don’t know your Socialist Alternative, for it is, of course, the Jewish state at which they point the finger.
The Hamas “operation”, says Socialist Alternative, is simply the necessary work of a blameless “resistance group” doing what any self-respecting resistance group, such as the anti-fascist partisans of World War II, would do. The Palestinian fighters are legitimate combatants who cleverly “infiltrated” the colonialist state “capturing many of the enemy” in an “astonishing tactical success” of praiseworthy martial brilliance. Socialist Alternative celebrates the “dead soldiers, abandoned positions and armored vehicles and tanks” of the IDF, but they can acknowledge no sign of the 1,200 civilian Jews killed or the 240 kidnapped. Socialist Alternative’s sister party in the UK, the Socialist Workers’ Party, headlined their first report on Hamas’s massacre of Jews with ‘Rejoice’ in its paper Socialist Worker.
The grievance the heroic fighters of Hamas sought to redress, we are informed, is the racist oppression, land dispossession and societal apartheid conducted by Israelis on Gaza Palestinians, who have been “under a punishing Israeli siege for sixteen years and military occupation for more than a half-century” in the “giant open-air prison” of the Strip. Like a particularly savage dog with a juicy bone, they will snap at you if you dare try to point out that Hamas has governed Gaza independently since 2007 after a deal brokered by Egypt (which lost the Gaza Strip to Israel in the 1967 six-day war) and which resulted in Israel withdrawing all it occupation forces, and evicting 9,000 Israeli settlers, in the mistaken belief that they could swap land for peace, whilst maintaining supplies to Gaza such as water and fuel.
As for apartheid, it is Hamas that owns that label by not allowing any Jews (or Shia Muslims, for that matter) in 100 per cent Sunni Gaza whilst Israel hosts thousands of Muslim labourers from Gaza. The 20per cent of Israel’s population that is Arab Muslim have equal rights with all Israeli Jews whilst Arabs are represented in Israel’s parliament, sit as judges and can even choose to serve in the Israeli military though they have the privilege, unavailable to ordinary Israelis, of not being subject to conscription. The walls that Israel has built around Gaza are to stop Hamas attacking Israel with suicide bombers (no paragliders necessary). Gaza is not a ‘prison’. It’s just a handy catchphrase.
Although Socialist Alternative has its critics on the factionally disputatious Trotskyist Left, they are all as one on Israel/Hamas. The World Socialist Website (WSW, the “organ of the Trotskyist International Committee of the Fourth International”) calls Socialist Alternative a “pseudo-left” outfit downunder but there is not a cigarette paper’s difference between them on who are the White Hats and who are the Black Hats in the Middle East.
To the WSW, the “forces” of Hamas are “heroes of the resistance” engaged in an “uprising of the Palestinian people against the violent and brutally oppressive Israeli occupation” with its “constant theft of Palestinian lands by fascistic Israeli settlers” which “made armed resistance [by Hamas] inevitable”. The Hamas terrorists, the WSW continues, are worthy successors to the “1943 uprising of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto”. Yes, that what was said, really!
The claim that Hamas are genocidal terrorists is a “falsification” and, to prove so, WSW cites the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, who are simply in the business of opposing the “murders of Palestinians by Israeli troops and settlers, long-term imprisonment of Palestinians, theft of Palestinian lands, and provocations at the Al-Aqsa Mosque”. Case closed, after one Hamas witness for the Hamas defence is called.
The other major player in revolutionary Left politics in Australia is the Socialist Alliance (which publishes Green Left Weekly) and is yet another factional Trotskyist progeny in lockstep with its political cousins on the Israel/Hamas conflict. All the usual write-by-numbers clichés are here in GLW: “Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza”, the Israeli “military’s brutality”, Hamas “resistance fighters”, a two-decade “brutal blockade”. “Israel’s ongoing criminal oppression and dispossession of Palestinians” rounds out the tropes whilst Israel’s “right to defend itself” is “totally in defiance of international law and human rights”.
Israel’s blockade of Gaza, applied at the start of its counter-offensive, is, to GLW, genocidal and not at all a tactic designed to force the release of the 240 Jewish hostages or to encourage Gazan civilians to leave in order to avoid excess casualties in the bombing. The Israeli bombing of Gaza has no military aim, we are told, and is wantonly targeted at hospitals, ambulances, schools and the like. That the bombed civilian infrastructure is, if not the result of friendly Jihadi fire, the unavoidable result of Hamas using such facilities and their human shields for military ends, is not even contemplated by GLW. As for Israel’s ‘genocide’ of Gazan Arabs, they are making a pretty poor fist of it – the proudly partisan Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) boasts that the population of the Gaza Strip has grown from 385,000 in 1967 to 2.2 million in 2023 including a doubling over the past two decades alone.
To GLW, the Jews in Israel should, by implication, simply roll over and let Hamas run riot. Not that Hamas really did run riot in GLW’s eyes because the tales of terrorist horror were nothing but “lurid allegations wildly exaggerated or utterly false and given air by a biased media”. That hot take hasn’t aged well. Details, dear boy, mere details……
The Communist Party of Australia
Meanwhile, over at the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), the precipitating terrorist pogrom by Hamas on October 7 did not even rate a mention in the October 9 issue of the party’s Guardian/Workers Weekly. The horrors of October 7 may as well be ancient history for all the attention the progressive Left and the ‘Free Palestine’ movement pays to it. Once the Jews fought back, however, to the CPA it was suddenly all “brutal aggression” by an unprovoked Israel to defend its “occupation” of Palestinian land callously spiced with the bombing of hospitals. Gaza as the “largest open air prison in the world” gets a good airing as does Israel being an “apartheid state”. So, too, does Israel’s counter-terrorism strategy simply being the war crime of “collective punishment”. Finally, Israel is the “watchdog” of US imperialism in the Middle East and this justifies making it a legitimate target.
Oh, the CPA is not entirely comfortable with Hamas’ mass killing of civilians (it “must be condemned”) but, and there is always a but, it “should not come as a surprise”. Besides, there is the principle of “proportionality” which Israel infringes as “innocent people including children suffer and die and lose everything” in Gaza, a metric that somehow does not apply to Hamas’ slaughter of the innocents in Israel.
To all those carping critics who see Hamas as anti-Semitic, the CPA argues that they are nothing of the kind. The Hamas target was Zionism, you see, and “not an attack on Jewish people because they are Jewish”. This despite Hamas’ founding document and numerous statements by its leadership displaying a fundamental antipathy to Jews as Jews, a view which is widely reflected amongst the broader Muslim population, including the residents of Gaza who voted the genocidal extremists into power in 2005. A Bizreil University survey, for example found that Gazan Arabs overwhelmingly supported the Hamas massacre – 76 per cent of Gazans say they support Hamas, with even higher support for other terrorist groups in the Strip such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (84 per cent support), the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades (80 per cent) and the al-Qassam Brigades (89 per cent).
A survey by AWRAD (the Ramallah-based Arab World for Research and Development) confirmed this Jew-hatred amongst the vast majority of Palestinians who supported Hamas’ October 7 pogrom – 75 per cent of all Palestinians (i.e. Gaza and the West Bank) supported the massacre whilst only 13 per cent opposed it. In Gaza, 47 per cent ‘strongly’ supported the attack (which the poll euphemised as ‘resistance’) and 17 per cent ‘somewhat’ supported it (the ‘terrorist-lite’ supporters). Although 35 per cent of Gazans show some degree of reservation about the attack, this is because of Israeli blowback on Gaza Arabs and not from any anti-terrorist principle – if Hamas/Gaza could have got away with it unscathed it would have been just fine and dandy.
Identity Politics and the ‘Progressive’ Left
The modern Left has so spectacularly lost the plot because its political vision is now totally centred on identity politics. Through this identitarian/woke prism, Israel is seen as a white colony in a brown land whose ‘victims’, including the anti-Semitic death cult of Hamas, can do no moral or political wrong. Muslims are nothing but the perpetual Victims of Western imperialism abroad and racism at home, incapable of ever being agents of dastardly deeds themselves. Hamas have latched onto this simplistic woke politics – in a 2021 interview, Yahya Sinwar, a Hamas leader in Gaza, argued that ‘the same type of racism that killed George Floyd is being used by [Israel] against the Palestinians’.
It is almost as if the ‘progressive’ Left believe that nominated oppressor Israel ‘had it coming’. As did, presumably, the Charlie Hebdo staffers, the Bali vacationers, the train and bus commuters of Madrid and London, and everyone else killed by Islamic terrorists the world over. This is where identity politics highlights the woke Left’s lack of awareness amongst Hamas-supporting progressives that the ‘oppressed’ Muslims of Gaza, which they champion, stand violently opposed to all the values that the Left proclaims to hold dear. Islam would not allow women to dress as they please or to control their reproduction as they please, or gay men to marry as they please, or any person of non-Muslim faith to worship as they please, or any dissenter to speak as they please. The communist left in Muslim Afghanistan and Iran were amongst the first targets of Islamists in those countries. The Free Palestine, Hamas-sympathetic protesters of the West would not be able to ‘choose their gender’ or pick their preferred pronouns in the land they want to see populated solely by ‘river-to-the-sea’ Muslims contentedly governed by Hamas.
Zionism and the Left – a quick history
The modern Left with its hyperventilation about Israel would be unrecognisable to vintage Marxists. Classical Marxism famously counted amongst its leaders many secular Jews (Marx, himself, for example, and Leon Trotsky). These Olde Worlde Marxists all believed that the anti-Semitic pogroms of eastern Europe could be overcome by the working classes of all religions and nationalities through the uniting furnace of class struggle and they were resolutely opposed to the Zionist project of a separate Jewish homeland.
When peace, love and Bolshevik understanding failed to eventuate, however, as evidenced by the failure of the European working classes to end the pogroms or to avert the looming Holocaust, views on whether the working classes do indeed have a country – and a religion, and a national culture – had to change.
Stalin, for example, supported the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and he encouraged the eastern satellite countries in the Soviet bloc to allow their Jews to migrate to Palestine. He even supplied Soviet weapons to Israeli Jews for use against the British Mandate in Palestine. This was pure opportunism, of course – Stalin simply saw the establishment of an Israeli state in the Middle East as weakening a rival (British) empire in the region. Once Israel had opted for the West rather than the East, however, the new Soviet party line denounced Israel as a tool of Western imperialism whilst Soviet Jews faced yet another round of persecution and discrimination.
Earlier, however, Trotsky had flirted with support for a Jewish homeland, breaking with Marxist orthodoxy – “the dispersed Jews who would want to be reassembled in the same community will find a sufficiently extensive and rich spot under the sun”, he said in 1937. Robert Service (a hostile critic of Trotsky) agrees that “on a single big topic he [Trotsky] shifted his position … a homeland for Jews in the Middle East’. Isaac Deutscher (a much friendlier biographer of Trotsky) was in no doubt that Trotsky “arrived at the view that even under socialism, the Jewish question would require a ‘territorial solution’ i.e. that Jews would need to be settled in their own homeland”.
Trotsky dismissed the territory set aside by Stalin for the Jews in Russia, Biro-bidjan, as ‘a bureaucratic farce’ and increasingly focused on ‘Palestine’ as the country for the Jews. In the face of “reactionary Mohammedans and anti-Semitic pogromists”, Jews had a right to a culturally and geographically separate home, he said, revising his earlier belief that an Israeli state was a “tragic mirage”.
It is hard to say who would have been the more disappointed with the recent turn of Hamas-Israel-related events – Trotsky at the modern Left’s embrace of the “reactionary Mohammedans” in Hamas and their Nazi-style persecution of the Jews, or Trotsky’s heirs at their Master’s lack of woke consciousness and use of politically incorrect language. One thing for sure, the ‘Old Man’ would be drummed out, with Stalinesque ferocity, from any meeting on Hamas/Israel held by the Latter Day Trots.
Any remaining old school Leftists who supported Israel as a homeland for the Jews, fizzled out in the Sixties. A generation of stout leftists had once seen the Israeli kibbutzim as embryonic socialist collectives in which egalitarianism and communalism thrived. The socialist folk-music troubadour Peter Seeger, for example, included many Israeli folk tunes in his (and the Weavers’) repertoire in the Fifties, and he played many concerts in Israel in the 1960s. Seeger initially declined to shun Israel as part of the Left’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign before the woke imperative caught up with him and he did his self-cancelling duty by not performing in that country.
THE progressive Left is prepared to stick it to Israel for lording it over Gaza but the tyranny-celebrating, mandate-loving Covid Left could have taken aim at, instead of choosing to look away from, the Israeli state turning its own citizens into shock troops for Pfizer. It seems there are some people who wouldn’t know tyranny if it covered their faces, locked them in their homes, censored them, made them show papers and force-medicated them.
As the TAFE-educated tradies and other workers of what the Left once thought of as its natural constituency have fled from the purple-haired Pronoun People of the Progressive Left, all sorts of deformed political fruit have been ripening on the vine of identity politics. One of the most unappetising of these is Islamo-Leftism, the disturbing alliance of the woke with Islamic mediaevalists who would wish further ill on the world’s oldest scapegoats.