Nations are not evil, regimes are
When you discuss Israeli and Palestinian politics do you talk about it like you would the UK? As places with many views, parties, peoples, and ideas? Or do you treat them as monoliths, in which there is only one vision of politics? If this summer has shown Labour anything, it is that we need to rethink how we discuss Palestine and Israel, and learn to treat them with the same level of respect and nuance as we would our own complex politics.
For eighteen months I have been watching the Labour party struggle with anti-semitism, Palestine, and Israel. In this period I have seen the mainstreaming of anti-zionism, racism masquerading as anti-racism, and the resurrection of the oldest anti-jewish conspiracy theories and language within the mainstream political discourse of the UK.
I have watched UK politics distill the complex situation that is Palestine and Israel into the simple binary view that Israel is bad and Palestine is good. It is one of a number of simplifications that our current politics promotes in the Labour movement. A result of a foreign policy built upon a dogmatic ideological understanding of the world, as opposed to understanding the world as a series of complex interconnected histories and actors with conflicting and overlapping goals and histories. The world is a grey mess most of the time, and very rarely is it black or white.
In this entire period we have seen the issue of Palestine from the air. Trying to paint a broad picture to explain simply what is happening and how to solve it. Thus we develop an ignorant understanding of the situation and pursue clumsy solutions to that situation.
Our discussion on the Left of Israel usually begins with the assumption that Israel is the villain in our narrative. Not Netanyahu's government, not the ruling coalition of conservative and right-wing parties, but Israel as an entity. That any nation can be considered immoral or evil is to say that the people that make up that nation themselves are innately evil. We can look at other “evil” nations of the past to see that the immoral actions were the result of the governing regime and hegemony as opposed to an innate evil of the people or the nation itself.
It is right to consider Nazi Germany evil, but it was very much so a regime that was evil and a governing hegemony that was evil as opposed to the nation itself. As the “nation” of Germany has invented and reinvented itself repeatedly under different ideologies, hegemonies, and regimes. Just as the United Kingdom as a nation has shifted over centuries from Kingdom to Colonial Empire to Constitutional Monarchy; from the Right to the Left and back again, with various regimes committing vicious sins along the way.
We do not talk about Germany or the UK as evil nations because of their past. We treat them with historical respect and understanding. Unlike how we treat Israel and Palestine. When Palestine is discussed the conversation veers immediately to Hamas and the most extremist voices of the liberation movement. This obsession with the extremists means that the everyday activists from the left are absent in foreign media. We rarely hear about the thousands of people working to end occupation and achieve peace on either side. The socialists, the greens, the secularists, the democrats, and the civil rights activists who want to build a society of respect and self-governance are absent from our internal debate on Palestine and Israel.
When we talk about nations we must talk about the regimes that rule them. When we do that we treat them with the same respect that we give our own. We accept that any government is temporary, whether dictator or democrat. That regimes can change and we have the ability to amplify the moral voices in each society. That as socialists we must empower our brothers and sisters abroad and not erase them with generalizations. This is how we can topple hegemony and obliterate the status quo. With solidarity unbound by nations and ignorance, and a compassionate understanding that can heal the wounds of years. So let us find light even in situations that seem utterly devoid of it. For everywhere that people suffer, there are those fighting against tyranny and they deserve a shield as well as a sword.