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The day the left derailed: September 28, 2000

On that day, few leftists in the West understood that our response would undermine our very morality.

We can pinpoint the exact date when progressive movements and the left across Europe and the Americas went off the rails: September 28, 2000.

We didn’t know it right away. In fact, a whole swath of people today don't even recognize that it happened.

For most of us, it was just a normal day. Few even knew there was something happening halfway around the world that would so drastically corrode our movement and discredit our reputation as advocates of equality, anti-racism and nonviolence.

September 28, 2000, was the day the Second Intifada began.

In what has become the “progressive” narrative of this moment in history, this was the moment when the Palestinian people finally reared up against the oppression of the Israeli occupation.

In fact, it was the moment when the Palestinians rejected peaceful negotiation and reverted to terrorism. Yasser Arafat had won the Nobel Peace Prize six years earlier, with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, for putting down arms and coming to the negotiating table. Final status negotiations were nearing. A peaceful negotiation that would lead to a two-state solution was proceeding.

But Arafat, who harboured a messianic complex that would have him arriving triumphantly in Jerusalem astride a white steed, could not abide the idea of compromise. He had continued – despite promises he made in the Oslo Process to prepare for coexistence – to continue encouraging his people to expect the complete annihilation of Israel.

Instead of complete victory over the Zionist entity, he was now expected to break the news to his people that he had agreed to coexist with the Jews. Even through seven years of the peace process, he had continued in Arabic promising his people complete victory over the Zionists.

What kind of an end was that to the career of a revolutionary?: An independent Palestine that couldn’t even get off the ground without a Jewish co-signer?

Arafat had walked away from negotiations at Camp David on July 25, leaving on the table an offer of 100% of the Gaza Strip and 97% of the West Bank. He made no counter-offer. On September 28, he upended the negotiating table for good and launched what became known as the Second Intifada.

There are more complexities to this history, obviously. But here is one thing that is not even slightly complex: The entire world, especially progressive people who had claimed to be Palestinian allies, should have risen up as one at that very moment and demanded that Arafat renounce violence (again) and return to peaceful negotiations.

We didn’t. And that one decision redefined the progressive movement and everything we claim to stand for.

In the days after September 28, 2000, when we not only failed to condemn Arafat’s violence but actually endorsed it, we lost our legitimacy as advocates of negotiation over violence. As progressives and as democrats, this should have been a rock solid, unbendable principle. How did we abandon it so easily?

It may not have seemed like such a big deal at the time. Looking back from more than two decades on, we didn’t think it would go on this long. Plus, it wasn't so much a single choice as a series of small compromises. We justified the throwing of a few stones, maybe thinking it was the last throes of a revolutionary movement transitioning toward peace.

The progressive movement is not pacifistic by consensus. There are discussions over over just war and the use of force in the duty to protect. But this situation was unique. Violence can be justified in situations where an oppressed group is subjugated by an unyielding and violent oppressor. But that was not at all the case here. The Palestinians were in peaceful, productive negotiations with Israel. They had been offered close to 100% of what they said they demanded. While there may be times in history when the left can morally justify violence, this was unequivocally not one of these moments. But it was too late.

By the time the smoke cleared, we were in too deep. Since we made what we thought was just a little compromise of our nonviolent principles to justify the rock-throwing, we were soon forced to justify a cataclysm of far worse violence. This justification was necessary in order to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy, which is tragically ironic because, instead of acknowledging our failure and reversing course, we doubled down, turning onto a path of possibly irreversible hypocrisy and betrayal of our core values.

If, instead of doubling down, some calmer heads had prevailed and demanded a rethink of this grievous mistake, we might have averted the moral carnage to come. We could have, and should have, acknowledged that we had made a grievous error. But the emergency exit from the moral inferno was obstructed by some "friends" the progressive movement had recently made.

Parts of the left, especially those focused on foreign policy, had been commandeered by the Palestinian movement -- some Palestinians, others non-Palestinian "allies" -- who had infiltrated the progressive movement and much of the global left.

Since 1967, streams in the left, including liberal churches, a clutch of NGOS and, notably, the nonaligned movement and Arab entities at the United Nations, had found common cause with the Palestinians. Though the term "common cause" may not be the right one. The post-colonial, anti-imperialist, anti-Western, anti-American, "Third World" narrative of the Palestinians appealed to leftists. But beyond the rhetoric, there is no ideological or moral congruity whatsoever between the Palestinian movement and the progressive movement.

The Palestinian movement is in direct conflict with the principles of the progressive movement and the broader left, not only on the matter of violence over diplomacy, but on the entire range of issues we consider our core values.

The Palestinian movement, unlike the anti-apartheid movement to which it is so frequently and unjustly compared, is not a movement for democracy and pluralism. It does not advance a future of coexistence, peace and equality for all, as the South African anti-apartheid movement did. It aggressively inculcates in its citizens, especially the young, a curriculum of Jew-hatred, intolerance, a refusal to compromise and the promotion of a death cult of "martyrdom."

The Palestinian movement has a "fem-washing" component that pretends to speak for the rights of Palestinian women, which in reality is a cooptation of women in service of a nationalist movement in which women and girls would be as repressed as they are today in Palestinian society, or worse.

Respect and dignity for minority communities, which is a cornerstone of the left, is antithetical to the Palestinian movement. The top Palestinian leaders have made clear that there will be no Jews in a "free Palestine" and there is, effectively, no ethnic diversity in Palestine. What few Christians remained in Palestine have been fleeing (a fact that, as usual, Palestinians and others contort to blame on Israel). The status of LGBTQ+ people in Palestine is among the most dangerous and repressive in the world, with 93% of Palestinians saying homosexuality should not be accepted.

Despite the near-complete ideological contradiction between Palestinianism and progressivism, the left was trying to recreate a big tent and the fervour of the Palestinian movement seemed to offer a welcome bit of enthusiasm.

But there was another reason, too. The Palestinian movement had been incrementally making its way into the left -- trade unions, leftist political parties in Europe and the Americas, anti-war groups -- a fact that didn't garner a whole lot of attention through the 1990s, when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not top-of-mind for activists, due to the peace process. Whatever ulterior motives these newcomers might have, or what values they might pursue around political violence, the role of women, gays, Jews or others, was not critically analyzed.

When the intifada began, though, the Palestinian movement in the West went into overdrive in union halls, at party plenaries, on campuses, in the social justice committees of liberal churches and in the organs of the left and, notably, at the 2001 World Conference against Racism (the "Durban Conference," which was, laughably and tragically, focused on racism, but turned into a catastrophic orgy of anti-Jewish racism.)

By creating a black-white narrative that saw Palestinians as an oppressed minority standing up to a militaristic occupier, the Palestinian movement was able to advance a storyline that meshed with the progressive narrative, while eliding the inherent misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism and violence that defines it and makes it incompatible with progressivism.

What should have been a bitter pill was made easier to swallow because it meant we didn’t have to acknowledge our error in siding with Palestinian violence in the first place.

Still, the progressive movement had to craft a coherent narrative that could make this moral train-wreck look like an ideologically rational decision.

We had to make the enemy – Israel – into a monster so abominable that it justified any violence that happened to it. So a narrative was constructed of Israel as unprecedentedly degenerate. A common phrase heard on the left at this time was that there is nothing the Palestinians could do that would justify Israel's behaviour. When, early in the Second Intifada, some young Israeli recruits mistakenly drove into a Palestinian neighbourhood and were lynched and eviscerated, this was justifiable because nothing the Palestinians do could measure up to the brutality "the occupation" metes out on Palestinians. When Jewish parents and three of their children were stabbed to death in their beds, there were no lamentations on the left, because these were "settlers" who, in the narrative, shouldn't have been there in the first place. Throughout the first decade of the new millennium, every time the actions of Palestinians degenerated – when they strapped bombs on women and pretended they were pregnant, when they sent mentally challenged children into suicide missions, when they built military installations in kindergartens, mosques and hospitals, when they employed ambulances to courier killerswe were forced to concoct ever more atrocious allegations against Israel – Ethnic cleansing! Genocide! Holocaust! – to reassure ourselves that the atrocities of the Palestinians, however despicable and coldblooded, were entirely justified. It was an ideological diet of seawater.

In hundreds or thousands of other incidents ranging from foiled assaults to mass murders of Jewish civilians, the Palestinian narrative that has subsumed the left recognizes no fault on the Palestinian side because this is a desperate people resisting occupation.

But when an Israeli soldier -- most likely a recent high school graduate doing mandatory military service -- is caught on camera showing anything short of reverence to a Palestinian, the global militant-indignation complex is mobilized into a frothing rage.

This indefensibly one-sided approach is fuelled by the false certainty that, for whatever horrors Palestinian terrorists perpetrate on innocent Israelis, nothing could meet the standard of barbarity set by Israel.

This is the reasoning that has allowed the left to fully abandon critical thinking on this subject.

Having aligned ourselves with a movement that is anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-pluralist, antisemitic, repressive, autocratic and violent, we took a further step away from reason when, without apparent cognitive dissonance, we defiantly declared that we did all this in the explicit name of feminism, gay rights, equality and human rights.

The spawn of this ideological disfigurement can be seen today in Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, the anti-Zionism (and antisemitism) of the Women’s March, groups with names like Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and other “progressives” who stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are explicitly hostile to human rights in general and equality for women, gay people and minorities in particular.

Progressives credulously say: No, we do not support all these bad things. We just want good things. Why should we be tarred with the brush of terrorists, dictators or kleptocrats for standing with the Palestinians?

This could be a justifiable defence if the Palestinian movement had ever made even the mildest bleatings of concern for the human rights or dignity of Palestinian people under their Arab oppressors. The Israeli occupation is a cause of injustice and human rights abuses for Palestinians, but so are Hamas and Fatah. So is the treatment of the millions of stateless Palestinians who are second-class citizens (or worse) in Arab states. Anyone who cares for the rights of Palestinians would be every bit as vocal in condemning the Palestinian and other Arab dictators as they are in condemning the Israeli occupation. Instead, hardly a word.

The Palestinian movement condemns Israel in terms previously reserved only for the most venal figures in history, yet, when it comes to the Palestinians, whose leaders are, arguably, among the most venal figures in recent history, progressives hold our tongues. No criticism of Palestinian leaders passes the lips of North American progressives. Scan the leftist media: reams of pages and untold gigabytes of web content denouncing Israel. Search as you may, you will struggle to find any progressive perspectives that acknowledge the panorama of Palestinian atrocities.

It's not even "disproportionate" – that word Israel-bashers love. There is near-total silence in the progressive movement about Palestinians mistreated by Hamas, Fatah, Bashar al-Assad, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and other Arab entities. Readers would be hard pressed to find a single example, among the limitless left-wing condemnations of Israel that unfold online like the universe itself, of a member of the progressive "pro-Palestinian" movement calling out anyone but Israel. This consensus is not an indication of Israel's depravity. It is a manifestation of totalitarian group-think.

We refuse to confront the truth that Palestinian and Arab despots have destroyed the potential in generation after generation of Palestinian lives. We avert our eyes and outright deny that a core tactic of the Palestinian leadership is to inspire children to grow into suicide bombers who will blow themselves up in crowds of Jews. We pretend that ending the occupation is the only thing that will bring peace, when the true intractable root of the conflict is the incitement of genocidal Jew-hatred among three generations and counting of Palestinians.

And, to put the cherry on it, we accuse Zionist voices of “uncritically” supporting Israel. Orwell is spinning counter-clockwise in his grave.

We have chanted "end the occupation now" as if this is some kind of magic recipe for utopia, when the experience in Gaza indicates that ending the occupation is a recipe for dystopia, both for the repressed Palestinians and for the Israelis who are subjected to bombardment from a terrorist encampment on their border.

We depict Israel, a multicultural, multilingual, pluralistic country with freedom for religious and ethnic minorities, as an apartheid state, while allying ourselves with Palestinian and other Arab entities that are among the regimes in the world today that most closely resemble that (culturally appropriated) history.

We dismiss basic facts as lies and assert lies as facts.

We have mobilized our entire movement for "justice" on behalf the 750,000 Arabs dispossessed in the Arab-initiated war of 1948-'49, while exhibiting no interest or concern for equivalent or greater number of Jews forced from Muslim countries.

Then we wrap ourselves in self-righteousness, confident that we are making the world a better place, when we have in fact wrapped ourselves in a violent ideology of hate that is making the world worse.

We can criticize Israel all we like. Nobody (contrary to the prevailing leftist narrative of Jewish power “stifling” criticism) is stopping us. But what we are doing is not criticizing Israel. Criticism requires critical thinking -- and that is notably absent.

Our entire worldview has been poisoned by the wrong turn we made on September 28, 2000, when we sided with violent terror over peaceful resolution. In covering the tracks of that disastrous choice, we have barrelled on, damn the torpedoes, down a path of ideological catastrophe.

We don't need to return 180 degrees to the almost universal pro-Israel position the Canadian left had before 1967. But neither can we claim the mantle of progressivism while we stand uncritically with genocidal Palestinian terror regimes that repress women, murder gays, crush Palestinians' human rights and recognize no rules of engagement in their "struggle" with Israel.

We can't turn back the hands of time to September 28, 2000. But is it too late for intelligent, compassionate people to admit we made a terrible, terrible mistake?


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