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What about Israeli frustration?

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

Palestinian frustration is endlessly trotted out to justify the most horrific acts. Why don’t we ever give Israelis – who have every bit as much right to subjective feels – the same benefit?

For 20 years or more, Western progressives have accepted “frustration,” “humiliation” and “desperation” as justification for everything from the Palestinians’ base refusal to negotiate to the most heinous acts of mass murder. Oppressed people everywhere in the world may feel frustrated, but for some reason the subjective emotions of Palestinians make us throw out everything we believe about nonviolence.

It is notable that this intense sensitivity among progressive Westerners to the emotions of Palestinians is nowhere in evidence when it comes to the feelings of the people on the other side.

Palestinians may have reason to feel frustrated – though their feelings do not justify the bombings, stabbings and decapitations Western observers have given them a pass on.

But what about Israeli frustration?

Israelis have every right to feel frustration and desperation. They have survived successive wars of annihilation. They have sought to make peace time and again. They have made concessions and offers, handed over more land in peacetime than any country on earth, evacuated settlements and given the world endless evidence of goodwill. After winning each Arab-initiated war, they have effectively wiped the slate clean, asking for nothing but peace as the spoils of war.

They have offered everything the world believed the Palestinians wanted – and they have been rebuffed by a Palestinian movement that refuses to take yes for an answer. Every offer, compromise and olive branch has been scoffed at by Palestinians and their allies as not enough, as a ruse, a scheme, part of a conspiracy, not what it appears, a Trojan horse.

Israel’s legitimacy as a country, even the legitimacy of Jews as a people, is contested. Jews’ existence and history in the land is denied and negated by top Palestinian officials and throughout Palestinian society. Israel is subjected to censures and condemnations at the UN that are orders of magnitude greater than those experienced by the most odious human rights abusers on the planet. Their products and people are boycotted. Israelis have not had a moment of guaranteed uninterrupted peace in their seven decades of history. Israelis give up years of their life protecting their country. Thousands have died in military service and from Palestinian terrorism. Every home and building in Israel must be constructed with a safe room to keep their people from being blown up. Children’s playgrounds have cheerily-painted bomb shelters built into their structures.

Yet progressives dismiss any suggestion that Israelis might have reason to feel frustration. We express almost no empathy whatsoever toward Israelis or the situations they endure. Never do we see the world justifying perceived Israeli misdeeds as legitimate acts of a frustrated people.

We’ve accepted the subjective emotional justification of “frustration” to permit Palestinians to literally get away with murder.

What about Israeli frustration?

Acts of rogue Israelis are exceptional, and are dealt with by civil and military justice systems. Still, leftists extrapolate these incidents to question the morality of Israel itself and, by extension, its right to exist. On the other hand, Palestinian attacks on and murders of Jewish civilians are a deliberate strategy – the perpetrators are feted by Palestinian leaders and society – but credulous Western observers view these terrorists as exceptional and do not summon a fraction of the indignation we reserve for Israel.

If you want to test the human capability for abuse of power, offer an ordinary citizen a hand-held stop sign and a reflective orange vest. The relish with which suburban crosswalk moms and suntanned highways employees wield their authority gives us a taste of how Israeli teenagers and young adults, graduating from high school into service in the most protracted international dispute, might be prone to abuse power. It is astonishing, frankly, that there are not more and worse allegations than there are against Israeli soldiers who, at the age of 18 or 19, are forced to give up prime years of their lives to defend their fellow citizens.

It is almost miraculous that Israeli frustration has not resulted in even more extreme responses. There is not an Israeli alive untouched by war and terrorism. Israelis walk around bearing the physical and emotional scars of military service and terror attacks. Every aspect of Israeli life is tinted with the memories and imminent sense of violence and death. Do Western leftists demonstrate any understanding or empathy of this reality? Not a whit. We rub that truth in the face of Israelis and Jews, dismissing their legitimate security concerns and scoffing at the very idea that they have any reason to fear the people around them who have been coached for the better part of a century in Jew-hatred and genocide. We remain silent when Israeli civilians are killed in the streets, on buses, in university cafeterias, yet we wail lamentations and “disproportionality” when Israel’s military targets terrorist infrastructures. We are silent when Palestinians send rockets, incendiary balloons and other murderous devices across the Gaza border into Israel, but we bellow about the injustice of a Palestinian being forced to wait in line at a security checkpoint.

It is easy for comfortable San Franciscans or Swedes to scan the headlines and decide we know better than Israeli military strategists and security experts how to keep their citizens from being blown up on buses or stabbed in the market. The justification, insofar as the most vociferous critics of Israel feel compelled to offer any, is that Israel is a democracy and therefore should be held to a higher standard. This is fine on its face. But wouldn’t basic fairness also acknowledge the fundamental character of the forces on the other side? Do those who acknowledge that they hold Israel to a higher standard, because it is a pluralist democracy that claims to cherish human rights and life, conversely cut Israel any slack due to the fact that their enemies recognize no rules of engagement?

No, we see injustices and transgressions committed by Palestinians and Israelis – but we only condemn Israelis. Since we expect nothing of immoral terrorists, we conversely expect everything of moral, democratic Israel. This permits us to hold Israel to a standard that no country could achieve even in peacetime, let alone when faced with incessant attacks from some of the world’s most depraved forces.

Don’t Israelis have a right to feel frustration around that double standard?

Consider what most of the world imagines to be a starting point for discussion about a permanent resolution to the conflict. It is widely accepted, even among pro-Israel voices, that the pre-1967 borders will, give or take, represent the eventual two-state solution. Most Zionists accept this premise because it makes sense. Practically, that is where most Palestinians live. But leaving practicalities aside and looking at it from a purely moral standpoint, consider the rank hypocrisy it represents.

1948: Israel is attacked by all neighboring states in a war of extermination. Israel successfully defends itself.

1967: Israel is attacked again, by the same enemies with the same genocidal objective. Israel survives again. And the world’s position is that Israel should return to a status quo ante.

Sure, we started successive wars intended to annihilate your country and its people and we lost, but come on, can’t we just wipe the slate clean?

And when, due to the Palestinian violence, Israelis are driven, out of desperation and hopelessness, to construct a physical barrier to separate their children from perpetual mass murder, social justice-seeking activists invent whole new prototypes of invective to hurl at them.

If Israel has concluded that the only way it can protect itself is to build a fence, that should rightly cause us alarm, but not because of what it says about the threat to Palestinian freedoms. It should terrify us because Israel has the world’s foremost anti-terrorism intelligence apparatus and yet feels forced to resort to something as rudimentary and barbaric as a wall to protect its people from those who would kill them.

Israelis might rightly be frustrated by the world’s determination to see them as the villain in a conflict they did not start and that they do not perpetuate.

They might very justifiably be frustrated by the world’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge or reward the decades of compromises, offers, incentives, flexibility and goodwill while ignoring the Palestinians’ incessant violence and total intransigent refusal to live in peace with their neighbors.

Yet while Western leftists invoke “frustration” as justification for every Palestinian misdeed, the idea that the Israeli actions we so fervently condemn might possibly be driven to any degree by frustration is something we do not consider at all. Why is that?

Palestinian frustration is a real thing, certainly, although that frustration, thanks to generations of official indoctrination, is nearly always directed at Israel, rather than at the Arab leaders who have perpetuated the Palestinians’ statelessness.

But Palestinian frustration is also a tool. It is a political weapon that effectively justifies every horrific act of violence perpetrated by Palestinians. The more gruesome the attack, the more frustrated the attacker must have been, by very definition. It is an intellectual loop that allows the culpability for Palestinian violence to be reflected back onto the Israeli victims. It is also, of course, a racist trope that views Palestinians as incapable of self-control and restraint.

It may be a consequence of the fact that the Palestinian narrative, if one reviews it carefully, cannot withstand critical assessment. The litany of lost opportunities, the opting for violence over coexistence every time, the slapping away of every olive branch offered them – these are tough facts to paper over or defend. They point to the obvious (but intolerable) conclusion that the plight of Palestinians is not, primarily, a result of anything Israelis have done, but are overwhelmingly a result of Arab and Palestinian choices.

Unable to justify the Palestinian case empirically, we have chosen to accept subjective emotions as equivalent to historical and contemporary facts.

Interestingly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is perhaps the only conflict in which the world agreeably accepts one side’s feelings over facts and evidence. There are peoples all over the planet experiencing oppression and various degradations. In all instances, we look at the details, assess both sides of the narrative and measure culpability based on a balance of information. When a Palestinian declares themselves “frustrated” or “humiliated,” all our critical thinking seems to wash away, as though subjective emotions of Palestinians trump dead Jewish bus passengers and maimed Israelis in a café.

That is the choice Western observers have made. But, given that fact, isn’t anyone curious why the subjective emotions of Israelis are never taken into account?

If we are going to give so much credence to Palestinian emotions, why not give Israelis a similar pass?

Because this “debate” has never been based on a balance of comparative facts and moral assessments. The Palestinian narrative (really an “anti-Israel narrative” since it does nothing to advance Palestinian people) is constructed to win at any cost. The facts won’t serve that end. So we accept that Palestinians feel bad – while giving no concern to how Israelis feel.

But Israeli mothers who have lost children, soldiers who have lost limbs, bus passengers who have been maimed have every right to be frustrated – and deserve every bit as much Western sympathy as “frustrated” Palestinians.

The fact that we – overseas observers certain of our moral goodness – accept subjective emotional claims as legitimate evidence when it comes from Palestinians but not from Israelis says a great deal about the situation in which we find ourselves. Palestinians, of course, have learned the lesson that Western “allies” drink up their crocodile tears. Israelis, long used to being convicted in the court of public opinion based on dubious claims, carry on with their lives.

The people most affected by our hypocritical acceptance of subjective claims like “frustration,” “humiliation” and “desperation” as justification for political violence are us. Our legitimacy as progressive people, fair-minded rationalists and activists who make our determinations based on reason rather than emotion is debased by our gullible swallowing of the “humiliation” motif.

For Israelis and Palestinians, our actions amount to a pile of hummus. For our legitimacy as credible Western leftists … it is a self-inflicted shot through the temple. Our integrity is the primary victim. Our reputation as a movement of peace and coexistence is splattered all over the walls of our temple of self-righteousness.


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