Some people in the mainstream media, as well as certain alternative right wing or right leaning outlets, accuse the left of being ‘obsessed’ with Palestine. This portrayal of ‘obsession’ implies that the focus on Israel is completely irrational. The only way that it can then be explained is to assume that those focusing on criticing Israel are in fact just anti-Semitic. This article will argue that, contrary to this stated view, anti-imperialists have entirely rational reasons to focus on Palestine.
Western Support for Israel
Many states may do things that I personally disagree with. Many countries, including those in the crosshairs of Western imperialism, have homophobic laws (such as Iran). Those who would like to criticise the anti-imperialist focus on Israel often point to such examples. Bringing up such examples is meant to ‘prove’ that anti-imperialists are hypocritical because they mainly criticise crimes in Western client states.
This argument is misguided. This is because the UK and US directly participate in Israeli crimes through funding and arming the country.
The British group Campaign Against Arms Trade contains information about the arms that the UK sells to Israel.
Since the Conservative government was elected in May 2015, the UK has licensed over £400 million worth of arms to Israeli forces, including:
£183 million worth of ML22 licences (military technology)
£104 million worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
£20 million worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)
£4.6 million worth of ML6 licences (Armoured vehicles, tanks)
£1.9 million worth of ML3 licences (ammunition)
£1 million worth of ML1 licences (small arms)
UK Palestine activists have recently targeted UAV Tactical systems factories, which are part owned by Israeli arms company Elbit Systems. For example, a factory in Leicester was occupied by the group Palestine Action for this reason:
Palestine Action members also “barricaded gates, destroyed property and vandalised the premises to prevent any more British-made drones being sent to commit atrocities in Gaza”, according to a statement from Palestine Action.
The same also applies to the US, which is Israel’s main backer. Reuters reported in 2016 that:
The United States will give Israel $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade, the largest such aid package in U.S. history, under a landmark agreement signed on Wednesday.
The US also sells weapons to Israel:
In addition, the United States is the largest seller of weapons to Israel, whose military arsenal now includes 362 U.S.-built F-16 warplanes and 100 other U.S. military aircraft, including a growing fleet of the new F-35s; at least 45 Apache attack helicopters; 600 M-109 howitzers and 64 M270 rocket-launchers. At this very moment [the 2021 assault on Gaza], Israel is using many of these U.S.-supplied weapons in its devastating bombardment of Gaza.
Mint Press News has also reported that US charities fund Israeli settlements. This is relevant due to the fact that tax deductions for charities in the US mean that the state subsidises this funding.
The scale of their support cannot be determined. A 2014 study of over 3,600 Jewish organizations by the Jewish Daily Forward found they sent $1.7 billion, or 11.9 percent of their budgets, to Israel each year. But like U.S. Zionism in general, organizations voluntarily funding Israel are not exclusively Jewish, nor did the Forward claim to have fully reviewed even the Jewish sector.
The US also protects Israel in the UN Security Council, vetoing resolutions that are critical of their war crimes in Palestine.
It follows that there are two reasons why it is reasonable and logical for ‘the left’ to put special emphasis on Palestine.
The first reason is the issue of moral responsibility. As the UK and US sell Israel weapons, they are responsible for how those weapons are used. The UK and US governments are not ignorant of the war crimes being committed by the Israeli apartheid regime. They know that the weapons will be used against Palestinian civilians, but they sell them the weapons anyway. This means that citizens of the US and UK have a moral obligation to put pressure on their governments to stop arming Israel.
On the other hand, focusing on criticising countries who are targets of Western imperialism – such as Iran or Cuba – is at best pointless. At least in theory, I have some influence over what the UK government does, as I am a UK citizen. I am also in a position where I can actively oppose what the UK government does by protesting against it. This is not the case for things that happen in countries like Iran, where I cannot affect the scenario in any way whatsoever, even if it is a case where I passionately disagree with what the Iranian government is doing.
Of course, there are also significant problems with believing and verifying claims made by imperialist governments against their enemies, and these claims – even if true – being used as a justification for bombing or sanctions.
Neither of these reasons have anything to do with Judaism or anti-Semitism. In fact, people making the argument ignore the heavy criticism aimed at Saudi Arabia by the same people criticising Israel. Saudi Arabia gets criticised for much the same reasons as Israel does: they are armed by western governments and use those weapons to bomb civilians, in the Saudi case, against Yemeni civilians.
[There are further reasons that Israel is focused upon as a subject for critique, notably the fact that Israel helps to further imperialist agendas in other countries such as Syria, but this will not be discussed in detail here.]
The narrative that anti-imperialists are ‘obsessed’ with Palestine – implied or stated to be because of some sort of animosity towards Jews – is false. In fact there are entirely rational and moral reasons why Israeli apartheid is a focus of anti-imperialist activism.