Postmodernism and the anti-Israel Left

By Vic Rosenthal (updated 4 Feb, again 5 Feb)

Recently I was discussing the really outrageous beliefs that are common in the Muslim world, like the opinion that the Mossad and/or Bush Administration perpetrated 9/11. It was suggested that Muslim society, not having experienced the Enlightenment period as the West did, did not absorb the same concept of objective scientific or historical truth into everyday thought. So, when faced with the coercive power of modern media, Muslims did not apply the same kind of critical analysis that Westerners might.

In trying to understand why it’s so hard to change people’s opinions about Israel – especially left-wing people, I think that a similar analysis might apply. Why is it that they seem prepared to believe anything bad about Israel, no matter how absurd, like the story that the IDF deliberately targets Palestinian children — but are immunized against believing anything good?

Israel’s opponents display what I like to call the ‘postmodern political sensibility’ that characterizes today’s Left. Several things about this are interesting. For one, the postmodern leftist considers racism and colonialism to be by far the greatest evils in the world. Almost any actions, including violence, are justified if they are aimed at destroying racism or colonialism. Note that ‘racism’, for this group, does not simply mean a view that holds some racial or ethnic groups to be inferior, but is politically defined as a way that a dominant group in society can oppress a weaker group which is racially or ethnically different (see the Wikipedia article on racism).

The other important piece of the argument is that postmodernists reject the epistemology of the Enlightenment. They believe that truth is affected by political, cultural, linguistic or economic factors (or all of these), and do not accept the idea of absolute scientific or historical truth. So an explanation from an Israeli of why it was impossible for the IDF to have shot Mohammed Dura, for example, is evaluated on the basis of how the listener feels about Israel and the Palestinians, and not by examining possible bullet trajectories.

In the case of Israel, what seems to have happened is that her opponents have presented Israel as the dominant power in the region, far more powerful than the Palestinians and even other nations. They have managed to attach the ‘racist’ and ‘colonialist’ labels to her. If this is accepted, Israel becomes the antagonist of everything good and true in the postmodernist’s world. And therefore, because of the subjective and political criterion for truth, every outrageous slander about her is ‘known’ to be true, and denials assumed to be lies.

Note that the Arabs, allegedly the weaker party (and also presented as ‘non-white’ and ‘indigenous’) therefore cannot be accused of racism.

Unfortunately, this process is a vicious circle, in which the anti-Israel true believer becomes insulated in a world, or ‘conceptual scheme’, that can’t easily be penetrated from the outside. In support of Israel, however, I submit the following:

  • Although Israel is militarily strong compared to the Palestinians, she is far less strong in the context of her hostile neighbors and considering the limits put on the use of her military strength by the West.
  • Israel is a multi-racial society. Prejudice against Arabs is related to the conflict, not any racial characteristics.
  • Arab society is highly racist, in the original unpoliticized sense.
  • Israel is not a colonialist state, as evidenced by her withdrawal from Gaza and her attempt to withdraw from almost all of the West Bank (at great risk) in 2000. So-called expansionist activities (the security fence, etc.) can be explained as defensive responses to terrorism.

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2 Responses to “Postmodernism and the anti-Israel Left”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    This is a very interesting analysis. It puts things in a new perspective for me, especially in regard to the central roles played by Racism and Colonialism in anti- Israel thinking.
    One simple conclusion. The Anti- Israel group has a fundamental problem in their world – view independent of their view of Israel. They don’t get the world- situation and they don’t get Israel as a result of this.

  2. Vic Rosenthal says:

    I updated this post today because I had said that the belief that the Mossad and/or George Bush perpetrated 9/11 was ‘almost universal’ in the Muslim world. It has been pointed out to me by Ami Isserof that “according to the Pew Poll: a lot of Muslims do not believe Arabs carried out the attack. The highest percentage was 65% in Indonesia. The lowest % was probably Pakistan where 41% did not believe Arabs carried out the attacks. The poll did not ask them who did carry out the attacks, 15% did believe Arabs carried out the attacks.”

    I stand corrected — the belief is not ‘almost universal’.