Ermin Sinanović || 27 December 2023
It’s not just about the strong Israeli lobby or Christian Zionism, argues one scholar. Israel is doing to the Palestinians what many Western political elites want to do to Arabs and Muslims, but often cannot.
Over the past few months, most Western political elites have given a blank check to Israel during its assault on Gaza that has killed more than 20,000 people. Many are asking, why have these leaders not condemned the undeniable war crimes and international law violations that Israel is committing against the Palestinians?
There are several explanations for this phenomenon. The usual ones include the power of the Israeli lobby in the United States and the West, as well as Christian Zionism. While I do not deny these two elements, I submit that there is another explanation that gives us an even greater insight into Western unequivocal support: fulfilling the fantasy through Israel. In other words, Israel is doing to the Palestinians what many Western political elites want to do to Arabs and Muslims, but often cannot.
The power of the Israeli lobby has been well documented. The extent and reach of the lobby in US corridors of power is so strong and deep that it often produces an almost unanimous support for Israel.
Meanwhile, Christian Zionism has been part of Western Christianity, especially Protestantism, for a long time. For American Christian Zionists, the idea of the revival of Israel is closely connected to the idea of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism. Both countries are seen as a manifestation of God’s will.
Just as the US conquered much of the North American continent, expelled and exterminated the natives, and settled the land in the name of civilisation, the Israelis are doing the same in Palestine. On the other side of the Atlantic, British support for Zionism emerged in the 19th century, culminating in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The belief in the fulfilment of the Biblical prophecy regarding the return of Christ (the second coming) adds fuel to this support. For this reason, the majority of Zionists are not Jewish but Christian.
The preceding two elements explain the Anglo-American and most of the West’s political support for the existence of Israel.
But support for Israel’s violence against Palestinians and disregard for international law is located elsewhere: Israel as the last European colonial outpost in the Middle East. As the anti-colonial struggle was ending the European colonial project after World War Two, Israel emerged as the continuation of that dream – a predominantly European nation based in the Arab world, bent on subjugating and eliminating the native population. It also created a military outpost that can serve as a military base in the Middle East. In this explanation, it is not Israel that is somehow “controlling” the West – an anti-Semitic idea, to begin with – but it is the Western countries that are using Israel for their own political and strategic gains. International law did not apply to the colonial powers then, and it does not apply to Israel now.
The relative ease with which most Western governments have accepted violence against Palestinians is directly linked to the post-Sept. 11 normalisation of violence against Arabs and Muslims.
Muslims in the West are heavily surveilled and securitised. Amplified by the media and popular culture, this situation creates an atmosphere in which using violence against them often requires no justification.
According to Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, more than 432,000 civilians diedin Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan as a direct result of US involvement in the post-9/11 War on Terror. Over 3.5 million indirect civilian deaths in these countries and other post-9/11 war zones took place during that period.
In Europe, part of the equation in accepting Israel’s war crimes has to do with the idea of redemption after the Holocaust. This is especially evident in Germany, which has taken its pro-Israel position to unprecedented extremes. We have seen a range of outrageous responses by German officials, from defending Israel’s atrocities to demanding that immigrants condemn Hamas and agree with the German government’s positions.
By weaponising its historical guilt, Germany has become an essential part of the pro-Israel axis in the West, together with the US and UK. Even Jürgen Habermas, a famous German philosopher known for his advocacy of international law, signed a statement that affirmed support for Israel above all and precluded the possibility of Israel committing genocide against the Palestinians. Through Israel’s violence, Germany and other European countries fantasise about their own immigrant problem. Violence against the Palestinians, then, serves both the Western elites’ and Israel’s interests and fulfils the desire for revenge while also offering redemption for the Holocaust.
In Quentin Tarantino’s revenge fantasy Inglorious Basterds, Jewish avengers execute a massacre against the Nazi leadership in a cinema, including Hitler and Goebbels. In a masterful counterfactual move, Tarantino allows the Jews to indulge in an act of revenge against the Nazis and lets the Europeans exorcise the haunting Nazi past.
Israeli leadership has repeatedly described Hamas and Palestinians as Nazis. Commenting on the movie, Rabbi Irwin Kula warns of the ethical pitfall one could fall into by dreaming of revenge. Ye, he adds, “(there) is still plenty of rage and anger that has not risen to the surface.”
Kula cautions, “Maybe we can begin to heal and realise the innocence of suffering can never be redeemed by the exercise of power.” But Israel has chosen to utilise its superior military power over the Palestinians, time and again, in broad daylight and with the full support of most Western political elites.
By acting on its revenge instinct, Israel is taking out on the Palestinians the accumulated trauma of centuries of discrimination under European anti-Semitism, which culminated in the Holocaust. And, by cheering them on, Western political elites are acting on their fantasies of violence against Arabs and Muslims – perhaps exacting additional revenge for the attacks of 9/11 and subsequent terror attacks in the West.
All the while, Palestinians, who had nothing to do with European anti-Semitism or the 9/11 terror attacks, are made to suffer horribly in the fulfilment of these violent fantasies turned into reality.
Ermin Sinanović is a political scientist and the executive director of the Center for Islam in the Contemporary World at Shenandoah University, USA. This essay was first published on TRT World at: https://www.trtworld.com/opinion/fulfilling-the-fantasy-why-many-western-leaders-support-israels-violence-16404107