Why do Irish people support the Palestinians? It’s a simple question, but a real mystery. If, as seems clear to me, every supporter of democracy and opponent of non-democracy should broadly support Israel — and be broadly hostile to the Palestinian cause — why does the world not see it that way?
An Israeli diplomat posted to Ireland recently asked me this question. Israelis encounter varying levels of hostility in Europe, and wonder why so many Europeans take the Palestinian side. Could it be anti-semitism? Could it even be that some hostility to Jews is endemic in Catholicism?
Living in Ireland it is obvious to me that other, more modern, reasons are at play.
The Palestinian cause is, on the face of it, deeply unattractive. It is a fight against a liberal democracy in order to set up either an oppressive religious state — Hamas — or a thuggish autocracy — Fatah. Either way, there are unlikely to be free elections and regard for civil liberties. So what is it that attracts people’s support?
It seems they hit all the right buttons. First, they are, allegedly, the “oppressed” fighting against “oppressors”. Yet, when you look at Palestinian complaints, they are mostly a consequence of the violence they direct at Israel.
They are, allegedly, the “poor” fighting the “rich”. The fact that it is their fault they are poor — look at what the intifada did to the GDP — and the Israelis deserve their wealth because they work hard to create it, is neither here nor there.
They are, allegedly, “non-whites” fighting “whites”. Many westerners care primarily about crimes by “whites” or “people like us”, not those by “non-whites”. Israelis come from all over the world, including the Middle East, but for many westerners this is not about reality. All Israelis are honorary “whites”.
Palestinians are Muslim, giving them a sympathetic constituency of 1bn worldwide. Muslims tend to sympathise with Muslims engaged in conflict with non-Muslims. Christians aren’t like this. Christians worldwide are on their own, and get little support from western Christians. If the Palestinians were Christian, nobody would support them. And if they were fundamentalist Christians, the western left would despise them.
It should be no surprise that journalists side with Palestinians. They are fighting a democracy, and a wealthy democracy is a nice safe place in which journalists can sit and be critical.
Some Palestinians are violent, and carry out deliberate attacks against defenceless civilians. But if Palestinians engaged exclusively in peaceful protest, few would pay them much attention. When there are attacks against civilians, the world sits up. Most are revolted, but some less sensible people have a different reaction. They believe — despite history’s total lack of evidence for this — that if someone is willing to carry out violent acts, they must have a good reason. And so, due to the strange nature of humans, Palestinian violence leads to more support, not less.
Many westerners are excited by “revolutionary” violence against the West. Lack of compromise is also exciting. If the Palestinians decided to give up on the “struggle” and pursue jobs, family and shopping, I would be delighted for them. Israel would pump money into their economy, the GDP would triple and their life would be much better. But some of their western fans, for whom they serve a psychological need, would seek other uncompromising opponents of the West.
Hating Israel is a safe way of hating the West, and many leftish westerners do desire a safe way of doing this; of declaring their moral superiority to the culture of plenty in which they grew up. Hating the entire West is too hardcore, but hating a small part works. It is Israel’s bad luck to fit the bill.
So the Israeli diplomat and other Israelis should not take Irish hostility personally. It’s not about them. It’s about us.
Dr Mark Humphrys is a lecturer at Dublin City University