Canterbury University lecturer Josephine Varghese’s recent piece on Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza presents the plight of Palestinians as – to use her words – a ‘textbook example of institutional Western racism and colonial violence.’ Sadly Varghese’s piece qualifies as a ‘textbook example’ of ‘Give me the Jew and I’ll give you the case against him’ – an ancient sport that seems to have reared its ugly head of late in New Zealand academia.
Coloniser is just the latest in a long chain of accusations made against the Jew. We’ve killed deities, unleashed plagues, both created and undermined communism and have pushed Western countries into wars. We practice apartheid too we’re told, despite a High Court Arab judge sending a former Israeli Prime Minister to prison. We were sneered at for being rootless cosmopolitans, and now are colonial settlers – quite coincidently no doubt, the villain du jour. Jews have always lived in two worlds – I am not referring to the dual-citizen charge now but rather our twin existence as diverse and productive members of the international community and as mythic shapeshifting rogues resident in the minds of a repugnant fringe.
Coloniser is simply our latest ‘shape’.
There is a mic-drop counterargument to Varghese’s thesis in the form of a simple question: If Jews are colonisers in Israel, why isn’t the Jewish Temple on top of Al Aqsa Mosque and not the other way around? Even DNA evidence affirms Jews as being indigenous to the Levant.
The fact is, Christian pilgrims aside, Arabs entered the Levant, as an imperial force it should be added, close to 700 years after the Roman conquest. The Romans will only ever be viewed as colonisers, and yet Varghese wants you to believe that a group that followed them by the better part of a millennia are a ‘first peoples’, over the people the Romans themselves expelled. What is it the kids say? “Make it make sense”?
Varghese’s case, as written, would be compelling to excitable students, a chapter or two deep in their first Chomsky, but not in any way rewarding if they had hoped for a real history lesson. In her brief and highly selective retelling of the conflict, there is no mention that Israel/ Palestine was liberated by the West after 400 years of Turkish rule. The collapse of any empire inevitably leads to competing ethnic groups seeking statehood – the bullet of a Serbian nationalist was the opening shot of the Great War. In the case of the Levant, and after offering autonomy to Arabs in the wider region, partition was decided upon by the UN. Varghese doesn’t mention that the Arabs rejected partition and instantly started a multi-front war against Israel that they lost or that Jordan and Egypt occupied the West Bank and Gaza respectively as a result and didn’t create out of these territories an independent Palestinian state. Varghese says that the “Palestinian experience is one of human suffering, dispossession, and subjugation” but, along with leaving out the self-inflicted wounds listed above, fails to mention a chosen path of terror over subsequent decades, nor that their leaders rejected multiple peace deals, some of which even offered displaced Arabs a ‘right of return’. Even as recently as the Trump presidency, Mahmoud Abbas, the ‘moderate’ leader of the PLO, rejected a peace deal before he had even seen it. Is this the action of a leader who wants to end an occupation? Why would Varghese leave all this out, one wonders?
A week earlier Varghese had reposted on Twitter/ X an image of a sizable pro-Palestinian protest in Baghdad and praised the solidarity she saw on display. You would think the anti-racist Varghese proclaims to be would be made squeamish by the fact this protest was taking place in a country that is entirely Judenrein (cleansed of Jews). In fact, nearly all countries in the Middle East are, despite once having sizable, and ancient Jewish populations. Not all of the 800,000 forced to flee come down to Israel either; in Iraq scapegoating after a failed Nazi coup started their Jewish community packing. A contemporary far-Left academic – polluted by identitarianism – is never going to want to wrestle with this bleak history, but the hyper-racism and sectarianism in this region are undoubtedly a major contributing factor as to why peace with Israel remains elusive, and a group like Hamas could breezily out-evil the Nazis on Oct 7th.
But it is in her comparison of Israel’s retaliatory actions to the Oct 7th pogrom to Brenton Tarrant, the terrorist behind the March 15th massacre of 51 Muslims in Christchurch in 2019, that Varghese’s piece careens downhill and plunges into a pitch-black, pungent swamp. She labels the regrettable civilian casualties in Israel’s operation against Hamas, “March 15th many times over”. It would be far more apt to compare Tarrant’s specific targeting of innocents to Hamas’ genocidal mission – both being lawless barbaric fascists working off an annihilist manifesto. Israel – responding to this genocidal attack is set on removing this death cult – which is also incidentally a proxy army for Iran’s imperialist project in the region that has led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in Syria and elsewhere, deaths Varghese has been silent on. In fact, in the same piece, she laments the use of sanctions against the Iranian regime and clearly views them as a victim state. The March 15th comparison is a truly depraved turn by Varghese, a ghoulish appropriation of a horrific national tragedy, and for what? To vilify Jews, and make their attempts at self-defense, after an attack no country would tolerate, akin to the rarest expression of evil. Ask yourself, if a writer had a true command of the history of this conflict would they ever reach for such twisted analogies? Varghese gives her game away with this sickening turn.
Which brings me to another question? Why would a self-declared Marxist stoop so low to distract from the crimes of Hamas – a Hard-Right fascist terror army? A self-confessed death cult? Shouldn’t her worldview be anathema to anyone on the Left? Shouldn’t she be the very first person to challenge murderous theocratic fascism?
An autopsy on Varghese’s piece is as much an autopsy on socialism itself – which for all practical purposes is dead as a viable political movement. What remains is a post-truth Zombie animated by the parasite of regressive bourgeois identitarianism that is now shambling mindlessly toward the reactionary’s eternal target.
“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre