Carlo Strenger again uses the Guardian as a platform to characterize Israel as “totalitarian”

So, another day and another Guardian entry on the tent protests – a protest against the high cost of living in Israel which the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood characterized as “yet another example of this year’s ripples of revolt across the region.”

The latest, by one of CiF’s favorite Israelis, Carlo Strenger (Israel’s secular middle class strikes back), doesn’t really cover any new rhetorical ground but represents an opportunity for Strenger to repeat his now familiar refrain about the threat posed by the Israeli right, and his hope for a “revival” of the Israeli left – the knights in shining armor who will save the wretched Jewish state from its impending descent into political darkness.

Indeed, in the second time in less than three weeks, Strenger, lacking even a modicum of rhetorical restraint, characterizes as “totalitarian” recent Knesset legislation he opposes (presumably, recent anti-BDS Bill, and the NGO Transparency Bill) –  specifically decrying “the wave of totalitarian measures” and the nation’s move towards “Apartheid.”

Interestingly, in another passage Strenger seems to understand at least part of why leftist parties in Israel have fallen out of favor with the electorate:

“Israel’s electorate has never forgiven the left for its promise that peace was at hand, a promise ripped apart by endless suicide bombings in Israel’s cities during the second Intifada from 2000 to 2003. The citizenry was further angered when, after Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip, this area became the launching pad for years of rocket-shelling of Israel’s south. Peace seemed a hoax; liberals looked hopelessly naive at best.”

Without question, this represents part of the reason why Carlo Strenger and his political allies are so marginal in Israeli politics, but it doesn’t tell the entire story.

Israel faces existential threats which are both military and political – with the latter possibly representing, arguably, the greater of the two.

The assault on Israel’s very legitimacy – rhetoric which vilifies Israel as a state morally beyond the pale, campaigns of BDS and related efforts to isolate Israel internationally by NGOs, Islamist movements, Arab states and the radical left- is, to be clear, the moral equivalent of war.

I have no doubt that Carlo Strenger, as with most radical Israeli leftists, is a Zionist.  However, the incendiary and vitriolic rhetoric he employs against his right wing political opponents shares, to be sure, much with the anti-Zionist left.

Paraphrasing Anthony Julius, in his Z-Word essay on Jewish anti-Zionism, it is not enough for commentators like Strenger to disagree, or even refute; he must expose the worst bad faith, the most ignoble motives, the grossest crimes. He must discredit.


“The [Jewish] “scourge” is a kind of moraliser, that is, a public person who prides himself on the ability to discern the good and the evil. The moraliser makes judgments on others, and profits by so doing; he puts himself on the right side of the fence. Moralising provides the moraliser with recognition of his own existence and confirmation of his own value.  A moraliser has a good conscience and is satisfied by his own self-righteousness.  He is not a self-hater; he is enfolded in self-admiration.  He is in step with the best opinion.”

Of course, by “best opinion”, Julius is alluding to the prevailing political ethos of the day.  Strenger’s decision to publish a piece which demonizes the Jewish state at the Guardian – a newspaper where the “respectable” anti-Israel left gathers – certainly suggests a desire to put himself on the correct side of the political fence.

As with many Jews on his side of the political spectrum, Strenger is trying desperately to find that mythological ideological safe space where he can be both Zionist and respected by his non-Jewish radical left peers.

However, in reality, no such place actually exists.

The Guardian-style radical left continues to be defined by the lack of cognitive dissonance necessary to see the moral hypocrisy of possessing a visceral loathing towards the only state in the Middle East which actually upholds the progressive values they purport to uphold.

Carlo Strenger can ally himself with the Guardian Left or he can identify as a proud Zionist.

His decision to demonize the Jewish state on the pages of Comment is Free suggests that he’s, sadly, chosen the former.

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