Tyranny of victimhood: Why the Guardian gives a free ride to reactionary Palestinian movement

Yesterday, some anti-Israel agitators pretended to be “civil rights” activists by riding on buses Israeli citizens in the territories use to travel to Jerusalem.

These buses do not allow non-citizens (without proper permits) to enter communities in Judea and Samaria in order to stop potential Palestinian terror attacks.  

No, it’s not surprising that the the decidedly reactionary Palestinian movement would cynically exploit the genuinely liberal US Civil Rights Movement – which, in the early 1960s, attempted to end the practice, in the American south, of requiring that African Americans ride on the back of municipal buses.

And, no it’s not surprising that the Guardian would give the stunt a positive spin, “Palestinian protest ‘racist’ bus policy“, Phoebe Greenwood, Nov. 15.

However, the mere ubiquity of such narratives (by both the MSM and the Guardian), which represent the Palestinian cause as anything resembling a truly progressive, anti-racist movement, doesn’t render them any less reprehensible.  

As we’ve noted previously, per Freedom House, Palestinian political culture is undemocratic and lacks basic checks and balances; it fails to respect the rights of religious minorities, women, and the LGBT community; and the rights of citizens to peacefully dissent and criticize the government are not respected.

Further, Palestinian culture is imbued with explicit antisemitism and incitement, and PLO officials have even stated that they will not allow Jews to live in a future Palestinian state.

Anti-Israel activists zealously advocating for the Palestinian cause seem, necessarily, to be required to strenuously repress the cognitive dissonance of understanding that such activism is often at complete odds with the progressive values they otherwise cherish.

How then to explain how such an illiberal movement has become a popular cause within liberal circles in the West?

The more I’m involved in efforts to combat the assault on Israel’s legitimacy at the Guardian the more I’m convinced that an unreflective sympathy for those deemed “victims” (whatever the objective merits of designating a group with such a status) party explains the resistance many have to even the most stubborn facts, logic and moral common sense about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – even evidence demonstrating Israel’s pronounced liberal advantage over her Palestinian neighbors.

Robbing their Palestinian protagonists (objects of an a priori sympathy) of the moral agency typically assigned to responsible adults allows the Western left to excuse, rationalize, or ignore clear evidence of Palestinian villainy – whether such behavior includes explicit expressions of antisemitism or other reactionary political values, or even acts of terrorism. 

A good start in further understanding this dynamic can derived by the thoughts of scholar Shelby Steele, whose recent lecture, (excerpted by The Hudson Institute), included a meditation on the moral interplay between the West and Palestinians.

In his lecture, “The Narrative of Palestinian Victimhood“, Steele argues that the real interest of Palestinians and their anti-Zionist supporters is to situate the Palestinian people within a narrative of victimization.  Their ulterior goal, Steele argues, “is to see themselves and to have others see them as victims of colonialism, as victims of white supremacy.”

Says Steele:

“Listen to their language; it is the language of colonial oppression. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas claims that Palestinians have been occupied for 63 years. The word oppressed is constant, exploited. In this, there is a poetic truth; like poetic license, in a poetic truth a writer will bend the rules in order to be more effective.”

Thus, Guardian foreign editor David Hearst, in a column with the chilling title of “Could Arab staying power overcome Zionism“, Aug. 5, can positively cite his Arab-Israeli protagonists as questioning the “supremacist” nature of Israel, a characterization of the Jewish state, I’ve noted, which was popularized by an antisemitic extremist.

And, ‘Comment is Fee’ can similarly publish an essay by Sam Bahour, Aug. 4, which characterized Palestinians as victims of the “settler, colonial, apartheid, racialist, exclusivist” ideology of Zionism.

It also explains why Deborah Orr can even interpret the release of Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1027 Palestinian prisoners as evidence of Israeli racism.

The narrative that Palestinians are victims of racism, colonialism, imperialism, apartheid, and even a from of racial supremacism has a life of its own, and, Steele argues, is often resistant to even the most serious critical scrutiny.  


Poetic truths like that are marvelous because no facts and no reason can ever penetrate. Supporters of Israel are up against a poetic truth. We keep hitting it with all the facts. We keep hitting it with obvious logic and reason. And we are so obvious and conspicuously right that we assume it is going to have an impact and it never does.” [emphasis mine]

Adds Steele:

“These narratives, these poetic truths, are the source of their power. Who would [the Palestinians] be if they were not victims of white supremacy? They would just be poor people in the Middle East. They would be backwards. They would be behind Israel in every way. So this narrative is the source of their power….It is the source of their self-esteem. Without it, would they be able to compete with Israeli society? 

Steele further argues:

“The idea that the problem is…the Jews protects Palestinians from having to confront that inferiority or do anything about it or overcome it. The idea among Palestinians that they are victims means more to them than anything else. It is everything. It is the centerpiece of their very identity and it is the way they define themselves as human beings in the world…Our facts and our reason are not going to penetrate easily that definition or make any progress.”

As to why the liberal West perpetuates this narrative, Steele argues:

“The Western world [feels it] lacks the moral authority to call them on it. The Western world has not said…’your real problem is underdevelopment.’ That has not been said, nor will ever be said – because the Western world was once colonial, was once racist, did practice white supremacy, and is so ashamed of itself and so vulnerable to those charges, that they are not going to say a word. They are not going to say what they really think and feel about what is so obvious about the circumstances among the Palestinians. So the poetic truth that Palestinians live by carries on.”

“[So] the international media give [the Palestinian cause] a kind of gravitas that it would never otherwise have.”

Steele further argues that the I-P Conflict will never be solved until we somehow get beyond this “poetic truth” that they are the perennial victims of a malevolent and racist Israeli state.  

So, as long as the moral gate keepers at the Guardian, and the MSM, continue to prop up this poetic truth, grants it life, sustenance and moral license, Palestinians have little motivation to overcome the tyranny of their victimhood.

In contextualizing the Guardian each day, I read each story and commentary on Israel and the Palestinians without any question as to how the story will be framed.  The facts and details of each story may change, but the immutability of Palestinian victimhood renders any objective analysis of the I-P Conflict all but impossible.

Today, Palestinians are “freedom riders”.

Tomorrow it will be some other cynical exploitation of the language of liberalism and human rights which the Guardian will legitimize.

Israel’s military and terrorist threats are indeed quite real, but the cognitive war we’re fighting is every bit as dangerous and – unlike the physical theaters of war where battles are won or lost largely by strength of arms – requires a rhetorical arsenal we’ve yet to adequately develop, yet alone effectively deploy.  

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