Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why is there a Left Right split on Gaza

If one was to judge the scale of the devastation wrought by a present conflict judging by media and social media coverage you would conclude that the current conflict between Israel and Palestine is the most serious conflict currently raging. However you would be wrong. To date the current conflict has taken the lives at the time of writing of around 200 people. To put this into some context, in June 3,298 lives were lost in conflicts in Africa of which 1,176 were in Nigeria. If you read the website of the  Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project  you can see comprehensive cataloguing of these numbers. This is not an attempt to belittle the suffering in Gaza at the moment, but to ask why is it that this conflict rather than the conflicts that are most costly in lives, exercises ourselves and the media so much?   

Here is a quick question. What is your opinion on minimum wage in Ireland? Would you think A.) It should be increased to a living wage, or B.) It should be abolished as it prices people out of work? On the face of it this question has nothing to do with the Israel –Palestine conflict. But if you dig a bit deeper you can see that is has absolutely nothing to do with the Israeli- Palestine conflict. Yet I would imagine over 95% of those who answered A would be pro-Palestinian and the Bs would be similarly pro-Israeli. Why?  Name one public commentator who is of a left wing persuasion and is pro-Israel? It is not easy. Yet why is that?

The Israeli-Palestine conflict is not a conflict that is based upon a left-right divide. It isn’t hard to articulate a left wing pro-Israeli argument if one wanted to.  Israel is far more liberal on issues of gender equality, sexuality equality, trade unionism etc than most of its neighbours. You could also argue that they are more tolerant of religious minorities than Hamas are. Likewise it isn’t hard to argue for Palestine from a right wing point of view. Israel’s government’s use of the control of utilities in the west bank is the ultimate argument for why utilities shouldn’t be in the hands of governments with their management being more political then services provision. The blockade is a real barrier to free enterprise which is the hope for the future prosperity of Gaza and the entire Israeli state is one massive block on the path to individual freedom for the people of Gaza.  Yet these are arguments that are rarely if ever articulated. Instead we get a polarised debate that is split precisely on ideological grounds that have zero to do with the conflict. Why?

Some on the left would say that they stand on the side of the oppressed and therefore by default would side with the Palestinians. But being on the side of the oppressed was the reason many on the right gave for supporting the invasion of Iraq. And Israel is a country that is surrounded by countries that wish it was annihilated and the Jewish are a race who  were almost annihilated. They are not a people or nation that cannot themselves make some justified claim to the term oppressed.  Rightly or wrongly neither side has a monopoly on the ideal of justifying support on the basis of protecting the oppressed.
On the right, people would claim the high moral ground that the Israelis target terrorist sites and that Hamas target civilians and use this as a justification of who to support. But this idea ignores the simple reality of the situation that Israel has laser guided missiles that can accurately target a few meters. While to suggest that Hamas missiles are technologically sophisticated enough to target is stretching the definition of the word target. Also, while Israel may intend not to kill civilians and Hamas may intend to kill them, at the end of the day Israel is the one that kills the most civilians.

So why then is a conflict that contains no obvious right-left divide so divided in the West on a right-left divide? That is a question I cannot answer but here is a theory to disregard.
The cold war was the last great ideological conflict split on traditional left-right lines. Now as you all know this war was fought via proxies. America armed South Vietnam so Russia armed North Vietnam. Likewise America armed Israel, Russia armed Egypt, Syria and the PLO. Therefore the middle-east conflict while not explicitly a left-right divide gained a left-right divide. One which even after the fall of the Soviet Union it has not shaken off. Political ideologies are very much like political parties. Once you gain one you enter a situation where you have an enemy and the purpose of the exercise is to win. Winning requires a unified front and a consistent ideological front. That encompasses a coherent united message on all topics. Any deviating from the message weakens the collective front, and makes the opposing ideology stronger. Crossing the aisle on any issue feels like betrayal. So few do. It is easier to default to the “party line” than assess every single issue in the world individually. And thus we arrive at the polarised nature of the Palestinian conflict.
Africa however doesn’t really have that same framework, while many of the troubles are derived from the western colonialism. There isn’t really much western influence present on the ground to really hang an ideological hat on. The causes and the divides that exist in these countries are too complicated for us to understand and don’t really affect us. So we don’t bother and simply don’t care as much for the to date (15th of July ) 20,462 lives that have been lost in Africa in conflict in 2014.  

If we were truly concerned about the rights of the oppressed, human rights, rights to individual freedom, the right to live without fear. Africa would garner more debate, more searching for solutions, more protests, then the middle-east. In truth, it seems we are just interested in squabbling amongst ourselves and point scoring. We don’t have a grand vision for a peaceful world, we just fall back on hot topics. As a result Africa is ablaze unnoticed, whilst we cry over the relative, few sparks in Palestine  

No comments: