Israel’s Apologists Are Showing They Couldn’t Care Less About Palestinian Lives

As the war in Gaza continues, cheerleading of civilian slaughter and justification of war crimes are pervasive. But they’re not coming from the Left — they’re coming from politicians and commentators defending Israel’s vicious bombing campaign and blockade.

Civil defense teams and locals rush to rescue people from the rubble of a destroyed house of a Palestinian family hit by an Israeli airstrike in Khan Yunis, Gaza, on October 16, 2023. (Belal Khaled / Anadolu via Getty Images)

Since war broke out between Israel and Gaza, prompted by the indefensible murder of 1,300 Israeli civilians and the kidnapping of scores more by Hamas fighters, there’s been no shortage of commentators across the political spectrum taking the Left to task for allegedly cheering on or justifying these terrible crimes.

“‘Pro-Palestine,’ to many of them, is pro-Hamas,” wrote New York Times columnist Bret Stephens. “Israelis are guilty by virtue of being Israelis, so their murder and humiliation is something to laugh at.”

“One wonders if any left-wingers, who have spent years justifying and thus encouraging Palestinian terrorism, will re-evaluate their narrative, of poor defenseless Palestinians victimized by Israeli bullies,” historian Gil Troy wrote in the Wall Street Journal the day of the Hamas attack.

Jake Tapper lamented how the response to the attack had laid bare the problem of “antisemitism on the Left.” In a five-tweet-long Twitter thread, Julia Ioffe condemned “Western lefties defending barbarism,” connecting such rhetoric to the Stalinist apologism of the 1930s. New York mayor Eric Adams fabricated a story that Democratic Socialists of America demonstrators were “carrying swastikas and calling for the extermination of Jewish people” at a New York City protest. The BBC characterized recent British protests calling for Israel’s bombing campaign to stop and an end to the Israeli occupation as having “voiced their backing for Hamas.” (The network later backtracked from this description.)

But maybe all these commentators have a point. There was, after all, the congressional resolution introduced by progressives three days after the attacks that made no mention of the Israeli civilians killed while vowing unconditional support for Hamas’s war effort — even as Hamas and other Palestinian leaders have made clear they viewed all Israelis as legitimate targets, and used racist, dehumanizing language to describe them. A US senator joined in, demanding that pro-Palestine forces “level the place.” There’s the George Mason University law professor who declared that all Israelis were guilty for having voted in a far-right government. On the streets of New York, pro-Palestinian protesters called for the mass murder and even genocide of Israelis, one remarking, “From the river to the sea, Israel will be deceased.”

Oh wait, my mistake. In fact, none of these were actions taken or statements made by leftists and pro-Palestinian voices, and none were about Israel and its innocent civilians.

Rather, the congressional resolution was introduced by the bipartisan centrist duo of Michael McCaul and Gregory Meeks (respectively a Republican representative from Texas and a Democratic representative from New York) and has been cosponsored by 423 members of Congress, with most of the Left not signing on. That US senator was Lindsey Graham, and the place he wanted leveled was Gaza. George Mason University’s Eugene Kontorovich declared that “the majority of Palestinian people in Gaza elected Hamas, which ran on a kill-all-the-Jews platform” in response to President Joe Biden’s statement that Palestinian civilians weren’t responsible for what Hamas had done (even though, as many have pointed out, half of Gaza’s population today weren’t even alive when the last elections were held, and the US government and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself deliberately helped entrench Hamas in power). The New York protest where attendees used unambiguously genocidal rhetoric was a pro-Israel protest, and they were saying these vile things about Palestinians, including that quoted line, which, fittingly, flipped the famous slogan of Palestinian liberation into a call for mass slaughter in exactly the way that Israel’s backers dishonestly accuse the pro-Palestine side of doing.

No one in the halls of power is demanding that any of this be walked back, apologized for, or condemned — even though it is exactly the kind of advocacy, justification, and apologism for the indiscriminate murder of children and other civilians that commentators keep accusing the Left of doing. Because it’s about Palestinian civilians, and because these ruthless opinions are being made by right-wing, centrist, and liberal members of the media and political establishment, it’s perfectly acceptable to do.

“They Will Call It Ethnic Cleansing”

These few examples are just a drop in the ocean. Representative Max Miller, an Ohio Republican, told Fox that Gaza was “about to probably get eviscerated and go away here shortly, because we’re gonna turn that into a parking lot.” When asked explicitly on CNN if Israel was deliberately starving ordinary Palestinians and depriving them of water and medicine so they’d give up Hamas, a retired US general replied that “it sounds callous, but I mean, this is a war.” “This round of fighting mustn’t end until Israel has created an extended buffer zone protecting every Israeli, even if it requires bulldozing houses and evacuating Gazans,” wrote Troy in the same Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he castigated the Left for “encouraging” terrorism. “They will call it ‘ethnic cleansing,’ but it is wholly justified self-defense.”

Numerous officials and other prominent figures in the United States and Europe have indulged in outright racism, or rhetoric that would be described as such if the roles were reversed. Jewish Chronicle editor Jake Wallis Simmons charged that “Muslim culture is in the grip of the death cult,” before being swiftly invited onto the BBC’s Question Time to discuss the war. When members of UK Labour quit the party over its leadership’s support for Netanyahu’s atrocities, including some with family killed in Gaza, one unnamed apparatchik described it as “shaking off the fleas.” German TV featured a pro-Israel voice warning that Israel would be “eaten” if it didn’t achieve the “extermination of Gaza.”

Florida governor and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has said of Gazans that “they are all antisemitic.” “I don’t like how people try to differentiate between the Palestinians and Hamas,” Fox News host Jesse Waters recently remarked. “You poll them; they all love killing Jews.” Asked if she had any message for her Palestinian constituents whose loved ones were suffering under the Israeli assault, New York governor Kathy Hochul simply urged them to “reject Hamas.” A racist cartoon of a military boot labeled “IDF” (for the Israeli Defense Forces) stepping on a cockroach featuring the head of a Palestinian man with fangs and blood dripping from his mouth has been circulating, shared at one point by a supposed “human rights lawyer.”

Sometimes, those defending the killing of Palestinian civilians have done so in almost literally the same breath as they’ve falsely accused leftists of doing so for Israelis. In a recent appearance on Fox, Cornel West repeatedly condemned Hamas, saying that “anybody who kills innocent people is engaging in barbaric acts, no matter who they are,” and that “a Palestinian baby has the same value as an Israeli baby.” Fellow guest Alan Dershowitz quickly accused him of defending Hamas — before immediately insisting “the entire blame” for Palestinian deaths lies with Hamas for its use of civilians as human shields, and explicitly rejecting the idea he should have the same level of outrage when Palestinians are killed as when Israelis are.

“When Nazi kids were killed in the bombing of Dresden, I didn’t have the same comparison,” Dershowitz said. “Don’t you understand the moral difference between deliberately murdering a kid and having collateral damage?” (In fact, the bombing of Dresden drew outrage even at the time, mass bombing was deliberately left out of the prosecution of the Nazis because it implicated the Allies, and it was eventually explicitly made a war crime.)

“City of Tents”

Over in the UK, leftist commentator Owen Jones spent a full minute condemning Hamas’s attacks and outlining their horror and depravity, but was immediately interrupted and ultimately shut down the second he started to talk about the killing of Palestinian civilians by both the host and fellow panelist, Labour MP Margaret Hodge. Hodge accused him of having an “obsession” with “the issue around Palestine,” of “completely and utterly ignoring what has happened over the last few days,” and of “using the horrors we’ve experienced in the last three days to bang the drum about an issue you’ve been banging the drum on forever” — at a point when more than eight hundred Palestinian civilians had been killed, 140 of them children.

On the basis of Palestinians’ collective guilt, prominent British politicians have explicitly endorsed what are unambiguously atrocities. The prime minister Rishi Sunak and his government have given Netanyahu an “unequivocalgreen light to do what he wants. But so has Labour leader Keir Starmer, who said that “Israel does have that right” to cut water, electricity, food, and medicine from Gaza in a siege, which, as collective punishment, is a war crime. Asked if this was within international law, the party’s shadow attorney general echoed Sunak, saying that “Israel has an absolute right to defend itself against terrorism.”

Meanwhile, major newspapers and numerous US officials — from the president and his state department (which refuses to criticize Israel’s targeting of civilians) to senators like Cory Booker — have endlessly insisted that Israel “has the right to defend itself” as they’ve called for unflinching and total support for Netanyahu’s military response. This would be bad enough considering the nature of that response, which has so far involved killing more than a thousand children, wiping out dozens of entire family lines, bombing hospitals and schools, as well as a siege that’s leading people to drink contaminated salt water and triggered a dire food shortage. (Despite starvation of civilians being a war crime, USA Today published a West Point professor explicitly defending its use, claiming the siege’s goals are “just” and blaming any resulting Palestinian suffering on Hamas.)

These statements of support are particularly outrageous given the kind of language Israeli officials have been using, which at least one (Israeli) expert in the field has said is explicitly genocidal, or at minimum, promising war crimes. High-ranking military and political officials have called Palestinians “animals” to justify their indiscriminate punishment, threatened to turn Gaza “into a city of tents” and to “eliminate everything,” and an IDF spokesperson openly admitted “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy” in its bombing campaign.

Israel’s president and ambassador to the United Nations have said that Palestinians are guilty for Hamas’s actions, while a former deputy foreign minister admitted Israeli policy is one of collective punishment, which is a war crime. “Are you seriously — keep asking me about Palestinian civilians? What’s wrong with you?” said Naftali Bennett, when an interviewer questioned him about Palestinian babies whose life support would be turned off thanks to Israel’s siege. CNN had on a racist soldier who openly said that “the war is not just with Hamas, the war is with all the civilians,” then invited him back on later.

What would be the reaction to Western officials who insisted over and over on the Gazans’ “right to self-defense” while Palestinian officials said these kinds of thing about Israelis?

Civilian Casualties

It’s instructive to read through some of the major newspaper editorials demanding total US support for Netanyahu’s military response, because in their self-consciously sober, reasonable-sounding language, they betray the fundamental lack of humanity that cuts through all this. In column after column, the pattern is the same: Hamas’s murder of Israeli civilians is described at length and in detail, with language that stirs the heart, with the victims given names and lives, their deaths allowed to carry emotional weight; references to Palestinian deaths, meanwhile, are tossed off in a perfunctory sentence or two that reduces them to a faceless mass whose deaths are baked into the equation — even tacitly acceptable.

So, the Washington Post tells us, Hamas’s attack was a “bloodbath,” “appalling,” “sheer criminality,” and a “slaughter” with the “power to shock” thanks to the “agony” of dead civilians and hostages “ranging in age from preschool to the elderly.” As for Palestinian deaths, which at the time had reached five hundred, this was merely “collateral damage” that Israel had an “opportunity” — not even an obligation — to limit, and only for the strategic purpose of not eroding global sympathy.

“Israel responded to this aggression with strikes in Gaza, killing at least 687 Palestinians so far,” went the New York Times editorial board’s only mention of Palestinian deaths in its editorial, following four paragraphs of richly detailed, emotive descriptions of the Hamas attacks. “It is also the administration’s duty to work to prevent this terrible eruption of violence from spreading from Gaza to involve Palestinians in the West Bank,” went the only other mention of the danger to Palestinian civilians, seeming to draw a distinction between the presumably worthy civilian murder victims of Gaza and the Palestinians in the West Bank.

At the Boston Globe, the killings of Israelis that occupied the entire column were “a war crime,” “horrors,” “human tragedies” that “shock the conscience,” and ones for which there is “no excuse.” Civilian casualties in Gaza “are inevitable” and simply something “Israel should do its best to minimize” — and if they didn’t, that didn’t matter anyway, since the editorial board made clear that the 770 Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes at that point were something “Hamas’s attacks have caused.”

“How will the administration respond to the inevitable civilian casualties in Gaza?” Franklin Foer similarly wrote in the Atlantic, in one of two mentions of the threat to Palestinian civilians, also preceded by three paragraphs describing the Israeli death toll. (“Israel will now be focused exclusively on wartime objectives. The Saudis might feel obliged to walk away once Palestinian casualties rise,” was the only other mention.)

Apologias for Murder

Do the thought experiment that this article opened with, and imagine if all of the examples were reversed: that pro-Palestinian media figures and politicians advocated en masse for ethnic cleansing of Israelis, their deliberate starvation, and their indiscriminate murder; that to a person, they insisted over and over again Hamas had a “right to defend itself” as its fighters bombed hospitals, killed many hundreds of Israeli kids, and used genocidal rhetoric to describe their goals; rationalized and justified war crime after war crime carried out by the group; and that they did this on the basis of what they said was Israelis’ collective guilt for the actions of their government.

Contrary to what you’ve been told, the vast majority of the leading lights of the Left have not done this. Thanks to a deluge of misleading coverage, you might not know that every single member of the left-wing Squad, as well as Bernie Sanders, condemned Hamas and, unlike virtually every other part of the political spectrum, expressed sorrow and grief for all of the lives that have been cruelly taken, both Israeli and Palestinian. You probably also don’t know that virtually every prominent socialist publication, including this one, has done the same, nor that a host of well-known leftists, like West, Jones, Jeremy Corbyn, and Yanis Varoufakis, have made clear that the murder of innocents must end, whatever their nationality happens to be.

Yet all of this appalling, disgraceful rhetoric, and cheerleading for human rights abuses really is everywhere — it’s just overwhelmingly coming from the pro-Israel side. That “side” that happens to encompass the entire Western political and media establishments, spanning the political spectrum from liberal to far right, and counts among its ranks the people who actually control the world’s wealth, power, and flow of information, not to mention its biggest militaries.

None have apologized or retracted these shameful statements, and they almost certainly never will, nor will anyone in any position of influence demand that they do. No establishment reporter will hound Lindsey Graham, Max Miller, or Gil Troy on the street demanding that they walk back their open calls for war crimes and ethnic cleansing. No one will write lengthy screeds about the establishment’s “deafening silence” on Israel’s far-right government and the atrocities it’s committing.

The cheerleaders for the Israeli government’s increasingly depraved war effort are accusing their critics of the very crimes and behavior they’re overwhelmingly guilty of, and all in the service of running cover for and permitting those crimes to carry on with impunity, and on a larger, ghastlier scale. It’s tempting to call this a perverse double standard, but it might be something even worse. It’s becoming clear that much of those who rule the self-styledcivilized” world see no moral inconsistency between weeping for the suffering of innocent Israelis and endorsing the deaths of innocent Palestinians; in fact, it’s starting to seem like they see both as the morally right thing to do. And that’s something far, far darker than mere hypocrisy.