November 2, 2023 - 7:00am


The debate within Britain’s Labour Party over whether to call for a ceasefire or vaguely termed “humanitarian pauses” in Gaza reflects a more painful situation on the Israeli Left.

From the centrist liberals who oppose Benjamin Netanyahu and support two states but accept the current occupation, to committed anti-Zionists who call for one state and a right of return to Palestinians, all have been shaken by the events of the past few weeks.

Since most of the victims of the 7 October attack lived in the kibbutzim or were attending an outdoor rave, a great many Israelis in activist groups and Leftist circles seem to know someone who was killed or kidnapped.

There has been shock and indignation at the often heartless and sometimes gleeful response of foreign liberals and Leftists they assumed to be their comrades. Indeed, the Israeli liberal press is full of pointed attacks on Western academics, journalists and activists. More painfully, though, the Hamas attack has caused many on the Israeli Left to reevaluate their politics.

The attack and its aftermath have hardened popular resolve against Netanyahu and the policies of the past 20 years but, at the same time, many liberals are now reevaluating their assumptions around the cause of and likely cure for organisations such as Hamas. That is to say, they are beginning to abandon hope of a peaceful future with two states, and have broadly shifted in their view of military action.

This change incorporates liberal Zionists who have staunchly opposed the Netanyahu regime, such as the prominent news anchor Danny Kushmaro: “Don’t pass anything to Gaza,” he said live on air this week, “not even half a spoon of water.”

Now, support for the Israeli ground invasion is a significant dividing line. It is presently backed by a substantial number of committed Leftists — something unimaginable a month ago. Rami Hod, Executive Director of the liberal Berl Katznelson Center, is a notable example of the activists who have ditched their humanitarian impulses for military action.

Some Arab-Israeli politicians within the country are despairing that the Leftists with whom they worked to oppose the Netanyahu reforms have developed a taste for military escalation. Sami Abu Shahada, former Knesset member and head of the Ba’lad party, wrote yesterday that “the same people who led the struggle for ‘democracy’ for Jews boarded the planes right after 7 October and are now bombing Gaza. The leaders of the struggle for democracy are leading a toxic, inhumane discourse about ‘destroying Gaza’”.

Meanwhile, Left-wing Mizrahi activist Tom Meghar expressed worry at the weekend about “reactionary public discourse which strives to close the door on values and struggles that work against the Israeli policy towards the Palestinian people”.

In terms of the future, many Leftists are reconsidering their support for a peaceful two-state solution, and some are dropping out of their local and international activist groups in response to the perceived callousness of the western Left.

When even those who normally oppose escalation are now committed to it, the limits of international pressure become clear. Liberals will struggle to influence the conduct or direction of this conflict from abroad when their approach is increasingly divergent from that of the Israeli Left.

David Swift is a historian and author. His latest book The Identity Myth is out now.