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Jonathan Freedland's enduring bad faith
Guardian columnist feigns concern for two peoples 'fated to share the same land'. But yet again he finds excuses to keep one of those people penned into a prison
Will the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland ever write a column on Israel that doesn't rehash dishonest, Zionist talking-points that were discredited decades ago?
It would be too tedious to deal with most of the misdirections in his latest contribution. Let's just pull out the final sections of his column, italicised and bolded, and then point out the ahistorical, morally vacuous thinking behind each point:
[Israelis] have been framed as the modern world’s ultimate evildoer: the coloniser. That matters because, in this conception, justice can only be done once the colonisers are gone. Which is why the chant demanding that Palestine be free “from the river to the sea” sends shivers down Jewish spines. Because that slogan does not demand a mere Israeli withdrawal from the occupied West Bank. What most Jews hear is a demand that Israel disappear altogether. And that Israeli Jews either take their chances living in a future Palestine under the likes of Hamas – or get out. But where to?
Let's replace “Israelis” with “white South Africans”, who were also a settler-colonising people. Did the fall of apartheid require them to “get out”? I think Freedland will find that they are still there.
Yes, we all understand that “most Jews” are frightened by a chant calling for the liberation of Palestinians from apartheid-style subjugation and confinement in their own homeland. Of course, Jews are frightened. Israel and its apologists, Freedland prime among them, have been telling Jews for decades to be frightened, just as apartheid South Africa's apologists told whites they would be slaughtered if a black man ever ruled the country. Whites stopped being frightened only when the Freedlands of the early 1990s were forced to change their tune.
What’s more, such a framing brands all Israelis – not just West Bank settlers – as guilty of the sin of colonialism. Perhaps that explains why those letter writers could not full-throatedly condemn the 7 October killing of innocent Israeli civilians. Because they do not see any Israeli, even a child, as wholly innocent.
If Freedland stepped out of his bubble for a moment and tried living in my world, he might be surprised by the number of people – many of them doubtless those fearful Jews he worries about – who are explicitly calling for Palestinians to be wiped out, who openly support genocide in Gaza – echoing Israeli politicians and leaders of Israel's nuclear-armed military who have long advocated for a 'Shoah', or Holocaust, in Gaza.
Perhaps the reason some people on the margins of social media are reluctant to join the establishment chorus condemning Hamas is because it is being so blatantly taken advantage of to excuse murdering Palestinian children. When our politicians and media turn this into a zero-sum game, when they rewrite international law to make shutting off food and water to Palestinians a legal and moral duty, you can perhaps understand why people might be reticent to fuel the flames of genocide.
This is where you wind up when you view this conflict in monochrome, as a clash of right v wrong. Because the late Israeli novelist and peace activist Amos Oz was never wiser than when he described the Israel/Palestine conflict as something infinitely more tragic: a clash of right v right. Two peoples with deep wounds, howling with grief, fated to share the same small piece of land.
Which could all be changed if those two fated, traumatised peoples actually began “sharing the same small piece of land” – in a one-state solution, as ultimately happened in South Africa. Indeed, that's the only way a settler colonial project ends without genocide or the ethnic cleansing of one side or the other.
If Freedland wasn't such a bad-faith actor, he would see where the logic of his own position leads. It would lead to peace. He could be part of that historic transition. Instead he castigates others for treating the catastrophe unfolding in Israel and Gaza as a football game in which everyone must take sides – even as he himself so obviously takes a side: in favour of turning a blind eye to genocide in Gaza.
So, this is not a football game. It has no need for spectators who root for one team against the other, goading their chosen side to go to ever further extremes. This is not a game, for one grimly obvious reason. There are no winners – only never-ending loss.
No, there have been winners. Over 75 years, Israel has received lavish support – military, diplomatic, financial – from Europe and the US to help it carry out the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. On the back of this support – and Israel's integration into the West's military-industrial complex - Israel has become a very wealthy country, rich in land it stole from the native people. Yes, it lives with a degree of insecurity – the price it pays, as do all settler-colonial societies until they 'finish the job', as one of Israel’s leading historians has explained – for dispossessing and oppressing the native people. But until Oct 7 it was clear to Israelis that living with that insecurity was worth it, given all the other benefits.
Feedland is right about one thing, however. Israel doesn't want spectators in Gaza. Which is why the enclave has been plunged into darkness. None of us can know what horrors are unfolding there right now.
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