Remarks on a tendentious review of my booklet, Israel’s War on Gaza

In this article, Gilbert Achcar fiercely responds to a review of his short booklet on the war in Gaza, released by Resistance Books, refuting the reviewer's accusations of antisemitism and reaffirming his stance on Israel's occupation as the core injustice fueling the conflict.


Fathom, a 10% left-liberal and 100% Zionist online journal, founded by Alan Johnson and published by BICOM, posted a very long 1,800-word review by Barry Finger of the little compilation of recent writings of mine (plus one old interview) that Resistance Books gathered in a booklet titled Israel’s War on Gaza. I would be grateful for Fathom’s interest if it was not solely motivated by their keenness to defend Zionism by bashing its critics with the usual set of worn-out accusations, the most banal of which consists, of course, in portraying critics of the Israeli state as antisemites.

My remarks on the review are inserted between the following excerpts from it. The excerpts are in italics and quoted, and my remarks are in normal characters.

The review starts with this:

It turns out that Dara Horn was overly generous in her concession that ‘People Love Dead Jews.’ The massacre, rape and kidnapping of Israelis—Jews, Arabs, Druze, Asian guest workers—has been lauded, nay touted, on the campuses and streets of every Western city…

A typically ‘lachrymose’ and self-pitying way of starting a comment on a critique of Zionism, dwelling as usual on the instrumentalization of Holocaust memory. The author would have been better advised to take heed of the book whose title he quotes since it is meant to warn against precisely this kind of presentation of the Jews. This said, the above statement is pure deceit since hardly anyone ‘lauded’ whatever ‘massacre’. Whatever laudation there may have been ‘on the campuses and streets of every Western city’ (another exaggeration setting the tone of the whole review), it was certainly not for any massacre or kidnapping or rape, but for what was perceived as a very bold and highly daring military operation executed from within a besieged and downtrodden Gaza. For having described that operation myself as ‘amazing and highly daring’ on the 8th of October, the day after it happened, I have been lumped with others in another Fathom article as displaying an “excited pleasure” in partaking in “the pleasures of antisemitism”!

…as what Gilbert Achcar in his little book praises as a righteous ‘counter-offensive’ in response to a ‘protracted Nakba of territorial dispossession, ethnic cleansing and apartheid.’

I did not describe the ‘counter-offensive’ as ‘righteous’. Here is exactly what I wrote on 8 October:

‘… the new counter-offensive launched by Hamas evokes the boldness of the biblical David in his fight against the giant Goliath. Combining rudimentary air, sea, and land means—the equivalent of David’s sling—Hamas’s fighters executed an amazing and highly daring offensive all along the border zone between the Gaza strip and the Israeli state. …

Whatever one may think of Hamas’s decision to launch such a massive operation against the Israeli state, thus inevitably unleashing the Israeli government’s massive murderous retaliation and inciting it to attempt to wipe off Hamas and its allies from the Gaza Strip at a huge cost for civilians, the fact remains that this counter-offensive has already and undoubtedly dealt a heavy blow to the unbearable haughtiness of the Israeli racist far-right government and their belief that Israel could ever reach a “normal” state of coexistence with its regional environment while persecuting the Palestinian people and inflicting upon them a protracted Nakba of territorial dispossession, ethnic cleansing and apartheid.’

Achcar, a Lebanese Arab militant of the Trotskyoid Left…

A characteristic mix of racism (adding Arab to Lebanese to emphasize my Arab identity, as if Lebanese weren’t clear enough) and anti-Trotskyism, except that the latter is more commonly associated with antisemitism!

… and professor at the SOAS is pitching his appeal to the true believers and the wilfully credulous. It’s less an analysis than a Third-Worldist catechism. No lazy cliché is left unused: genocide, settler-colonialism, apartheid, war crimes, open-air prisons, the emblematic rebellion of the Global South.

So, ‘genocide, settler-colonialism, apartheid, war crimes, open-air prisons, the emblematic rebellion of the Global South’ are but ‘lazy clichés’! Or is it rather my critic’s way of dealing with such crucial concepts that constitutes a blatant manifestation of intellectual ‘laziness’?

Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, he writes, was ‘seized’ upon by an ever-eager Israel as a pretext to launch its ‘murderous onslaught.’ And, no equivocating condemnation of ‘disproportionality’ will do for Achcar, as this might concede some begrudging level of legitimacy to a different military Israeli response. Achcar diets on raw meat. For it’s not how Israel responds that Achcar objects to, but that Israel responds at all.

The author seems unable to fathom that I object to both ‘how Israel responds’ and ‘that Israel responds at all’. After my above-quoted lines, I commented:

‘There can be no doubt that this new chapter will end with a terrible cost for the Palestinians in general, the Gazans in particular, and Hamas specifically—much higher than the cost endured by the Israelis, as has unfailingly been the case in every round of fighting between Israel and the Palestinians. And whereas it is not difficult to understand the “enough-is-enough” logic behind Hamas’s counter-offensive, it is much more doubtful that it will help advance the Palestinian cause beyond the blow to Israel’s self-confidence mentioned above. This would have been achieved at a hugely disproportionate cost for the Palestinians.’

As for why I object to the fact that Israel responds at all, it is simply because I do not accept the view that the occupier-cum-oppressor state has a ‘right to defend itself’. Israel has been inflicting unbearable oppression on Gaza ever since its troops evacuated it in 2005. The strip has rightly been regarded since then by international law as being under continued occupation. I do support the right of the occupied and oppressed to resist by all legitimate means, i.e. barring the deliberate killing of non-combatants (for more on that, see my second comment in English on the events posted on 16 October). The only legitimate response by the occupiers is to end their occupation.

Hamas’s noble crusade is, after all, nothing less, in Achcar’s perfervid imagination, than the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Revolt redux, so no justification for its suppression is morally conceivable.

‘Noble crusade’ is, of course, a figment of the author’s own ‘perfervid imagination’. And I certainly didn’t write that Hamas’s operation is the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Revolt ‘redux’. I invoked that famous uprising only in stressing the ‘quasi-desperate’ character of Hamas’s attack given ‘the huge military disproportion’ between the two sides. Here is what I wrote in the 8 October piece:

‘Anyone familiar with what the Palestinian people has been enduring for decades, and aware of the kind of open air prison that the Gaza Strip has become, ever since it was occupied in 1967 and then evacuated by Israeli troops in 2005—an open air prison that is periodically the target of a murderous Israeli “turkey shoot”—can easily understand that the only reason why such quasi-desperate act of bravery as Hamas’s latest operation does not actually happen more frequently is the huge military disproportion between the Palestinian David and the Israeli Goliath. Gaza’s latest counter-offensive brings indeed to mind the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.’

This claim, Achcar insists, is no Holocaust inversion. How dare Western and Zionists supremacists arrogantly associate this uprising-of-the-oppressed with Nazism? Didn’t the iconic Franz Fanon celebrate, elaborate and justify the appropriation of the violence inflicted against the vanquished to ‘swarm into the forbidden cities. To blow the colonial world to smithereens …’?

Here is again what I wrote (16 October):

‘Western media have been unsurprisingly echoing Israel’s media in depicting Hamas’s operation as the deadliest attack targeting Jews since the Holocaust, continuing the usual pattern of Nazification of the Palestinians in order to justify their dehumanization and extermination. The truth, though, is that, however dreadful some aspects of Hamas’s operation have been, they are not a continuation of Nazi imperialist violence in any meaningful historical perspective. They are inscribed instead in two very different historical cycles: that of the Palestinians’ struggle against Israeli colonial dispossession and oppression, and that of the struggle of the peoples of the Global South against colonialism. The key to the mindset behind Hamas’s action is not to be found in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, but indeed in Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth—the best-known interpretation of the feelings of the colonized by a political thinker who was also a psychiatrist.’

[I skip here the author’s banal reflections about dreams.]

The reactionary character of Hamas on women, minorities, gays, Jews, religion and democracy could not be more evident. It is riven with racism and religious obscurantism. Islam is a political religion, as Achcar himself once pointed out. And those who choose to fight under that umbrella choose the banner of reaction and are eventually compelled to act in accordance with its reactionary ends. …

Still, it might be argued, and Achcar by implication operates as if he’s acting under this assumption, that the oppressed have a right to fight under any banner. Didn’t socialists and democrats ‘support’ Abyssinia (Ethiopia) against the Italian invasion of 1935-7, despite a resistance foully led by slave owners? This slave-holding resistance never, however, elicited the unbridled adulation conferred by the liberal and socialist left upon Hamas.

Yes indeed, the oppressed have a right to fight against their oppressors, independently of the banner that they choose. And I for one never ‘conferred’ any sort of ‘unbridled adulation’ upon Hamas! Whoever knows my writings and views knows that very well.

But this concedes too much. Hamas invaded Israel under very weight of its own intolerant Pan-Islamist program. Shouldn’t the proposition therefore be inverted? Does Israel have the right to resist even under the most reactionary, democracy-averse leadership it has ever experienced? Can socialists and liberals support the war, without endorsing the political and social values of Israel’s governing circles?

But these questions are inconceivable for Achcar. Israel’s presence itself is an ongoing invasion. For him, the core of Palestinian oppression resides in the intolerable existence of a settler-colonialist Zionist state from which all other alleged crimes arise.

1. Hamas did not ‘invade Israel’ and 2. Its incursion beyond the walls of its open-air prison was not primarily inspired by any ‘program’ but by the intolerable oppression that Gaza’s population has been suffering at the hands of ‘a settler-colonialist Zionist state’, whose very existence is the core of Palestinian oppression indeed. The end to Palestinian oppression is inseparable from ending the racist ‘settler-colonialist Zionist’ character of the Israeli state, which has worsened over decades to the point that it is now a state governed by fascists and neo-Nazis. This evolution was inscribed in its very nature and was predicted by numerous Jewish critics of Zionism.

[Here follows a long section with little relation, if any, to my views. I therefore don’t need to comment on it and will skip it. Whoever is interested can read the original piece. The author then continues:]

After page upon page of Hamas apologia, of nationalist clichés, and Israeli demonisation, [no comment] Achcar takes an unseen turn. As the war drags on—and these essays unroll in real time–he laments ‘there is today a lot of religious-inspired maximalism in the Palestinian struggle, as there was yesterday nationalist-inspired maximalism, but hardly any realistic assessment of the conditions in designing a strategy.’ He concedes that a ‘“popular war” for the liberation of the whole of historical Palestine does not make sense, because Israelis are the overwhelming majority in the pre-1967 territory. This is not like an occupying army, whether the US in Vietnam or Afghanistan, or Israel in Lebanon.’ What would be in the interests of the Palestinian people? Not a two-state solution, because ‘the so-called independent state in the West Bank and Gaza does not make sense.’ What would make sense, he avers, might be the reunification of the West Bank with Jordan, though where this leaves Gaza is unaddressed.

The author is referring here to an interview about Gaza that I gave in 2009 and that is appended to the booklet. One more time, he does not get the point that I made. However, there is not enough space here to quote that interview. Anyone interested can order the booklet from Resistance Books (I earn no royalty on it!).

To be sure, Achcar never abandons the aim of defeating the ‘Zionist state.’ But he recognises the futility of defeating it by military means. And in the end, he concludes that this can only be attained by actively engaging with those in Israeli society ‘actively opposing the bellicose policies of the Israeli government and fighting for a lasting settlement based on justice, self-determination and an end to all kinds of discrimination.’

What a joint internationalist struggle for self-determination to deprive Jews of the right to self-determination means is anyone’s guess. But I suppose, in some bizarre way, a turn towards peaceful struggle is a sort of Pilgrim’s progress

Well, it is only natural that the author cannot fathom what ‘a joint internationalist struggle’ against ‘the bellicose policies of the Israeli government and … for a lasting settlement based on justice, self-determination and an end to all kinds of discrimination’ may mean, since he is exclusively obsessed with what he construes as the ‘Jews’ right to self-determination’ which he confuses in reality with a purported ‘right’ of the Israeli Jews to occupy the Palestinians’ land, kill a terrifying proportion of them, uproot and expel their overwhelming majority (a textbook instance of ‘ethnic cleansing’) and erase their cities and villages.

Source >> Gilbert Achcar’s blog

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Gilbert Achcar’s newest book is The New Cold War: The United States, Russia and Ukraine, from Kosovo to Ukraine (2023).

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