Attacks On Gaza Have Global Impact
The first Arab-Israel conflict to split Western democracies
The war in Gaza, which entered the 44 th. day on Monday, stands out from earlier conflicts in the Middle East due to its unique characteristics and consequences. For the first time in history, an Arab-Israeli conflict has split Western democracies into two warring factions: one pro-Palestinian and the other pro-Israel. Monolithic support for Israel is now a thing of the past.
The war has awakened an ingrained democratic spirit in the West. This wholesome spirit is now challenging the dominance of crass geopolitical interests over State policy in Western nations.
The war has also unleashed anti-Semitism in the White-Christian West. The Jewish lobby in the United States is now accusing Elon Musk of using X, previously called Twitter, to promote anti-Jewish propaganda.
The Gaza war is the longest Arab-Israel war after the nine-month armed conflict in 1948-49. And it has been far more destructive than any waged in the area earlier. The Gaza war was triggered by the largest-ever terror strike in the Middle East and the retaliatory non-stop aerial bombardment by Israel, pulverising whole cities, has had no precedent in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
And, for the first time, an Arab-Israeli war has brought about serious splits in Western democracies between supporters of Palestinians and Israelis in university campuses and political parties.
In the United Kingdom, Labour Party frontbenchers (Shadow Ministers), including the outspoken and senior MP Jess Phillips, resigned in order to back a Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
In a blow to the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, Afzal Khan, Yasmin Qureshi, Paula Barker, Naz Shah, Rachel Hopkins, Sarah Owen and Andy Slaughter left their frontbench roles (Shadow Ministers’ roles) after breaking the party whip.
British MPs had voted 293 to 125 to reject the SNP's King's Speech amendment calling "all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire" in Gaza but 56 Labour MPs backed the SNP position despite the party leader Starmer’s diktat.
Public protesters had also descended on Parliament Square ahead of the vote, waving Palestinian flags and chanting "ceasefire now".
According to ‘The Independent’, Starmer said he feared for his family’s safety, as Labour MPs revealed they had been threatened with death over the party’s stance on the Gaza conflict. Sounding desperate, Starmer said: “I’ve got two children: I’ve got a 15-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. And my biggest concern – about the only concern I have going forward. I am asking myself over and over again, particularly at the moment, how do I protect them as we go into this?”
The Labour rebellion is part of the growing concern in Western Europe over the number of civilians killed in Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
In Northern Ireland, the nationalist Sinn Fein has said that the Israeli ambassador to Ireland Dana Erlich should be expelled. Sinn Fein leader Lou McDonald said that the Irish were “horrified” at the “sheer brutality” of the bombardment of Gaza.
In the United States, on November 7, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suspended several students for holding protests against the war. Brandeis University banned a pro-Palestinian group. Two dozen Brown University students were arrested for protesting.
Columbia University announced on November 10, suspension of student groups “Jewish Voice for Peace” and the “Students for Justice in Palestine.” .
Authorities in US campuses are now faced with rising Islamophobic and anti-semitic harassment. This has led the Biden Administration to send law enforcement agencies to college campuses across the US. But the protests go on regardless. Some demonstrations for and against drew tens of thousands.
‘Al Jazeera’ reported that Republican politicians are targeting Israel’s critics in universities, by threatening to withhold federal funds if campus administrators do not contain Palestinian rights activism.
Senator Tim Scott, a Republican candidate in the 2024 Presidential race, has introduced legislation to “rescind federal education funding for colleges and universities that peddle antisemitism”, citing a Palestinian literature festival at the University of Pennsylvania as an example.
And the State University System of Florida called on public institutions under its control to dismantle chapters of the advocacy group “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP), citing alleged links to “terrorist groups”.
The decision was made in consultation with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, another Republican Presidential contender.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Brandeis Center, two pro-Israel groups, also issued a joint letter to universities this week, calling for probes into SPJ.
“We call on university leaders to immediately investigate their campus SJP chapters regarding whether they have improper funding sources, have violated the school code of conduct, have violated state or federal laws, and/or are providing material support to Hamas, a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” the ADL letter said.
Some students also fear their career prospects could be threatened if they speak out. For example, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, published a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month titled “Don’t Hire My Anti-Semitic Law Students”, referring to student activists who oppose Zionism.
Jewish students have also reported anti-Semitic incidents, including violent online threats at Cornell University. Cornell student Patrick Dai was arrested for posts that threatened to kill and rape Jews.
In early November, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote an open letter to academic institutions warning against politically motivated efforts to police speech on campus, which could “destroy the foundation on which academic communities are built”.
The letter said: “A college or university, whether public or private, cannot fulfil its mission as a forum for vigorous debate if its leaders initiate baseless investigations into those who express disfavoured or even loathsome views.
“Such investigations chill speech, foster an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, and betray the spirit of free inquiry, which is based on the power to persuade rather than the power to punish. In the name of those principles, we urge you to reject calls to investigate, disband, or penalise student groups on the basis of their exercise of free speech rights”
The ACLU also decried the Florida university system’s decision to deactivate its SPJ chapters.
“In the absence of any indication that these student organisations have themselves engaged in unlawful activity, or violated valid university policies, both the First Amendment (of the US Constitution ) and bedrock principles of academic freedom stand firmly against any attempts to punish them for their protected speech and associations,” the ACLU said.
“The First Amendment to the Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content. Restrictions on speech by public colleges and universities amount to government censorship, in violation of the Constitution. Such restrictions deprive students of their right to invite speakers they wish to hear, debate speeches with which they disagree, and protest speeches they find bigoted or offensive. An open society depends on liberal education, and the whole enterprise of liberal education is founded on the principle of free speech.
”How much we value the right of free speech is put to its severest test when the speaker is someone we disagree with most. Speech that deeply offends our morality or is hostile to our way of life warrants the same constitutional protection as other speech because the right of free speech is indivisible: When we grant the government the power to suppress controversial ideas, we are all subject to censorship by the state.”
Meanwhile, the conflict between the Whites and Jews, based on the notion that the Jews dominate all Western institutions, came out in the open to join the mess already created by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Elon Musk, owner of X, formerly Twitter, referred to an alleged Jewish conspiracy against his companies when he wrote: “ Racism against White people is the only kind of discrimination that’s allowed.”
He approved of a tweet reading: “Everyone is allowed to be proud of their race, except for white people, because we’ve been brainwashed into believing that our history was somehow ‘worse’ than other races. This false narrative must die.”