When we planned this issue’s special section on the global left, we had no idea that we would be confronted with a devastating crisis in the Middle East, one that has had major ripple effects on politics around the world. The war Israel launched in Gaza after Hamas’s brutal attack on October 7 has created new divides and exacerbated old tensions. A growing peace movement is calling for an end to Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion, which has killed over 23,000 people in Gaza, 40 percent of them children, and displaced almost 2 million more, many of whom are on the edge of starvation. In many countries, protesters have taken to the streets to call for an end to the killing, and politicians have been pushed to respond.
The special section includes analysis of some of this political turmoil. In an essay on the British Labour Party, James Stafford argues that Keir Starmer’s attempt to force his MPs to vote against a ceasefire exposed a weakness in his top-down leadership, when a significant number of Labour politicians—not only leftists—took the unusual decision to rebel against his diktat. In a short postcard from France, Cole Stangler describes how Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s refusal to call Hamas a terrorist organization has further strained an already fragile coalition, threatening the unity the French left needs to defeat the right and the center. And in a roundtable, representatives of the Israeli left—Sally Abed, Yael Berda, and Eli Cook—talk with Joshua Leifer about their attempts to overcome repression and isolation and push for a permanent ceasefire, along with the prospects of building a new progressive electoral project out of the ruins.
In the Articles section, our contributors examine tensions in the United States. Anthony O’Rourke and Wadie E. Said warn against a series of extreme threats to free speech that may be on the horizon for pro-Palestinian activists on campuses. And Brian Morton follows up on the debate that began on the Dissent website between Leifer and Gabriel Winant, arguing that older leftists have a responsibility to guide younger leftists in thinking through difficult questions about the ethics of resistance. Morton contends that the left needs to reject the logic of “by any means necessary”—a logic invoked by some to defend, or ignore, Hamas’s attack on civilians—because the means can, and often do, shape the ends.
Morton focuses on the left’s response to October 7 because his essay is about a younger left—and it’s Hamas he’s seen some younger leftists defend. The same standard should be applied to those liberals and leftists who have excused or not forthrightly condemned Israel’s conduct in the war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that high civilian casualty numbers are “collateral damage” in the mission to eradicate Hamas. But as +972 has reported, and Morton notes in his essay, Israel’s army and air force have “abandon[ed] prior policies that aimed at avoiding harm to civilians.” In this war, there has been a dramatic increase in the bombing of “power targets,” including high-rise buildings full of people, which have minimal military value and are destroyed with little or no warning. The intention, according to Israeli intelligence officials, is to “‘create a shock’ that, among other things, will reverberate powerfully and ‘lead civilians to put pressure on Hamas.’” If this is the war the Israeli government is fighting, then the widespread destruction in Gaza and Palestinian civilian deaths are not regrettable accidents but an essential part of the plan.
Showing solidarity with the people who currently live in Israel and in Palestine does not mean shilling for the Israeli government, or for Hamas. If we reject the brutal logic of “by any means necessary” for one side, we must do so for the other, and we must call for an end to both Israel’s war in Gaza and its occupation of the West Bank. As Abed puts it succinctly, “Palestinian liberation necessitates Jewish safety, and vice versa.”
Natasha Lewis is co-editor of Dissent.