In Friday's Jewish Chronicle Martin Bright writes that Israel's supporters are losing the battle of ideas in this country, especially on the left:
The consensus in large swathes of the left is quite simply this: Israel is the oppressor and the Palestinians the oppressed. When the debate is simplified to this extent it is difficult to see where the argument can usefully go - and many have simply given up making it.
He urges the Jewish leadership as well as other 'friends of Israel' to make the necessary case on Israel's behalf.
I have no reason to quarrel with what Martin says - very much the opposite. On general grounds, as I suggested in the post immediately previous to this one, where false or one-sided ideas are prevalent one must hope that making a reasoned case against them will have the effect of persuading at least some others. Even if we cannot shake those dogmatically attached to poor viewpoints, there are always people willing to think about the arguments presented to them, people whose minds are not made up once and for all. More specifically with regard to Israel and Palestine, the presentation of the issues by way of a simplistic oppressor/oppressed divison ignores so much of the historical reality of this dispute that those with any familiarity with the relevant history must do what they can to challenge the simplifications and the falsehoods. There is an obligation - of justice - to do this whatever the chances of succeeding against open prejudice where it exists, or against dogma where it exists. All the more so if the case isn't being made well or energetically enough right now.
My only reservation about Martin's column relates to something he doesn't say, though this doesn't necessarily mean he's unaware of the point. It is that sometimes, however strongly and well a case is made, it will fail to shift large numbers of those arrayed against it. With respect to a significant sector of the left today and Israel, I fear this might apply. There are numbers of people in that quarter whose minds are closed to further argument. For them the oppressor/oppressed distinction sweeps all before it, and the history and legitimate ends of the Jewish people are of no account. There is also a long tradition on the left (though not only there of course) of 'tribal' considerations overriding every doubt and fixing basic alignments even in the face of major crime. We have strong evidence of this kind of determinant being at work on the left today, including, or indeed especially, with reference to Israel and Palestine.
None of which contradicts the force of Martin's appeal; it only suggests a caution. Making the case is necessary, but it may not be sufficient.