Reflecting on his getting swept up in the madness of crowds, Liel Leibovitz wrote:
A few days after the November 2016 elections, I sat down to write out my feelings, which consisted mainly of fear and loathing. The president-elect, I intoned, was a dangerous lunatic, one likely to recall the ghosts of Fuehrers past. His election meant the death of America, of democracy itself, and maybe even scores of Americans. “Assume the worst is imminent,” I advised. Celebrities I’d admired my entire life praised the piece on Twitter. NPR came calling. Seven years later, my cri de coeur remains one of Tablet’s most widely read articles.
As a piece of writing, it was moving, forceful, and … entirely wrong.
You can find much to dislike about Trump—his policies, his personality, and an assortment of other failings—and, over the next four years, I did just that, often and with gusto. But my piece remains an embarrassment, more hysterical ululation than an attempt at the kind of useful or correct analysis that readers deserve. Reading it today, I realize that, for a brief moment there, I lost my goddamned mind.
Bezalel Smotrich is not a nice man, neither is his colleague Itamar Ben-Gvir. If you happen to be gay, don’t expect Smotrich to take you on the level. If you happen to be a trigger-happy member of the IDF, rare as such people may be, expect a blank cheque from Ben-Gvir. In the cauldron that is Middle Eastern, especially Israeli, politics, it is very easy to “lose your goddamned mind” faced with personalities like Smotrich and Ben-Gvir. Indeed, as someone who is in one way or another socially engaged, you will find yourself under intense moral pressure to do precisely that: lose your goddamn mind. Many have done exactly that over much less.
It has taken Liel Leibovitz seven years to recover his senses, change course, and avert his transformation into one of those who trapped themselves in not knowing they are trapped. As if anticipating the charge of heresy or apostasy, and so deserving of death, or at the very least, “cancelling,” Leibovitz hints that his humanity saved him: “None of this is to say that the folks on the march—my mother, by the way, among them—aren’t earnest, or patriotic, or truly concerned citizens. And none of this is to say that they haven’t legitimate claims.”
In the video series Mossad, a terrible revisionist propaganda hit-piece, the narrator intones:
In the Six Day War, Israel once again defeated and humiliated its Arab neighbours. Israel didn't only occupy East Jerusalem, it took control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as well, the only territories left for the Palestinians after the Israeli War of Independence. In 1967, Israeli troops also seized the Golan Heights and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
Even the reader unfamiliar with the history in question will see the gaping holes in this narrative, e.g., it was a war, but Israel was not supposed to defeat her enemies, something that, obstinately, she was in the habit of doing. That her Arab neighbours repeatedly attacked and ended up repeatedly defeated and so humiliated, unfortunately, despite its obviousness, does bear restating, given how many goddamned minds have been lost.
Out of this absurd history hack job, I would like to draw attention to one clause: “the only territories left for the Palestinians after the Israeli War of Independence.” It is a wonderful sleight of hand that conjures “Palestinians” nineteen years before they were created. The “territories left for the Palestinians,” says the narrator, are, “East Jerusalem, …the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” In this war of obliteration, that is to say, Arab obliteration of Israel, those monstrous Israelis didn’t even have the decency to leave something for the Palestinians. But “the Palestinians,” at the time of Israeli Independence, were the residents of British Mandatory Palestine, some being Jews, others being Arabs. The sentence only makes sense if the “Palestinians” referred to in this clause is the fake Arab-only nation created in the 1960s, for no other reason but to murder Jews and obliterate Israel.
On a recent visit to Paris, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich put it this way:
There are Arabs who are in the Middle East and who arrived in the Land of Israel at the same time as the Jewish Aliyah [in] the early days of Zionism. After 2,000 years of exile, the people of Israel are returning home, and there are Arabs around who do not like it. So what do they do? They invent a fictitious people and claim fictitious rights in the Land of Israel just to fight the Zionist movement… This truth should be heard here in the Élysée Palace. This truth should also be heard by the Jewish people in the State of Israel who are a little confused, this truth should be heard in the White House in Washington. The whole world needs to hear this truth, because it is the truth - and the truth will win.
But Bezalel Smotrich would say that, wouldn’t he? He even wants to flatten idyllic little Palestinian villages. To get a more balanced perspective, the fair-minded reader would naturally want to hear from a Palestinian, and not just any Palestinian, but a very important one, like Zuheir Mohsen, boss of the now-defunct Palestinian terrorist group As-Sa’iqa, for instance, who has the credibility of one who was in the room at the time. From Mohsen we learn:
The Palestinian people do not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism. Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity exists only for tactical reasons. Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.
Is it now OK to say: “Palestinians” — Fake nation expressly created and programmed to murder Jews and obliterate Israel?
And this brings us to the other lie, the more important lie, that Smotrich exposed: supporting the “Palestinians” is the right thing to do.
We need to seriously examine the reality of the axiom of Palestinian righteousness and the seemingly unassailable virtue of supporting them. The Nazis were intent on obliterating Jews, and it would be absurd to suggest that all Germans at the time wanted to obliterate Jews. Indeed, the Nazi state had to conceal their death camps from their population at large. Of course not all “Palestinians” are terrorists, but they all dance and sing and are happy when one of their number dies in the act of murdering Jews, and this is without a state.
Smotrich, for all the abuse he is taking for telling the truth about “Palestinians,” has, nonetheless, not told the whole truth. Neither has Mohsen, for that matter. Palestinians being a fake nation created for the purpose of opposing Zionism does not explain the centrality of mass murder to the Palestinian psyche and sense of self. It does not explain everyone pouring out onto the streets in wild jubilation to share sweets, to dance and sing, and mosques announcing the murders over the minarets at triumphant top volume. "Palestine" is not solely a matter of opposing Zionism; it is also, and especially, a matter of killing Jews, and dying killing Jews. To slay and be slain in the cause of Allah is the greatest deed a Muslim can perform, especially in Ramadan.
Interviewed by John Roy Carlson in 1949, Hassan Al-Banna, the Supreme Guide and founder of Mansour Abbas's organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, made several things clear about Islam. Most instructive for the present discussion was, “We aim to smash modernism in government and society. In Palestine [signalling non-recognition of Israel, rather than asserting a "Palestinian" state, AP] our first duty as Moslems is to crush Zionism, which is Jewish modernism. It is our patriotic duty. The Koran commands it.” The command in question is “Drive them out from where they dove you out,” (Qur’an 2:191), the logic being that Israel occupies “Muslim land” from which the Jews had “driven Muslims out.” No land that had once been ruled by Muslims may ever be ruled by non-Muslims again, and it is incumbent on every Muslim to strive to recover the "stolen land." When Gamal Abdel-Nasser raised an army of fedayeen in the 1950s to attack the Jews in Israel, he recruited Muslims, not "Palestinians."
The Qur’an commands many things when it comes to Jews. As for those Jews so keen to help the “Palestinians,” the latter, if they are Muslim, are commanded never to accept help from a Christian or a Jew. If accepting help is unavoidable, then it is not a problem for a Muslim to accept help from a kafir, provided he takes extra care never to be thankful, for this will weaken his faith. The Muslim averts any temptation to be thankful by hating those kufaar who helped them all the more. Their religion requires Muslims not only to hate and never trust the kufaar, but also, when necessary, to conceal their hatred and mistrust beneath a pretence of friendship. “O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who taketh them for friends is (one) of them” (Qur’an 5:51). This is why Muslims in the Knesset is such a terrible thing. They are not there to "co-exist." There are there to avoid and destroy co-existence.
And should a Muslim contrive to befriend a kafir in secret, the Quran’s got that covered, too:
O ye who believe! Choose not My enemy and your enemy for allies. Do ye give them friendship when they disbelieve in that truth which hath come unto you, driving out the messenger and you because ye believe in Allah, your Lord? If ye have come forth to strive in My way and seeking My good pleasure, (show them not friendship). Do ye show friendship unto them in secret, when I am Best Aware of what ye hide and what ye proclaim? And whosoever doeth it among you, he verily hath strayed from the right way. (Qur’an 60:1)
The Qur’an further cautions:
Let not the believers take disbelievers for their friends in preference to believers. Whoso doeth that hath no connection with Allah unless (it be) that ye but guard yourselves against them, taking (as it were) security. Allah biddeth you beware (only) of Himself. Unto Allah is the journeying, (3:28, emphasis by AP).
Hate them all, even as you smile at them, instructs the Qur’an. Ibn Kathir, in his exegesis of Qur’an 3:28, makes the verse clear. Muslims who fear that the kufaar might suspect their deceit:
Are allowed to show friendship to the disbelievers outwardly, but never inwardly. For instance, Al-Bukhari recorded that Abu Ad-Darda' said, “We smile in the face of some people although our hearts curse them.” Al-Bukhari said that Al-Hasan said, “The Tuqyah [Taqiyya, AP] is allowed until the Day of Resurrection,” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 3:28).
Finally, a Muslim must believe in the Afterlife. Abandoning believe in the Afterlife renders a Muslim a kafir, an unbeliever. And if one thing terrifies Muslims, it is to die an unbeliever. To seal the hatred that a Muslim is commanded to feel towards the Jew, a Hadith teaches Muslims that:
The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.
In the case of the Palestinians, hatred towards unbelievers is focussed on hatred towards the Jews. The best way to demonstrate that hatred is by killing the Jews: “Kill them wherever you find them,” and if another Palestinian killed them, then demonstrate your own hatred by rejoicing, dancing, sharing sweets and being happy. As has been shown so many times, both before and since Ahlam Tamimi’s blood-curdling confession shone a light on the dark truth lurking in every Palestinian’s heart:
Afterwards, when I took the bus, the Palestinians around Damascus Gate [in Jerusalem] were all smiling. You could sense that everybody was happy. When I got on the bus, nobody knew that it was me who had led [the suicide bomber to the target]... I was feeling quite strange, because I had left [the bomber] ’Izz Al-Din behind, but inside the bus, they were all congratulating one another. They didn’t even know one another, yet they were exchanging greetings... While I was sitting on the bus, the driver turned on the radio. But first, let me tell you about the gradual rise in the number of casualties. While I was on the bus and everybody was congratulating one another, they said on the radio that there had been a martyrdom attack at the Sbarro restaurant, and that three people were killed. I admit that I was a bit disappointed, because I had hoped for a larger toll. Yet when they said ‘three dead,’ I said: ‘Allah be praised.’... Two minutes later, they said on the radio that the number had increased to five. I wanted to hide my smile, but I just couldn’t. Allah be praised, it was great. As the number of dead kept increasing, the passengers were applauding. They didn’t even know that I was among them... On the way back [to Ramallah], we passed a Palestinian police checkpoint, and the policemen were laughing. One of them stuck his head in and said: ‘Congratulations to us all.’ Everybody was happy.
This perverse happiness and affirmation that can only be felt when Jews are killed is unique to Palestinians. Gaza resident Abdallah Al-Lidawi writes with great pride about this Palestinian attribute in an article praising terrorists based in Judea and Samaria:
Only a Palestinian can imagine the force of the happiness that these courageous acts evoke in our heart. They cause adrenalin to spike to the highest levels, and increase the people's belief in itself and in its ability to change the equation. [They show it] that it is capable of dealing with the enemy and that we, the weak, are capable of resisting our strong enemy. [The Palestinian] cannot hide his joy and delight at any brave operation. Once an operation takes place, people instantly pass on the news, at lightning speed... The people go out into the public squares and the streets, cheer for Palestine, express their joy and delight at the operation, pass out sweets, embrace one another, and, at top volume, the mosques' public address systems broadcast the cries Allahu Akbar, and la ilaha illa Allah, with joy, with praise, with gratitude to Allah for this achievement.
Why would otherwise decent folk tell others that they care about, worry about, are concerned for, etc., a people specifically created to carry out mass murder, and who cannot find happiness unless they perpetrate such mass murder? What would give a Jew the idea that calling Muslims his "brothers and sisters" is a real winner, when no less than Allah himself commands them to not take Jews as friends, let alone blood kin? What makes otherwise good people donate money to “the Palestinian cause,” go on demonstrations, wheelchairs and babies and all, to “Free Palestine,” or give of their time to help harvest olives “in Palestine?” Supporting the Nazis is less messed-up than this. Leibovitz recounts the lesson he learnt - that times of uncertainty are times of fear:
The language of moral absolutes offered some solace; so did the company of so many others who treated me to encomia like “morally courageous” or “a fierce and clear-eyed defender of democracy,” and with whom I relished text threads in which we shared articles and tweets and posts that enabled us to soak together in a pool of ever-expanding righteous fury. …The resistance offered purpose and community, and something else too: It offered the pleasure of letting yourself get caught up in something.
Moral absolutes, vacuous praise, “a pool of ever-expanding righteous fury”, “resistance” and “the pleasure of letting yourself get caught up in something,” are very poor substitutes for truth, the only answer to uncertainty. Ignorance, lack of truth, is the soil in which all crowd madness takes root and flourishes. If anything characterises the madness of crowds, it is that being angry is everything; knowing what you’re talking about is of no importance at all. In looking at the certainties that have been goddamning students’ minds on Western university campuses, Ilana Redstone writes:
Falling into the Certainty Trap is when we feel the urge to harshly judge and demonize those who disagree with us. When we see the answers as simple, only a stupid or evil person could think otherwise.
I think that Redstone overcomplicates the problem. Certainty, or more accurately, absolute certainty, harshly judging and demonising dissenters and the readiness to denounce them as either stupid or evil, all wrapped up in deep personal offence, are the hallmarks of a mind given over to dogma, whether that dogma underlies religion or politics does not matter. The “woke” student screaming down a speaker they are “cancelling” does so with the same certainty as a Muslim boarding a crowded bus to blow up himself and everybody else on it. The phenomenon is not new.
This is why truth is not simply an academic matter, something for idle philosophical musing. Truth is vital to people not losing their goddamn minds. Ignorance is a vacuum, and one that unsettles, hence the fear of death, and all the consequent weird and wonderful explanations of death that attempt to fill that vacuum of what happens after death. There is an innocence to such ignorance, yet ignorance is not always innocent.
Lies are a deliberate manipulation of ignorance, whether for better or for worse. On a grander scale, lies form the basis of propaganda, which, in its more pronounced form, “offered purpose and community, and… the pleasure of letting yourself get caught up in something.” Yet lies cannot stand forever, no matter how comprehensive the system shoring them up. By their very nature, lies beg exposure. They are inherently unstable in that they set up an immediate and permanent tension with something irrefutable that contradicts them. Lies need effort to protect them from erosion and collapse, whereas truth stands unaided, independent of those who speak it. Nothing can be produced that will contradict the truth, save for a deeper truth, so that those who would wish the truth done away with must either destroy the bearer of truth, or make truth inaccessible by destroying all record of it, or by shutting down the senses, amounting to the same thing. And when all of this is done, the truth remains the truth.
Five-and-a-half decades ago, a collective someone released into the world the lie of a “Palestinian nation,” and whether Zuheir Mohsen in 1977, Bezalel Smotrich in 2023, or someone yet to be born says it at a future date, the truth that there is no such thing as a “Palestinian” nation will raise its head again and again, because it is a truth.
It remains equally true that most people would sooner prefer the comfort of lies than the discomfort of truth. The lie usurping this truth is the bigger lie that Bezalel Smotrich exposed. Those who yearn for comforting lies will go to great lengths to defend those lies, not because they are lies, but because they are comforting. This makes Liel Leibovitz's honesty all the more remarkable.
- Liel Leibovitz, “Protest Porn,” Tablet, 9 March 2023, https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/israel-middle-east/articles/protest-porn
- The reader familiar with the history will know or realise that Israel has since, indeed, adopted the absurd moral restraint of never defeating her enemies, only driving them back. If an enemy exists for the sole and express purpose of destroying you, then anything less than destroying him only guarantees that he will be back to try again.
- James Dorsey, “Wij zijn alleen Palestijn om politieke reden,” (We are only Palestinian for political reasons), interview of Zuheir Mohsen, Trouw, 31 March 1977.
- Sahih Muslim/Book 41/6985. Sahih Muslim/Book 41/6985. https://quranx.com/Hadith/Muslim/USC-MSA/Book-41/Hadith-6985
- Abdallah Al-Lidawi, “Deliverers of Joy – About the Younger Generation in the West Bank” published on the website of the 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s terrorists. The article is summarised here.
- Ilana Redstone, “Actually, You Don’t Know That Much," Tablet, 8 March 2023, https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/arts-letters/articles/campuses-certainty-problem
- Image of Bezalel Smotrich by איתן פולד, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99548045
- Image of Zuheir Mohsen is a screen grab from “SYND 13 5 77 ZUHEIR MOHSEN INTERVIEW ON PALESTINE JORDAN RELATIONSHIP,” AP Archive, YouTube, 24 Jul 2015 https://youtu.be/5cSpgoH_QUk