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Traveling With Bad Companions

Western supporters of the Palestinian cause are morally blind.

June 23, 2003|Martin Peretz

Every failed revolution in modern times has had its fellow travelers, a phenomenon hard to define but easy to recognize. Picasso was one; Jean-Paul Sartre, another; FDR's vice president, Henry Wallace, a third. Two, three decades later, Susan Sontag would also put her words to work for the brutal engineers of soul and society.

There were literally tens of thousands of these influentials in the United States and elsewhere in the West. And the revolutions of the left did not have a monopoly on fellow-traveling. In the 1930s, there were lots of fellow travelers of Nazism, too: Charles Lindbergh, Ezra Pound, the duke of Windsor and many others.

Many fellow travelers went exuberantly from one decaying communism to another, seriatim, from the Soviet Union to the People's Republic of China to Castroite Cuba and Vietnam and then to Sandinista Nicaragua, never quite realizing they would soon feel the need to move on again.

But move on they would, armed as always -- as author David Caute put it -- with their usual arsenal of "bifocal lenses, double standards, a myopic romanticism."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday July 21, 2003 Home Edition California Part B Page 11 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Fellow travelers -- In a June 23 commentary, Martin Peretz wrote that two Hamas bombers crossed the border between Israel and the territories "aided" by activists from the International Solidarity Movement. There is no reason to believe that the ISM helped them cross.

Of course, there is now no world revolution into which these deluded folk can vest their ardors, as yesteryear's fellow travelers did when extolling the nonexistent -- but exemplary -- democratic virtues of Stalin's Russia or of some other transformatory idyll. Only certified kooks are in the business these days of changing the nature of man.

So the present-day romantics, who at home typically despise the idea of the nation-state and the realities of national interest, are left with often contrived and almost always murderous nationalisms to adore. The nationalism du jour is Palestinian nationalism.

It was the British political historian David Pryce-Jones who, I think, first made the analogy between the old fellow travelers and the new, between those who romanticized the Soviets and those who now romanticize Palestinian (and Islamic) terrorism.

Not that all Palestinians are terrorists, not at all, although polls show an overwhelming proportion of them to be supporters of terrorism. But terrorism happens to be the defining paradigm of the Palestinian cause. Thus it is terrorism that is being supported by the American and British university professors who demand that their institutions divest from companies invested in Israel. And it is terrorism that is being supported by scientists and other academics who propose institutional and personal boycotts of Israeli intellectuals.

In any case, the political pilgrims from abroad drawn to the Palestinian cause seem, almost unfailingly, to be lured to those whose very vocation is terror.

Take, for example, the International Solidarity Movement, a nongovernmental organization ensconced in Gaza. The two British Muslims recruited by Hamas who blew up Mike's Place, a blues pub in Tel Aviv, moved in and out of Israel from the territories with remarkable ease, aided by ISM activists.

On its own Web site, the ISM admits to supporting the Palestinian right to "legitimate armed struggle." This did not keep much of the press from calling the organization "pacifist." Not surprisingly, Linda Gradstein, Jerusalem correspondent for NPR (now widely known as National Palestine Radio), is one of these. On "All Things Considered," she blithely characterized ISM as "committed to nonviolent resistance." Well, it cannot, after all, be committed to both. And it isn't. Its activities are dovetailed with the needs of Hamas. It stages media events for the murder militias, and sometimes its own volunteers get hurt -- or even killed, as one American was by an Israeli bulldozer. The best you can say of them is that they are gulled. But this is not bravery; it is stupidity.

Unlike the deluded men who fought in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War and thought they were putting their lives on the line against Hitlerism while they were actually risking their lives for Stalinism, there are no such daydreams available to the partisans of Palestine.

Let us concede, as I do, that the Palestinians need a state. But let us also concede that, had not the Palestinians started a bloody insurrection in the midst of negotiations with Israel during the fall of 2000 and turned that into a Walpurgisnacht of unrelenting terror, they would already have a state and be on their way to as robust an independence as they could manage -- contingent only on the peacefulness of their borders.

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