Interview'People are relying on hashtags over history books'

After Oct. 7, UK journalist Hadley Freeman believes ‘the progressive left hates Jews’

The New York-born writer comes out with a new essay on the antisemitism emerging after the Hamas atrocities in Israel, and how it’s rooted in a hypocritical and myopic ideology

Robert Philpot is a writer and journalist. He is the former editor of Progress magazine and the author of “Margaret Thatcher: The Honorary Jew.”

Illustrative: Anti-Israel demonstrators protest Israel's existence in New York City, October 8, 2023, following the October 7 Hamas atrocities and before Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza Strip. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Illustrative: Anti-Israel demonstrators protest Israel's existence in New York City, October 8, 2023, following the October 7 Hamas atrocities and before Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza Strip. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

LONDON — Hadley Freeman believes in plain speech. “The progressive left hates the Jews,” the British journalist and author writes in a new essay on the left’s response to the Hamas atrocities in Israel on October 7.

Freeman admits that she had previously “shied away” from using such strong language. But that changed last autumn — not on October 7, the bloodiest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust, but 24 hours afterward.

On October 8, as protests against the Jewish state swept cities around the world, “Jews understood how hated they really are,” Freeman writes in “Blindness: October 7 and the Left” published this month by The Jewish Quarterly.

“There were anti-Israel protests… before Israel had responded. That’s all you need to know,” Freeman tells The Times of Israel in an interview. “Seeing the way people on the left here dismissed the brutal murders, rapes, torture, kidnapping of Jews, innocent civilians, I find really shocking and I couldn’t draw any other conclusion but that they hate Jews.”

Freeman, who grew up in New York but has lived most of her life in London, says she has found the reaction of the left — for which anti-Zionism has now become a central plank of its worldview — “incredibly disturbing.”

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she says.

UK journalist Hadley Freeman, who penned the essay ‘Blindness: October 7 and the Left.’ (Courtesy)

As near-weekly anti-Israel protests have become the norm in London, Freeman has stopped taking her children into the center of the capital.

“They were bewildered by all the placards warning about ‘Zionist racism’ and ‘Jewish apartheid’ carried by people who looked like they could be our neighbours,” Freeman, a columnist for the Sunday Times newspaper, writes in her essay.

One afternoon she encountered a bus, bedecked in Palestinian flags, near her children’s school. The driver was honking the horn continuously while a man on the bus shouted: “Fuck Jewish genocide.”

On a bridge close to her home, posters with photos of the Israeli hostages were ripped down as fast as they were put up. Freeman assumed it was the work of mischievous young people, but one of the culprits was later exposed as a close neighbor of theirs, an artist whose work has appeared in London galleries.

READ: ‘The progressive left hates the Jews,’ by Hadley Freeman

It’s not just the overt hostility but the quiet lack of solidarity that Freeman has found so shocking. In her liberal North London neighborhood, the Russian invasion of Ukraine brought a plethora of flags in windows, while the Black Lives Matter protests saw talks about racism in schools. There were no Israeli flags after the Hamas massacre and, as far as she is aware, no special talks in schools about the atrocities.

On October 7, thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed into southern Israel, butchering 1,200 people and kidnapping 251 to the Gaza Strip amid horrific acts of rape, torture, dismemberment and mutilation. The brutality was indiscriminate and targeted infants, children, the elderly, men and women. Entire families were burned alive in their homes.

Anti-Israel protesters light flares during a demonstration in London on October 9, 2023, two days after Hamas fighters launched the October 7 terror onslaught on Israel that killed 1,200 people. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

“Everyone is horrified by what is happening to the Palestinians,” writes Freeman, who emphasizes that she shares that horror. “What is striking is that so many have withheld similar concern for the Israelis.” After attending a protest outside Downing Street, Freeman came to the unhappy conclusion that “only Jews” were showing solidarity with Hamas’s victims.

Jews whitewashed from Holocaust Remembrance Day

Freeman was in New York on 9/11 — she spent the day with the parents of a friend who died in the attack — and contrasts the reactions 23 years ago with the response to the Hamas atrocities. Yes, she writes, the assault on the Twin Towers alerted her for the first time to how many people hated America and wanted to kill Americans. But, when she returned to Britain, she felt “protected [and] loved.” “There certainly weren’t any anti-American protests on 12 September 2001,” she writes.

After October 7, while many British politicians have been supportive of Israel, “increasing numbers of Britons” have adopted a much less sympathetic stance, directing their ire at Israel with precious little criticism of Hamas.

Does Freeman still feel at home in Britain?

“When I moved to London from New York as a kid, it was the first time I really felt in a minority,” she responds. “October 7 was the first time I felt like… a vulnerable minority.”

Anti-Israel protesters at a demonstration in London on October 9, 2023, two days after Hamas fighters launched the October 7 terror onslaught on Israel that killed 1,200 people. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

But Freeman’s essay isn’t simply a recounting of the sense of isolation and fear that has enveloped many Jews in the wake of October 7. Instead, it frames itself as a forensic dissection and brutal evisceration of the binary mindset, ignorance, hypocrisy and double standards that underpin the progressive left’s identity politics — which now serves as a new entry point for antisemitism into the political arena.

As Freeman indicates, an essential element of this politics is a profoundly illiberal and “absolutist viewpoint.”

“You’re either entirely on-side or you’re on the bad side,” she writes. Not only does this lead to the jettisoning of traditional liberal notions of free speech and respect for diverse opinions, it also causes the modern left to view politics as a “zero-sum game.” “For one group to be all good,” Freeman writes, “the group with competing rights must be all bad.”

In a world divided between villains and victims, Israel is cast as an illegitimate, colonial country and Jews as wealthy, “ultra-white” oppressors. This is coupled with a dogged refusal to view Jews as victims.

“Minimising and even denying the extent of the carnage on October 7 is the new form of Holocaust denial, a specific kind of trauma inflicted specifically and sadistically on Jews,” Freeman writes. “What other country would be attacked and then be derided and vilified? What other minority would need to provide video footage of what terrorists did to them, and still not be believed?”

Anti-Israel protesters at a demonstration in London on October 9, 2023, two days after Hamas fighters launched the October 7 terror onslaught on Israel that killed 1,200 people. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Freeman notes, too, the manner in which there have been attempts to write Jews out of Holocaust Remembrance Day — the former first minister of Scotland and the secretary-general of the UN both managed to omit any reference to Jews when marking the day in January 2024 — and to downplay and dismiss the prevalence of antisemitism in politics and society.

This mindset is fused with an apparent disregard for double standards and hypocrisy. Freeman points to the fact that one of the “absolute shibboleths” of the left is a sympathy for the plight of refugees. But that sympathy doesn’t appear to extend to Jewish Israelis, the vast majority of whom, she notes, are descended from people who fled persecution in Europe or elsewhere in the Middle East. “Can refugees be called colonisers?” Freeman asks.

The MeToo movement’s insistence that women should be believed likewise quickly dissolved when reports emerged soon after October 7 of the horrific acts of sexual violence suffered by Israeli women at the hands of Hamas.

Similarly, she notes the dismissive manner in which complaints about antisemitism by Jewish students and staff on campuses are treated, contrasting that with the speed with which charges of racism by other minority communities are addressed.

Nothing new under the sun

Of course, none of this is new. Many of the tactics deployed against Jews who raised concerns about antisemitism during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Britain’s Labour Party — the gaslighting, willingness to defend the indefensible and “hectoring moral superiority” — have been on display once again since October 7. “The left doesn’t care about antisemitism if they deem it inconvenient to their cause. They just call it ‘anti-Zionism’ and carry on,” she writes.

Britain’s former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, center, joins pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activists for a protest in central London on March 30, 2024, calling for an unconditional ceasefire in the Israel/Hamas conflict. (Photo by BENJAMIN CREMEL / AFP)

The Corbyn era, when Labour was roiled by a series of antisemitism scandals, prepared British Jews a little for what was to come, Freeman believes. However, her family in America — where there have been no big comparable scandals surrounding antisemitism in the Democratic party — has been “much more shocked at the antisemitism they’ve seen on the left” and the way in which organizations with which they previously felt aligned have attacked Israel while “absolutely refusing to countenance any criticism of Hamas.”

Perhaps the greatest hypocrisy, however, comes in the manner in which the progressive left insists that “all oppressions are linked”: that Palestinian rights, the gay rights movement in Britain or Black Lives Matter in the US, for instance, are all somehow connected. This thinking leads progressives to view the Middle East through the lens of the history and politics of the West.

“Given how horrified they profess to be about colonialism, it is a ludicrous irony that they narcissistically colonise the Middle East conflict with their own — entirely different, entirely irrelevant — Western issues,” Freeman writes.

What Freeman labels “ultimate lazy thinking and incuriosity about the world” is married to an ignorance about basic facts concerning the history of Israel, antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

“It is a strange quirk of human development that the more easily information is available, the more ignorant people seem to be,” Freeman writes in one of her hallmark zingers. “But that’s what happens when people rely on hashtags rather than history books for their education.”

Israeli history is not a Marvel movie plot

Her essay breezily dismisses claims that Israel is a colonial state, that Britain helped the Jews to colonize it and that a country that drew a great swath of its population from the Middle East and North Africa is somehow rooted in white supremacism.

Anti-Israel activists and supporters wave flags and carry placards on a march through London, during a National Day of Action for Palestine on March 9, 2024. (Henry Nicholls/AFP)

Too many young people, Freeman believes, simply view Israel through their dislike of Netanyahu’s right-wing politics (a dislike she shares). They know little of the Oslo Accords or the role of Hamas in upending the peace process in the 1990s, let alone why the state was founded in 1948.

“If you’re not interested in the history, you’re not going to understand what’s happening now,” writes Freeman. Speaking of Yasser Arafat’s failures, she continues: “It’s not a Marvel movie where there’s one bad guy — Netanyahu — and all these innocent good people — Palestinians. It’s a lot more complicated than that.”

Freeman wonders, too, how many of the youthful activists on the streets making comparisons between Israel and the Nazis, equating Zionism to racism, and raging about an alleged genocide are aware that they’re parroting Stalinist antisemitic conspiracy theories.

On campuses, Freeman believes, teachers — many of them young themselves and constantly posting about Palestine on social media — are failing to challenge such attitudes.

“Young people always have strong ideals, strong politics, and teachers used to provide a kind of buffer against it going too far,” she says. But now teachers do not see it as their role to educate students in a non-ideological way. “They see their role too often as someone who’s there to guide the students’ morality and their moral education.”

A pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel camp outside the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford, in England, May 9, 2024 (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Nonetheless, the psychological underpinnings of progressive left ideology identified by Freeman may be difficult to shake. The longing for a simple way of looking at the world is married to “the psychological desire to join in and be accepted as part of a group.” Freeman believes, too, that there is “more than a little displacement going on.”

“How better to absolve your guilt about your own country’s historical wrongs,” she asks, “than by dumping them on other countries now?” This is especially so given that mainstream news programs — “the neutral town square that everyone gathers around” — have given way to partisan news sources that reinforce ideological beliefs.

Freeman admits that she finished the process of writing her essay as confused as when she began.

“Why is it impossible for so many on the left to feel enormous compassion for the Palestinians and also to understand that Israel cannot live alongside a terrorist group dedicated to its extermination?” she writes.

But she also says she now feels “a little more optimistic” than she did six months ago. She has been approached by many non-Jews eager to voice their disquiet over anti-Israel sentiment.

“I know that a lot of people have also been taken aback by the far left’s antagonism to Israel — and to Jews — after October 7,” she writes. “The ‘river to the sea’ chanters might have the louder voices, but I suspect they are outnumbered by the quiet moderates who have been astonished by the eagerness of so-called progressives to justify violence against Israelis.”

It’s not entirely surprising that Freeman — warm, witty and engaging — should come to such a conclusion.

“I believe, like Anne Frank, that most people are good,” she smiles.

For further reading, please see this excerpt from Freeman’s long-form essay, ‘Blindness: October 7 and the Left,’ published by Jewish Quarterly.

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