Over the past three weeks, Israeli bombs have killed more than two thousand Palestinians — including more than three hundred children. United Nations shelters have been bombed, as has the main infrastructure of the Gaza Strip. The UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on August 3, “This madness must stop.” Confronted by the seventh attack by Israel on a UN school, Ban called it a “moral outrage and a criminal act.” Mass demonstrations in the West Bank (Palestine) have been joined by enormous demonstrations across the world, including in Tel Aviv (Israel). Several Latin American countries have recalled their ambassadors from Israel. UN officials sit with their heads in their hands. Manu Joseph, the writer, decides to pillory those in India who have decided to take a stand.
His essay (Gaza Attack: The Outrage of the Beautiful People, HT, August 3, 2014) drips with cynicism. Ah yes, the “beautiful people” who had once been Naxalites are now outraged by something that is happening far away, with no cost to them for their protests. The term “beautiful people” was coined by Vogue magazine in 1962 to refer to the “jet set” around the Kennedys. Diana Vreeland, Vogue’s editor, used the term positively. The Beautiful People enamoured her. Joseph does not have in mind India’s elite. They are not involved in the demonstrations against Gaza. He has in mind the Left —which seems the only vocal force to protest the feeble Indian government response to the bombardment.
A Palestinian boy writes on a shrapnel-riddled backboard at the heavily damaged Sobhi Abu Karsh school in Gaza. (Mohammed Abed/AFP photo)
Manu Joseph’s cynical tone is disingenuous. It is a test case for an intelligentsia that has lost its moral grounding. Journalists who cover the region know first hand what it has meant for the Palestinians to bear the atrocity of a long-term occupation. Having spent a great deal of time amongst Palestinians in camps across Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, I know that they are resolute with their dream of national self-determination. With or without international support, the Palestinians are firm. Solidarity is welcome, but it is not what drives them. Joseph’s cynicism, placed before their dignity, comes off as cheap — the bored, insouciance of the beautiful people, actually. You are what you mock, Manu.
India buys half of Israel’s exported weaponry. It has worked hard to break the old allegiances that India has had for the Palestinians.
A vote from India in the UN agencies would be a feather in Israel’s cap. In the last vote at the UN Human Rights Council for an investigation of Israel’s potential war crimes in this Gaza war, only the United States voted for Israel. India voted for an investigation. Imagine if India had joined the US. It would have broken Israel’s isolation. Manu Joseph’s cultivated ennui would prepare the terrain for Indians to disregard Israeli brutality. He considers what Indians are doing “righteous posturing” — not an essential act of democracy, questioning India’s deepening relationship with the Israeli regime and the danger of Indian diplomatic support for what the UN has suggested are Israeli war crimes.
As photojournalists captured the acute suffering in Gaza, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the Palestinians want to pile up “telegenically-dead Palestinians for their cause.”
Manu Joseph echoes this morally challenged statement, “A misfortune of Israel is that photo-journalism cannot capture its side of the story. Nothing can match the heartbreaking images of dead children, and unlike Hamas, Israel has worked very hard to protect its own. The success of Israel is that it makes for very bland photojournalism.” This “war” on Gaza has been asymmetrical and disproportionate — Israel has dropped a hundred 1-ton bombs on densely populated Gaza. This is what has killed more than 2000 people and destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure. The Palestinian resistance has meanwhile fired rockets that have had minimal to no impact on Israel — largely because of the US-funded Iron Dome system. Manu Joseph’s lack of the basic facts reflects poorly on his tone. Israel’s “success” in bombarding Gaza is precisely what has created very shocking photos of Palestinian suffering. Joseph’s echo of Netanyahu is a good indicator of where his heart lies.
Manu Joseph asks, “Where had [the beautiful people] gone when ISIS and Syria were killing people?” The Israeli government has been filling social media with the claim that their attack on Gaza is nothing compared to what is happening in Syria; indeed attention on their war crimes must be evidence of anti-Semitism.
The Left has been actively involved in demonstration against the wars in Iraq and Syria — eager to find a way to provide solidarity to the victims of large-scale carnage. But the Indian government does not finance the Islamic State, whereas its massive purchases from Israel do indicate culpability for the atrocities in Gaza. Comparative oppression is a simple way to make the issue under discussion banal and irrelevant. What about the dead in the Central African Republic or in Afghanistan? It is a sign of Manu Joseph’s style of morality that the answer is not: let us condemn it all. It is instead: let’s not condemn anything.
Vijay Prashad is the author of The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, LeftWord, 2013.