American New Atheism and Israel

American New Atheism and Israel
5 min read
10 Aug, 2015
The New Atheist movement in the US, most notably championed by Sam Harris, has a blatant pro-Israel stance that we need to refute, argues Karim Safieddine.
New Atheist's bias towards Israel has a political explanation (Anadolu)

Looking at the New Atheists' stance on Israel, and particularly the American philosopher Sam Harris, one would unsurprisingly arrive at a map of contradictions that can only be explained in political terms.

Harris avoids holding Israel accountable for this "brutalisation" - as he calls it - and accuses pro-Palestinian activists of being misled and "driven" by the horrifying images of infants and women being, basically, shred to pieces by Israeli warplanes.

Israel as a Jewish state

Although Harris has a clear position on the concept of a religious state, including the Jewish state, he nevertheless neglects the basic foundation of Israel and how the Palestinian refugee question was formed.

Harris washes out or, at least, undermines the significance of the Nakba in 1948 and how the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine required the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, triggering a demographic shift.

This historical event fundamentally differentiates Israel from other countries that bind together nationalism and religion, and sets an official religion.

Therefore, Harris circulates the myth that Israel’s Jewish supremacy is as regressive and "bad" as what he describes as Muslim supremacy in Turkey or Arab nationalistic supremacy in Egypt.

Israel’s Position

Harris fixates on what he describes as the extremist position of the Palestinians while oddly neglecting the intention of the right-wing Israeli government. To support this framing, he presumes that Israel is acting rationally in self-defence when it comes to most of its policies (however brutal).

Such a statement is continuously reiterated by intellectuals like Benny Morris who suggests that Israel's sole reason for occupying the West Bank, imposing a merciless siege on Gaza, building illegal settlments, imprisoning thousands and forming a system of segregation is a result of paranoia and a need for security from, as he images, a bunch of "criminal and savage" Palestinians.

     Harris fixates on what he describes as the extremist position of the Palestinians while oddly neglecting the intention of the right-wing Israeli government.

This is not only utterly abhorrent, but also delusional. The majority of Israeli officials have clearly stated their position: Not one inch of East Jerusalem will be given back, we can't withdraw all the settlements, occupation won't end in the West Bank, and the right of return will be forever disregarded.

Therefore, let's assume that Palestinians hold onto an irresponsible position that prolongs the conflict, why not also take into consideration Israel's position which is much more intolerable and destructive as it's being implemented? This is where the "reason" celebrated by the New Atheists fall short.

Reducing the Palestinian cause to Islamism

Obviously, one thing that motivates Harris's animosity towards Hamas is their Islamist ideology, which he despises. But, what is politically significant in Harris's narrative is the systematic process of reducing the history of armed Palestinian resistance to Islamic resistance.

It's like the clock started ticking in 2006 when Hamas won a sweeping electoral victory and took control of Gaza. Harris et al forget that Fatah and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), ever since the mid-1970s, have supported the international consensus of a two-state solution.

They made further concessions in 1988 that continued in Oslo, where the Palestinian leadership's concessions are thought to have given up the right of return.

By then, it was Israel that was blocking any peace deal that would require a relinquishment of the West Bank, which it has no right to under international law. Moreover, when describing Hamas, Harris repeats the same Israeli propaganda.

He focuses on Hamas's anti-Semitic charter and draws his conclusions from that. In that case, shouldn't we take into consideration the charter of Likud or The Jewish Home and all the other ultra-conservative popular organisations in Israel that have officials calling for genocide against innocent Palestinians i.e Ayalet Shaked?

     What is politically significant in Harris's narrative is the systematic process of reducing the history of armed Palestinian resistance to Islamic resistance.

Yes, Harris makes a good point when he criticises Hamas's charter. It should be criticised and reconsidered.
Nevertheless, he totally washes out Hamas' political position ever since 2006, which was to establish a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.

Such a position is reiterated frequetly by Hamas figures. But, Harris chooses to overshadow that in order to propagate the theory of "savage Palestinians threatening the civilised Israel".

New Atheist and old Orientalism

When Palestinians were massacred last Summer in Gaza, many reports conducted by HRW, Amnesty International and various other human rights organisations condemned what some called "Israel's deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure". Similar statements were made by UN officials.

Sam Harris, on the other hand, chooses to ignore those statements and instead repeats a pro-Israel line: "If we wanted to kill them all, we could have, but we didn't, hence we have clear intentions".

Such "reasoning" can only make sense if you blindly trust governments, regardless which one it is. Harris does not base his view of a government, in this case Israel, based on its deed, but on its words. That, in itself, beats a basic assumption of what New Atheists refer to as scientific reason.

New Atheists are generally political realists. In that sense, they believe that states act upon their interests, rather than upon any pro-claimed moral ground.

For some "reason", Israel seems to be an exception.

The marriage between the New Atheists and Israel is a clear demonstration of their unwillingness to challenge all kinds of dogma, especially when it's backed by their governments, most notoriously the US government. If asked about Orientalism, it is up and alive in New Atheism.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.