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This question is not a duplicate of Why does the left side with the Palestinians? because that question is merely about why the left sides with the Palestinians. That the left sides with the Palestinians is not surprising to me.

If we were to ask persons on the left, they'd probably also overwhelmingly say that they side with the Rohingya (and oppose the Burmese military).

What's surprising is that the left (in western countries) is so passionate about this particular Palestine/Israel issue (and much less so about others). Which is what my question is about.


Many on the left in western countries are very passionate about supporting Palestine (and being anti-Israel).

In contrast,

  • Most on the right in western countries are much less passionate about this issue. (While those on the right are probably on average pro-Israel, they care much less about this issue than their left counterparts.)

  • These passionate left-wing supporters of Palestine don't seem to care nearly half as much about other similar issues of "injustice" around the world (e.g. the PRC's repression/persecution of Hong Kong, Tibet, East Turkestan/"Xinjiang"; Myanmar's persecution of Rohingya; etc.). It would seem to me that to a left-wing person in the US or Australia, these other places around the world are no more far off or irrelevant than Israel/Palestine. Yet left-wing persons seem to be much less passionate about these other issues than Israel/Palestine.

Why are so many on the left in western countries so passionate about supporting Palestine (and being anti-Israel)? (When and how might this have come about?)


Sidenote/possibly related: In the UK, the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn suffered from an antisemitism crisis.

The subsequent and current Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has made greater efforts to rid the Labour Party of antisemitism. From a 2021-11-16 speech:

The changes we have made to our procedures allow us to confront the symptoms of anti-Jewish racism.

But to really identify, confront, and root out anti-Zionist antisemitism. ...

We will rid our party of antisemitism, bigotry, and prejudice. I promise you that.

We are reconnecting with friends of Israel and our friends in Israel.

I believe that traditionally, antisemitism would've been associated with the right. How did it come to be that "anti-Zionist antisemitism" came to be associated with the centre-left Labour Party?


Anti-Defamation League (2023):

Researchers found a substantive correlation (0.38) between belief in anti-Jewish tropes and anti-Israel sentiment across all respondents.

(All bold font above added by me.)


In October 2023, there were large pro-Palestine protests in London, New York, Sydney (where chants of "gas the Jews" were heard), Paris (despite ban on protests), San Francisco.

In contrast, I don't think these cities have ever had similarly sized pro-Rohingya or pro-Hong Kong protests.

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    This is going to be strictly opinion-based, so VTC. First of all, this "left" thingy is unclear: many people are fed up with this mess, except in the US where it seems Reps are diehard pro-Israel, Dems more measured. Second? supporting Palestine is very relative: when they behave and when Israel doesn't many support them. When they pull last week's atrocities, many up their support for Israel. But basically, in normal times, repeat Israeli intransigence - stupid things like the settlements - does have a cost for the rest of the Western world, in increased Islamic unrest... Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 8:13
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    Oh, and the antisemitism tag? Very tired of seeing it mentioned each and every time someone objects to some of Israel's more egregious behavior. There are plenty of real, living, breathing antisemitic bigots, wo needing to tar everyone else with it. And, FWIW, the Harvard student associations signing letters holding Israel accountable, the day after the Hamas massacres? I'd say throw them to the sharks except it would be animal cruelty to lower poor sharks' IQs that much. reuters.com/world/us/… Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 16:32
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    I removed the antisemitism tag as it isn't honest statement in regards to the question.
    – Joe W
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 1:51
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    Voting to close - Someone supporting Palestinian causes doesn't automatically make them an "anti-Israeli" or an "anti-semite" too. This is a disingenuous argument not made in good faith particularly in the context you are asking (about the "left").
    – sfxedit
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 10:50
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    This is a terrible question, by the terms of the site. It satisfies almost every single close reason, although it is, at least, about politics. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 16:15

8 Answers 8

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This simplest explanation here is that people on the Left (Progressives and/or social liberals) tend not to classify human beings into undifferentiated groups representing competing power blocks. Or better put, people who do not lump human beings together in that way tend to be drawn to the Left. Undifferentiated, competing power blocks are a feature of Rightist thinking (economic liberalism, cultural conservatism, and especially nationalism in its various forms). The Left tends to see the world through the lens of individuals, particularly those individuals suffering under the brutality or callousness of others.

On the Left, it's perfectly reasonable to hold that:

  1. Hamas committed an atrocity against (mainly innocent) Israelis and others (not for the first time), and...
  2. Israel is a about to commit an atrocity against (mainly innocent) Palestinians (by no means for the first time), and...
  3. Both acts are reprehensible in their giddy preference for violence and oppression.

Palestinians are a particularly sore point among Western Leftists because — unlike the Rohingya and Chinese situations — Western nations have had a central role in developing, maintaining, and arming Israel's long-running efforts to oppress, constrain, and drive out Palestinians. We in the West have a specific guilt for the situation the Palestinians find themselves in, and while that doesn't in any way justify terroristic acts, terroristic acts do not negate our measure of responsibility.

If you believe it's antisemitic to object to the treatment of Palestinians by Israel, then you've forgotten the sense of the term. I can understand and accept the use of the term 'antisemitic' to protect Jews from systematic hatred and harm. I cannot understand or accept the use of the term to protect Jews who commit systematic hatred and harm against others. Anyone who cannot make that distinction shouldn't use the term at all.

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    This discussion about the definition of the word "antisemitism" has been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Politics Meta, or in Politics Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Philipp
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 14:50
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    Then why are people protesting in support of the Palestinian "freedom fighters" (terrorists) who "started an armed resistance" (kidnapped and raped and murdered innocent Israelis who, yes, benefit considerably from systems of oppression perpetrated by their government)? The "bad people on both sides" narrative works here to a good extent, and the "wanton violence against innocents is bad" narrative is an even better one, but neither of these are the narrative that seems to be present on college campuses.
    – AAM111
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 16:21
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    @AAM111: That isn't the narrative on college campuses. It's a narrative. College campuses are filled with narratives, because college kids are (as a rule) intelligent, idealistic, independent, and motivated, which can translate to a certain type of unregulated (even self-entitled) posturing. They grow out of it, eventually, but anti-intellectuals tend to cherry-pick the narratives they don't like as a kind of click-bait. If people choose to support Palestinians, let 'em; worry instead about the people who support Hamas (who you almost surely won't find on campuses). Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 14:56
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One possible reason is the fact that the USA has been one of Israel's strongest economic supporters throughout the years, in terms of both trade and foreign aid. Indeed, usually Israel has been in the top three or four countries by US foreign aid. This kind of connection makes Americans, both those who support the policies of the Israeli government and those who do not, feel as if they have more of a personal investment in what goes on in Palestine and Israel than in Myanmar.

Something similar applies to the UK, to a lesser extent—note that the control of the UK over British Mandate Palestine makes some British people feel more of a connection, too. In fact, in the case of Europe, Israel is just physically much closer than the regions mentioned in the question.

It's also true that in the years since the 9/11 attacks, the far right in Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA has identified Muslims as what they believe to be the primary threat to some notion of Western culture. This naturally causes the left wing to push back and be very supportive of the rights of Muslims.

There's probably an issue of perceived authority and knowledge, as well: people in these countries view Israelis as somewhat more similar to them—and it is true that many Israelis have some European descent and the country even is or was part of the Eurovision contest—so they believe that they know enough to reasonably opine on Israel's actions. By contrast, their knowledge of Tibet or Myanmar is much more limited, at least in their perception.

Although not the only factor, anti-Semitism probably does play a role for some people. The right wing is sometimes anti-Semitic as well, but the way it intersects with their geopolitical beliefs tends to cause it to manifest differently.

Finally, there is a certain degree of continuity with movements against South African apartheid that were popular on the left some decades back. Despite the evident differences between the two situations, people could draw some connections—both countries are in Africa (arguably, in Israel's case), even if they are thousands of miles apart, for instance. Since there was a fairly intentional effort to link the two, a lot of that opposition kind of got transferred over to Israel. (The resonance of anti-apartheid movements in the USA and Britain is easier to understand, due to the recently abolished de jure segregation of the one and the historical links of the other).

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    Israel is in Africa?!
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 8:00
  • @gerrit - Arguably, yes! Continental boundaries are completely arbitrary in any case, but besides bordering Egypt, Israel is mostly on the African Continental Plate, not the Arabian Plate, since the Jordan Rift Valley represents their boundary.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 11:33
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    @Obie2.0 Arguably yes, in so far as you can argue anything. Better argued if you were on geography/Earth sciences SE rather than politics though, its a bit of a stretch here. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 14:18
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica, a somewhat significant part of Russia is usually considered to be in Europe, unlike what that map appears to imply.
    – ilkkachu
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 16:07
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    Yes, I think the map "unifies" each country under one continent. See Egypt. I'll look for another. Nevertheless, Israel-in-Africa is a needless distraction from an otherwise good answer. worldatlas.com/geography/what-are-the-five-regions-of-asia.html Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 16:10
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First, Historically Western countries have been much more supportive of Israel than of Palestine. Even recently, many Western countries passed or tried to pass anti-BDS laws in order to defend Israel against cultural and commercial boycott actions. As a country, Israel has ignored international laws for a very long time, and Netanyahu's successive governments since 2009 were never remotely interested in restarting/continuing the peace process, instead relying on Israel superiority to continue the colonization.

In this context, left-wing people tend to be more supportive of Palestine simply because they think that the behaviour of Israel as a country towards Palestinians is unfair and unethical. Traditionally left-wing people give more importance to human rights than right wing people.

There are clear differences with other human right issues mentioned in the question. Israel/Palestine is a very old conflict, and things have stalled for at least a few decades. Many other issues are recent, potentially still in progress. More importantly, Israel is a state built recently from colonizing Palestine just after the Holocaust, more or less in the same time as the decolonization process. This makes this conflict an extremely acute moral question for the Western world: arguably, the West projects a lot of its guilt onto Israel/Palestine.

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    "Many Western countries passed anti-BDS laws" - No, that's pretty much a US state thing. "Many Western countries tried" - no, some opposition parties tried, but these proposals were all democratically defeated. From your own source, even. Spain did declare the BDS movement discriminatory, but that was applying existing law, and therefore was non-specific to Israel (which circles back to the premise of this question).
    – MSalters
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 13:35
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    @MSalters - UK version. gov.uk/government/news/…
    – Jontia
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 20:22
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    People seem to love to talk about anti-BDS laws, but I rarely hear anyone bring up the part where university students' dues get used, without their express consent or ability to drop out, to support BDS movements. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 6:01
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    @Karl Knechtel That's the same with literally any other movement there's probably dozens of clubs of all ideologies, some explicitly opposed, that get funded
    – user84614
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 9:22
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Critical Theory

Critical Theory is an offshoot of Marxist thought that teaches that the world can mostly be broken down into two simple groups: oppressors and oppressed. It's gained a lot of traction in recent years, with American academia turning it into Critical Race Theory. The broader stance applies pretty well here.

The Palestinians are widely viewed on the Left as oppressed, a topic that comes up time and again. Here's a liberal (ostensibly Jewish) group on that subject

For 75 years, the Israeli government has maintained a military occupation over Palestinians, operating an apartheid regime. Palestinian children are dragged from their beds in pre-dawn raids by Israeli soldiers and held without charge in Israeli military prisons. Palestinians homes are torched by mobs of Israeli settlers, or destroyed by the Israeli army. Entire Palestinian villages are forced to flee, abandoning the homes and orchards and land that were in their family for generations.

A couple of years ago, NPR explored how the then-recent George Floyd protests were driving pro-Palestinian viewpoints amongst liberal Blacks

In recent years, organizers have been trying to rebuild momentum [for Palestine]. Delegations of Black activists, including Kelley, have visited the West Bank to see how Palestinians are living. Kelley also appeared in a video released in 2015 by activist groups, such as the Dream Defenders, Black Youth Project 100 and the Institute for Middle East Understanding, to highlight Black-Palestinian solidarity.

"When I see them, I see us," the video's multiple narrators repeated, comparing the Palestinian struggle to the fight against police brutality in the U.S. It's a kind of comparison that's drawn pushback from some Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League.

You'll notice, if you listen to the Left long enough, a familiar set of words cropping up in this vein

  • Occupation (where Palestine is "occupied" by Israel)
  • Apartheid (where the government systemically excludes a group of people)
  • Oppression
  • Disproportionate (Hamas shoots rockets, Israel blows up a Hamas building where there were also civilians)

It's hard to dislodge this line of thinking because sometimes Israel has gone further than some Westerners in general would go. At best, the Left tends to view both sides equally poorly. At worst, the Left sees Israel as openly oppressive, which can sometimes help people to exonerate what the Palestinian side does.

Disbelief and naivete

A long-standing problem has been an unwillingness to recognize the fundamental aims of some of the actors here. The recent actions by Hamas seem shocking at first, but they are in line with their charter Article Six

The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine, for under the wing of Islam followers of all religions can coexist in security and safety where their lives, possessions and rights are concerned. In the absence of Islam, strife will be rife, oppression spreads, evil prevails and schisms and wars will break out.

Remember, Palestine (in this case) refers to the area we currently know as Israel. This is a coy way of saying they want all the Jews gone (preferably as we saw recently). Article 28 is more explicit

The Zionist invasion is a vicious invasion. It does not refrain from resorting to all methods, using all evil and contemptible ways to achieve its end. It relies greatly in its infiltration and espionage operations on the secret organizations it gave rise to, such as the Freemasons, The Rotary and Lions clubs, and other sabotage groups. All these organizations, whether secret or open, work in the interest of Zionism and according to its instructions. They aim at undermining societies, destroying values, corrupting consciences, deteriorating character and annihilating Islam. It is behind the drug trade and alcoholism in all its kinds so as to facilitate its control and expansion.

The Left tends to overlook this, or is often just ignorant of it. A common chant you will hear is "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!" (the "river" is the Jordan River, and the "sea" is the Mediterranean Sea), not seeming to realize that is not only calling for the removal of Israel, but the actual position of Hamas.

A good example of this ignorance came after the recent attack on Israel (where civilians were murdered in celebratory videos posted by Hamas itself) a Black Lives Matter group in Chicago posted this image

BLM Chicago support for Palestine

It looks like a stock parachute image and, for Americans, it's a common sight at major sporting events to have someone parachute in with an American flag on top. They've just replaced a Palestinian flag to show solidarity. The problem is Hamas used paragliders to murder hundreds of unarmed people at a music festival. You'll note that the image is pretty close to what actual paragliders look like. BLM Chicago (BLM itself is decentralized, but this is still a Leftist group) deleted the tweet and apologized (although they still stand with Palestine).

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Politics Meta, or in Politics Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – CDJB
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 8:24
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This is mostly opinion-based but some general indications. The key point is that not all perpetrators are measured according to the same standards. There is some different treatment for victims as well (when both are countries/ people/ regions and not individuals) .

The expectation of appropriate behaviour for a liberal open democracy are very different then those applied to a dictatorship. Israel is a democracy so things that wouldn't raise an eyebrow when committed by North Korea are heavily critized when done by Israel.

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    Of course, to people with a less relativistic view of "the expectation of appropriate behaviour", it's a textbook example of a "double standard".
    – dan04
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 18:37
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    To the extent that this is correct and explanatory, it's amusingly ironic to me - given how neatly it mirrors typical "progressive" criticism of classical liberalism. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 6:12
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    @dan04 There is a key difference between judging/ evaluating individual people where using double standards is generally considered bad and should be avoided and looking at abstract groups like countries, regions, corporations where applying the same standard to vastly different entities usually results can easily produce very undesirable results.
    – quarague
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 6:23
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    Much of what North Korea does IS heavily criticised. ... ???. It only "wouldn't raise an eyebrow" in the sense that it would be hard for them to do something that stands out from the horrors they already commit on a daily basis, but that doesn't make it "appropriate". Criticism of Israel also seems more likely to be productive, as there's more one can reasonably do there (like not handing them billions of dollars every year, for example). As for North Korea, relations with them is already so poor, that there probably isn't much that could be done apart from launching a full-scale invasion.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 9:20
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    That's an excellent point. Israel, due to its culture, origin and political regime, is basically held to western standards for human rights. Palestine is mostly compared to Egypt/Syria/Iran/Saudi Arabia/.... And their standards are much lower, e.g. regarding freedom of press, women rights, tolerance towards other religions or atheists. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 9:23
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Depending how you define left I would say many in Western countries [and probably moreso in European ones] are against a certain vision of Israel, not coincidentally promoted by [what others see as] a right-wing government.

I could speculate why there's a transatlantic difference, from reasonable (e.g. more right-wing religiosity in the USA and in particular Christian Zionists) to the more outlandish (ranging from the US right praising the settler--their own taking over native lands of "inferior" peoples, or even right-wing theories of Europe succumbing to the Muslims--there's also a less outlandish version of the latter, namely that left-wing parties in Europe saw the mostly working class Muslim immigrants as natural ally/electorate), but I'm not sure we want to get into all of those here.

I mean sure, you can bring in Corbyn and anti-Semitism, but there's surely still some of that on the right as well. A simple explanation is that the US right just hates the Muslims more. (If you need a quote from that paper: "The right exhibits strong anti-Muslim double standards. However, in these measures too, the anti-Jewish attitudes on the left are small in magnitude compared to the anti-Jewish attitudes on the right.") Although one might say that's too simplistic.

But going back to my first para and your Q about the left not condemning China as much. Of course, the more extreme one's political orientation is, the more myside bias they'll exhibit. So you can easily find Western communists who find nothing objectionable about what happens in Xinjiang etc. That's as old as tankies, I might add. (BTW, many of those ideological supporters of China are also blind to other realities about China.)

Finally, there's probably also the proximity and accessibility angle. Xinjiang is far away from Europe and there's no UN anything there, while Gaza etc. have a lot of the latter and [in part due to their dependence on Western aid] much easier Western media access [even in the current blockade, there were dozens of Western-outlets journalists already there]. Out of sight, out of mind.

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  • Of course, this is just one data point, but one old guy who listened all day long to conservative talk shows himself went "Hamas" on a Muslim child nbcnews.com/news/us-news/… Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 21:43
  • "there's also a less outlandish version of the latter" - the former isn't, in my view, "more outlandish"; it's just a histrionic restatement of the same idea (and its supposed consequences). Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 6:14
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Because everyone on the right talks about supporting Israel so you're going to challenge them on the correctness of that. The US is siding with the 'oppressor', this is the nib or crux of why. Other answers might give reasons why the left focuses on Israel but not systematically why it does compared to issues in other countries, and this is the only large reason for that. (Secondary reasons include apartheid (and how much the US focused on civil rights as a multiracial society).*)

"Most on the right in western countries are much less passionate about this issue. (While those on the right are probably on average pro-Israel, they care much less about this issue than their left counterparts.)" This is simply incorrect. The left may be more visible because they're in the minority. But I don't understand how the right cares less about this issue. They literally fire people over having the wrong stance on this issue. I imagine that the left might do the same but no more.

*More specifically college students might want 'a cause of their own to speak' and be inspired by prior activists to challenge this as the cause of their own times. And more generally the apartheid comparison is legitimate via South Africa and UN commentary. Notably however BDS only started after 9/11 after a rift started about Islam because of the aftereffects of 9/11 under the Bush administration making supporting Muslims a partisan issue as it also became under Trump. (See the border wall and BLM for the power of partisanship)

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    Could you include some references to back up your claims? I find it difficult to believe people could be fired simply for having the wrong stance on this issue. I suspect there is more to that story. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 14:28
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    @Lio Elbammalf I believe it was in the joint Harvard letter. It mentioned how someone was fired by Associated Press for having called for Palestine from sea to sea. I'm not sure how it's difficult to believe. People don't "simply" see it as the wrong "stance". Both sides decry the idea that there's two sides to the issue. It's commonplace for employers to not hire people who are pro-Palestine. There are laws jailing people for being pro-Palestine (both in the US and in other countries). Of course people are fired for being pro-Palestine.
    – user84614
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 15:17
  • The distinction there is that the "wrong stance" in this case is that "Palestine from sea to sea" is a sanitised version that really means "wipe out the Israelis" - if that were any other race I'm sure you would agree that an employee ranting to "wipe out X" would be concerning. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 20:50
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    @Obie 2.0 I did read the articles, I let you see a selection for your convenience. My point is that if you boycotted Israel and were jailed you would be jailed for being pro-Palestine. I am not sure why you are specifying 'government entities'. If you read any of the articles like you implored me to you would know some apply to private businesses as well.
    – user84614
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 1:46
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    @Obie2.0 Ok. I might have confused them with the bipartisan widely popular bill proposing jail sentences. I would say though that the overall sentiment in the US is that you can be criminally charged for supporting Palestine and that it could easily have turned into a situation of incarceration by the date of a later reader. To my knowledge is it not always legal to make pro-Palestine speech in Western countries writ large
    – user84614
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 1:57
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One reason that people may be more aware of the Israel/Palestine issue, is the sheer length of time it has now been running unresolved, with regular eruptions to bring the issue back to attention.

Another reason may be that left-wingers may have more experience of being hectored as anti-semites whenever they cross a fierce and often mendacious pro-Zionist lobby, increasing the salience of the issue for left-wingers, in a way that doesn't really occur for other cases.

A third point to make is that right-wing Israeli politics are characterised by ethnically or racially separatist and supremacist ideas that many on the left oppose fundamentally, and the conflict provoked by such politics is sustained only by foreign patronage (most obviously from the US) from the same place where many of the relevant left-wingers also originate.

It's also worth saying that thinking there needs to be solution to the Palestinian issue, doesn't necessarily mean being "anti-Israel", any more so than rejecting apartheid meant being "anti-South-Africa".

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