Complicit liberal-speak: Stephen Fry says the ‘unsayable’ about Israel’s ‘right’ over Palestinians


In a feature at the New Statesman inviting notable figures to ‘say the unsayable’, Stephen Fry has this to say:

Israel has every right to resist coming to an accommodation with Palestine while it is led by Hamas.

Although a signatory to Jews for a Just Palestine, many readers will have felt deep disappointment in Fry’s comments. Given his very apparent capacity for understanding the real issues around Palestine-Israel, it seemed entirely appropriate and responsible for this writer to respond with the perfectly sayable: “Shameful words from @stephenfry”.

Yet, while Fry was seemingly intent on saying the unsayable at the New Statesman, he blocked me for stating what was just as reasonably sayable about a view he’s willingly placed in the public domain. That, arguably, says more about the mindset of the sensitive liberal than any concern I have at being twitter-blanked.

Actually, there are no ‘unsayable’ things, just things you say, or really want to say but fear the consequences. And Stephen Fry has clearly said what he meant.

His talk of Israel’s “right” here is morally indefensible. It’s not just that this ‘right’ should be seen against Palestinian rights. It’s, more fundamentally, that a state built on historic theft, dispossession, ethnic cleansing, daily apartheid, inhuman siege and ongoing mass murder doesn’t even have the right to talk of rights. And those who talk of Israel’s ‘rights’ in this regard are only amplifying that gross distortion.

Fry’s ‘unsayable’ comment includes the claim that Israel has a right to negate any “accommodation” with the Palestinians, a particularly-loaded word, suggesting it’s somehow within Israel’s rightful gift to grant Palestinians ‘concessions’, or come to some ‘dispensation/arrangement’ of their choosing.

Palestinians will rightfully say that they aren’t there to be ‘accommodated’. They’d more rightfully say that they’re demanding an end to their occupation, insisting on their primary right to statehood and civil rights, things which Israel has no basic right to gainsay.

Of course, caution must be taken when someone says something that may need greater expansion. Context is always important. But Fry has provided preparatory context here in making his case for ‘Israel’s right’ conditional on the presence of Hamas. That criticism is standard establishment fare, a liberal default view that shows no real comprehension of Hamas politics. But there’s no need to approve or disapprove of Hamas to see the key import of Fry’s words.

Decry Hamas, if you wish. But don’t say that Israel has the right to deny Palestinians their rightsbecause they elected a government you don’t like. That’s been Israel’s and its allies’ convenient and complicit excuse in the whole, posturing ‘peace process’. Stephen Fry’s words only give sustenance to that duplicitous pretext.

It’s the typical narrative of ‘balance’, so often dressed-up in emphasised outrage against those resisting aggression, rather than at the principal aggressor, a line drearily familiar of celebrity liberals and faux ‘radicals’, so readily incorporated into and conditioned by the safe zone of establishment life.

How much harder, yet more honourable, for such figures to say something really ‘unsayable’, something decisively critical of Israel and the whole political-media network that gives it relentless, mitigating cover.

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be prepared for reasonable criticism of what you’ve said. Engage in fair discussion, rather than resorting to blocking it, and, hopefully, come back to a more committed position on behalf of the oppressed, the more usefully sayable that speaks truth to power, rather than the ‘unsayable’ that merely reinforces it.

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