The PFLP, the synagogue massacre and the language of terrorism

PFLP hand out sweets to celebrate the Har Nof synagogue massacre

Language is a powerful part of our identity, as intellectuals from Bill Bryson to Slavoj Zizek to Steven Pinker acknowledge. Europeans are particularly sensitive to the use of racist language. We know how prejudicial and violent language can lead to horrific policy, so we carefully avoid parroting racist tropes.

Were someone to walk into a room and claim that the Jews caused all wars and revolutions and it is a moral duty to kill them, we would wince awkwardly, and treat such a person as a racist. Yet whilst language is important to the identity of any individual person or mass movement, there is more to identity than just language. Actions also matter.

This is worth bearing in mind when considering two Palestinian terror groups – Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – which take different approaches to racism.

The Hamas charter claims that there is a secret world Jewish plot for global domination, and the Jews are behind any and every war and revolution the world has ever known. The PFLP, meanwhile, studiously avoids the crude anti-Semitic language of Hamas. The PFLP says it opposes “Zionists” rather than Jews, framing their fight as Marxist-Leninist “resistance” against “oppression”. On its website, PFLP claims its goal is to “establish a democratic national state in Palestine in which both Arabs and Jews will live as citizens with equal rights.”

When four Jewish rabbis – and a passing Druze policeman – were butchered to death whilst praying in their own sacred space, the response by Hamas and the PFLP were disturbingly similar. Hamas called the massacre a “quality development“, whilst the PFLP called it “heroic.” As Hamas distributed sweets in Gaza to celebrate the mass killings, the PFLP did the same.

Like Hamas, the PFLP has a long history of terrorism. In recent years, the PFLP was responsible for a suicide bomb in a pizzeria in Karnei Shomron in 2002, killing three Israelis, a suicide bomb in Netanya that same year killing another three, a suicide bomb on Christmas Day 2003 killing four Israelis, and a suicide bomb in Tel Aviv in November 2004 killing four Israelis.

Both Hamas and the PFLP are opposed to peace accords and opposed to a two-state solution. Now terrorists affiliated with the PFLP have claimed responsibility for this latest terror attack, and the PFLP praises their actions.

The PFLP may have convinced itself it is not anti-Semitic, but how else can the cold-blooded murder of Jews worshipping in their spiritual house of prayer – because they are Jews – be interpreted?

As The Guardian editorial wrote:

“No one can look at photographs of Tuesday’s scene […] without shuddering. The sight of prayer shawls and prayer books drenched in blood stirs the bitterest memories. They are the images of a pogrom. Reports of the event confirm that impression.”

The PFLP was founded by a Greek Orthodox Christian, George Habash, and honours him unto this day, talking up the “unity” that the PFLP supposedly brings to Christians and Muslims.

Following Habash’s death, the PFLP has supported Hamas aggression against Israel, and has campaigned for an end for the international designation of “terrorism”, arguing that “resistance is not terrorism”.

In 2012, the Marxism Festival in the UK celebrated PFLP terror openly, by hosting a skype session with the PFLP’s notorious plane hijacker Leila Khaled. The event took place on the UCL campus – openly and without complaint from university authorities – as Khaled linked up with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Sarah Irving to glorify “resistance” to Israel’s “imperialism.”

Secular anti-Israel campaigners (including those on the Left and in the Church) may feel more comfortable with supporting the PFLP than Fatah or Hamas, because of its secular nature and because of its choice of Marxist over fascist language.

Hamas may turn European stomachs by talking about Jewish mind control, and starting all the world’s wars. The PFLP may talk about smashing the imperialist Zionist capitalist power, and some European may feel awfully cool, clever and sophisticated. But the PFLP flatters to deceive.

No matter how “progressive” or “revolutionary” you think your cause is, if the most heroic act you can imagine is bludgeoning defenceless rabbis to death while they are praying, then your cause is still murderous, backwards and indeed racist.

However many 5000-word essays can be written about the different language used by Hamas and the PFLP, ultimately there is no choice between them. Both are opposed to peace and obsessed with murdering Israeli Jews.