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You are here: The Platypus Affiliated Society/In defense of Palestinian populism: A response to Chris Cutrone

In defense of Palestinian populism: A response to Chris Cutrone

Fakhry Al-Serdawi

Platypus Review 165 | April 2024

First of all, there is nothing you are going to offer as the [European Union], [you] can’t even bail [yourselves] out. There is nothing you have to offer, you don't bring anything, you bring these fake women’s empowerment programs and workshops to countries around the world. You are not building airports, ports, and schools. I mean they will do these little tiny projects, but they are not doing very much. Secondly, you bring this racist dominating attitude. Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief said it himself a few months ago, that Europe is a garden and the rest of the world is a jungle, and people in Africa, People in Asia and People in the Arab World, don’t want that, we had that, thank you. We do not want Europeans coming from their garden and telling us how civilized they are and what we have to do, in order to get civilized like them; we tried that in the 19th century and the 20th century, and no, thank you, we do not want to go back to that.[1]

— Ali Abunimah, the founder of The Electronic Intifada

THREE DAYS BEFORE OCTOBER 7, my interview with Douglas Lain was released under the title “Are We All Terrorists Today?”[2] In the interview, I said that the armed attacks against free speech at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in 2015, which caused a mass protest movement inside and outside of France, the Republican marches (Marches républicaines), which have adopted puritanical politics of martyrdom, that robbed Marxists of their own capacity for free speech, of their ability for ruthless scientific criticism against Charlie Hebdo and even the French capitalist state. In that sense, I do understand Chris Cutrone’s frustration with Israeli state terrorism, and the puritanical reaction to it in the Palestine protest movement in the West, a thing that led to the confiscation of his capacity to criticize Hamas ruthlessly.

Cutrone has a sound understanding of the nature of attacks on free speech. Not only do these attacks suppress the individual, but they also forcibly redefine their whole identity. As a social critic, Cutrone wants to extract the kernel of truth in ideas like Trumpism, Zionism, and even Islamism, without being an evangelist of these ideas. Nobody bats an eye when Cutrone reiterates an Islamic point of view, but once he opens his mouth on Trumpism and Zionism, he is reframed as a Trumpist and a Zionist. This is because the left’s Stalinist enemy/friend distinction between individuals and groups requires a lazy and rushed categorization of Cutrone.

On the other side of the aisle, Cutrone does not adopt the vices of his opponents even when he criticizes Hamas. For him, Hamas is not Islamist, Oriental, Nazi, or otherworldly; it's simply bourgeois. It’s a bourgeois organization with political-economy relations with Arab countries, Iran, Israel, and the United States. But in an environment where critiquing Israel amounts to punching down on the Jews and criticizing Hamas amounts to punching down on the Palestinians, Cutrone’s scientific diagnosis is utterly rejected. Hamas is not a bourgeois organization because it is a group of freedom fighters/monsters sent from heaven/Hitler to liberate the Palestinian people/commit the second Holocaust.

All that said, I have to disagree with Cutrone’s categorization of solidarity with Palestinian self-determination as necessarily an identitarian acceptance of capitalist politics, and I have to disagree with the subsequent implication that this solidarity is a hegemonic, official, and elite ideology in Western Europe and North America. We can be more accurate by saying that Palestine solidarity is not “the” elite ideology, but “an” ideology of a niche elite; the New Left, which is the milieu of Cutrone and the place where he has chosen to fight his intellectual battles.

Indeed, pro-Palestine popular frontism has been discredited and hollowed out of its essence in every conceivable way by both its opponents and proponents. It became the pipeline from the anti-authoritarianism of Noam Chomsky in the 1970s to the ultra-authoritarianism of Judith Butler these days. It became a movement that abandoned Kautsky and Lenin’s historical material conception of anti-imperialism and went towards another conception based upon an identitarian Clash of Civilizations. It is a movement that lives off the romantic legacies of Nayef Hawatmeh and George Habash, while the PFLP[3] and DFLP[4] can’t get two electoral seats at the Birzeit University student government elections, and while Palestinian Millennials and Zoomers, who call themselves Marxists, and who are supposed to build and grow the above-mentioned political parties, are either becoming necro-Islamists (the same way many French liberals are necro-Catholics), or they are busy with writing their pronouns in emails because they think that the ultra-liberalism of the sexual revolution and the post-2016 cultural revolution is the real Marxism; the New Left was built to fail and tail.

As a matter of fact, the New Left needs Palestine more than Palestine needs it. Palestine is the only issue that neoliberalism — embraced by New Leftists — has not solved, becoming the real exception that proves the fake rule. We are still living in the pre-1968 world of injustice — hence, every person of color, every person of every sexuality, and every person of all sizes are still oppressed because the Palestinians are still oppressed. The real Oceanic permanent boot on the face that is Palestine is the drug of soma that the New Left takes in its Brave New (liberal) World to escape reality.

Maybe the only sound viewpoint theory is one that is based on the intellectual milieu of the speaker and their intellectual battles, not their identity. In that sense, Cutrone is a valuable resource on the pathological psyche of the vanguard which is supposed to build socialism (but once again, criticizing that vanguard would amount to punching down on the Palestinians in Gaza). But Cutrone also tells his students that there is a world outside of the classroom, and indeed, there is a world outside of our intellectual battles with the New Left and its Millennial inheritor. My populist viewpoint, based on my intellectual milieu and battles, could be complementary here.

If the New Left and its Millennial inheritor are blocking the possibility of socialism in America, or at least, the possibility for a mass party, what is blocking such a possibility in the basin of the Mediterranean is the Eurocratic and Eurocentric liberal order (allied with the upper echelons of the Democratic Party on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean). If the Left in America is distorting the meaning of Marxism, the liberal technocrats of the Middle East and Europe act as if Marxism does not exist. They see the European model of civil society not as a means towards overcoming the capitalist state but as a goal for which the state is necessary to maintain.

In that sense, the Euro-Mediterranean “Fukuyaman” project is akin to its Eastern European counterpart. British scholar Chris Hann reveals the tendencies of the Left in that context: “From the point of view of an NGO activist in, say, Tbilisi, or for that matter in Moscow, it is all so unfair. Like liberal Eurocrats in Brussels, these activists believe in Europe and a Western model of ‘civil society’. One might almost say that this is their Church. But the current policies of the EU make such ideals ever more illusory. They function instead to consolidate the worst elements of the Soviet legacies.”[5]

The European project, and its spinoffs in the adjacent regions, are therefore a result of the Atlanticist bureaucratization of the anti-fascist Popular Front. This in turn led to a new anti-communist popular front during the Cold War, which paradoxically copied the methods of anti-Western Stalinism but in the other direction.

This neoconservative project of liberation wanted to free dissident, liberal, and West-leaning Mediterraneans and Eastern Europeans from communism and Third World nationalism in the Cold War and Islamism and Eurasian authoritarianism at the turn of the century. In less than a few decades, this incoherent project went from the goal of supporting Islamic freedom fighters against communism to supporting the freedom of women against Islamism in Afghanistan. The list of “the oppressed” was and is quite big; Czechoslovakians, Hungarians, Poles, Russian defectors, North Koreans, South Vietnamese, East Germans, royal families in Iraq and Iran, Turkics in Central Asia, Uyghurs, Afghans, Iranian liberals, Arabs in Iran, Kurds, Armenians, Christian minorities in the Levant, Muslim minorities in the Balkans, Georgians, Syrians, Libyans, Islamists, atheists, ex-Muslims, women, sexual liberationists, gays, queers, and of course the Ukrainians. This project of liberation, similar to the project of the Democratic Party within national U.S. territory, is literally regressive in history because it copies the French, British, and Russian Great Imperial Powers, in their interest in carving up their sphere of protectorates for religious and ethnic minorities in Africa and Asia.

Chris Cutrone says that Jews are the exception that proves the rule.[6] In other words, they are living proof that nations that are not nations could thrive in socialism after the abolition of the capitalist nation-state. Palestinians, ironically, have been for many decades the exception that proves another rule; the European neoconservative liberation project is a sham. The Palestinian “double standard” is living evidence of the European “doublethink.” This is exactly why Palestine attracts Leftist populists like Thomas Fazi, James A. Smith, Yanis Varoufakis, and many others. Palestine has been and still is a point of dissent from the European establishment.

There are three forms of capitalist politics that most liberal technocrats apply when it comes to Israel-Palestine. First, cold symbolic criticism of Israeli policy, which has produced as much useless effect on the course of the conflict as the passionate, moralistic, theatrical criticism of the New Left and its inheritor.

The second liberal-technocratic policy is based upon the priority of the War on Terror over anything else. Western powers have been using the Stalinistic and incoherent terrorist/freedom-fighter distinction in order to pour tons of weapons and stinger missiles into “liberation” movements around the world, all while giving their blessing to Ariel Sharon in 1982 to cripple the PLO[7] once and for all in his invasion of Lebanon. After 9/11, the liberal-technocratic world stood by idly as Ariel Sharon used the War on Terror as a cover to continue building apartheid in the West Bank. These days, genocide could become the highest form of the War on Terror, and no liberal technocrat is capable of stopping this avalanche.

The third liberal-technocratic policy revolves around achieving “peace in the Middle East.” The problem here is that Israel uses “peace” interchangeably with “normalization” and by normalization, it seeks the normalization of its occupation of the West Bank. There has been a bloated liberal-technocratic political economy in Washington, Brussels, and Arab capitals selling the idea that peace is some metaphysical otherworldly goal, more important than world socialism, that would be achieved only if there were real “brave” leaders ready for peace. In mundane reality, liberal technocrats have been for two decades claiming that there should be a peaceful two-state solution while helplessly witnessing the Israeli settlers swallow up the land of the “promised” Palestinian state, nothing could be late-Soviet more than that.

Hence, while Cutrone proposed going against the theatrical and hysterical support of the New Left towards the Palestinians as capitalist politics, I propose adding to the mix the aforementioned three capitalist politics of pseudo-pressure on Israel, the politics of the War on Terror, and the politics of normalization. Once we understand the whole package, we realize that Palestine solidarity is a mere counter-hegemony among others in the liberal-technocratic world, a part of the bigger global hegemony that embraces, accepts, and normalizes the “No State Solution” or the “Palestinian eternal limbo” as one of its ideologies.

After 2016, Trump created a fake veneer of populism that supposedly opposes this “permanent limbo.” It is not the first time “peace populism” has become a political asset for a political leader. Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat called the critics of his “peace policy” “nightclub revolutionaries”[8] (there is a kernel of truth there). Even Israeli leaders have the audacity to pose themselves as populists against a Palestinian elite that “does not care about its own people,” before dramatically whining about the whereabouts of the “next brave Sadat.” However, this populism, like most Right-wing populisms, cannot escape the realities of the “eternal limbo” hegemony, because it challenges the overreaction of the pro-Palestine Left without really challenging the underreaction of the liberal technocrats.

In its widest form, this “eternal limbo” hegemony ranges from being indifferent to being openly hostile to the Palestinians, mainly blaming them for the limbo they are powerless over, in an attitude against what Karl Kaustky, in his bitter realism, categorized as societies that do “not lack culture” but only lack the material means and capabilities to stop any foreign domination.[9] Here are some symptomatic examples of this hegemony:

  • Western powers have defunded UNRWA,[10] in a draconian move towards canceling 30,000 jobs with no due process, based on allegations of several of its employees participating in the October 7 raid.
  • Ukrainians fight with American and European weapons, and Palestinians die by American and European weapons.
  • If you go to a German Unification Day event at some cultural center or embassy nearby, you will not find the Palestinian flag, you will find the Pride flag.
  • For the Fortune 500 companies in America, there is Black History Month, not Palestinian History Month.
  • Amy Schumer wants Palestinians out of the “dictatorship of the oppressed.”[11]
  • Nikki Haley loves to speak about the victims of the “Axis of Evil” but would never do so in the case of Palestine.
  • Christopher Hitchens is one of the few intellectuals who tried, for better or worse, to apply the neoconservative ethos of regime change against Israel, but most of his New Atheist or ex-Muslim colleagues are openly hostile to the Palestinians.
  • Abraham Accords-supporting intellectuals like Jordan Peterson and Jacob Siegel are selling the anti-Marxist idea that the only path of progress in the Middle East would be through the gates of normalization with the Israeli ruling class.
  • Palestine is a subject contentious enough to make Slavoj Žižek, one of the most influential intellectuals out there, to write a weak article in Compact,[12] one of the most influential platforms out there, in which he promises to “break the taboo” but never does.
  • Tucker Carlson was respectful and professional in his interview with Putin,[13] unlike the interviews of his former employers with Palestinian politicians. The amount of contempt that TalkTV’s Julia Hartley-Brewer had for Mustafa Barghouti,[14] a secular Palestinian politician, could be only compared to the utter disrespect that was shown by her colleagues James Whale and Ash Gould towards Manuel Hassassian,[15] a Palestinian-Armenian former ambassador.
  • Chris Cutrone claims that there is some kind of a litmus test at the DSA to exclude you if you do not support Hamas[16] when in reality there has been a litmus test by Piers Morgan of “Do you condemn Hamas?” to know whether to categorize you as a homo sapien or not.
  • Nancy Pelosi says that the Palestine protesters are Putin agents.[17]
  • Chris Cutrone claims that the DSA protesters are foot soldiers of the Democratic Party, while Bill Maher and Seth Macfarlane claim that Millennial protestors are throwing abortion and gay rights under the bus of Donald Trump.[18]
  • ChatGPT considers that Libya has been under Italian colonization, and celebrates its liberation from the Allies in the Second World War, but it is unwilling to recognize any sort of settler colonialism in historic Palestine, stating that it is a complicated and a sensitive political issue.

The Palestine solidarity movement is neither the overwhelming hegemony nor is it completely an underdog on the margin. In reality, it has become a counter-hegemony in the last decade, benefiting from what Robert Cox calls cracks in the “historical structure” of the Global Order.[19] Paradoxically, these are the same cracks that led to the rise of the global Alt-Right in support of Israel — Trump’s Evangelicals, Jair Bolsonaro, Javier Milei, Geert Wilders, etc. — who all are open about their desire for liquidation of the Palestinian question by force.

There is indeed a sort of “civil war” among liberal elites over the current conflict in Gaza, and there are attempts from capitalism to absorb the Palestinian cause as a bourgeois ideology. Nevertheless, that does not mean that Palestinian populism will lose its effectiveness anytime soon, because winning the narrative war does not mean that the historical-material legacy of the liberal-technocratic betrayal will be removed in the short or the long term, especially with the enormous destruction that was visited upon the Palestinians during this point in history. Israel will win materially and lose morally, Palestine will win morally and suffer materially, and the socialists of the world will not have any material or moral gains.

Edward Said understood the relationship between support for Palestine and the libertarian tradition of populist dissent in America. He says, “The discrepancy between U.S. policy and a kind of worldwide nostalgia for America is very great.”[20] He adds, “as Palestinians, we have not genuinely become acquainted with the presence of the other America, much less of its work and potential.”[21] He adds,

[the] adversarial and libertarian group is informed and guided by the claims of individual conscience and witness as certified by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence—that is, those aspects of both documents that stress—as Garry Wills has very cogently argued in a recent book—the communitarian, rational, justice-promoting design of the American republic at its inception. Such a design, then, mitigates somewhat the naked, deterministic, socially bloodthirsty and competitive aspects of individualism also certified by the Declaration.[22]

If Said understands the importance of the principles of the American Republic for the Palestinian cause (instead of adopting the embarrassing decolonize-everything discourse), and if Cutrone understands the importance of these same principles for building a socialist movement, then I see it important for the dissident Left not to showcase an abandonment of the Palestinian cause as a gift for the mainstream Left. Instead, it might be valuable for Cutrone to apply his own disobedient methodology in order to extract the kernel of truth from Palestinian populism.

This populism might be valuable for a Marxist education that overcomes the utterly wrong lessons the Western Left is learning from Palestine while overcoming the liberal-technocratic surrender to the eternal “No State Solution.” This education is important to create a Judeo-Arab Bundism that is essential for a mass socialist movement in America. If we want to make both Palestinians and Jews in America accept “hereness” instead of “thereness,” a Leninist democratic centralist social contract is to be created among the Left, a contract that is clear about doing away with both the “walled-off republic” and the “republic of tunnels,” with both the idea of Zionist domination through nuclear-armed apartheid and the idea of the de-Judaization of Palestine in the name of decolonization. |P

[1] “How China’s Rise Has the Middle East Declaring Independence from US, w/ Ali Abunimah,” Rania Khalek Dispatches (May 26, 2023), available online at <>.

[2] “Are We All Terrorists Today? An interview with Fakhry Al-Serdawi,” Sublation Media with Douglas Lain: Diet Soap Podcast (October 4, 2023), available online at <>. This article responds to Chris Cutrone, “Israel-Palestine and the ‘Left,’” Platypus Review 163 (February 2024), available online at <>.

[3] Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

[4] Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

[5] Chris Hann, “Multiscalar Narrative Identities: Individual and Nation, Europe and Eurasia,” Politeja 14, no. 4 (49) (2017): 23, available online at <>.

[6] “Palestine and the Miseducation of Rashida Tlaib,” Sublation Media with Douglas Lain: Cutrone Zone (October 27, 2023), available online at <>.

[7] Palestine Liberation Organization.

[8] Fouad Ajami, “The End of Pan Arabism,” in Pan-Arabism and Arab Nationalism: The Continuing Debate, ed. Tawfic E. Farah (Boulder: Westview Press, 1987), 96–114.

[9] Karl Kautsky, “Old Style Exploitation Colonies,” in Socialism and Colonial Policy (1907), available online at <>.

[10] United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

[11] See Freddie DeBoer, “Goliath, Who Aspires to be David” (October 16, 2023), available online at <>.

[12] Slavoj Žižek, “The Middle East’s Deadly Taboos,” Compact, November 15, 2023, available online at <>.

[13] Tucker Carlson, “The Vladimir Putin Interview,” Tucker Carlson Network (February 6, 2024, published February 8), available online at <>.

[14] “Israel Blast Beirut: Hamas Deputy Leader Saleh Al-Arouri Killed,” The Julia Hartley-Brewer Show, TalkTV (January 3, 2024), available online at <>.

[15] “Israel-Hamas War Latest,” James Whale Unleashed, TalkTV (December 16, 2023), available online at <>.

[16] “The Left, Hamas, and Socialism,” Sublation Media with Douglas Lain: Cutrone Zone (October 13, 2023), available online at <>.

[17] “One-on-one with House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi,” State of the Union, CNN, January 28, 2024, available online at <>.

[18] “Stephen A. Smith, Rep. Adam Schiff, Seth MacFarlane,” Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO (January 26, 2024). See this clip on the show’s X (Twitter) account: <>.

[19] Robert W. Cox, “Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory,” Millennium 10, no. 2 (June 1981): 126–55.

[20] Edward W. Said, “The Palestine Question and the American Context,” Arab Studies Quarterly 2, no. 2 (Spring 1980): 131–32, available online at <>.

[21] Ibid., 146–47.

[22] Ibid., 145.