Call yourself the Labour party and you can be forgiven anything. It's true of the one here and the one in Israel. I cannot believe that liberal commentators would approach the slaughter of past weeks in the same way if the old rightwing hawks were doing it. But the nice doves are doing it, so it has to be better, hasn't it?
Not even the fact that Sharon is being courted by Barak, or the size and composition of Sharon's entourage when he goes visiting, seem to be enough to show that the two are on the same side. And what was the purpose of that visit? Actually, that's the kind of question only Arabs are forced to answer, but I am still curious. Is "visit" really the right word? Did he turn to the 1,000 soldiers accompanying him to the Temple Mount and say, "I'm not stopping, I only want to show my face and pay my respects - I'll just pop my head round the door"? Or was he celebrating the anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, for which Palestinians hold him responsible?
Centre-left champions of Israel say they feel "disappointed" by the Palestinians. They should perhaps try to imagine the level of disappointment a person has to feel to go up against a rifle with a stone. "Stones can kill as well as bullets", I read the other day. I know; I remember the scene in Zorba the Greek; but she was one woman surrounded, with not a gunship in sight.
Yes, Israelis have been killed these past two weeks, sometimes in circumstances that remind us terrifyingly of what people are capable of doing with our bare hands and sufficient anger in our hearts. There is nothing glamorous about it unless you're one of those flag-wavers who like the headscarves and enjoy war from a distance. It's horrible and deeply depressing. However, there's no escaping the fact that a handful of Israelis have been killed and well over a hundred Palestinians. And when one hears one Israeli spokesman after another asking, "What was a so-called innocent 12-year-old boy doing there?" one cannot realistically think the boiling rage that has inspired the uprising is likely to subside.
Since that question has been asked so many times, I'm happy to supply the answer: he was cowering in terror, trying not to get shot dead by the Israeli army. He failed. But is not the thing that the spokesmen are really saying, "Look, he was only an Arab"? Perhaps I misunderstand the position. Forgive me if I have, but I have heard a procession of pro-government Israelis pop up on the radio to put the same case with slightly different vocal patterns.
Fortunately there are serious voices of opposition among Israelis, and we have been allowed to hear from one or two of them. These are people who realise that one can't simply say, "All we want is peace", when the peace involves one side simply shutting up and the other side smiling at them.
There are many shades of progressive opinion in Israel, stretching from the hope that a two-state solution will provide equality and justice for everyone, to the acceptance that equality and justice depend on unity not division. It may be easy to say that the only solution to the problem is a secular state in which no person's faith or ethnicity gives them primacy, but it is the only solution that really makes sense.
Jews who put this line, whether in Israel or among the majority of Jews who don't live there, are insultingly described as "self-hating", sometimes by Zionists who are not themselves Jewish. People who criticise the Israeli state and are not Jewish are accused of anti-semitism. That is perhaps not surprising when Muslims or Nazis posing as Muslim sympathisers attack synagogues in Europe. In fact, one of the more heartening statements made in the past fortnight came from the French Muslim leader who said, "We should not equate Jews with Israel".
Anti-semitism is a virulent medieval prejudice and it is extremely regrettable that so many critics of Israel stray into talk of Jews. One minute a person can be talking compassionately about the plight of the Palestinians and the next they're saying the problem is that the Jews run America. Actually they don't and that is not the problem.
Madeleine Albright only found out she is Jewish a couple of years ago and hasn't behaved any differently since. The American part of the problem is that Israel is a US client state, bankrolled and armed to the teeth because of its strategic importance in the Middle East. Yes, presidential candidates flirt with the ethnicity of voters, holding a bagel in one hand and a shillelagh in the other, dumping their cornbread out of the car window as they are driven from soul food restaurant to execution. But that is not the reason why the White House does not want to see a secular non-apartheid Israel. A just Israel would be one in which America would have no influence. It could be in the same place, it could even have the same name, or Palestine; that's not really the point. But it wouldn't be America's.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000