The Israel-Palestine conflict has long divided the political left and right. While the right tends to support Israel, the left has historically shown sympathy for the Palestinian cause.
This leftist sympathy for the Palestinian cause has historical roots. In the early 20th century, socialist Zionists aligned themselves with Palestinian Arabs in opposition to colonialism. But after the creation of Israel, the new state’s alignment with Western powers led many on the anti-imperialist left to grow critical of Zionism. Palestinian liberation movements won widespread left-wing support from the 1960s onward. Since then, the left has consistently advocated for Palestinian rights and statehood. This ideological foundation continues to inform leftist perspectives today.
Many on the left view Israel as a colonial occupier rather than an embattled underdog. Left-wing ideology emphasises equality and is generally critical of hierarchical power structures, imperialism, and oppression. It sees Israel as the dominant power that displaced Palestinian Arabs from their homeland during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
Left-wing individuals are more likely to signal empathy for groups they perceive as oppressed or exploited by powerful countries throughout history. This shapes leftist perspectives on the asymmetry between Israel’s military might and the relatively weaker Palestinian resistance groups.
The left also tends to highlight human rights violations against Palestinians. Reports by human rights groups like Amnesty International have accused Israeli forces of using excessive force, unlawful killings, forced displacement, home demolitions, and other abuses in the occupied territories. These resonate with the left-wing values of protecting marginalised groups. Many leftists argue that Israel flouts international law by constructing settlements on occupied land. Essentially, the left-wing interprets Israel’s actions as undermining Palestinian rights under international law.
Modern leftism embraces intersectionality – the interconnection of racial, economic, and social injustices. Leftists may see parallels between the Palestinian struggle and that of other marginalised groups throughout history. Some draw comparisons between Palestinian conditions in the occupied territories and Black townships under South African apartheid. Others highlight the discrimination faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel. The left situates Palestine within broader struggles against systemic racism, including the Black Lives Matter movement. This anti-racist framing resonates with leftist ideologies.
Left-wing thinkers are often critical of nationalism and ethnostates. Israel was founded as a Jewish homeland, and this basis of Jewish nationhood sits uneasily with left-wing ideals. Critics argue that creating an ethnostate displaced the earlier non-Jewish Arab inhabitants of the land. Some liken Zionist ideology to a form of ethnonationalism that privileges the Jewish majority. Leftists aim to establish universal rights rather than national self-determination as the basis for Middle East peace. Hence, they show greater sympathy for stateless Palestinians.
The left’s anti-imperialist tradition also shapes its outlook. Marxist thinkers like Lenin historically supported Arab nationalism against British and French colonial control in the Middle East. After 1948, the new state of Israel aligned with Western capitalist countries during the Cold War. The Soviet bloc, in turn, backed Israel’s Arab opponents. This geopolitical posture linked Israel with Western imperialism from a leftist perspective. Modern left-wing groups continue this anti-imperialist stance in solidarity with Palestinians’ struggle for self-determination.
At the same time, it is worth noting that the left is not monolithic on this issue. While progressive groups overwhelmingly tend to sympathise more with Palestinians, there is a spectrum of left-wing opinions, from avowedly pro-Palestinian socialist organisations to more moderate liberal Zionists. Some on the left express nuanced critiques of both Israeli and Palestinian actions. There are also Marxist perspectives that reject nationalism on all sides. Moreover, developments like the Abrahamic Accords have led parts of the left to re-evaluate alliances. So while leftist support for Palestinians predominates, there are flavours of ideological diversity and evolving viewpoints.
While right-wing Israeli governments have expanded settlements, some Israeli peace advocates criticise these actions and warn they undermine democracy. Leftist Israeli groups like Peace Now call for negotiated two-state solutions with the Palestinians. There are also emerging intersections between progressive Jewish Israeli youth and Palestinian citizens of Israel seeking social justice. So while Israeli politics tilt towards the right overall, there are dissenting left-liberal voices. Their perspectives further complicate debates within Israel on making peace with the Palestinians.
The left’s sympathy for Palestine arises in part from its ideological clashes with the right. The mainstream right embraces Israel as an ally that shares Western democratic values. But the left objects to the right’s tendency to justify Israeli policies. Leftists argue that the right is hypocritical for ignoring Palestinian grievances while professing concern for Muslims and Arabs elsewhere. The left sees this selective outrage as rooted in Islamophobia and racism. These wider ideological divides exacerbate disagreements over Israel among liberals and conservatives.
The left sympathises with the Palestinian cause due to a mix of postcolonial ideology, anti-racism, human rights advocacy, anti-imperialism, and objections to ethnonationalism. This contrasts with the right’s nationalist affinity for Israel. The polarised debate looks set to continue as new Israeli and Palestinian generations inherit this complex ideological conflict.
This ideological divide between left and right is deeply entrenched globally. But there are also perspectives that resist easy categorisation. For example, some liberal Zionists break with the right-wing while criticising what they see as leftist antisemitism. There are Jewish leftists who advocate for Palestinian rights yet reject the abolition of Israel. And there are centrist voices who seek pragmatic solutions acceptable to both peoples. While the dominant poles remain opposed, the diversity of thought offers hope for breaking the political deadlock. Perhaps newer generations on all sides will transcend ossified ideologies to forge an inclusive, humanistic path forward. For the foreseeable future, though, the gulf persists.
Ramiz Ansari is a political researcher and writer based in London.