We are all familiar with the scapegoat (Lev. 16:10): a person or group on which all problems including the weather are blamed, and which can then be “cast into the desert”. Jews and/or Israel often find themselves cast in this role; but anybody who has ever worked in a corporate of military setting has seen this happen to some manager or other.
In many cases, the bad things the scapegoat is accused for aren’t just factually wrong, but logically incoherent and/or physically impossible. (And yes, I’ve seen this in US politics on my own side — fodder for another post.) In many cases, if the scapegoat didn’t exist somebody would have to invent it.
But the scapegoat has a mirror image: that which Thomas Sowell in his many writings terms a “mascot”. In short, a mascot is an “oppressed” group whose cause one champions, not because one cares for the members of the group as people but because “identification” with them can be worn as a badge of moral superiority and as a moral cudgel to beat one’s rivals or opponents over the head with. [Remember: unlike competition for money/capitalism which can be a positive-sum game and often is, competition for status or influence is intrinsically a zero-sum game. This is one of the things that makes status battles so vicious.]
“Palestinians” are a classic example of a Sowellian “mascot”. Consider these words he wrote about another mascot group:
These and other groups, here and abroad, are treated as mascots of the self-congratulatory elites.
These elites are able to indulge themselves in non-judgmental permissiveness toward those selected as mascots, while cracking down with heavy-handed, nanny-state control on others.
The effect of all this on the mascots themselves is not a big concern of the elites. Mascots symbolize something for others. The actual fate of the mascots themselves seldom matters much to their supposed benefactors.
So long as the elites have control of the public purse, they can subsidize self-destructive behavior on the part of the mascots.
And so long as the elites [are personally insulated from the consequences of indulging them] they needn’t worry[…].
Other people who [cannot escape the consequences] can simply be called “racists” for objecting to what the indulgence of the mascots is doing […] or what the violence of the mascots is doing to others […].
One can basically apply them verbatim to the mindless identification of certain “progressive” (regressive would be more accurate) parts of Western society with the “Palestinian cause”, even when it expresses itself in a group as cartoonishly evil and darkly reactionary as Hamas. Somehow the deeply unsympathetic character of the “oppressed” group one champions serves even better to convince people of the purity of one’s heart. (Read Tom Wolfe’s “Mau-mauing the flak catchers” for a late ’60s version of the same phenomenon.)
If these idiot poseurs were actually interested in helping the actual people involved, they’d be cheering on those trying to remove the Hamass mafia regime that has been cynically using them as cannon fodder and human shields while funneling the international aid given them to their own pockets and to terror activities. They would be out there urging placing a completely demilitarized Gaza Strip under some competent authority other than Hamass. (“But they were democratically elected!” “So were several of the vilest dictatorships in history — one man, one vote, once.”)
Besides: these same people claim to be moved to pity by the (well-orchestrated) terrible media imagery coming from Gaza, while a laundry list’s worth of current humanitarian catastrophes that make Gaza look like chump change are ignored or merely given lip service.
With the Arab countries (considering the admiration for the symbolic rather than the concrete in Arab culture) “mascotry” is also at work, but mixed in here with cynical power politics. The Arab countries that in the past gave loud lip service to the cause of the “Palestinian refugees” did (with one notable exception) everything they could to prevent the absorption of said refugees in their own country. (Jordan was the exception — which lead to the attempted takeover of the country and the Black September of 1970.) For the Arab regimes the existence of the “Palestinian Problem” is politically expedient as a popular distraction from their own corruption and dysfunctionality: as the French expression goes, “if it did not exist they would have to invent it” (s’il n’existait pas il fallait l’inventer).
What all have in common is that all are using the “Palestinians” for their own ends: narcissistic supply, political distraction, bureaucratic empire building…
Of course, mascots can outlive their political usefulness — and precisely that has happened with Hamas in a large part of the Arab world, as its ruling regimes awoke to the realization that radical Islamism is as much of a threat to their own regimes as to the West or Israel. Egypt’s strongman of course has a long-standing score to settle with the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is but a regional branch) — but the rest of the Arab world is finally realizing it has a loose cannon on its hands. (Tellingly, aside from Qatar which always tries to have it all ways, the two remaining Hamas allies are both non-Arab Muslim countries.)
Finally, the toxic agency known as the UNRWA (for a primer, see The Trouble with UNRWA and The UNRWA-Terror Connection at the Times of Israel) ostensibly exists to “help” the (4th- and 5th-generation) “refugees”, but in fact does all it can to perpetuate the problem. For them the “Palestinians” are not just mascots but a meal ticket: solve the problem and this separate agency would be out of a job.