There was a time when you might have expected a South African former freedom fighter and columnist writing in a left-leaning European newspaper to have no problem at all with a proposition of the following kind: Vote for fascists and take the consequences.
What is clear from an article last week in Britain's Guardian newspaper by South African Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, writing jointly with columnist Victoria Brittain, is that such a proposition would now need to be amended on the following lines: Vote for fascists and take the consequences, unless those fascists are committed to the destruction of the world's only Jewish state and have targeted and killed hundreds of Jewish civilians to bring that aim to fruition.
That, in a nutshell, is the only way to make any sense of Kasrils's and Brittain's call to replace the withholding of aid to the Hamas-led government with full-scale sanctions against the state of Israel.
It is the cruelest of moral inversions: Israel, Europe and the United States join forces to put pressure on a government composed of self-confessed Jew-haters; Kasrils and Brittain see this as the perfect opportunity to use the largely self-imposed suffering of the Palestinian people as a stick with which to beat Israel into submission.
After all, they opine: "Never in the long struggle for freedom in apartheid South Africa was there a situation as dramatic as in Palestine today... And those who care for freedom, peace and justice must build a global Palestine solidarity movement to match the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s."
NOW LET us agree that nothing more needs to be said on that score other than that comparisons between apartheid South Africa and Israel are the emblematic property of the moral and intellectual dunce, and get to grips instead with the issue at hand: Why do so many in Western opinion-forming circles refuse to see Hamas for what it is, and what does this particular pathology tell us about broader hostility to Israel?
If you had a penny for every news report which referred to the Hamas victory as the product of despair at corruption in Fatah or frustration at Fatah's failure to raise general living standards, you could pay off the debt-ridden Palestinian Authority all on your own.
Ian Fisher, writing in The New York Times on January 28, described the various motivations succinctly: "Clearly, some want a bigger fight with Israel. Others want more religion in public life. Some just want change."
Indeed so. Voters across the world choose their preferred party for a whole host of reasons, none of which absolves them from taking responsibility for the policies of the party they actually vote for.
And one thing that Hamas cannot be accused of is obfuscation over its aims and beliefs, which, in its charter, clearly set before us many of the classic building blocks of a fascist-like organization.
To wit: its open anti-Semitism - "The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him." (Article 7); its glorification of violence - "Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Qur'an its Constitution, Jihad its path and death for the cause of Allah its most sublime belief." (Article 8); its socialist populism - "Social solidarity consists of extending help to all the needy, both materially and morally... For the masses are of them and for them, their strength is [ultimately] theirs and their future is theirs." (Article 21); and its totalitarian fusion of art with politics - "So, books, articles, publications, religious exhortations, epistles, songs, poems, hymns, plays, and the like, if they possess the characteristics of Islamic art, have the requisites of ideological mobilization..." (Article 19).
OF COURSE, all fascist movements have differed according to time, geography and overall political context. But the character of Hamas as just such a movement is crystal-clear.
The main reason why some still fail to see the truth about the new Palestinian government is probably that the whole debate about Israel and its enemies is now so steeped in an irrational, almost elemental, need to hate that the pre-requisites for sober and informed judgment are simply absent.
You can access information about Hamas, and indeed Israel, over the Internet in a matter of seconds. If you're uninformed, you must want to be so.
In a more general sense, many of Israel's most vehement critics have played with half-truths and outright fabrications for so long now that dishonesty has become a "normal" part of their discourse.
If you keep repeating for long enough that Israel practices "apartheid," that its policies are "Nazi," that Hamas is only motivated by the "brutal occupation" or that the suicide bombing of a falafel store is a matter of "self-defense," you may start believing it.
As for the rest of us, we must remain steadfast in saying that fascism should continue to be opposed. If the Palestinian people are now suffering as a consequence, then that is a great cause for regret. But frankly, you pays your money and you takes your choice.
The writer is a senior transatlantic fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The views expressed here are entirely his own. [email protected]