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It is unfair, and inaccurate, to label the leftist participants as useful idiots. Their reasons for action are genuine and their humanitarian efforts at least have political coherence. It is simply that, while leftists were involved in the flotilla in large numbers and presumably contributed a great deal to the collection of funds and goods, this contribution did not secure any political benefit for Palestinian leftists. One thing that the Islamist and leftist flotillistas agree on is that their project had the twin tracks of humanitarian goals and political goals. However, while the flotilla goods that eventually reached Gaza via the Israeli port of Ashdod presumably helped ordinary Palestinians — thus fulfilling the humanitarian goal — there was no political benefit for Palestinian leftists from the operation, nor does there seem to have been a plan to divert some of the glory their way.

This is the wider point about the alliance in Europe of leftists and Islamists. Islamism, globally, is a movement with energy, resources, self-belief and, in some countries, real power. Socialism is anything but. It has failed in power and lost its ideological certitude a long time ago, to be replaced by a vague and, at times, contradictory, set of ideas: anti-globalisation, environmentalism, anti-imperialism and so on. This is not an alliance of equals. European leftists, so used to being the junior partner in their cooperation with Islamists at home, have given up any pretence that their support for Hamas and other Islamist movements is one of critical engagement, or that they would rather work with secular, liberal forces in Palestinian society (or even their own). In this respect, the flotilla is a metaphor for the whole left-Islamist alliance. A journey over which leftists have a semblance of influence but little real control, into a confrontation not of their own making, from which they derive no political benefit.

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