It used to be the case that obviously injurious actions, such as self-harm and suicide, were the subjects of frenzied campaigns intending to prevent such tragedies from ever occurring again. 

Experts worried about copycat cases, and news outlets included suicide hotline numbers and preemptory warnings on stories written about mentally troubled individuals who make the grievous and irreversible decision to end their lives. 

“Suicide is bad” is one of those truisms for which one can assume finding broad support. But this truth is no longer evident for today’s far left. 

On Sunday, 25-year-old member of the US Air Force Aaron Bushnell lit himself on fire in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC. He live streamed the disturbing episode on the video platform Twitch, passed away from his injuries after paramedics rushed him to the hospital. 

That a young man would take his own life in such a horrific way – traumatising passersby as well as those who can still stumble upon the video via the internet – ought to be universally condemned. What differentiated Bushnell from other unfortunates suffering devasting mental health episodes, however, was his politicial stance. During his live stream, he yelled “Free Palestine!” and said he “will no longer be complicit in genocide.”

“Let us never forget the extraordinary courage and commitment of brother Aaron Bushnell  who died for truth and justice!” tweeted the public intellectual and presidential campaigner Cornel West. “I pray for his precious loved ones! Let us rededicate ourselves to genuine solidarity with Palestinians undergoing genocidal attacks in real time!”

Social media was awash with brightly-coloured graphics supposedly “honouring” Bushnell. One quoted from the Black Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton on revolutionary suicide. For Newton, “Revolutionary suicide does not mean that I and my comrades have a death wish; it means just the opposite… we have such a strong desire to live with hope and human dignity that existence without them is impossible.”

Free Palestine activists are also sharing the video of Bushnell’s death online and encouraging others to watch it. Others have argued that this was not a mental health break but rather a clear-eyed act of protest. 

Trita Parsi, founder of National Iranian American Council, complained about an MSNBC segment that included information on the suicide hotline while discussing Bushnell’s death. 

“So insulting of MSNBC to list the suicide hotline in the segment on Bushnell’s self-immolation IN PROTEST of Israel’s Gaza slaughter,” he wrote. “They treat him as if he was troubled by inner demons rather than by the massacre of innocents.”

Even saying that you’re killing yourself for Palestinians isn’t good enough for some activists. While some were responding to his death with the phrase “rest in power,” others were quick to say that that phrase should be reserved only for black people. 

The week before the infamous suicide, Vulture ran a feature on New York playwright Victor I. Cazares, who is refusing to take his HIV medication to protest the Israel-Hamas war. Cazares will reportedly continue to refuse his meds “until the New York Theatre Workshop… calls for a cease-fire in Gaza.” How far, the writer asks, will this go? “Oh, hospital bed,” he says. “The way I view my strike is physicalising their inaction.” 

Of course, the great irony in all of this is that these protestors who are harming themselves are doing so in support of a combatant in a conflict that has no problem with rape or torture or the indiscriminate murder of innocents. A truly “free Palestine” would be free of Hamas.

No form of self-harm is ever OK, no matter what cause it may pretend to support. And in this case, the cause is not one worth championing, anyway.