NYT's Michelle Goldberg: The Massacre in Israel and the Need for a Decent Left
Category: Op/EdVia: s • 4 months ago • 1 comments
On Tuesday evening, I was drinking on the porch of my friend and neighbor Misha Shulman, the Israel-born rabbi of a progressive New York synagogue called the New Shul. All day, he’d been on the phone with congregants deeply distraught over the massacres and mass kidnappings in Israel. Of all the people he spoke to, he said, those most devastated were either people who had lost close friends or family, or young Jews “completely shattered by the response of their lefty friends in New York,” who were either justifying Hamas’s atrocities or celebrating them outright.
This sense of deep betrayal is not limited to New York. Many progressive Jews have been profoundly shaken by the way some on the left are treating the terrorist mass murder of civilians as noble acts of anticolonial resistance. These are Jews who share the left’s abhorrence of the occupation of Gaza and of the enormities inflicted on it, which are only going to get worse if and when Israel invades. But the way keyboard radicals have condoned war crimes against Israelis has left many progressive Jews alienated from political communities they thought were their own.
By now, you’ve probably seen examples. There was the giddy message put out by the national committee of Students for Justice in Palestine, whichproclaimed, “Today, we witness a historic win for the Palestinian resistance: across land, air and sea.” New York’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America promoted a rally where speakers applauded the attacks, and the Connecticut D.S.A. enthused, “Yesterday, the Palestinian resistance launched an unprecedented anticolonial struggle.” The president of N.Y.U.’s student bar association wrote in its newsletter, “I will not condemn Palestinian resistance,”leadingto the withdrawal of a job offer. Over the otherwise benign slogan “I stand with Palestine,” Black Lives Matter Chicagoposteda photo of a figure in a paraglider like those Hamas used to descend on a desert rave and turn it into a killing field.
“I think what surprised me most was the indifference to human suffering,” said Joshua Leifer, a contributing editor at the left-wing magazine Jewish Currents and a member of the editorial board at the progressive publication Dissent.
“I’m trying to hold on, personally, to my commitments, my values, which now feel in conflict, in a way, with the political community that I lived alongside in the United States for basically my whole adult life,” he said. “It certainly has begun to feel like a breaking point.”..
Perhaps such hideous dogmatism shouldn’t be surprising. The left has always attracted certain people who relish the struggle against oppression primarily for the way it licenses their own cruelty; they are one reason movements on the left so reliably produce embittered apostates. Plenty of leftists have long fetishized revolutionary violence in poor countries, perhaps as a way of coping with their own ineffectuality. Che Guevara didn’t become a dorm room icon only for his motorcycle and rakish beret.
We also shouldn’t underestimate the role of antisemitism in warping people’s moral sentiments. I’m reminded of the German New Left militants of the 1960s and ’70s. Though they were radicalized by abomination of the Nazism of their parents’ generation, some, in a grotesque irony, ended up committing anti-Jewish terrorism themselves. A group suspected of trying tobomba Berlin Jewish center on the 1969 anniversary of Kristallnacht wrote in a communiqué, “The Jews, who have been driven away by fascism, have themselves become fascists, who in collaboration with American capital want to exterminate the Palestinian people.”
The most sympathetic reading of the online leftists playacting as theBaader-Meinhof Gangis that their nihilism is a function of despair. As Leifer pointed out, even before the killings in Israel, it was a grim time for the American left, as the elation of the Sanders campaign and the revolutionary hopes of the Black Lives Matter movement gave way to backlash and retrenchment. “When the left loses, it enters into a cycle of self-marginalization,” he said.
By valorizing terrorism, these voices on the left are effectively choosing to stop contending for power in a serious way — a slow and grinding process rife with setbacks — and indulge instead in messianic projection. There was a time not long ago when the D.S.A. seemed to beemergingas a political force, with several of its members, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, ascending to Congress. Now it has made itself an embarrassment to most politicians associated with it. On Wednesday, Representative Shri Thanedar of Michigan, a former member of the D.S.A.,renouncedthe group. Ocasio-Cortez disavowed the group’s endorsement of a pro-Hamas rally in Times Square,tellingPolitico, “It should not be hard to shut down hatred and antisemitism where we see it. That is a core tenet of solidarity.”
It’s too early to know how the left’s widespread failure of solidarity will change our politics, but I suspect some sort of fracture is coming. Part of me thinks this could be a moment like after the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, which, coupled with revelations about the evils of Stalinism, led many left intellectuals to break with communism. Though perhaps that’s too grandiose an analogy for an amorphous campus-bred left-wing tendency that communicates in hashtags and sound bites. On social media, some scholars and activists are repeating the line “Decolonization is not a metaphor,” suggesting that the homicidal spree we just saw in Israel is not a departure from their ideology but the embodiment of it. I suspect they will come to regret it if people take them at their word.