The Progressives Who Flunked the Hamas Test


Category:  Op/Ed

Via:  hallux  •  4 months ago  •  7 comments

By:   Helen Lewis - The Atlantic

The Progressives Who Flunked the Hamas Test

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

The terror attack  on Israel by Hamas has been a divisive—if clarifying—moment for the left. The test that it presented was simple: Can you condemn the slaughter of civilians, in massacres that now appear to have been calculatedly sadistic and outrageous, without equivocation or whataboutism? Can you lay down, for a moment, your legitimate criticisms of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, West Bank settlements, and the conditions in Gaza, and express horror at the mass murder of civilians?

In corners of academia and social-justice activism where the identity of the oppressor and the oppressed are never in doubt, many people failed that test. In response to a fellow progressive who argued that targeting civilians is always wrong, the Yale professor Zareena Grewal   replied : “Settlers are not civilians. This is not hard.” (She has since locked her X account.) Chicago’s Black Lives Matter chapter posted a picture of a paraglider, referencing the gunmen who descended on civilians at a music festival near the Gaza border from the air. (The chapter said in a   statement   that “we aren’t proud” of the post, which was later deleted.) Harvard student groups posted a letter stating that its signatories “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” (Several of the named groups have since   withdrawn   their endorsement.)

The New York branch of the Democratic Socialists of America promoted a rally where protesters chanted “resistance is justified when people are occupied” and one participant displayed a swastika. These actions   prompted   criticism by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, perhaps the DSA’s most prominent figure, and the resignation of members including the comedian Sarah Silverman. In a   statement , the New York City Democratic Socialists regretted the “confusion” that its rhetoric had caused, but added: “We are also concerned that some have chosen to focus on a rally while ignoring the root causes of violence in the region, the far-right Netanyahu government’s escalating human rights violations and explicitly genocidal rhetoric, and the dehumanization of the Palestinian people.”

In the United Kingdom, where I live, a journalist for the hard-left outlet   Novara , Rivkah Brown,   tweeted   that “the struggle for freedom is rarely bloodless and we shouldn’t apologise for it.” (She has since deleted the post, saying she responded “too quickly and in a moment of heightened emotion.”) Ellie Gomersall, the president of the National Union of Students in Scotland,   apologized   for   reposting   content justifying Hamas’s actions. Two days earlier, Gomersall had   accused   the British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer of being “complicit in the deaths of … trans people” for saying that “a woman is a female adult.” Got that? A politician with an essentialist view of womanhood is complicit in the deaths of innocents, but a terrorist indiscriminately murdering people at a music festival must be understood in context.

In the fevered world of social media, progressive activists have often sought to discredit hateful statements and unjust policies by describing them as “violence,” even “genocide.” This tendency seems grotesque if the same activists are not prepared to criticize Hamas, a group whose   founding charter   is explicitly genocidal: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees.”

Many of those  making inflammatory statements come from what’s sometimes known as the “intersectional left.” This tendency is strongly influenced by the academic disciplines of queer theory and critical race theory, and by the postcolonial idea of the “ subaltern ,” or marginalized class. Like  woke intersectionality  has become a  boo-word  for the right—but unlike  woke , it is a label that some activists proudly embrace, particularly academics and young feminists.

I will go to my grave defending the original conception of intersectionality, a legal doctrine advanced by the American critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw. She made the useful observation that civil-rights legislation has usually treated protected characteristics such as sex and race as discrete, when in fact they are often interlinked. One of her examples was a St. Louis car  plant  that, for many years, hired white women and Black men but never Black women. Even after management stopped discriminating, Black women always ranked low on the seniority list and therefore were especially vulnerable to layoffs. Yet how could they sue when they were not subject to racism or sexism per se, but an intersection of the two?

However, Crenshaw herself has expressed surprise at how the meaning of   intersectionality   has changed through its invocation in pop culture. “This is what happens when an idea travels beyond the context and the content,” she told   Vox   in 2019. In escaping from the academy into the mainstream,   intersectionality   morphed into both a crude tallying of oppression points and an assumption that social-justice struggles fit neatly together—with all of the marginalized people on one side and the powerful on the other.

That’s how you end up with   Queers for Palestine   when being queer in Palestine is difficult and   dangerous . (In 2016, a Hamas commander was   executed   after being accused of theft and gay sex.) It’s also how you end up with candidates for Labour Party leadership signing a pledge that   insists   there “is no material conflict between trans rights and women’s rights,” even when—as in the eligibility rules for women’s sports—some wins for one group plainly come at the expense of the other. The pop version of intersectionality cannot deal with the complexity of real human life, where we can all be, in Jean-Paul Sartre’s phrase, “half-victims, half-accomplices, like everyone else.” In fact, you can support the Palestinian cause without excusing acts of terrorism committed by Hamas. You can question Israel’s military response without excusing acts of terrorism committed by Hamas. In fact, maintaining the principle that targeting civilians is wrong gives you the moral authority to criticize any Israeli response that creates a humanitarian crisis.

Fitting Israel into the intersectional framework has always been difficult, because its Jewish citizens are both historically oppressed—the survivors of an attempt to wipe them out entirely— and  currently in a dominant position over the Palestinians, as demonstrated by the Netanyahu government’s decision to restrict power and water supplies to Gaza. The simplistic logic of pop intersectionality cannot reconcile this, and the subject caused schisms within the left long before Saturday’s attacks. In 2017, Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers of the Women’s March, told  The Nation  that Zionism and feminism were incompatible: “It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, ‘Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?’ There can’t be in feminism.” In January 2018, several pro-Palestinian groups  boycotted  a Women’s March because it featured the actor Scarlett Johansson, who once made an  ad  for an Israeli company that has a factory in the West Bank. On the other side, Jewish groups  condemned  three of the Women’s March organizers, including  Sarsour , for associating with the openly anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The leftist belief in the righteousness of “punching up,” a derivation of  standpoint theory , is also important here. Again, this idea has mutated from the reasonable observation that different groups have different knowledge based on their experience—I have never experienced being pulled over by a traffic cop as a Black man, and that limits my understanding of the police—to the idea that different rules apply to you depending on your social position. When an oppressed group uses violence against the oppressor, that is justified “resistance.” Many of us accept a mild version of this proposition: The British suffragettes turned to  window smashing  and  bombing  after deciding that letter writing and marches were useless, and history now remembers them as heroines. But somehow, in the case of the incursion from Gaza into Israel, the idea of “punching up” was extended to the  murder  of children. I simply cannot comprehend how any self-proclaimed feminist can watch footage of  armed militants   manhandling  a woman whose pants are soaked with what looks like blood and decide that  she   has the power in that situation—and deserves her fate.

The sheer number of apologies and climb downs that followed the initial wave of inflammatory posts suggests that some of their authors issued knee-jerk statements of solidarity before they understood exactly what they were endorsing. As the full extent of the weekend’s barbarity becomes clear, some on the intersectional left are—to their small credit—revising their initial reactions. But others are doubling down. Confronted with real violence by genocidal terrorists, they failed the test.


jrDiscussion - desc
Sparty On
Professor Principal
1  Sparty On    4 months ago

A well thought out article and spot on imo.

Masters Principal
1.1  seeder  Hallux  replied to  Sparty On @1    4 months ago

That was fast!

Masters Principal
2  seeder  Hallux    4 months ago

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

The Bard - Hamlet.

A leftist in a leftist magazine condemning the left. Let us see if a rightist in a rightist magazine has the same courage.

PhD Guide
2.1  GregTx  replied to  Hallux @2    4 months ago

Professor Principal
3  JohnRussell    4 months ago

The idea that "the left" is enmasse "cheering on" Hamas is something I dont believe. The reports of this are largely anecdotal. If it is happening it is on the fringe. 

Professor Principal
3.1  Texan1211  replied to  JohnRussell @3    4 months ago
If it is happening it is on the fringe. 

That is rather odd after the left invoking "the fringe" as mainstream Republicans.

Works for you, and also against you.

There simply is no denying that there are certainly some lunatics on the left more than willing to condemn Israel for defending itself.

Masters Principal
3.2  seeder  Hallux  replied to  JohnRussell @3    4 months ago

The author made no such claim. It would behoove the "fringe" to cleanup their own mess and not leave it up to us on the side of the sane left. If A.O.C. can do it, so can the likes of you or I. The fringes of both the left and the right are fighting a war in sanity's yard and sanity will be the end-of-day victim.


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