When Social Justice Equals Genocide
It's time to understand the dangers of radical ideology
The conduct by Hamas on October 7 was shocking, but it was a shock that could be contained. It is more difficult to process the way that some groups praised Hamas and its barbarity. Nobody in the West praised 9/11.
I would have thought that they would say that the murder of civilians was awful, but that Israel had it coming. But there was not even a token condemnation of Hamas’ violence on 7 October. Instead, the decolonizers publicly justified the bloodletting.
It was as if a social justice organization were taken on a tour of Auschwitz and came away waving swastikas.
To be sure, there are also factions on the right that are infected with antisemitism. I am not so worried about the blatantly antisemitic types, such as Richard Spencer. I may be wrong, but I see them as idiosyncratic attention-seekers, not a true threat.
I do worry about the more disguised antisemitism that I see lurking within the National Conservative movement. Notwithstanding that one of the movement’s leading figures, Yoram Hazony, is demonstrably and proudly Jewish.
One antisemitic dog whistle I hear from some National Conservatives is the claim that we ended up in Afghanistan and Iraq because “Neocons manipulated us into fighting Israel’s wars.” To claim that the war in Iraq was Israel’s war strikes me as a distorted view. To insinuate that the war in Afghanistan was Israel’s war is tinfoil-hat nonsense.
On the other side, the adjacency of the social-justice left to antisemitism has long seemed obvious to me. Black Lives Matter was a clear case. And yet, I can bitterly recall that early in the pandemic the Social Action Committee of my synagogue organized a meeting over Zoom. It was to show and discuss Stay Woke, a documentary that was made when the term Woke was spoken with pride on the left. During the discussion, I started to point out that the Michael Brown narrative (“hands up, don’t shoot”) had been debunked. This caused the Zoom chat to light up with comments like “Who is Arnold? Why are we letting him speak?” Before I could even mention BLM antisemitism, the moderator interrupted me and called on someone else.
A couple of years later, when a Jewish charitable organization sponsored a seminar based on Critical Race Theory, I sent a letter to the head of the organization berating him for allowing this. In response, he made sympathetic noises (heads of such organizations are very good at making it sound like they agree with you, whether they are sincere or not). He pointed out that it is very difficult to reach young people without appealing to social justice, which puts him in an awkward position as far as taking a stand against CRT is concerned.
Critical Race Theory is the sibling of another critical theory, that of decolonization. Decolonization ideology calls for the destruction of Israel, and indeed the destruction of all Western values and institutions.
By “decolonization,” they don’t mean a colonial power extricating itself from a former colony; they mean the process of freeing institutions and spheres of activity from the cultural or social influences of what they perceive as the dominant white Western class. One early leader of the liberated ethnic studies movement, R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, has denounced the United States as a “Eurocentric, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal, hetero-patriarchal, and anthropocentric paradigm brought from Europe.” Influenced by decades of anti-Zionist Soviet propaganda, the decolonizers reserve special ire for the “settler-colonial state” of Israel, and call for the “liberation of Palestine,” by which they mean the displacement of the interloper Jews from their homeland. Witnessing the decolonisers’ zeal for obliterating the Jewish state, political scientist Wilfred Reilly quipped, “De-colonization is just ethnic cleansing, but woke.”
For some Jews, the essence of their religious identity is the concept of tikkun olam, meaning “repair the world.” And repairing the world is equated with leftist causes. Many non-Orthodox Jews are more eager to worship green energy and anti-racism than the Torah.
On the overall political front, I think that conservatives see Israel as representing Western civilization, with Hamas and other radical groups representing barbarism. They want to see Israel win decisively.
I think that progressives see Israel as having a leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is too hard line and a pariah. They want to see Israel abide by their strict notions of international law, in order to maintain the moral high ground. They would denounce Israel for either indiscriminately bombing Gaza or for “displacing” Gazans from Northern Gaza so that Israel can pursue Hamas fighters. Of course, if Israel listened to these kibitzers, it would have no choice other than to allow Hamas fighters to survive. shielded by civilians in hospitals, mosques, and schools sitting next to or on top of military facilities.
While some of Hamas’s most brutal tactics, like systematic rape and beheading captives, are long-practiced atrocities for which the armies of Stalin, Hitler, and Genghis Khan are infamous, it is unprecedented for a party to adopt a war strategy to maximize civilian deaths on its own side. This is so strange and evil that it should appall any decent person. Contrary to conventional commentary, this is not a human shield strategy. It’s a human sacrifice strategy.
I think that the average American doesn’t care what Israel does, as long as the United States doesn’t get dragged into it.
I think that the social justice activists also don’t care what Israel does. They will regard Jews as villainous oppressors regardless.
I do not ask Jews to abandon the progressive camp and join me on the conservative side. But I do think that it is important that they clearly see where the social justice movement stands regarding Israel in particular and Jews in general.
Jews must ask themselves what they will do if the social justice brand remains wedded to decolonization theory. What if this makes social justice organizations at best ambivalent about Hamas atrocities and at worst supportive of those atrocities?
Hamas by itself cannot destroy Israel and commit genocide. But with enough supporters marching in the streets and on college campuses, its adjacent ideologies pose a threat that must command our attention. As Yascha Mounk put it,
It’s time for a reckoning with bad ideas on the left
I call on Jews to be conscious of the ideological dangers lurking within the social justice activist movements. Jews need to wake up and smell the gas chambers.
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