Ever break up with someone after a tumultous relationship, and then get back together, only to realize why you broke up in the first place?
That would be me and the Left.
Fifty years ago, when I was a college student, I wrote an essay that appeared in “Sh’ma, a journal of Jewish responsibility.”
Its title: “Our old political comrades today.”
A few selections from that essay:
“Back in the 1960s, as I was preparing to go to my first anti-Viet Nam [sic] war demonstration, my father castigated me. ‘What if, suddenly, those peace demonstrators decide to turn on the Jews?’ I, in my adolescent naivete, answered him: ‘They would never do that. Besides, most of them are Jewish.’
“Today, I reflect on my father’s truth. It is now years later, and the sounds that are coming from the radical left are becoming increasingly disturbing to the Jewish ear, especially to that of the Jewish radical who is finding it difficult not to reject a movement that has already rejected Israel and Jewish concerns.
“The radical Left has created a paradigm into which all history and ideas must fit in order to be valid. Terror receives instant accreditation. Evil becomes the exclusive domain of the capitalists.…
I wrote that essay during the winter of 1974, in the wake of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
During the war, and immediately after, I had heard my fellow students chanting anti-Israel slogans. Even worse: I had heard my own professors deriding Israel for defending herself.
I was feeling pangs of betrayal— at the hands of those who were my intellectual, political, and cultural peers and mentors. As my father had predicted, they had turned on Israel — which would ultimately mean that they would turn on the Jews.
Over the past week, in the wake of the savage invasion of Israel by Hamas, it has happened again.
It reminds me of why, though I am still a liberal Democrat, I had left the Left.
This past week, in the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg wrote “The Need for A Moral Left.”
She begins by describing a rabbi in New York:
“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.
“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.
What should we make of these incidents? A small collection:
- The national committee of Students for Justice in Palestine proclaimed: “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.
- The Connecticut D.S.A. enthused, “Yesterday, the Palestinian resistance launched an unprecedented anticolonial struggle.”
- Students for Justice in Palestine, a network of pro-Palestinian campus groups, is planning Day of Resistance demonstrations across the United States and Canada. A planning document the group posted online refers to all of Israel as a “settler colony” and says, “Settlers are not ‘civilians’ in the sense of international law, because they are military assets used to ensure continued control over stolen Palestinian land.”
- The president of NYU’s student bar association wrote in its newsletter, “I will not condemn Palestinian resistance,” leading to the withdrawal of a job offer.
- On the same day as the Hamas incursion into Israel, a group of student organizations at Harvard University released a statement on social media arguing that Israel’s “apartheid regime” was “entirely responsible” for the war.
What is the source of this betrayal of the Jews and Israel?
There are two intellectual trends that have fed this monster.
First, there is post-modern thought. As Francis Fukuyama wrote in “Liberalism And Its Discontents”:
For many years now, modern societies have been living with moral relativism, which asserts the essential subjectivity of all value systems. Modern liberalism was in fact founded on the premise that people will not agree on the final ends of life or understandings of the good. Postmodernism, however, has moved us further, from moral to epistemic or cognitive relativism, in which even factual observation is regarded as subjective.
There are many intellectual and academic trends, such as deconstructionism, colonialist theory, the “narrative,” that play well in the lecture hall and are useful for learning about the world.
But, in the real world, those trends have a tendency to point towards moral and cultural relativism. It is harmful to export those intellectual models into international politics — as in, a reluctance to criticize Hamas.
Second, there is the Che Guevara factor. As a teenager, I had a poster of the revolutionary hero, Che Guevara, on my wall. Many of us did. Che fought along side Castro in the Cuban revolution. He was a Communist ideologue, dashing, and handsome. A generation of teens and college students loved him and admired him.
The truth is: Guevara was a thug — responsible for the deaths of peasants in South America. But, in the late 1960s, young radicals tended to lionize radical violence. We believed, in our youthful naivete, that these people were heroes.
Guevara trained members of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and therefore, had Jewish blood on his hands.
And, we admired him. We should have been ashamed.
We are witnessing the re-emergence of a new/old version of the Left.
This is not the old Left of the labor unions, with whom my parents and grandparents marched.
This is not the old, anti-Viet Nam war Left of the 1960s — Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, for example.
This is not even the Left of Bernie Sanders.
No — this is a nihilistic Left.
To quote Robert Wistrich in “A Lethal Obsession,” his magisterial analysis of antisemitism:
Since 2000, Sunni Muslim fundamentalist clerics and politicians have also been pursuing a no less radical and murderous ideology of hate in which hallucinatory visions of jihad, anti-Semitism, and apocalypse intermingle. The Hamas Charter and its proclamations about implementing Allah’s promise and annihilating the Jews are as genocidal in their implications as the rhetoric of the current Iranian leadership. This language of mass murder is shared by virtually all the Islamist political movements that seek to reshape the present world order…This revolutionary nihilism, the joy in destruction for its own sake, and the pseudo-Nietzschean accents are indeed reminiscent of Nazism.
So, in confrontation with these intellectual and social trends, let us tell a basic truth.
If you believe that it is acceptable to contextualize, justify, rationalize, or in some way sympathetically interpret the actions of Hamas, then you shouldn’t be surprised if someone thinks that you’re a Jew hater.
Why do I say that? Because if you treated the Ku Klux Klan with such delicacy, someone might suspect that you are a homicidal racist, or at least, sympathetic to them.
You were horrified that Trump said that there were “some very fine people on both sides” at Charlottesville?
This is the same thing.
Let me go further. You know that whole “micro-aggressions” thing?
The events of October 7, and following, were not micro-aggressions.
They were about as macro as you could imagine.
So, can we request some campus sympathy for macro-aggressions against the Jewish people?
Or, are you saying that Jews are not to be admitted to the country club of moral diligence?
Let me go further. The stories that have emerged from Israel about violence against women — rape, sexual violations, dragging captive naked Jewish women through the streets of Gaza, and taunting them, raping women after killing them — these are among the worst crimes against women’s bodies in recent memory. In Jewish history, you would have to go back to the Cossacks in Ukraine, in the 1600s, to find their parallels.
So, please: where are feminist voices and international women’s organizations?
In the words of Monica Osborne in Newsweek:
It’s chilling and sickening. But nearly as disturbing is the complete silence of the largest and most visible international women’s organizations supposedly dedicated to protecting women all over the world from rape and violence. They have all suddenly gone silent. Not one has spoken out against what appear to be the mass rapes committed by Hamas fighters.
Their silence sends a loud and clear message: We don’t care about the rape of Israeli and Jewish women. We don’t care if their broken bodies are paraded through streets by terrorists.
The silence of feminist and women’s organizations authorizes rape as a weapon of war. It sanctions the beheading of babies when it is called “resistance.”
We deceived ourselves. We said to ourselves that the Left was merely critical of Israeli policy. Many are; I sure am (just read my writings).
But, no. These are not people who want a better, more moral, more liberal, Israel.
These are people who want there to be no Israel, and/or will relativize and contextualize violence against Jews.
I am still, and presumably always, a liberal.
But, this is not liberalism. This is fascism.
That is why I left the Left, and it is why I have not looked back.