The ironic bigotry of progressive activism

Who gets to determine the “universal” hierarchy of victimhood? Muslims may be an oppressed group in China, but in the Arab world, Muslims are doing the oppressing.

N IFNOTNOW protest in Washington against the US Embassy opening in Jerusalem in 2018. (photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)
N IFNOTNOW protest in Washington against the US Embassy opening in Jerusalem in 2018.
(photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)
Though they claim to stand for inclusion and universality, progressives these days are managing to denounce more groups than they include. Anyone who does not share their politics is, at best, persona non grata; at worst, they are downright demonized. Progressives condemn hate, unless it’s toward an individual or group they’ve deemed worthy of hating. The most glaring and pernicious example today is the obsessive delegitimization of Israel, the very embodiment of Jewish people hood.
The first prong of attack is the Left’s gross mischaracterization of Jews as predominantly “white,” and therefore powerful, in contrast to Muslims, who are perceived as “brown,” and therefore oppressed. In fact, global Jewry is dominantly brown-skinned, and millions of Muslims are actually white. But it is a small lie to tell for the sake of one’s sacred political theory.
Such a fallacious mode of thinking about group oppression begs the question: Who gets to determine the “universal” hierarchy of victimhood? Muslims may be an oppressed group in China, but in the Arab world, Muslims are doing the oppressing. Palestinians may be a persecuted minority in Lebanon, but in Gaza and the West Bank, their leadership is persecuting Christians and practicing gender apartheid against women.
The anti-Israel activist group IfNotNow has gone so far as to blame an Israeli victim of a terrorist attack for his own murder, decrying the teenager’s participation in a government they deem a colonialist regime. At the same time, they never disclose that the very term “Palestine” was an imperialist invention of the Roman Empire.
When Emperor Hadrian conquered and cleansed the region of Jews in the second century, he sought to eradicate the land’s Jewish roots. To do this, he renamed it from “Judea” to “Syria Palaestina,” after the Philistines, an ancient enemy of the Israelites. The Philistines, who were neither Arab nor Semitic, most likely came from the direction of Greece. They were likewise expelled by the Romans, and lost to history as a people. Thus, the renaming was purely symbolic, and does not attach to any indigenous residents of the land.
In the same spirit of falsifying history and denying collective Jewish existence, progressives demonize Jewish “settlers,” conveniently forgetting that the region was once called Judea and Samaria, home to a thriving Jewish population. It was Jordan that illegally occupied the region from 1948-1967, re-naming it the “West Bank,” meaning “west of the Jordan River,” to sever all Jewish connection to the land.
During this 19-year period, Jordan ethnically cleansed the area of Jews, destroying all but one of its 35 synagogues. Many of these “West Bank settlers” that progressives vilify are merely refugees, or ancestors of refugees, who have returned home after 75 years of exile.
In reality, Zionism has nothing to do with the Palestinians, which is why such a large percentage of Zionists also believe in the two-state solution and Palestinian self-determination. Zionism is a movement in which an ancient people, who had their own nation with Jerusalem as its capital, and who were subsequently sentenced to centuries of exile (though maintaining a constant if low profile presence in the land) were able to re-assert their sovereignty and exist collectively as Jews in the twentieth century.
FINALLY, THEY could once again express their shared identity, culture, language and religion without fear of persecution. If anything, the State of Israel is a remarkable reversal of imperialism.
Palestinian Arabs are certainly treated as second-class citizens in Lebanon, Iraq and other Arab countries. But in Israel proper, they attend the same schools and universities as Jews, ride the same buses, live in the same apartment buildings, eat in the same restaurants and swim in the same pools. Arabs in Israel are professors, lawyers, doctors, diplomats, scientists, academics, teachers and celebrities. Oftentimes they win beauty pageants and talent competitions.
And consistent with the 20% who make up the total Israeli population, around 20% attend university.
And finally, progressives who support boycotting the Jewish state will simply not tell you that the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement has nothing to do with Palestinian rights. In fact, as Nabil Basherat, Palestinian manager at SodaStream, has noted, “The BDS movement and European lawmakers simply do not consider Palestinian workers,” many of whom are employed by Israelis and receive wages four times greater than the Palestinian Authority would pay them, in addition to working in exceptional conditions and receiving medical benefits.
And now, the progressive-Islamist milieu has coalesced and has become subtly but collectively anti-Jew. Consider Columbia University, supposedly a beacon of tolerance, where the prime minister of Malaysia – a proud, self-declared antisemite who has called Jews “hook-nosed” and said they “rule the world by proxy” – was invited to speak before a packed and supportive audience just days before the Rosh Hashanah.
Mahathir Mohamad made one virulent antisemitic comment after another, including questioning “who determined these numbers” in reference to Jews killed during the Holocaust. The crowd enthusiastically cheered him on. Dubbed the “#1 worst college for Jewish students” in 2016, with the most antisemitic incidents recorded on any campus that year, Columbia’s promotion of a well-known Jew-hater shouldn’t have surprised anyone. After all, this was the campus that in 2006 hosted former Iranian president and notorious Holocaust-denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Anyone not bound to dogma understands that antisemitism has been as much a symptom of left-wing and Islamist ideologies – from Stalinist Russia to the rule of Palestine’s Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini – as it is of fascism and Nazism. And this is what makes leftist groups like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace so nefarious. They do not admit to evil in their own midst, or among their allies. They leverage intent above outcome, falsely pledging to adherents that they are on the right side of history, regardless of their bad behavior or the consequences of their actions.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn warned of the dangers of this fallacy in The Gulag Archipelago, which he wrote of his time in a Soviet slave camp.
“If only it were all so simple!” he said. “If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
The authors are writers and artists living in New York City.