In the 1960s, the American Left embraced the anti-Vietnam War movement as its cri de coeur.
In the 1970s, the Left’s foreign policy focus shifted to calling for unilateral nuclear disarmament by the US and its Western allies.
In the 1980s, supporting the Sandinista Communists’ takeover of Nicaragua became the catechism of the Left.
In the 1990s, the war on global capitalism – that is, the anti-globalization movement – captivated the passions of US Leftists from coast to coast.
In the 2000s, it was again, the anti-war movement. This time the Left rioted and demonstrated against the war in Iraq.
And in this decade, the main foreign policy issue that galvanizes the passions and energies of the committed American Left is the movement to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist.
This week has been a big one for the anti-Israel movement. In the space of a few days, two quasi academic organizations – the American Studies Association and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association – have launched boycotts against Israeli universities. Their boycotts follow a similar one announced in April by the Asian Studies Association.
These groups’ actions have not taken place in isolation. They are of a piece with ever-escalating acts of anti-Israel agitation in college campuses throughout the United States.
Between the growth of Israel Apartheid Day (or Week, or Month) from a fringe exercise on isolated campuses to a staple of the academic calendar in universities throughout the US and Canada, and the rise of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to wage economic war against the Jewish state, anti-Israel activism has become the focal point of Leftist foreign policy activism in the US and throughout the Western world.
Every week brings a wealth of stories about new cases of aggressive anti-Israel activism. At the University of Michigan last week, thousands of students were sent fake eviction notices from the university’s housing office. A pro-Palestinian group distributed them in dorms across campus to disseminate the blood libel that Israel is carrying out mass expulsions of Palestinians.
At Swarthmore College, leftist anti-Israel Jewish students who control Hillel are insisting on using Hillel’s good offices to disseminate and legitimate anti-Israel slanders.
And the Left’s doctrinaire insistence that Israel is the root of all evil is not limited to campuses.
At New York’s 92nd Street Y, Commentary editor John Podhoretz was booed and hissed by the audience for trying to explain why the ASA’s just-announced boycott of Israel was an obscene act of bigotry.
Many commentators have rightly pointed out that the ASA and the NAISA are fringe groups. They represent doctorate holders who chose to devote their careers to disciplines predicated not on scholarship, but on political activism cloaked in academic regalia whose goal is to discredit American power. The ASA has only 5,000 members, and only 1,200 of them voted on the Israel- boycott resolution. The NAISA has even fewer members.
It would be wrong, however, to use the paltry number of these fringe groups’ members as means to dismiss the phenomenon that they represent. They are very much in line with the general drift of the Left.
Rejecting Israel’s right to exist has become part of the Left’s dogma. It is a part of the catechism. Holding a negative view of the Jewish state is a condition for membership in the ideological camp. It is an article of faith, not fact.
Consider the background of the president of the ASA. Curtis Marez is an associate professor in the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of California, San Diego. His area of expertise is Chicano Film and Media Studies.
He doesn’t know anything about Israel. He just knows that he’s a Leftist. And today, Leftists demonize Israel. Their actions have nothing to do with anything Israel does or has ever done. They have nothing to do with human rights. Hating Israel, slandering Israel and supporting the destruction of Israel are just things that good Leftists do.
And Marez was not out of step with his fellow Leftists who rule the roost at UCSD. This past March the student council passed a resolution calling for the university to divest from companies that do business with Israel.
Why? Because hating Israel is what Leftists do.
The Left’s crusade against the Jewish state began in earnest in late 2000. The Palestinians’ decision to reject statehood and renew their terror war against Israel ushered in the move by anti-Israel forces on the Left to take over the movement. And as they have risen, they have managed to silence and discredit previously fully accredited members of the ideological Left for the heresy of supporting Israel.
This week, Harvard Law Prof. Alan Dershowitz retired after 50 years on the law faculty. His exit, the same week as the ASA and the NAISA announced their boycotts of Israeli universities, symbolized the marginalization of the pro-Israel Left that Dershowitz represented.
For years, Dershowitz has been a non-entity in leftist circles. His place at the table was usurped by anti-Israel Jews like Peter Beinart. And now Beinart is finding himself increasingly challenged by anti-Semitic Jews like Max Blumenthal.
The progression is unmistakable.
The question is, is it irreversible?
Must supporters of Israel choose between their support for Israel and their affinity for the Left? Certainly it is true that the more the issue of support for Israel splits along ideological and partisan lines, the more reasonable it is for supporters of Israel to move to the ideological camp and the party that supports Israel, and away from the ones that do not support Israel.
The average voter is not in a position to change the positions of his party or the dogma of his ideological camp. He can take it or leave it. With rejection of Israel now firmly entrenched in the Left’s dogma, and with the Left firmly in control of the Democratic Party under President Barack Obama’s leadership, for those who care about Israel, the Republican Party is a more natural fit. So, too, the ideological Right is far more congenial to the Jewish state than the Left.
While the most sensible place for supporters of Israel to be today is on the political Right, it is also true that it is neither smart nor responsible to abandon the Left completely. Jews should be able to feel comfortable as Jews, and as supporters of Israel everywhere. Ideological camps that castigate Jews for their pride in the accomplishments of the Jewish state, and for their support and concern for its survival and prosperity, are camps in desperate need of fixing.
But we should not fool ourselves. Challenging the likes of Marez, or the Swarthmore students, or Max Blumenthal or Peter Beinart to a reasoned debate is an exercise in futility. They do not care about human rights. They do not care that Israel is the only human rights-respecting democracy in the Middle East. They do not care about the pathological nature of Palestinian society. They do not care about the Jewish people’s indigenous rights and international legal rights to sovereignty not only over Tel Aviv and Haifa, but over Hebron and Ramallah.
Being hypocrites doesn’t bother them either.
You can talk until you’re blue in the face about the civilian victims of the Syrian civil war, or the gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia and the absence of religious freedom throughout the Muslim world. But they don’t care. They aren’t trying to make the world a better place.
Facts cannot compete with their faith. Reason has no place in their closed intellectual universe. To accept reason and facts would be an act of heresy.
Marez may be a hypocrite, and even a servant of evil. But he is no heretic.
The only real way to mitigate the hard Left’s devotion to Israel’s destruction is by changing the power balance on the Left. For the past decade, donors like George Soros have been open in their commitment to elect Democrats who oppose the US’s alliance with Israel. A decade ago, Soros and fellow Jewish American billionaire Peter Lewis funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into Moveon.org. Moveon.org became a clearinghouse for anti-Israel and anti-Jewish messages that became the stock in trade of the ideological Left, and of Democratic candidates in need of campaign funding.
It was due to then-Democratic senator Joe Lieberman’s refusal to get on the Soros- and Lewis-funded anti-Israel bandwagon in the 2004 elections, that they turned Moveon.org against Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary for his seat in the Senate. His Democratic challenger, Ned Lamont, who won the primary, ran a campaign laced with anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda.
There are Democratic funders, like Penny Pritzker, Lester Crown and Haim Saban, who support Israel. If they were so inclined, they could use their considerable funds to change the power equation in the Democratic Party. They could cultivate and support pro-Israel Democratic candidates. They could take the Democratic Party back.
This week ended with Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer finally breaking his silence on Obama’s Iran deal and joining forces with his fellow Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk to defy Obama on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Given Obama’s floundering popularity, it is possible that Schumer’s move will open the door for a change in the Democratic Party.
In truth, there is no reason for the Democratic Party to remain in place. It isn’t ordained that the Democrats must cleave to the hard Left.
The rejection of Israel is not a natural component of leftist dogma. It’s just that for the past decade, the smart money and the rising power on the Left has been with those who oppose Israel’s existence as a strong, independent Jewish state.
While the ASA and its comrades are on the fringes of academia, they are not fringe voices on the Left. The Left has embraced the cause of Israel’s destruction. And its financial power has made it difficult for pro-Israel Democrats to act on their convictions, and those of their voters.
The combination of an exodus of supporters of Israel – Jews and non-Jews alike – from the Left and from the Democratic Party on the one hand, and generous funding for pro-Israel Democratic candidates on the other, can change the equation.
America lost the Vietnam War. The Sandinistas are back in change in Nicaragua. But if people are willing to stand up now and be counted, America need not harm Israel.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.