By Jim Naureckas / Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
“Part of what makes the depravity of the edgelord anti-imperialists so tragic is that a decent and functional left has rarely been more necessary,” Michelle Goldberg wrote in her New York Times column (10/12/23).
Funny—the crisis in Israel/Palestine is making me think we could sure use a less hypocritical center.
In the wake of the upsurge in violence, Goldberg had harsh words for progressives: “Some on the left are treating the terrorist mass murder of civilians as noble acts of anticolonial resistance,” Goldberg said. “The way keyboard radicals have condoned war crimes against Israelis has left many progressive Jews alienated from political communities they thought were their own.”
She cited problematic statements from Students for Justice in Palestine, Democratic Socialists of America’s New York and Connecticut chapters, Black Lives Matter Chicago and the president of the NYU student bar association. She referred to their “hideous dogmatism,” suggesting they were the sort of leftists who “relish the struggle against oppression primarily for the way it licenses their own cruelty.”
What makes such attitudes tragic, Goldberg argued, is the need for a “decent and functional left” to protect Palestinian civilians:
As I write this, Israel has imposed what the Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, called a “complete siege” of Gaza’s 2 million people, about half of whom are under 18. “No electricity, no food, no water, no gas — it’s all closed,” said Gallant. “We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly.” Such collective punishment is, like the mass killing of civilians in Israel, a war crime….
It is not just disgusting but self-defeating for vocal segments of the left to disavow…universal ideas about human rights, declaring instead that to those who are oppressed, even the most extreme violence is permitted. Their views are the mirror image of those who claim that, given what Israel has endured, the scale of its retaliation cannot be questioned.
But does she really believe this? If the law student who says “I will not condemn Palestinian resistance” is just as bad as someone who refuses to condemn Israel as it commits war crimes, shouldn’t she be criticizing the latter people as well? Particularly as that group includes many figures rather more influential than local chapters of marginalized left-wing clubs, such as the president of the United States (“We are not urging restraint right now,” a Biden official told CNN—10/10/23) and Goldberg’s own employer. (“President Biden is right to express America’s full support for Israel at this painful moment,” declared a New York Times editorial—10/9/23—though it averred that “cutting off power and water to Gaza…will be an act of collective punishment”—”if it continues.”)
Centrists love to decry “both sides” in order to leave the middle as the place of moral purity. Yet somehow it’s almost always the left that earns the bulk of their contempt.
Goldberg did quote, with implicit disapproval, US special envoy against antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt’s declaration that “no one has the right to tell Israel how to defend itself and prevent and deter future attacks.” But Lipstadt is not called “disgusting” or “hideous,” or motivated by “cruelty” or “depravity.” Instead, Goldberg gently admonishes: “If humanist principles spur total revulsion toward the terrorist crimes in Israel, they also demand restraint in Gaza.”
How would Goldberg feel about someone who expressed “total revulsion” toward Israel’s war crimes, while suggesting Hamas show more “restraint”? So much for mirror images.
To be fair, in a subsequent column (10/16/23), Goldberg described “the language of some Israeli leaders”—not the actions of the Israeli military—as “murderous.” She said that “many people I’ve spoken to, Jewish and Palestinian alike, are terrified that this rhetoric will become reality.” This came after the Gaza Health Ministry reported that Israeli attacks had already killed 724 Palestinian children (AP, 10/14/23)—apparently not enough to qualify as a reality to Goldberg.
And she is still not ready to condemn those who side with the Israeli government and ignore its crimes:
I can empathize with liberal Jews both in Israel and throughout the diaspora who feel too overwhelmed, at this moment of great fear and vulnerability, to protest the escalating suffering inflicted on Palestinians.
Some people who overlook war crimes deserve empathy, while others exhibit “depravity.” That’s the great thing about being part of the “decent” center—you get to decide!
Jim Naureckas is the editor of FAIR.org, and has edited FAIR’s print publication Extra! since 1990. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader. He was an investigative reporter for In These Times and managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere. Born in Libertyville, Illinois, he has a poli sci degree from Stanford. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR’s program director.