Zionists want Palestine for its oil, and the media is silent because the Rothschilds have economic interests in the region. Because most rockets are intercepted by the Iron Dome, those that actually land on Israeli civilians are irrelevant.

As Israel escalated its appalling violence against the Palestinian people this spring, I was shocked to see many of my peers share posts containing these kinds of reckless claims alongside justified — and essential — condemnation of Israel’s illegal and oppressive actions. Less outrageous but still concerning, I watched many of my classmates and friends — in addition to vociferously demanding Israel treat Palestinians with humanity, dignity, and respect — turn their Palestinian solidarity into support for the idea that the state of Israel should cease to exist entirely.  

Watching the tenor of campus discourse rush right past valid criticism into extreme political stances at best — and conspiracies steeped in antisemitic tropes at worst — was deeply alienating.  And while I appreciated that many interspersed these posts with others denouncing antisemitism, this does not counteract the real danger they present. As an American Jew, I have always vocally rejected Israel’s violence and forceful occupation.  Frustratingly, I felt caught between these far-reaching claims on one side colliding with unacceptably one-sided statements from the Slifka Center (Yale’s hub for Jewish life) on the other.  It seemed I was unwelcome in either camp, ultimately stuck in the middle, where my belief in the idea of a Jewish state coexists with — and even compels — my unwavering opposition to actions of the Israeli government. Now, as Yalies have once again focused on Israel, partly thanks to the Yale College Council’s vote to endorse a statement of condemnation authored this past spring, it is worth examining how our conversations left nuance and substantive dialogue behind, why this hinders real progress, and what the left — myself included — can learn from this experience going forward.  

Fortunately, I am not completely alone in my concern. I helped pen a statement on behalf of an undergraduate group affiliated with J Street, a national organization that advocates for an end to Israeli occupation and the right to peace and self-determination for both peoples, articulating much of our discomfort with both Slifka’s and Yalies 4 Palestine’s positions. The statement gets to the heart of many of my concerns, and it is worth reading in its own right. Nevertheless, the fact that our brand of progressive criticism, which denounces Israel’s violence but does not wish to see it wiped off the map, feels far outside the mainstream points toward a growing trend across almost every facet of our political discourse: political tribalism. This last year has emphasized the alarming and (often) violent ways tribalism works on the right, yet its less pernicious but still concerning counterpart on the left — which impedes strong coalition-building through purity tests and the ex-communication of those who disagree — should not be ignored.

To be clear, I have little sympathy for conservative hysteria that views “cancel culture” as the single greatest threat facing society. And I’ve experienced firsthand the amazing power and reach of social media as a tool for activism and organizing social change. Still, I’ve also had firsthand experience over the last few months of what happens when a vocal group of online activists takes uncompromising positions — that have been shown to increase attacks against Jewish students on college campuses — only for many of my peers to adopt such positions with little interrogation into their origins or impact. I am all for people using Instagram as a tool for education and learning, but I am troubled that even the slightest hint of disagreement (i.e. recognizing the region’s historical and ongoing power imbalance, while also criticizing Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israeli citizens) is dismissed as tantamount to supporting war criminals.

It may well be that the intent of some is to advocate for the complete and total elimination of the state of Israel, in which case their rhetoric seems tailored to advancing that goal.  Even if I personally find it inexcusable and hypocritical to target Israel in a way that no other country engaged in human rights abuses faces, these students are entitled to voice their opinion. However, if the goal is to speak out against Israel’s violence in the pursuit of peace, then alienating allies — especially Jewish allies like myself — through rigid, ideological gatekeeping is both short-sighted and counterproductive. 

More broadly, if progressives continue to shun anyone who thinks even slightly differently while simultaneously adopting positions further and further to the left in order to be “socially conscious,” our numbers — and our ability to effect meaningful change — will only shrink. There’s a tangible difference between rejecting genuine prejudice and hate and excluding other progressives who might prefer different tactics toward a shared end goal. And yet, if you listened to the dominant voices on social media, you would think that my criticism of Israel — which stops short of conspiracy or calling for Israel’s abolition — is weak “bothsidesism” that condones human rights abuses, rather than that of an ally in the fight for justice. For as long as progressives insist on myopic purity tests that only create unnecessary divisions, we will continue to hurt ourselves and the movements we support. 

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