Moral Minority

Readers Ask Haaretz: Am I a Bad Leftist for Doing Nothing Active Against the Israeli Occupation?

'I hate what this country has turned into, but the problem is that I am not doing very much to change the situation'

There are many ways to effect change, but you do need to get off the sofa.

If you don't know how to behave in a certain situation, if you need friendly advice but you've already driven all your sane friends away or if you've got the kind of embarrassing question that can only be asked anonymously, send a mail to: mechlak.musar@gmail.com.

Our answers will be generous and honest – but should not be seen as replacement for professional consultations. Obviously.

Dear Haaretz,

Am I a bad leftist for doing nothing active against the Israeli occupation?

I consider myself a leftist. I oppose the occupation and I even believe we are committing crimes against the Palestinians. I also hate what this country has turned into – the silencing, the hatred of leftists and the portrayal of them as traitors. The problem is that I am not doing very much to change the situation. I have no strength to attend demonstrations. I have no desire to sign petitions. I don’t even have the patience to read articles. Like many of my friends, I’m busy with daily life, with the “little” things – my kids, my wife, a beer with a friend here and there, and primarily with watching TV series. Sometimes I ask myself what my leftism is worth: that is, am I really a good and moral person, or is this actually how “evil” looks – people who don’t lift a finger and are primarily preoccupied with themselves?

Sincerely

Arik (age 45)

Dear Couch Leftist,

There is no need to elaborate on your ideological positions. The fact you’re consumed with guilt testifies to the fact that you’re a leftist; right-wingers don’t deal with such trivialities.

Your letter hints at several famous sayings, like “The world is a dangerous place to live – not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it,” which is erroneously attributed to Albert Einstein; and “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral,” which is erroneously attributed to Dante. By the way, the second quote is misleading not just because it is attributed to Dante, but because recent scientific studies have proven that the hottest place in hell is reserved for those who claim their own moral superiority over others. It’s been checked.

Despite the erroneous attributions, no doubt there’s a lot of truth in those quotes. Still, they come to us from other eras, in which political activism succeeded in giving people a sense of meaning and brought about real change in the world. Nowadays, it seems as if the traditional forms of left-wing activism have more or less gone bankrupt. Leftist political parties are collapsing all over the world, while the right is ascending and getting increasingly extreme; labor unions have lost their power; demonstrations are now almost ineffective; and huge conglomerates control an increasingly large share of our existence.

Other factors impacting on reality are social media, which is used primarily as a valve for letting off steam but doesn’t cause any movement; and the failure of the large protest movements launched earlier this decade, which led many people to simply give up on the noble idea of political activism in general and demonstrations in particular, and to replace them with anxious individualism.

From that perspective, not only are you not alone, you are a distinctly 20th-century creature who has been washed up onto a 21st-century shore and doesn’t know how to recalibrate his navigation system in order to return to the familiar and safe sea. What’s a beached whale to do other than focus on survival – or, in human terms, to drink beer with friends and binge on TV series? Is this good? Let’s just say it’s not great – but rebukes won’t particularly help here because the soul needs what it needs.

On the other hand, I’m not going to reassure you that change begins from within, and that each of us is a small ray of light by virtue of our very existence. The world is a tough place, and all of us have to make an effort to improve it a bit – certainly those of us who’ve been born, just as an example, on the strong side of the occupying and discriminatory regime.

But it’s worth remembering that demonstrations are far from the only or even optimal method of political activism (let’s not even mention petitions, which are embarrassing – just get rid of them).

There are many ways to effect change. You can volunteer for a cute organization; put out an underground newsletter; go vegan; spray graffiti; or even just refrain from cutting off women in mid-sentence for an entire week.

Any of these activities can be integrated into the routine of the average leftist; it will do some good in the world and give you lustrous hair. None of them will end the occupation, eradicate poverty or overthrow the patriarchy, but here’s a news flash: a Peace Now demonstration in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square won’t do any of those, either.

In short, do what you can. Not because some advice columnist will tell you you’re a good and moral person. But to show your goodness off to others – while erroneously quoting Einstein or Dante, of course.

If you don't know how to behave in a certain situation, if you need friendly advice but you've already driven all your sane friends away or if you've got the kind of embarrassing question that can only be asked anonymously, send a mail to: mechlak.musar@gmail.com.

Our answers will be generous and honest – but should not be seen as replacement for professional consultations. Obviously.