On May 25, 2020 an incident involving a Minneapolis police officer murdering a man who was being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill changed America. It was soon apparent that the murder of George Floyd would launch not just a summer of protests against racism but give new life to the already-existing Black Lives Matter movement.
In the weeks and months that followed, sympathy for the BLM idea as well as the associated and heretofore largely marginal ideas about intersectionality and critical race theory also went mainstream. While still deeply controversial and rejected by many Americans, these concepts were nonetheless largely accepted by the liberal activist wing of the Democratic Party and paid lip service by its mainstream leadership led by soon to be elected President Joe Biden. Just as importantly, they were also generally affirmed by much of the mainstream media and the left’s most important cultural influencers, including the late-night comedians, from whom many Americans actually get much of their coverage of the news.
This would create a fundamental shift in American politics, driving the Democrats further to the left and changing the country’s discourse about race in ways that have still not been fully understood.
But almost exactly a year later, it’s equally clear that what happened to Floyd would also alter the American discussion about Israel and the Middle East. The application of this kind of thinking to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has led to a situation whereby the Jewish state is being viewed by increasingly larger numbers of Americans as a beneficiary of “white privilege” and its opponents as innocent minority victims just like Floyd and other African-Americans.
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The latest recently concluded conflict between Israel and Hamas resulted in great damage and casualties in Gaza. But the Palestinian casualties were far fewer than in the longer and more drawn out fighting in 2014. Yet the protests against Israel’s efforts to defend itself against a far deadlier rocket and missile barrage that was launched from Gaza into Israel were not just louder than they were seven years ago. The sympathy for the Palestinians and increasingly harsh denunciations of Israel were also embraced by members of the same activist wing of the Democrats. Even more importantly, they were also being parroted by the profoundly influential late-night comedians like “The Daily Show’s” Trevor Noah and HBO’s John Oliver.
Those who think this is merely an image problem are underestimating the seriousness of what has happened. Intersectionality is also breaking what is left of the bipartisan consensus in favor of Israel.
For the past two decades, Jewish Democrats have argued that Republican efforts to point out the contrast between their increasingly strong support for the Jewish state with growing divisions among Democrats is undermining the bipartisan consensus on the issue. But the recent conflict has made it clear that we are witnessing the end of what is left of that consensus. And far from it being engineered by Republicans, the crackup is almost entirely the result of a conflict being waged inside the Democratic Party.
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Since the election in 2018 of the members of the “Squad” to Congress, including BDS movement supporters Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), centrist Democrats have insisted they didn’t represent their party’s views.
Most of the Democratic leadership continues to pay lip service to support for Israel. That includes President Joe Biden, who blocked United Nations Security Council resolutions that treated Hamas terrorist attacks as morally equivalent to Israeli self-defense. It’s also true that nine Democrats spoke up in defense of Israel last week on the floor of the House of Representatives.
But the problem goes beyond the fact that those nine were answered by fiery denunciations of Israel and repetitions of Palestinian calumnies about the Jewish state by 11 leftist House Democrats or the equally bitter criticisms of the Jewish state by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) There was also the fact that 28 Senate Democrats, a majority of their caucus, endorsed a demand for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas even as the latter continued to rain down rockets and missiles on the Jewish state’s people, while Republicans issued statements placing the blame for the fighting squarely on Hamas.
But perhaps even more telling was the reaction of Democrats who claim to be among Israel’s greatest defenders.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who has spent his career boasting to Jewish audiences that he is a “shomer” (a play upon a Hebrew word that is similar to his name) or guardian of Israel. Yet, in a week when 12 civilians were killed by Palestinian terror attacks, he had nothing to say about it or those in his party echoing some of the most despicable lies about the Jewish state. He only broke his silence with another call for an immediate cease-fire and neutral rhetoric that expressed no solidarity with Israel’s plight.
Equally disturbing is the stand of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who defied Obama in opposing the Iran nuclear deal. But the days of Menendez standing with Israel are over. He said he was “deeply troubled” by Israeli attacks on terror targets including an office building in which the Associated Press shared space with Hamas operatives and implied that the Jewish state was violating “the rules of war.”
Well might Jeremy Ben Ami, the head of the left-wing lobby J Street, who has worked for over a decade to undermine the pro-Israel consensus from the left, boast to The New York Times that most Democrats see “reflexive support for Israel’s right to defend itself,” as the moral equivalent of “saying our thoughts and prayers go the victims of the latest mass shooting.”
Like him, they see Israel and its right to prevent terrorists from killing its citizens or the defense of Jewish rights in Jerusalem, as the problem. They give the Palestinians, who have repeatedly rejected peace and a two-state solution and do not recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, a pass, because they are perceived as underdogs.
Just as Democrats refused to condemn Omar and Tlaib for their antisemitism in 2019, no one in the Democratic leadership, including Schumer “the shomer,” would criticize the extremist statements of the 11 anti-Israel Democrats that demonized Israel. To the contrary, after Biden met with Tlaib this past week he praised her as a “fighter” whose “intellect” and “passion” he admired – though in doing so he got her name (he called her “Rashid”) wrong.
The Democratic base has shifted its perspective because of the pervasive influence of the Black Lives Matter movement and attitudes about critical race theory and intersectionality that falsely classify Jews and Israel as beneficiaries of “white privilege” who are oppressing “people of color,” i.e. Palestinians.
The Times summed up the shift succinctly:
“As Democratic voters and liberals have become more self-consciously organized around concepts like equity and systemic discrimination, their push for more liberal policy positions ... at home has reshaped the way many view the conflict in the Middle East and the violence it has produced.”
Attacks on Israeli self-defense and even the right of a Jewish state to exist, which were outliers during the 2014 Gaza war, have become legitimized. They have become mainstream talking points among liberals and are endlessly repeated by the same pop culture influencers like comedians Noah and Oliver who accused Israel of “war crimes,” as well as the editorial pages of The Times.
Many Americans who support toxic BLM slogans do so because they think they are anodyne expressions of opposition to discrimination, not ideas that are actually fundamentally illiberal and reinforce racism. But when applied to Israel and the Palestinians they undermine the willingness of Democrats to stick with America’s ally.
Do those who treat Hamas as the representatives of an oppressed people realize that the goal of those shooting at Israel is to eliminate the Jewish state rather than support for human rights? Or that the majority of Jewish Israelis trace their origins to the Middle East and are themselves “people of color?” Some do, some don’t, but others no longer care because the lie of Israel as an “apartheid state” fits perfectly with the new BLM mindset
While mainstream pro-Israel Democrats, who are unsympathetic to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but not willing to cut the cord to Israel, are in charge, the party that put them in power is increasingly hostile to that point of view and willing to accept the Palestinian narrative of victimization without asking too many questions.
If Biden pivots toward more pressure on Israel in the mistaken belief that it will promote a two-state solution that neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority is able to accept, he will do so knowing that’s what most Democrats now want. Some may pretend that the demise of the pro-Israel consensus is the fault of conservatives who still unreservedly support the Jewish state. But the fault for this crackup is solely the fault of liberals who have surrendered to critical race theory myths that give a permission slip to hatred of Israel and the Jews.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of the Jewish News Syndicate and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.