Western leftists have lost the plot
Gleeful support for the massacre of innocents is simply inhumane.
I promise I’ll get back to econ blogging soon, starting with Claudia Goldin’s Nobel Prize. But first there’s one more thing about the Israel-Hamas war that I have to get off my chest.
The above image is from a rally by the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America in support of the Palestinian cause. The rally was on October 8, one day after over a thousand Hamas gunmen attacked Israel. It was one of many similar rallies by local DSA chapters around the country, as well as on various college campuses. The woman in the picture reportedly flashed the swastika at pro-Israel counter-protesters.
In case you haven’t already read all about it, the Hamas gunmen attacked a music festival, killing at least 260 festival attendees and taking scores of others hostage. The gunmen then proceeded to attack surrounding Israeli towns, massacring random civilians indiscriminately. The total body count of the Hamas attack is estimated at up to 1000 Israelis so far, though this number might rise as more bodies are discovered. Babies were found burned. Videos have shown Hamas massacring some of the hostages it took. Hamas posted some of the livestreamed execution videos to the victims’ Facebook pages. There are also numerous reports of rape and other abuses by the Hamas fighters. Eleven Americans were among the victims, as well as citizens of various other countries who had attended or worked at the festival.
This is the kind of action that would be rightfully denounced as a war crime in any war. I’m a big supporter of Ukraine, but if Ukrainian commandos massacred a Russian music festival, I would condemn it harshly and demand that the Ukrainian government make sure it doesn’t happen again. But many of the American leftists holding pro-Palestinian rallies gleefully celebrated the targeting of civilians as an act of liberation, even joking about the murders. For example, you can watch a video where one of the speakers at the NYC rally says:
And as you might have seen, there was some sort of rave or desert party where they were having a great time, until the resistance came in electrified hang gliders and took at least several dozen hipsters.
The audience cheers his description of the atrocities, whooping with delight. Meanwhile, posters for other rallies were decorated with heroic images of the paragliders that the Hamas attackers used to attack the festival. Some chapters explicitly praised the attacks.
In other countries, meanwhile, the rallies were even more bloodthirsty. Here’s a video of one from Sydney, Australia, where people are chanting “Gas the Jews!”
Online, leftist rhetoric in support of the attacks was rewarded with massive amounts of approval and engagement:
Some of the rhetoric got downright bizarre.
Other leftists angrily tried to deny the reports of rape at the music festival — as if Hamas murdering random people without raping them first would make them morally less culpable:
This is all pretty inhumane. It wasn’t just bloodthirst and occasional antisemitism that disgraced these DSA rallies, though. The advertisements for the rallies also made reference to “75 years of occupation”. Gaza and the West Bank were occupied in 1967, which was 56 years ago. 75 years ago was the creation of the State of Israel, meaning that these leftists are explicitly supporting Hamas’ goal of ethnic cleansing of Israel.
Now at this point it’s important to point out that as far as I know, all of this bloodthirst and support for ethnic cleansing, 100% of it, is coming from the grassroots rather than from socialist politicians or progressive leaders. Bernie Sanders strongly condemned Hamas’ attack, as did AOC. The “Squad” called for Israel not to take military action in response, which is highly unrealistic, but which doesn’t constitute an endorsement of Hamas in the slightest. Elizabeth Warren, who has been consistently pro-Palestinian over the years, broke down in tears at the reports of Hamas’ violence and said “I'm here today to say unequivocally there is no justification for terrorism ever.” And so on. A number of New York leaders from the Democratic party have scolded the DSA rally; AOC denounced the rally’s “bigotry and callousness”.
Even among the leftist grassroots, there wasn’t unanimous praise of Hamas’ war crime. Some principled socialists stuck up for decency:
And the DSA’s national organization said they “unequivocally condemn the killing of all civilians” and called for combatants to respect human rights law.
But the bloodthirst pouring out from leftists in the streets and on the internet suggests that there’s a deep sickness in the Western leftist movement. It’s one thing to believe that Israel is an apartheid regime and that war against it is justified; it’s another to believe that massacring random festival goers is an acceptable way to prosecute that war. And even if you do think that our modern definition of “war crime” is too restrictive, and that killing large numbers of enemy civilians is an acceptable way to force a belligerent to throw in the towel, it’s still repugnant to joyfully cheer that slaughter, and to march side by side with those who advocate genocide.
And especially galling is the fact that many of the same leftists now celebrating Hamas’ massacre as a righteous blow against occupation refuse to give similar support to Ukraine’s defense against Russian occupation. The DSA’s International Committee blames NATO for Russia’s invasion, and advocates a “peace” that would mean parts of Ukraine being permanently ruled by Russia.
Why would anyone celebrate Hamas slaughtering a music festival, but demand that Ukraine lay down arms and accept brutal and permanent Russian occupation? There is absolutely no moral consistency here. It’s just that one occupation is by a power that’s more-or-less aligned with the West, while the other occupation is by a power that’s opposed to the West. It’s pure unadulterated campism.
Now, some of you who really dislike leftists are going to respond “See, Noah? This is who they are. This is who they’ve always been!” And maybe you’re right. After all, during the 20th century, a decent number of Western leftists defended Stalin, idolized Mao, and denied the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. But at least those 20th century apologists could tell themselves that those regimes were building a utopian society, and they had to break a few heads…er, eggs…to get there. Hamas, in contrast, is a religious right-wing group, and its supporters explicitly use Nazi stylings. Leftists have fallen pretty low if that’s the best team they can find to cheer for.
In fact, I think “fallen pretty low” is actually the key here. The communist project of the 20th century failed spectacularly, as did follow-up efforts like Hugo Chavez. Decolonization happened, and the European empires vanished. Democratic socialism succeeded in Europe, but that success — which was ultimately driven by reformist progressive types rather than by revolution — doesn’t seem to admit much room for improvement. Swedish workers are not going to start a revolution, because Swedish social democracy is pretty damn nice.
This leaves Western leftists without much to fight for. Sure, some claim that African and Latin American countries are still “colonized” because they don’t get paid enough for their natural resource exports, but very few people actually believe that, and even fewer care enough to march in the street. Nor do most people think that climate change is going to force a dramatic reordering of society — we’re just going to build some solar panels and electric cars and stuff. Most actual imperialism in the world is now done by countries like China and Russia that are opposed to the West (and Western leftists only ever oppose the West). And despite continuous leftist shrieking that neoliberalism has left both the world and America impoverished, on some level everyone knows that global poverty has plunged and that most Americans are materially secure.
The Palestinian cause was different; it was an exception to this end-of-history ennui. Here was real obvious oppression instead of some hand-wavey theory. Here was a liberation struggle that could be (somewhat) plausibly depicted as decolonial. Israel’s alliance with the U.S. makes it plausibly part of the West, meaning Western leftists feel OK opposing it. And because most mainstream progressives instinctively support Israel’s continued existence, this was an issue that allowed Western leftists to draw a bright distinction between themselves and the left-of-center establishment.
Thus, Western leftists began to lean ever harder on the Palestinian cause, making it ever more central to their view of geopolitics. While everyone else was arguing about the Ukraine war, tensions with China, genocide in Myanmar, or whatever, for Western leftists it often seems like it’s all Palestine, all day long.
(Obviously I am speaking in broad generalizations here, subject to all the usual caveats.)
So when their chosen heroes — the freedom fighters in whom they invested so much moral cachet — showed up at a concert and started beheading raver kids and Asian workers and abducting grandmas and God knows what else, what were Western leftists supposed to do? In situations like that there are really only two things you can do, without switching your whole ideology — you either tell yourself that your team’s inhumanity is justified in the name of higher goals, and march shoulder to shoulder in the streets with the most belligerent elements, or you pull back and call on both sides to avoid killing civilians. Left-leaning leaders chose the latter, but many on the grassroots chose the former.
In any case, don’t let my analytical tone hide my moral disgust here. People always have a choice whether to cheer for atrocities or to refuse to cheer for them. When your rallies end up with swastikas and “Gas the Jews” and people making fun of dead innocents, well, you made the wrong choice. This episode is going to show a lot of Americans that the leftist movement contains, at the grassroots level, a lot of very inhumane, bloodthirsty people. Ultimately that revelation will hurt the movement in the eyes of progressive Americans, draining some of the goodwill it built up over the last decade.