Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.
The cognitive war against Israel, which has continued almost unabated since the Jewish state’s founding, intensifies after specific events on the ground, as happened in May during Israel’s latest incursion into Gaza to suppress homicidal rocket fire from Hamas terrorists. When more than 3000 rockets were fired indiscriminately into southern Israeli towns by Hamas with the express purpose of murdering Jewish civilians there was, of course, an almost universal silence; only when Israel, in its necessary self-defense, finally moved to neutralize terrorist enclaves and stop the deadly rocket fire did academics, NGOs, unions, and the other reliably anti-Israel entities rise up in a collective denunciation of the Jewish state, howling about Israel’s malign behavior.
Perennially unhappy with the very existence of Israel, anti-Israel activists and scolds use any escalation in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to renew their incessant, obsessive criticism of Israel, ignoring the existential threat Israel faces from homicidal psychopaths dedicated to the murder of its citizens and focusing instead of mendacious claims of colonialism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, asymmetrical warfare, disproportionate force, land theft, illegality, apartheid and unredeemable and intolerable racism on the part of Jewish extremist settlers occupying an indigenous people’s land.
Even corporations got into the act, the latest being the shameful boycott launched in the so-called “occupied territories,” Judea and Samaria, by Ben & Jerry’s, the eponymous ice cream company created by two Vermont leftists.
Trumpeting the virtue-signaling rationale for their corporate decision to defame the Jewish state in a New York Times op-ed, “Men of Ice Cream, Men of Principle,” the two founders, Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, claimed they “took the step to align its business and operations with its progressive values” and that they “believe this act can and should be seen as advancing the concepts of justice and human rights . . ,” although like their fellow travelers in the social justice left, it is never clear how, in this case, anyone’s human rights or equality will be enhanced or protected by being deprived of eating ice cream.
In fact, like all social justice warriors, Ben and Jerry make the same hypocritical error that all progressives do when they purported seek justice and equality for the oppressed; namely, they care nothing for any other parties involved—in this case, Israelis who live in the biblical areas of Judea and Samaria, carelessly referred to as the West Bank.
In the Manichean view of the world embraced by leftists, oppressors deserve no protection and will not be insulated from harm when social justice for the oppressed is achieved—even if that involves resistance, violence, insurrection, military conflict, revolution, and the overthrow of the prevailing order. Social justice does not imply or necessitate justice for all parties, only the oppressed victims. In the case of the Palestinians and Israelis, groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) seek justice in the Holy Land, but only for the so-called Palestinians, not for Israelis. If the creation of a new Palestinian state entails the extirpation of the Jewish one, so be it.
The rectitude of academics or corporate heads pushing for condemnations of Israel manifests itself as what has been termed “moral narcissism,” the tendency of members of the well-meaning, intellectual elite to align with causes and ideological positions which are based, not on the actual viability or justice of a cause, but on how the moral narcissist feels about him- or herself by committing to a particular cause or movement.
One of the symptoms of the moral narcissist is a condition that might be called moral anorexia. In the eating disorder known by its formal name as anorexia nervosa, the patients are identified by their abnormally low body weight, even while they perceive themselves to be heavier and healthy. The moral anorexic, similarly, is manic in his attempt to control how he appears to themselves and others; but the moral anorexic looks in the mirror thinking he is imbued with moral weight and virtue and yet is empty, rationally thin, morally unhealthy in his self-deception. People with anorexia place a high value on controlling their weight and shape, using extreme efforts that tend to significantly interfere with their lives.
Moral anorexia makes such efforts as the genocidal campaign against Jews in the name of Palestinian self-determination acceptable to those who proclaim themselves to be the most tolerant of all people—those who care for all victims of all types of oppression. But by being able to look in the mirror and see a virtuous, well-meaning, tolerant and moral person when a morally questionable person actually is standing there is both the harm and symptom of moral anorexia: that if you profess goodness and tolerance, and only heed the purported needs of the oppressed, you are in a moral position to justify bad things happening to those who you condemn with your judgment–racists, militarists, Islamophobes, land thieves, settlers, religious extremists, supporters of apartheid—the very people slandered, maligned, and libeled by anti-Israel activism and rhetoric.
But because they feel empowered by their alleged virtue and insulated from critique because they are promoting social justice for the victim, moral anorexics are careless with the truth, contorting facts and history to suit their invented narrative in which powerful, bullying Israel is fundamentally evil and the Arab Palestinian, lacking any agency, is essentially virtuous and guiltless. Thus, for example, when Ben and Jerry wrote that they “support the decision of the company to end business in the occupied territories, which a majority of the international community, including the United Nations, has deemed an illegal occupation,” they mistakenly relied on a version of the truth which has been concocted to delegitimize any claim Israel might have to the disputed, not “occupied” territories of Judea and Samaria, and yet justified the ice cream boycott on that faulty misreading of international law, just as many other Israel critics promiscuously do.
Nevertheless, the founders trumpet the grand significance of this example of moral narcissism, writing in their op-ed that “While we no longer have any operational control of the company we founded in 1978, we’re proud of its action and believe it is on the right side of history” and that “In our view, ending the sales of ice cream in the occupied territories is one of the most important decisions the company has made in its 43-year history.”
Really? How does this grand gesture of withdrawing ice cream products from the disputed areas accomplish anything of value for either the Palestinians or Israelis? How does it end terrorism and random rocket fire? How does it discourage incitement in Palestinian schools, mosques, and summer camps which inspire a new generation of Arab youths to be new kindling as martyrs in a cult of death dedicated to murdering Jews? How does it bring Palestinians to the negotiating table to work toward a just resolution of outstanding issues so that they can finally achieve the statehood they claim to so assiduously pursue? In fact, it is Palestinians in the West Bank who will actually be punished by not being able to buy Ben & Jerry’s products now, not Israelis, so the gesture is totally useless anyway.
Universities, of course, have been fueling the cognitive war against Israel for more than a decade now, and it was no different this June in the wake of the Gaza conflict between the IDF and Hamas. At Rutgers, as one recent example (which coincidentally has the largest Jewish undergraduate population of any university in the country) the Executive Board of the Part-Time Lecturer Chapter of Rutgers AAUP-AFT (Local 6324) issued a “Statement in Solidarity with the Palestinian People” odiously trumpeting that “As teachers and union members, we can no longer allow ourselves to be complicit in the illegal acts of the Israeli government that have driven Palestinians from their homes or with military actions that have targeted, killed and maimed civilian populations of Gaza and the occupied West Bank, and that have destroyed vital infrastructure, including schools and hospitals.”
There is, conspicuously, no mention of the terrorism of Hamas and the 3000 plus rockets that had rained down on Israeli neighborhoods unabated and launched with the intention of randomly murdering Jews. In the moral anorexic’s world, the facts of his or her condition are less important than the perception of his or her morality, virtue, and tolerance, so the inconvenient truth that the Hamas was created as a military tactic to kill Jews—wherever they live—and not to help to create a new Palestinian state “living side by side in peace” with Israel is, of course, ignored, as is the fact that Israel, like any sovereign state, has the right and obligation to protect its citizenry from attack and can, if it must, kill its opponents as part of that defensive effort.
Members of the Rutgers University faculty issued a longer and even more grotesque statement to demonstrate that they “Stand in Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” including the obtuse comment that they “are in awe of the Palestinian struggle to resist violent occupation, removal, erasure, and the expansion of Israeli settler colonialism,” resistance, of course, the euphemism for what is actually terrorism against Israeli citizens.
And these moral anorexics dismiss Israel’s legal right to self-defense because, they claim, it is the stronger party in a disproportionate conflict between oppressor and oppressed, so law and rights can be ignored by the moral anorexic if they favor Israel. “The language of both-sidedness, of timeless or religious ‘conflict’ with moments of ‘escalation,’” the statement reads, “erases the military, economic, media, and diplomatic power that Israel, as an occupying force has over Palestine,” suggesting that if the two parties are asymmetrical, it is fundamentally unjust and therefore the Palestinian side does not have to conform to normal rules.
“While we mourn the loss of civilian life in Israel, “the Rutgers faculty begrudgingly acknowledge in admitting that Hamas’s terroristic violence caused Jewish deaths, “we also refuse to engage narratives that demand an ‘equal sides’ approach to a fundamentally unequal reality.” Israel, they contend, has no legitimacy in the first place because of its colonial nature and because it occupies and usurps an indigenous people’s lands, and cannot, therefore, justify the assaults on Hamas as being the lawful behavior of a sovereign state. “The demand to center Israel’s right to ‘self-defense,’” the statement continues, “erases the colonial context and delegitimizes the Palestinian right to resistance and to self-defense, both principles enshrined in international law.” So, they contend, if Israel’s very creation was unjust, the Jewish state can not now, or ever, claim legal rights when it acts to protect itself—only victims, the oppressed, can do that.
In May, following the Gaza disturbances, morally anorexic faculty and various academic departments and programs at the University of California, Davis issued their own grotesque “Faculty Statement of Solidarity with Palestinians” in which they expressed their “concerns for the suffering inflicted on Palestinians by the Israeli airstrikes on the besieged Gaza Strip and condemn the state-sanctioned violence by settlers and lynch mobs against Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israel.” The characterization of Gaza as “besieged,” or, as it is frequently described, as the world’s largest outdoor prison, is yet another trope in the defamation of Israel. It will be remembered, specifically, that Israel completely disengaged from Gaza in 2005, removing every Jew—living and dead—from Gaza at great human and financial expense—all with the intention that a putative Palestinian state could be created there, and Gazans could take over successful and thriving greenhouses and other Israeli facilities left after the disengagement.
Instead, as moral anorexics are fond of forgetting, Hamas turned Gaza into a launching pad for rockets and mortars with more than 15,000 of them having been fired at southern Israel towns over the past 16 years, each one constituting a war crime and each one fired with the intention of murdering Jews. That is the reason for any blockade, or “siege,” and that is the reason the IDF finally had to enter Gaza in May to suppress the escalation in both the number and lethality of the weapons used against Israel.
The statement also includes inane references to the commonality of oppression of all victim groups in the contorted, self-righteous language of intersectionality, the moral anorexic’s attempt to slander Israel with suffering well beyond the borders in the Middle East.
“The Black Lives Matter movement in the US has helped spotlight the distressing similarities between, and the collaborations binding, US and Israeli policing,” the statement reads, raising the false accusation, referred to by activists as The Deadly Exchange, that the IDF trains U.S. police officers in tactics used to subdue, and harm, black suspects in this country—a very convenient, though disingenuous, way to pull Israel into the debate about Black Lives Matter and police brutality toward blacks.
It may be comforting for the moral anorexic to look at her- or himself and think they are full of virtue, tolerance, and morality, and that others can see these attributes in them and admire them for the values they profess. But, like the anorexic, it is a false view of the real person, someone who is frail and wasted away by his or her own self-deception.