By now everyone’s seen the CBS headline so grossly misrepresenting last week’s shooting attack near Jerusalem’s old city: “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on”. The curious thing is, the main content of the piece was a report contributed by the AP. The report itself was completely accurate and substantive, it was only the headline–slapped on by whomever was on duty in CBS’s offices at the time–that was so slanted.
Everyone here in Israel was justifiably outraged as this headline took it’s honorable place in the ever-growing pantheon of imbalanced reporting. This outrage inevitably led to speculation about the causes of such journalistic misbehavior. Suggested explanations for this type of thing usually boil down to personal Israel-hatred on the part of media figures, which in turn boils down to that most sophisticated and helpful of assessments: “They’re all just a bunch of lousy Anti-Semites, like all of their ancestors before them”.
Far be it from me to doubt the continuing prevalence of Antisemitism, but I think the accusation misses the mark here, and blinds us to the fact that we’re actually facing a far more serious problem.
This discussion mirrors the debate over the motives of President Obama. He is regularly accused in Israeli and American right-wing circles of being a closet radical Muslim and/or Anti-Semite. The levelers of such accusations think this is the only way to explain his behavior.
But this is simply not true. There is no need to posit corruption and ill-will in order to make sense of his policies. Marco Rubio was right to say that Obama knows exactly what he’s doing (I just wish he’d only said it once). Everything Obama has done and said is perfectly in line with his stated worldview. The confusion stems from the fact that this worldview is so foreign and incomprehensible to the casual political observer that it seems his actions can only be explained by malicious intent.
So too with the media. The inaccuracy is so egregious at times that it looks like journalists are more interested in painting Israel in a bad light than they are in doing their jobs honorably. We are inclined to attribute their mistakes to bias rooted in hatred and malice, and to accuse them of being completely unconcerned with journalistic ethics. I think this is completely untrue and unfair. Journalists for CNN and the BBC (as a rule) care deeply about ethics and telling the true story. It’s just that they’ve allowed an ideology to distort their view of what constitutes a story’s “truth”.
This ideology is the same one that causes academics and students in the University campuses of the west to be so supportive of BDS. Academic types call this ideological movement “Neo-Progressivism”. It’s behind many of the excesses of radical 3rd wave Feminism, Black Lives Matter, the protest movement at the University of Missouri & elsewhere, and many other things.
The word “Liberal” is often used with evident distaste to refer to academics and journalists who support these things but the term is too general. Classical Liberalism can be traced back to the political doctrines of John Stuart Mill, and Neo-Progressivism has strayed very far from the path he set out. Mill thought that everybody should be left alone to live their lives as they see fit, and that complete freedom of speech and debate is absolutely imperative (ah…חבל על דאבדין). Neo-Progressivism is more concerned with making sure that “disadvantaged” groups–whether the disadvantage is real or imaginary–be given special status and guaranteeing that no one ever ever says anything that might offend someone who belongs to these disadvantaged groups. A central element of the ideology, and the part that I’m interested in for my purposes here, is a deep commitment to cultural relativism (meaning that no culture can possibly be inherently superior to any other culture) resulting in an obsession with inequalities in income and other achievement-based measures between social groups or sub-groups.
This obsession–inherited from Marxism–stems from the assumption that whenever anyone is more powerful and successful than someone else, especially when it is a group that is more powerful and successful than another group, this must be because the powerful have exploited the less powerful, or the successful have exploited the less successful. In this world, everything is about power dynamics.
What this means for Israel is very simple. Israeli society is more powerful and rich than Palestinian society. Fact. Neo-Progressives regard this as inherently unjust. The story that the common media person sees here is one of an oppressed minority resisting subjugation by a dominant majority culture. To the media, this is the real story. This is the narrative that binds together all of the facts, and it is of this that they have a sacred duty to bear solemn witness to humanity.
While any media figure would certainly concede that many of the tactics employed by the resistance are misguided and even wrong, that (to them) is just a detail. So when there is a shooting and 3 Palestinians end up dead by Israeli police fire, this is just another instance of the endless cycle of violence–ultimately caused by the oppression and occupation of the Palestinians (Obviously. Why else would they be compelled to behave in such a manner?)–“dragging on”. If the raw facts aren’t reported with 100% accuracy because in this case it just so happens that these Palestinians attacked first, that’s just a small oversight. Just the nitty-gritty obscuring the big picture .The CBS headline writer is trying to tell the more fundamental story, trying to keep the focus on the root causes. I would be rather inclined to think that the feeling in CBS after the firestorm compelled them to change the headline was one of righteous martyrdom. “See how these Israelis cling to their insignificant technicalities in their frenzied desire to hide the larger issues. Well, they win this round, but we will not be silenced!”
This is why the media are always so desperate to bring every conversation back to the occupation. Remember the BBC guy scrambling to mention Palestinian suffering while he was interviewing a lady at a rally in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher attacks? That’s an extreme example of this. The real story (he thinks) is the Palestinian struggle against oppression as a token of the more general struggle of the Islamic world against the dominant and oppressive west. Incidentally, the PA and Hamas PR people understand this perfectly, which is why they also constantly steer every conversation in media appearances back to the “occubation”. They truly do hand us our Tucheses in the PR department.
Hardly anyone in the media will self-identify (to borrow a PC term) as Neo-Progressive. That is not what the ideology is called on the ground, just the academic formulation of the philosophy. But the thought patterns are extremely pervasive among the political and academic elite in the western world, as well as the media.
In the case of Obama, his whole seemingly endless administration is explained by the fact that to him it is simply obvious that American (and western) power and exploitation is the main cause of the world’s problems. That’s it. He thinks that all of the conflicts are just a big misunderstanding. Western civilization has exploited and meddled with other countries and cultures in the past, causing them to react in desperation and behave in a rather shocking and uncivilized manner. Western civilization has then used excessive disproportional force in retaliation, all of this creating an atmosphere of fear and distrust, where the smallest incident can trigger the cycle all over again. Sounds plausible, no? If America and its western civilization cronies would just stand down and get rid of their prejudices, their enemies would no longer see the need to hate them so much and would stop acting out in barbaric ways, and all will be well again.
President Obama sees Israel and the Palestinians as the world’s most stark examples of this. A dominant power too afraid and bigoted to make enough concessions, and an angry, frustrated minority population reacting with violent emotion. If only Israel would understand that the only reason Palestinians are so hostile is because they’re frustrated and disillusioned about their future. If only the Palestinians would be willing to let their true reasonable selves show from beneath all this macho Islamist posturing. Tut tut.
I’ve lapsed into sarcasm here because I couldn’t help it, but this seriously is the basic dynamic. President Obama doesn’t hate Jews or puppies, isn’t a Jihadist infiltrator, and doesn’t want to destroy all that is good and decent. He’s not even stupid or incompetent (“We need to dispel this notion that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he knows exactly what he’s doing. We need to do away withthisnoadltiongthaitowueweoitu… [low battery]”). He’s just a bigtime crazy lefty.
He and those like him think that all human behavior can be traced back to economic and social factors. Larger cultural goals and beliefs are just a cover for these things in their eyes. Therefore Israel must be in the wrong, for the behavior of the Palestinians cannot be explained by their beliefs and decisions, but only by their circumstances.
So I have defended President Obama and the media. I contend that they act as they do not out of ill-will, but out of mistaken beliefs and ideas. Doesn’t this make things better and our problems smaller? Unfortunately, no. Just the opposite. The root causes of Israel’s growing isolation in the world are not the malicious deeds of those with evil intentions, easily exposed and easily removed. They are the deeds done out of good will and perceived virtue by men and women who are generally, and genuinely, good and decent people.
What needs to be exposed is not an easily identifiable deed or practice, but an error. A fundamental error. The kind of error that is usually only diagnosed and understood after bitter experience makes it agonizingly obvious. Once again it seems that it is the lot of the Jewish people to be on the front lines of this experience, to be on the receiving end of this error’s disastrous consequences before anyone else. Unless we can expose it some other way first. By reason or by example. Perhaps being “Chosen” doesn’t mean that everything is about us, but that we must always be more thoroughly involved in the big things that are about everybody.
I started this post in a lighthearted tone, and now find myself sounding really serious and heavy. But fear not, there is much to entertain and amuse, to beguile and delight, in the foibles of Neo-Progressivism; though its potential consequences, I’m afraid, are rather serious. Much more needs to be said about this “error” of which I so dramatically speak in the previous paragraphs; of its nature and its form, its origins and its attributes. I intend to do this saying. Join me, if you will, on a journey through the wonderland forest of Cultural Marxism, Critical Theory, Relativism and Reductionism, and all things PC. It is an enchanting, if disturbing, place. Populated by fascinating creatures. From rabid Feminists and Gender Studies professors to Black Lives Matter activists to MSNBC anchors to septuagenarian Jewish socialists to advocates of something called Atheism+.
Thus I set out on my personal quest to clarify and unify my thoughts on these matters. If any of the ideas and arguments I’ve presented in this piece make any sense to you at all, you might enjoy, and benefit from, coming along for the ride.