Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

Progressive Racism

When people protest against war and humanitarian crises, three questions arise: 1) Is their goal to alleviate suffering or to vilify those responsible for the calamity? 2) Should the skin color of the victims and their “persecutors” influence the nature and even existence of the protest? 3) Assuming that one can’t protest against every humanitarian disaster in the world, should the number of victims be decisive in deciding which to demonstrate against (or offering a solution)?

Anyone calling themselves a “humanitarian progressive” should answer the first question with “suffering alleviation” as the primary goal of such protest. The second question should be even easier to answer (especially for “progressives”): a person is a person, whether white, black or any shade in between. The third question is the most straightforward of all: of course the number of fatalities and those suffering from other forms of serious suffering is an important factor.

The vast majority of contemporary westerners protesting against Israel today fail these three cardinal tests. In short, they are not really progressive but rather what I would call “selective progressive racists.” “Racist” in that skin color does count for them (big time!); “Selective” because they ignore the number of victims, focusing almost exclusively on the perpetrators to the detriment of most any constructive suggestions for alleviating or ending the conflict.

One can understand Palestinians who protest against Israel (even if their case is tendentiously one-sided). But western non-Palestinians supporting their cause are precisely the “selective progressive racists” noted above. Here’s why, based on a mere three examples around the world these very days (unfortunately, one could add several more, but these will suffice).
Sudan is undergoing a humanitarian crisis of monumental proportions, starting a year ago. Airstrikes have hit civilian centers on an ongoing basis; vigilantes (militiamen too) loot neighborhoods. In many regions, hospitals and health services hardly function. Worst of all, thousands of civilians have been killed, including massacres that are clear war crimes. And they might be the lucky ones, as there are numerous eyewitness accounts of rape and other forms of sexual violence. In addition, the UN reports that approximately 19,000,000 (million!) Sudanese children are out of school, among them 3,000,000 malnourished.
Why isn’t food aid arriving? As The Economist recently reported: “Within Sudan, WFP trucks have been blocked, hijacked, attacked, looted and detained. Outside Sudan, makeshift camps are swollen with hungry and sick arrivals — but there’s no money to feed them.”
All this sounds like what protesters are throwing at Israel – but in staggeringly higher numbers of dead and starving. Yet not a peep is heard from the world’s “progressives.” Black lives matter? Yes, but for them only in America.

Next, let’s jump across the world – to Myanmar, the most violent war in the world today, with an estimated 50,000 dead since the military coup in 2021, and over two million displaced. Most of this is due to the military junta’s blanket use of air strikes and shelling of mostly civilian targets.

Here too one would be hard pressed to find any “progressive” protests against the illegitimate and ruthless Myanmar military government. If overseas black lives don’t matter, then brown lives to them matter even less.

Finally, back to Africa. This time we’re dealing with past and present. Since the turn of the millennium, the Ethiopian conflict has led to more than 500,000 dead soldiers and around 350,000 civilian fatalities – probably the deadliest conflict in decades anywhere in the world. Here too the fighters took part in numerous atrocities in general and sexual violence specifically. That war “ended” a year and a half ago, but has now started up again (somewhat different combatants). According to the UN, close to 30,000,000 people now require emergency food aid – and if that doesn’t arrive soon, many will be starving in the near future.
Have you seen any protests at Harvard or Columbia (et al) regarding such mind-boggling suffering? Of course not – those involve “blacks” without American citizenship. Moreover, it isn’t clear which group is the perpetrator and which the victim. So without a clear “evil (colonialist?) persecutor” to go after, why bother helping the victims?

When one realizes the disparity between the number of Gazan fatalities (a bit over 30,000 if the Hamas-based numbers can be believed – not to mention that at least 10,000 of these are the terrorist militants themselves), and the humongous numbers around the globe noted above, it becomes clear that even if antisemitism is not driving most of the pro-Palestinian protesters, subtle “progressive racism” is certainly a factor in singling out Israel when the devastation and humanitarian crises are far worse elsewhere.

Israelis are racist? The protesters should look in the mirror. Their avoidance of the greatest political-human tragedies in the world today constitutes the real racism here.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) presently serves as Academic Head of the Communications Department at the Peres Academic Center (Rehovot). Previously, he taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published five books and 69 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book (in Hebrew, with Tali Friedman): RELIGIOUS ZIONISTS RABBIS' FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Between Halakha, Israeli Law, and Communications in Israel's Democracy (Niv Publishing, 2024). For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see:
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