The Great Global Leftist Conspiracy – Part One
In a recent public Facebook post, Assaf Malach took the Israeli left—and the academy in particular—to task for opposing the judicial reforms in a manner contemptuous and suppressive of alternative opinion. Such was, he said, consistent with the ‘coercion, silencing, intimidation, and violence… embedded in the political tradition of the global left’. At his request, the post received wide sharing on Facebook. I take his arguments to be in keeping with a wider right-wing narrative, dominant in Israel and elsewhere, regarding the supposed power of left-wing “elites”, and to which I offer a two-part reply.
Dear Dr. Malach,
I read your post with interest; even, initially, with a little sympathy. It’s not pleasant to hear of politics intruding personally on someone in such an obviously painful way. And, unusually on the left, I occasionally join you on the right in lamenting the ideological ring-fencing of the academy—the intolerance of dissenting voices, the excommunication of conservatives from decent scholarly society etc etc. The first half of the post, therefore—numbered points 1,2,3, and 5—elucidates a climate of democratic and intellectual intolerance to be opposed by decent democrats and free-thinkers (4 is perhaps a little more complicated, might you allow?). I can empathize with how wounding such scorn must be to receive. Might you do likewise for those on the other side of the judicial reform barricades routinely, in less exalted but more consequential circles than the academic, libeled as traitors, terrorists, and anarchists? (Ironic for defenders of the status quo, that last one.) Or are only the right victims?
Your post then moves from symptoms to diagnosis—the paragraphs following the ***—and I find, to my non-surprise, the currently dominant, mock innocent lament of the injured right: it is all the fault, not just of a jejune and incurious academy, but of the dastardly, sinister ‘global left’. It is these four paragraphs, and the latter three in particular, which prompt my writing. So, the following is as much concerned with the supposed fundamental natures of “the left” and “the right”, and their supposedly powerful “elites”, as it is with the judicial reforms and the current Israeli moment: your expanded framing, not mine, though I’m perfectly glad of it. I feel justified also in extending the frames of reference from the purely Israeli, since it is the ‘global left’ you hold responsible; and for all global woes, past and present, it seems.
I urge readers to digest your own post in full first, both for its inherent interest but also so that my diversions away from you own words, and towards a subjective interpretation of the body of contemporary right-wing thought into which I take them to fit, can be as nakedly transparent as possible. I hope you will correct me where I associate you with ideas you do not hold. Forgive also the length of my response; your own post, although relatively brief, prompted much thought.
Your theme, as I read it, is by now so familiar as to be the virtual mantra of the 21st Century ‘global’ right: unable to win power fairly by strength of argument, the left continues to call the tune by virtue of the undemocratic machinations of its shadowy elites in the judiciary, media, academy etc. What chance does the plucky underdog populist right—for the many, not the few, and for every man a king—have against such a powerful enemy?
The right’s double standard
To hear the right exploit the same victim mentality it has long accused the left of wallowing in is ironic. When we on the left have argued that any number of institutions are not the well self-policed meritocracies they claim to be, we have been accused of holding a pity party. When we have contended that something structural and invidious might be at work in excluding certain groups or backgrounds, or silencing their voices, we have been met with calls for bootstrap-pulling self-reliance and personal responsibility. Do we take from the right’s newfound concern with illiberal exclusion and marginalizing of dissent an acceptance of the idea that our institutions are not the bastions of benign disinterest they claim to be? I look forward to the right’s embrace of affirmative or remedial action and trust that it will be egalitarian. Or is it egregious only when the right is “silenced” and tough meritocratic cookies when it’s anyone else?
Similarly, when leftist programs provoke mass, multi-sectoral opposition it is, we are told, because the “marketplace of ideas” has deftly exposed the paucity of our thought: the common sense of vox populi speaks in loud rejection of lefty craziness! When the right is similarly widely opposed, as it now is in Israel, since there can be, by definition, no deficiency in the ideas, the marketplace is rigged! And by those shadowy, all-powerful leftist elites and their ‘propaganda machine that is working overtime here’. Pity those plucky little under-funded underdog insurgents Trump, Bibi, Orban et al! (The propaganda machine, beavering away so diligently, is of course, singularly leftist. Publicity sympathetic to the right is, in honorable distinction, an exemplar of disinterested clarity. The right really must hold its nose and get in the propaganda game soon: think how much it would win by if it did!)
But which is it? Is the public a judicious and informed arbiter or is it ingenuously gulled by manipulative elites? The latter has been, in most of the world, the mantra of the vanquished left—a conspiracist and often patronizing logic which until recently, when the worm turned, brought near total derision from the right.
The ‘enlightened mob’
Let’s stick with these elites, since the right insists ad nauseum that we do. As with other contemporary right-wing projects, judicial reform promises to return power to ordinary Israelis and away from the Haaretz-reading Tel Aviv luvvies who so disdain their simple, decent values and aspirations. It’s all for the proletariat, to whom, as you make clear, the left—and any left—would first condescend (much truth in that) and then enslave (less there), but whom the right is merely faithfully reflecting. The majority appetite for reform in Israel is undoubtable, though the right moves beyond disingenuousness and indulges in outright fiction when it claims there is evidence for a majority supporting the Rothman-Levin versions. Rothman himself actually, and ironically, put it rather well this week: ‘… the majority of the public understands there is a need for judicial reform. How much and how deep is the question.’ How much and how deep, indeed, Simcha. In less divisive times, recognition of the need for improvement was also relatively bipartisan, a reflection of common concern with the current system’s democratic deficits. Might the blame for this becoming a partisan issue lie with these reforms and the motivations of their proponents? No, surely not; only leftist, elitist wrecking will do. (For pro-reformers, it’s always “the left” opposing the revolution, isn’t it, no matter how many centrist and liberal conservative voices are similarly raised in protest against the government?)
Are the reforms geared, as they purport to be, toward the benefit of the great, under-represented mass of the Israeli public? Perhaps, by some. But might the scale of opposition to them, including from a not insignificant minority of coalition voters, lie in a popular recognition that their primary goal is less a reduction of the democratic deficit and more the salvation of two (but mostly one) veteran career politicians with personal legal problems? To whom else does qui bono most directly point? Smotrich-Ben Gvir annexationists, liberated from the restraining hand of the court: a noble empowering of the weak and wretched of the earth, I’m sure. And the Haredim and their desire to nix, for once and for all, the draft of religious students: a positively anti-popular agenda enjoying support only amongst the constituency it would reward. Bibi; Deri; the settlers; and the yeshivot: if only Woody Guthrie were alive to immortalize such a populist triumph!
While we’re on the protesters, I wonder how you differentiate an ‘enlightened mob’—your knowingly oxymoronic designation—from a legitimate mass movement of opposition? Do you consider right-wing protest movements successfully opposing the policies of democratic majority governments a ‘mob’, enlightened or otherwise? I trust so, otherwise the whole exercise collapses nakedly under the weight of partisan hypocrisy. To read you, the ingenue would be left to assume that when the right finds itself on the wrong end of majority opinion it simply takes it on the chin in gentlemanly fashion and lives to fight another election; to which living memory and the history books protest. (You’ll answer me with Gazan disengagement, no doubt?) Similarly, your insinuation that the left has a monopoly on violent protest is as laughable an implication as it would be for me to claim its record is pristine in this regard.
It will, I’m sure, be both a relief and a horror for Israelis of the left stuck in a cave for the past few months to return home, read your post, and discover that the current climate of incitement emanates only from the Israeli left bank: relief that it is apparently so contained, and horror that the venom is all provided by comrades. For me, to read your post was as if to wake and find only dreamed the threats and intimidation faced by Hayut, Baharav-Miara, and others. Or the slur of “traitors” and “terrorists”, directed even at those offering polite objection to the reforms. And that, contrary to my fevered imaginings, the Bennett-Lapid government faced only reasoned and peaceable opposition critique. (Let’s stick only to the last couple of years, shall we.) All the while the right, apparently, affably tolerant of difference and unswerving in affirming the good faith of opponents, are all just good honest democrats. The vile threats directed at Tel Aviv District Police Commander Cmdr. Amihai Eshed this week—and necessitating the implementing of personal protection—must have been a leftist false flag.
With all vitriol coming from the left; with the left having such little true popular support; and with each Israeli ambulance siren signaling either the death of a left-wing voter or the birth of a right-wing one, Kobi Shabtai’s new unit for policing political incitement will need a tiny—and annually decreasing—budget, surely? I appreciate the satire: here is the right, which has played, at a charitable minimum, an equal part in the reduction of politics and culture to a brutal Darwinian struggle now appealing to the Marquis of Queensbury! Delicious!
On the reductionism and incivility dominating intellectual discourse (an implicitly one-directional malady, for you) I agree with you; and wish I were able to sympathize more eloquently with the victims of the leftist assumption of bad faith on the part of anyone from the right—undoubtedly globally widespread and certainly regressive. Alas, the ‘coercion, silencing, intimidation, and violence… embedded in’ my entire ‘political tradition’ have surely rendered me incapable. As a student of history, you know that these evils—nicely chosen, I must agree—are tools common to tyrants of both the left and the right. But you do not give your readers the benefit of such wisdom, hard-earned though it was through the blood of uncountable martyrs. Plenty of self-described leftists have indeed been masters of these evil arts, but hell is well stocked with sadists and murderers of all political persuasions. But no: the left’s is the inheritance only of Lavrenti Beria and the right’s only of Churchill (never is the left’s of Dr King and the right’s of Pinochet, of course).
Nor, alas, can I differentiate strains of conservative thought, and respect certain of them, since my own woolly, anti-Marxist, social democratic leftism is, for you, preternaturally infected by a fanatical fetish for the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. But I must have misread, because of course it is the left—and only the left—which paints its enemies with a broad and unflattering brush.
The Marxist smear is interesting. With the populist right’s lust for untrameled power and its constant recourse to incitement against elites and their manufactured liberal consent, one wonders whose is the true Marxian logic these days? An approving comment on your post on another Facebook thread dates the beginning of the leftist rot to 1789. Do you reciprocate the approval? If so, the thought unavoidably occurs: is it really the left, in Israel and elsewhere, which in our benighted age most shows the violent Jacobin face? Despite this predilection for revolutionary violence being in the blood of all leftists, it is rightists who storm Bastilles these days, no? And despite this murderousness passing, imbibed from mother’s milk, leftist to next generation of leftist, in Israel is it really leftists who need reminding that tumbrils ought to be metaphorical these days? Not the thugs of La Familia and their very powerful enablers?
I genuinely don’t doubt that the academy is a hostile place for rightist academics in Israel right now, as elsewhere. You would pit the decent majority and its pacific representative government against the illiberal ‘woke neo-Marxists’ (as another Israeli rightist has formulated it), their suppression of dissident voices, and their shrill, uncivil discourse. Because the right does only ecumenical, respectful disagreement, eschewing all incitement, doesn’t it? Thank heaven for the guys at Regavim and Im Tirzu—the valiant last crusaders keeping the pluralist Socratic spirit of the Oxford Union alive in Israel! I must have dreamt, too, that it was a coalition MK—cheered on by a member of the sensible, mainstream-right faction—who lately so honored the good name of the Knesset by making animal noises at fellow MKs and abusing a female Mizrahi lawmaker by mocking her voice. (Strategic note for MK Cohen: is saying, to wound, that someone has a ‘voice like a floor cleaner’ a good look for a self-styled representative of the ignored, maligned, second-class citizens of the periphery?)
You think it unfair for all right-wingers or pro-reformers to be tagged with such excess? Me too, but you make only a half-hearted discrimination amongst the protesters—who in reality range in color all the way from the anti-occupation left to the Beginite right—and none at all for the left. If the broad brush is out let’s at least all get to wield it.
Dropping the irony, and the hypocrisy aside, it rather dulls the impact of the Israeli right’s claims of leftist incitement—and its championing of a threatened free speech culture—when it constantly appears so delicately thin-skinned these days. We can barely go a week without a coalition MK being mortally offended by the cruel barbs of some critic or other. Rothman, meanwhile, would have Avichai Mandelblit banged up for having the temerity to offer some perfectly sage and sober warnings of the impact of reform-inspired division. I thought we leftists were the cancelling snowflakes, no?
Part two of this letter will appear soon.