The “intersectional” Tragedy of the Palestinian Leadership

Israeli universities have been fortunate so far to mostly not be afflicted by the dangerous identity politics playing out specifically across American campuses. However, the underlying core of the intersectional movement- its emphasis on victimhood and refusal to accept a channel out of that status from those with the power to help- is currently on full display by the Palestinian leadership.

Whatever one’s view on the Trump Administration, one has to acknowledge that the plan they outlined in Bahrain offered a lifeline to the Palestinian people who are suffering, true victims of a corrupt and oppressing leadership. The billions of dollars might not sufficiently address the national aspirations of the Palestinian people, but if applied justly and thoughtfully, it would certainly raise the standards of day to day living for countless Palestinians, and maybe even transform the situation of the Palestinian people entirely.

That is what is so threatening to the Palestinian leadership, though. If your identity is based on victimhood, poverty and suffering are prioritized over solutions, especially when they are offered by those who have been identified as aligned with the “oppressors.” If you want to continue identifying as a victim of “colonial settlers” then there is no space to accept that perhaps not all the evil white people are quite so evil, and maybe, just maybe, they actually want to help. The goal for the Palestinian leadership is similar to the goal of so many of the social justice warriors on American campuses- to decry the oppressors who are responsible for their victimhood, not to gain agency to change the status of their situation.

While I don’t agree, I do understand the frustration of the Palestinian leadership with the choices made by Trump Administration officials. From their perspective, moving the US Embassy, accepting Israeli annexation of the Golan, the public closeness of PM Netanyahu and President Trump, and statements that can be understood as indicating support for further Israeli annexation of post-67 land, imply a bias in favor of the Israeli position. Nonetheless, rejecting a plan that could help the Palestinian people – not based on a substantive analysis, but simply because it comes from this American Administration – is predicated on the same reductive premise as that employed by the social justice movement: those in power=bad; those who are disempowered=good. Anything offered by the bad side must be rejected out of hand in order to remain on the side of “justice.”

Similar to how American social justice warriors shame and even threaten (albeit usually not with the same level of violence) those who they feel are betraying their cause, the Palestinian leadership have threatened and arrested a Palestinian businessman who attended the Bahrain conference. Saleh Abu Miala from Hebron, who explained that he simply wanted to be involved with helping his people, was arrested by the Palestinian Authority as a traitor. The truth is, he is a traitor- to the cause of the PA, albeit not to his people. He wants to help pull the Palestinians out of their victimhood status- to help empower them through economic assistance and the creation of a million new jobs.

Highlighting how the Palestinian leadership’s response reflects the same twisted logic as the intersectional movement in America is not useful simply as a clarification as to why a movement that claims progressive credentials finds mirroring connections with Palestinian student groups who do not express liberal values. It also highlights how this focus on victimhood can have tragic and dangerous consequences for the larger groups represented in this movement.  America- both under this Administration and under previous ones, as well as members of groups who have been privileged under them- certainly may be far from perfect. But rejecting any overtures they make to address the challenges facing people who have been victimized in the past, is absurd. It is the people who are in positions of power and influence who actually have the power and influence to improve lives, address injustices, elevate the disempowered. Just screaming victimhood gets no one anywhere or anything.

The sad fact, though, is that the Palestinians and the social justice warriors are not looking to improve the lives of the larger groups that they represent because if they were actually empowered, if they gained agency, they would then join the ranks of the evil. And from their perspective, being just- defined as in opposition to the oppressors- is more important than being helped.

Isn’t it is time for all the disempowered groups, Palestinian and others, to find new leadership that is willing to reject the intersectional paradigm and actually focus on improving their lives?

About the Author
Dr Sharon Goldman is Vice President and Director of the Israel-America Studies Program at Shalem College in Jerusalem, where she teaches and writes on Zionism, Jewish leadership and the US-Israel relationship. Prior to making Aliyah in 2018, Sharon worked for AIPAC for 12 years as the Northeast Political Director and Northeast Deputy Director.
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