The Israel/Palestine Conflict is Rearranging The Culture War - BCB #78
There's dissent on the Red side, and near rebellion within Blue
In a polarized society, every issue gets interpreted along a single political axis. The war in Israel/Palestine, however, is breaking apart both Red and Blue coalitions. Anti-oppression leftists find themselves at odds with their Jewish colleagues, while conservatives are divided over whether to ramp up support for Israel or stay out of the conflict entirely. In this issue, we’ll map the shifting factions – and as usual, try to suggest a humane middle ground.
Who Supports What
To a first approximation, Blue supports Palestine and Red supports Israel. Erik Torenberg puts it this way:
Liberals care about supporting the oppressed vs the oppressor, whereas conservatives care about supporting civilization vs barbarism. So the left automatically supports what they see as the oppressed class (in this case, mostly Palestine), and the right automatically supports what they see as the more civilized group (in this case, mostly Israel).
When you look deeper, it’s not quite so simple. A recent Gallup poll on military support for Israel shows the expected Red/Blue divide, but also big divisions along age and race (but not education level, which is usually a big political dividing line).
These divides were predictable. Over the last decade there has been a clear shift among Blue Americans towards supporting Palestine.
After October 7th, an NPR survey found that age made one of the most significant differences in supporting Israel’s military response. People below 45 were 17 points more likely than those over 45 to say Israel’s response has been “too much.” A recent Harvard poll that shows 51% of Americans aged 18-24 years old think “Hamas attacks can be justified by grievances of the Palestinians,” a stark contrasts to the 65 years and older segment where only 9%. think so.
This might be something less than careful moral calculus. Disturbingly, 20% of Americans aged 18-29 also believe “the holocaust was a myth.”
Divides within Red
In general Red supports Israel over Palestine, despite the anti-semitic tendencies of MAGA republicans. The politics of the moment seem to revolve more around a schism between the Trump-era isolationists and the Bush-era interventionists – not everyone in Red agrees on how much support should be given to Israel at the cost of America First. There’s also a debate about whether America can, or should, fund both the Ukraine and Israel wars. Pro-Israel Red might have to make tough decisions about their allegiances.
Israel is facing [an] existential threat. Any funding for Ukraine should be redirected to Israel immediately.
Divides within Blue
The divisions are perhaps most stark on the Blue side, as Torenberg observed:
Western governments are putting the Israeli flag on arches. But Western institutions like Harvard and NYT have been much more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. While the previous moral movements of the last few years (BLM, MeToo, Ukraine) had unequivocal support across the board, this is the first instance where there is a civil war on the left.
This is most keenly felt in universities, long Blue strongholds, as the blow up over recent congressional hearings showed. While there is apparently more vocal support for Palestine, especially among students, there are deep divisions. Two open letters were circulated at Columbia, one more sympathetic to each side; faculty were split, with the social sciences and humanities more sympathetic to Hamas, while the STEM, business, and economics denounced the initial attack – in line with the deep Blue tint of the humanities in general.
Meanwhile, the American Jewish community is drifting towards conservatism, and not just on this particular issue – there has been increasing disillusionment with DEI initiatives in the last few years. Pro-Palestinian protests erupted shortly after the October 7th reports, which were experienced by some Jews as bias and insensitivity to their loss.
Since October 7, I have experienced a significant shift in my political beliefs towards the right. I am not alone. This is happening to most Jewish friends…
How to support people, not sides
One can take the position that Hamas’ brutal attacks on Israeli civilians are inexcusable and destroy any possibility for peace and safety for both Israelis and Palestinians, while simultaneously believing that Israel must take responsibility for the occupation that has created the conditions for these attacks and that the killing of innocent civilians is reprehensible and damaging to any prospect of peace.
…denounce atrocities regardless of who commits them: a position feeling lonelier and lonelier amongst the bloodlust.
Even if it's a minority position, it's reasonable to not take a side in this – or rather, to denounce the actions of both Hamas and Israel, while supporting the humanity of each. This is the peacebuilding concept of “multi-partiality.” This is not the indifference of neutrality, but the attempt to take into account everyone’s interests and needs simultaneously.
As an example of what this looks like, long time peacebuilder Lisa Schirch has put forth a 5-point plan that considers everyone:
It emphasises the shared humanity and traumas of both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. A sustainable peace will require that journalists and political leaders use their power to focus on protecting civilians, dismantling Hamas, ending occupation, addressing trauma, and investing in democracy.
Quote of the Week
What the past 48 hours or so has revealed is that there are a lot of people who mourn for dead Israeli civilians but not dead Palestinian ones, and a lot of people who mourn for dead Palestinian civilians but not dead Israeli ones. What has happened to our collective humanity?
Image prompt: A subdued and abstract representation of diverse perspectives in a dialogue about the Israel-Palestine conflict. The image should depict a round table with unique and artistically designed chairs around it, each chair subtly representing a distinct viewpoint from Israel, Palestine, and the U.S. The background is a collage of symbols specific to Israel, Palestine, and the U.S., such as flags and cultural icons, all interwoven in a more muted, harmonious manner. The overall atmosphere is one of calm and thoughtful discussion, focusing on unity and understanding amidst a blend of subtle colors and diversity.