The Anti-Israel Movement Was Ground Zero for Cancel Culture

July 29, 2020 | Matti Friedman
About the author: Matti Friedman is the author of a memoir about the Israeli war in Lebanon, Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War (2016). His latest book is Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel (2019).

In the past few months, a particularly censorious and intolerant segment of the left has grown in influence and visibility, using its clout to drive journalists from their jobs, to cancel book contracts, and to harass private individuals. To many astute observers, there are pronounced similarities between this ideology—nicknamed the “Great Awokening” by its critics—and religious fervor. Matti Friedman explains how he first noticed many aspects of this fervor over a decade ago, while working as an Associated Press reporter in Israel. Moreover, he writes, “one of the most obvious signs that religion is in play, . . . is the way this ideology has focused and amplified the condemnation of Jews.”

Upon gaining admission to the tribe of Western journalists in Jerusalem in 2006, I found that it wasn’t enough—or necessary, or sometimes even desirable—to be knowledgeable about the region or to speak its languages. The important thing was adopting a creed, one which seemed strange to me then but is widely familiar now. This outlook included a dim view of America; sympathy for all international organizations; an aversion to fervent Christianity and a healthy respect for fervent Islam; a considerate attitude toward despotic regimes from China to Iran, which are not “the problem”; the idea that the moral high ground has something to do with skin color; the belief that while groups like Hizballah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood might sometimes go too far, they do have a point; and the idea that the world would probably be improved if Jewish sovereignty could somehow be reduced to zero percent [of the planet] from the current high of 0.01 percent.

If you point out that none of this is true, you’re whitewashing oppression and will be tarred as a racist, as I eventually was, joining a list that was less illustrious at the time than it is now.

Today all of this seems almost wearily familiar from “cancel culture.” But it wasn’t widely familiar a decade ago, because in many ways Israel was patient zero. . . . The creation of the malevolent “Israel” of the news, and the subsequent push to render an entire country beyond the pale, created a pattern that has been replicated against targets ranging from nonconforming biologists to the author of books about teenage wizards.

One of the most recent falsehoods to gain traction among the “woke” is that the murderous technique used to kill George Floyd was taught to American police by Israel. Interestingly enough, notes Friedman, this absurd theory was recently promoted by America’s largest Lutheran denomination. “That last detail,” he writes, “supports the idea that new religions are never completely removed from the old ones.”

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