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Israel, Gaza, and the Double Standard on Cancel Culture
In the heat of the moment, very few people hold to their so-called principles.
I’m disappointed and I’m angry. Probably just like a lot of you. We’re back to where we always seem to be, and I can recite the arguments from memory.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog—ostensibly left-of-center and supposedly one of the good guys—has erased the distinction between Hamas and Palestinian civilians. He seems, in fact, to have denied the very concept of innocent civilians in Gaza. Instead, he holds the “entire nation” is responsible. As for the debate over whether Israel is engaging in eliminationist rhetoric, I suppose we can put that to rest. Speaking about operations in Gaza, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said, quite literally, “we will eliminate everything.”
It’s the same thing over and over again. Stripped of dignity in this life, Palestinians will be denied it in death. Maybe I’m naive, but even if you think Israel is completely in the right, it shouldn't be too hard to offer the pretense of sympathy, even if it is not deeply felt or perhaps not felt at all.
I get it. People aren’t consistent. They’re not angels. And it’s human nature to dehumanize your opponents in a war. I actually understand why and how a growing number of Israelis—right, center, and left—are willing to endorse the obliteration of Gaza. They just went through an unspeakable and horrific tragedy and a ground assault that rivals what they experienced in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Responding with overwhelming force against an enemy—Hamas—that brutally massacred hundreds of your own citizens is not a surprising response.
What I don’t really get, though, is American commentators and politicians who very much are not in the heat of battle acting as if they’re waging war on Gaza with their bare hands (Lindsay Graham, I’m looking at you). But let’s put that aside for a moment and talk about cancel culture. Yes, there’s a cancel culture tie-in in this sordid mess of faux-debate and commentary.
It’s been quite something to see those who opposed cancel culture until last week completely renege on their principles overnight just because they're the ones now with the power to censor views they disagree with. It's genuinely sad to see. The right-wing billionaire Bill Ackman has called for (again, quite literally) a blacklist of not just the authors of reprehensible statements from student groups excusing Hamas’ killing of Israeli civilians but of members of the groups that signed onto the statements. Anyone who’s been in a college organization knows that being a member of a group doesn’t mean that you agree with—or would have even been aware of—whatever statement the group signed onto. To suggest otherwise is absurd on its face. If this isn’t “cancel culture,” I have no idea what is. And this is worse than your run-of-the-mill cancel culture because people are asking for and circulating blacklists. These are college students for God’s sake.
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What Ackman and his ilk are doing is disgraceful. There’s no other word for it. All of us who have spent the last few years (rightly) opposing cancel culture must be consistent and oppose this too. Otherwise, the principles of free speech and of giving grace to those who do or say stupid things or belong to groups that say reprehensible things mean nothing. They’re empty. Either you’re against cancel culture or you’re not.
The lesson here is an important one. Cancel culture can come for anyone. Consistency is essential. That means calling out cancel culture when it affects our own "side,” sure, but it's even more important to call it out when it affects those who we disagree with.