Zionism and Double Standards

Some interesting double-standards exposed, from a piece by Mitchell Plitnick at Mondoweiss, “International leaders push social media companies to ban anti-Zionist speech”:

The international effort to criminalize criticism of Israel is hitting new strides. Bringing the weight of numerous Western governments, the so-called Interparliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism has renewed efforts to label criticism of Israel as antisemitism and to thereby enable online censorship of any such criticism. 

On Monday, the co-chairs of the Task Force—Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) of the United States,  Canadian Member of Parliament Anthony Housefather, and former Israeli Knesset Member Michal Cotler-Wunsh sent letters to the heads of Meta (owner of Facebook and Instagram), Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok calling on them to redouble efforts to combat online antisemitism. …

In the letter, the parliamentarians urged the companies to include “Zionism as a protected characteristic/identity” and “commit to a specific, consistent policy for removing content and users who deny the Holocaust or call for violence against Jews, Israelis, or Zionists.”

This short passage highlights three double standards involved in American discussions of Zionism.

The ‘wokeness’ double-standard
Right-wing critics of “woke culture” like to draw attention to the problematic role of “identity politics” in enforcing censorship over speech. What they have in mind, of course, is the identity politics of dark-complexioned or sexually unconventional people, which they tend to find particularly grating. Meanwhile, Zionist identity is to be regarded not only as a legitimate form of identity politics, but as a legally protected class to be invoked without qualms as a means of regulating speech.

So is identity politics a good thing or a bad one? Don’t look for a consistent principle, or an attempt to patch up the two inconsistent ones involved. These are people who feel the need to believe, simultaneously, that while Zionist identity politics is a sacred cow that deserves corporate and governmental protection, non-Zionist identity politics is a problematic source of division and self-infantilization that deserves unrelenting scorn. Their conception of political discourse requires them to want criticism of Zionist identity politics to be banned from social media, while wanting criticism of non-Zionist identity politics to be encouraged there. The double standard only works as long as people miss that it is one. 

The explanatory double-standard
Right-leaning critics of political Islam like to draw attention to liberals’ refusal to blame Islam “itself” for the morally problematic phenomena one encounters in the Islamicate* world–theocracy, terrorism, blasphemy laws, female genital mutilation, honor killings, etc. To decline to explain these malfeasances directly by the tenets of Islam constitutes, on their view, a relativistic failure of nerve, a refusal to see Islam for the thoroughly evil thing it is. Meanwhile, the parallel practice in the Zionist case–of blaming Israeli irredentism on the essential tenets of Zionism–is widely regarded as categorically impermissible. To attempt to explain these things directly by way of Zionism constitutes, as they see it, an expression of anti-Semitism–a morbid hatred of Jews, a desire to re-enact the Holocaust in the twenty-first century. 

The underlying assumption here is that Zionists are the only rightful judges of the permissibility of what can or cannot be said about Zionism. A judgment of Zionism is permissible if it coheres with what Zionists would say about Zionism, otherwise not. This is another way of saying that a candid, honest debate about the merits or demerits of Zionism is simply inconceivable. An honest debate would at least have to grant the possibility that Zionism has intrinsic flaws, and that those flaws bear an explanatory relation to serious injustices committed by Zionists. But while that possibility can apparently be granted in many other cases–capitalism, socialism, Islamism, even nationalism–it somehow cannot be granted in the case of Zionism. Particularly incongruous is the belief that nationalism causes injustice, but Zionism does not. That Zionism just is a form of nationalism seems not to matter: the genus may be culpable, but the species must be blameless. 

So discourse is obliged to begin with the assumption that Zionism is true and good. And that’s where it ends. Which is a paradoxical way of saying that discourse on Zionism ends before it begins.  

The abjuration-of-violence double standard
There is, on social media, no shortage of calls for violent solutions to social problems, whether from the Left or the Right. Consider a few common ones. 

From the left

  • Girls and women should be taught to fight back against rapists and domestic abusers. 
  • We should make it easier for women to accuse men of sexual crimes, and to impose restraining orders on them for threats or harrassment. 
  • Unwanted fetuses should be aborted. 
  • Capitalism require more intense regulation. Corporate monopolies should be broken up. 
  • Corporate malfeasance should be punishable by jail time; the regulations governing it should be expanded, and the burden of proof required for proof of guilt or liability should be relaxed. 
  • Profit-seeking health care should be abolished, and replaced as soon as possible with a single-payer system.
  • Capitalism should be replaced by socialism on terms acceptable to the working class, not the capitalists.
  • It’s time to get serious about climate change, meaning: it’s time to force the change we want to see before it’s too late to act. We don’t have the luxury of waiting much longer. 

My point is not that the things on this list are all wrong; it’s that none of them can be accomplished without violence, or at least the credible threat of it. You’re fooling yourself if you think they can: the Left is not the kind, gentle thing people often take it to be. Given its opponents–racism, sexism, fascism, capitalism–it can hardly afford to be. Precisely because the Left regards its opponents as violent, it’s obliged to regard its means of dealing with them as strong enough to resist them. The violence in question may be justified or merely implicit, but it’s violence just the same. Anyone who thinks that a D&E is peaceful hasn’t cleaned up after one. But there is no Interparliamentary Task Force lobbying Meta to prevent people from advocating them.  

From the right and center

  • The rising crime rate demands “get tough” policies by law enforcement. 
  • Abortion is an abomination, and must be stopped by force.
  • A free population is an armed population; so let’s put a gun in every hand willing to hold one, and teach people the virtues of armed self-defense. 
  • Islamic terrorism should be rooted out and eradicated around the world, whether by the use of full-scale warfare, signature drone strikes, and/or torture.
  • The war in Ukraine must be pursued until Ukraine gets back every inch of territory it lost, and/or to the point of unconditional surrender by Russia. 
  • We have to gear up for the coming war we’re bound to have with China, and declare our readiness to defend Taiwan at any cost. 
  • Sanctions against Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, and Iran are worth it, whatever the cost in lives. 
  • Israel has a right to defend itself. That means that Gaza must remain indefinitely under siege, no matter what the cost in lives, and the West Bank must remain occupied, no matter what the price in liberty. 
  • The nuclear arsenal of the Western world must remain on alert and ready for launch, if only to uphold the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. Only by threatening the destruction of the world through nuclear weapons can we deter the possibility of a nuclear attack–a categorical imperative. So we should always stand ready to launch, and launch without hesitation if we get the signal. 

The preceding list is probably over-charitable to the center-left in the United States. Many of the items on it, described here as “centrist or right-wing,” are as much planks of the Democratic Party as of the Republican. What the list reflects is a fundamentally Hobbesian view of the world as a  dangerous place, and of the State as our pet Leviathan, the Godzilla we unleash to deal with those dangers.

But again, there is no Interparliamentary Task Force lobbying Twitter to prevent, say, the advocacy of mutually assured destruction. If Herman Kahn rose from the dead and started tweeting, it’s doubtful anyone would notice him, much less ban him. After all, Sheldon Adelson came out and advocated dropping atomic weapons on the Iranian desert, and no one banned him.** It was Adelson’s critics who were banned (and bankrupted) for criticizing him, not the other way around. 

The one exception to this bipartisan litany of death? Saying that Palestinians have a right of self-defense, and are permitted to exercise it against a military occupation that threatens them with ethnic cleansing. Try it, the Interparliamentary Task Force is saying, and we’ll get someone to delete your account. Advocating the “nuclearization” of the Iranian desert, or the destruction of the world itself through nuclear war? Protected speech. Advocating armed resistance against the Israeli occupation after 55 years of being brutalized by it? Anti-Semitic terrorism.   


So there you go: one short passage, three big double standards. And, perhaps, a further lesson: At a certain point, the gatekeepers of American opinion, the Debra Wasserman-Schultz’s of the world, are going to have to face a choice. How long do they think these double standards can be kept up? How long can they persist in gaslighting the public into believing that every criticism of Zionism is an expression of either Islamist or Nazi anti-Semitism? How much defamation are they willing to deploy, how many reputations are they willing to tarnish, how much censorship are they willing to impose, before it occurs to them that the need for honest debate cannot so easily be wished out of existence?

Those aren’t just rhetorical questions. They’re the questions those self-appointed gatekeepers really, literally ought to be asking themselves. We pay these people to govern us. They return the favor by trying to delete our accounts and threatening to shut us down. That game can go on for awhile, but not forever. At a certain point, the people on the receiving end, only too conscious of the double standards, half-truths, and outright lies directed at them, will start to push back. Push does eventually come to shove, and people pushed too far do eventually respond with surprising tenacity. That’s something these gatekeepers might want to keep in mind. They’re about to encounter that tenacious response, and about to discover that it’s not so easy to wish away.

*The term “Islamicate,” a coinage of Marshall Hodgson’s by analogy with “Italianate,” refers to phenomena associated with regions where Islam has been practiced, whether authentically Islamic or not, as contrasted with Islamic practices authorized by canonical religious texts. See Marshall G.S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, vol. 1, pp. 57-60.

**Indeed, as John Carlin reports in Dawn of the Code War, the Justice Department effectively went out of its way to defend Adelson at public expense after Adelson’s Sands Casino was hacked by Iranian hackers in retaliation for his “bomb Iran” comment (Carlin, Dawn of the Code War, pp. 234-39).

12 thoughts on “Zionism and Double Standards

  1. Have you read Chomsky and Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, particularly their discussion of media treatment of “worthy” versus “unworthy” victims?

    A smaller point: the word “nuclearize” is ambiguous. To me the first-blush meaning of “the nuclearization of Iran” would be “the development of nuclear power and/or nuclear weapons in Iran,” which was perhaps not quite what Adelson had in mind. (By analogy, when the Soviet Russian state called for the “electrification of the whole country,” they didn’t mean electrocuting everyone in Russia, even if the implementation sometimes felt like that.)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I haven’t read Chomsky and Herman, no. I’ve read bits of Chomsky here and there, but not in the systematic way his work deserves. I had this great Plan of reading systematically through Edward Said’s work, and only then moving to Chomsky. But I got so absorbed in Said that I never got to Chomsky.

    I actually had the same thought about “nuclearize” as you did when I wrote the post, but couldn’t find the right verb, and just gave in and used that one. “Nuclearize” is actually misleading no matter how you take it, but I found it hard to think of a better alternative. What Adelson had proposed was launching a nuclear weapon into the Iranian desert, on the premise that doing so would deter Iranian delinquency without bringing harm to anyone (on the further assumption that the desert was uninhabited, or maybe sparsely so, so that you could bomb it without consequence). I don’t think there’s a verb that captures the whole of that deranged thought in an economical way, and I didn’t feel like explaining the whole thing, so I settled.

    I guess one obvious solution is to give up on the arbitrary stricture of using a single verb.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, it took half a dozen attempts to induce WordPress to make the change I wanted, but it finally acceded to my wishes. Thank you, O Magnanimous Platform!

      One worry I had about the post was that my list of right-wing uses of violence is so much more obviously violent than my left-wing ones that someone might come away from the post thinking that the left-wing list was contrived to create a false equivalence of Left with Right. I doubled back to dispel that worry, but I don’t know if anyone will believe me.


    • Well, “nuke” means what you want, but you evidently were seeking something less colloquial; and it could reasonably be hypothesised that “nuke” (as a verb) is short for “nuclearize.”

      Wiktionary, however, lists only one definition for “nuclearize,” namely “To arm with nuclear weapons.” Which I reckon was not Adelson’s intent.

      Liked by 1 person

          • I guess “morality ends where a gun begins,” but it re-starts where a nuclear weapon is detonated.

            I remember being puzzled how Objectivists could claim that force “negated and paralyzed the mind,” and then turn around and claim that only gigantic doses of force would finally, conclusively, once and for all, demonstrate the truth of principles, A, B, C…etc. to those uncivilized savages over there.

            My first attempt at a resolution was to think: well, maybe if the force is retaliatory, it serves to persuade. But that didn’t really work. For one thing, the force being proposed was far too indiscriminate to count as retaliatory.

            But even if it was, what difference did that make? Retaliatory force may be morally justified, but it operates, causally, in the same way as initiatory force. If force paralyzes the mind, so does retaliatory force. Retaliatory or initiatory, how could rational persuasion take place through cognitive paralysis? Either force isn’t as paralyzing as Rand claims, or cognitive paralysis is compatible with persuasion.

            I finally figured out a consistent way out of the jam. Suppose that force is just as cognitively paralyzing as Rand says it is, but only for full-fledged human beings–for rationally volitional moral agents. Now suppose that the people referred to by the phrase “uncivilized savages” are not full-fledged human beings in the relevant sense. They’re subhuman, subrational, subvolitional semi-animals. Then the thesis was never meant to apply to them.

            Problem solved!


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