The Perils of Calling Everything 'Political'
When “everything is political,” people can effortlessly choose to stay ignorant or close-minded, and thus avoid important conversations, which are vital for liberal democracies.
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The end of the Israel-Hamas war is still not in sight, but within the Israeli government and among elements on Israel’s Right, on the 114th day of the fighting, they had an official event to call for the return of Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.
The “Settlements Bring Security” conference was held on Sunday in Jerusalem, which promoted Jewish resettlement in Gaza and northern Samaria as a solution to the October 7th massacre.
Ministers and members of Knesset (Israel’s legislature) who participated in the conference signed the “Treaty of Victory and Renewal of Settlement in the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria.”
The production of this conference, in the midst of Israel’s fighting throughout the Gaza Strip, left many Israelis greatly embarrassed. On the stage in Jerusalem, in front of hundreds of enthusiastic supporters, words exclaimed were once the property of right-wing extremists, marginal folks, and backbenchers (who even they made sure to sound the messages sparingly).
The event featured statements such as “increase the territory of the state,” “military rule in Gaza,” and “transfer to the Palestinians.”
What’s more, government and coalition ministers were seen gleefully dancing while a war is raging, tens of thousands of Israelis are displaced, soldiers are being killed on a near-daily basis, and 136 hostages are still being held by terrorists in Gaza. The optics were unsettling, to say the least.
But then I read the entirety of what was said at this conference.
“Escape brings war,” claimed National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. “We need to return home and control the territory and also propose a solution to encourage immigration and a death penalty law for terrorists.”
The “escape” he referenced was Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which was completed in 2005. It is hard to look at the reality of Gaza today and not agree that Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the strip was a mistake, no less that Israel now has a pristine opportunity to right this wrong.
After all, every time Israel has given more land to the Palestinians, they have used it as launching pads to inflict more terrorism on the Jewish state, while playing the victim ad nauseam. I am not necessarily suggesting that Israel should fully resettle Gaza, but the current status quo is clearly broken and needs profound reform.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also participated in the conference, saying: “The people of Israel are at a significant and important crossroads. We must decide, God forbid, do we run away from terrorism again and let the murderous hothouse grow again behind the fence, or do we learn the lesson, settle our country throughout its length and breadth, control it, fight against terrorism, and with God’s help bring security to the entire State of Israel.”
Again, it is hard to disagree that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, both tentacles of the Iranian octopus, have not turned Gaza into a “murderous hothouse.”
Minister of Tourism Haim Katz added: “I am the son of two parents who survived Auschwitz and made a decision to immigrate to the Land of Israel and not to Canada, to come and build the country. I belonged to a group called ‘the rebels’ and fought against the Jewish deportation from Gaza in 2005. We went through this humiliating process, and today after 18 years we have the opportunity to stand up and build, renew, and expand the Land of Israel.”
If you are looking at these statements in a silo, then sure, they sound tone-deaf, radical, and overly nationalistic. But you have to understand something, even if you cannot truly feel it: The Jews in Israel, both before the State was established and certainly after it, have been the victims of hundreds of Palestinian terror attacks, largely unwarranted and unprovoked, dating back to the 1830s, more than a century before the State of Israel came into being.
(See: 1834 Peasants’ revolt in Palestine, Shlomo Tzorif killed by a sword-blow to the head in Jerusalem in 1851, Arab Riots of the 1920s, and the 1929 Hebron massacre, to name a few.)
At a certain point — and this point came in the 1970s, when Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party was formed — you say enough is enough, because you are tired of being in an abusive relationship with the Palestinians, and you explore other solutions to persistent problems.
This is not political extremism, gross nationalism, or religious fanaticism. It is human psychology, and we know what the behavior is called of continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results. (Reminder: insanity.)
Here’s another way to think about it: If your son or daughter is rather accommodating to their spouse, yet their spouse keeps attacking your child, while ridiculously asking for more and more, would you encourage your child to say in that relationship?
Even Golda Meir, who was a left-leaning politician, had this to say about the Palestinians:
“It was not as if there was a Palestinian people in Palestine and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”
But, nowadays we live in societies where the person who delivers a message is more important than the message itself. This is a terrible mistake that many of us make, because it leads us to automatically disqualify or disagree with facts on the basis that we do not like or respect the person uttering them.
The same thing can be said about media outlets: I recently shared a news article from the New York Post with a friend, yet he — a left-winger — would not even read the article because the New York Post is a “right-wing” outlet.
If we are to have honest, productive, and meaningful conversations for the sake of improving our societies, it is imperative that we separate our sociopolitical biases and allegiances from reality.
As it pertains to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the reality is that the Palestinians and their Arab and Muslim friends have for decades tried (and failed) to uproot the Jews from their indigenous homeland. And pernicious Palestinian refusal to share the land has played a part in hardening Israel’s resolve.
As it pertains to the Palestinians, the reality is that they have been coddled and enabled by states and international organizations with little oversight and accountability, so much so that their governmental entities have become among the most corrupt in the world, while international organizations have become servants to every Palestinian beck and call.
It might be shocking to you, but in Israel it was not surprising to learn that United Nations employees participated in the massacre on October 7th, helped kidnap a woman, and handed out ammunitions to terrorists.
As it pertains to the Israeli settlements, the reality is that, for now, they provide a much-needed buffer zone which creates greater security for Jerusalem, Israel’s capital and most populated city.
For example, a few weeks ago a car full of Palestinian terrorists was on its way to Jerusalem to carry out a large-scale attack, but they were stopped at one of the Israeli settlement’s checkpoints. A Jewish presence in the West Bank saved lives in Jerusalem that day, and it has done so countless times before.
As it pertains to U.S. President Joe Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, the reality is that Biden’s administration has been flip-floppy in their support for Israel during this war, just as President Barack Obama treated the Jewish state while Biden was his vice president.
Yet a bunch of readers condemned me for factually critiquing Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, as if my critique automatically makes me some Donald Trump diehard MAGA Republican supporter (which it doesn’t, and I’m not).
“I hope this doesn’t become a right-wing platform,” wrote one reader.
One should be able to factually critique a politician without a platform “becoming” right- or left-wing. As the ancient guru Dandamis said:
“Do not condemn the judgement of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong.”
One thing I learned about moving from Los Angeles (my hometown) to Tel Aviv, where I have lived since 2013, is that not all politics are created equal. Growing up in Southern California, many of my views were more liberal, but when I arrived in Israel, my liberal American views quickly became more conservative Israeli ones on certain issues, particularly regarding security, geopolitics, and the Jewish character of the State of Israel.
Indeed, many Israeli Jews and American Jews are far apart on different issues. In one recent study, Israeli Jews ranked “security and well-being” first, while American Jews voted it last.1
Therefore, being liberal or conservative in one country does not mean people should blindly hold the same views in or about other places. Every country has its own political climate, with a unique collection of nuance, context, history, and regional factors.
This is why it is such a flagrant mistake when, for example, Black Americans try to equate their struggle in the U.S. with the Palestinian plight in the Middle East. One group literally has nothing to do with the other, but this does not stop intellectual laziness from causing people to conflate two disparate groups.
Other intellectually lazy conflations include:
Justice and equality
Speech and violence
Journalism and activism
Opinions and facts
Statistics and truth
Education and indoctrination
Free speech and hate speech
Equality of opportunity and equality of outcome
Cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation
Rights and privileges
Diversity and tokenism
Diversity and skin color
Criticism and cancel culture
Being “woke” and caring about people
“Anything I don’t like” and fascism
“Don’t mix politics with family/work/business!” is a well-known excuse to not talk about dense, tricky, complicated socio-political issues with people we have intimate relationships with. But I worry that now — when “everything is political” — people can effortlessly choose to stay ignorant or close-minded, and thus avoid important conversations, which are vital for liberal democracies.
The philosopher Aristotle described humans as political animals, meaning that we depend upon the formation of cooperative political structures in order to flourish as human beings. This human need for support networks that enables mutual cooperation over time is the genesis of politics. With this in mind, the concept of politics transcends more specific partisan affiliations.
The current state of polarization in many countries across the world highlights the problems that arise when a liberal democracy’s division between partisan and political realms disappears. As political partisanship takes hold, citizens come to trust only those institutions that are run by members of their favored party. They no longer engage in the work of democracy and do not seek to ensure that independent, democracy-wide systems and institutions are protected from partisanship.
Rather than a means to living together peacefully, politics is approached as a performative contest between rivals. Government institutions meant to serve all citizens are treated as if they are inevitably capable of only serving particular groups — and the struggle ensues over which ones they ought to serve.
I don’t know all the solutions to this problem, but it seems to me that one step in a positive direction is for people to identify themselves more as supporters of liberal democracy itself than as members of, or supporters of, any particular partisan faction. And then engage in the work of democracy.
Our Common Destiny