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The Hamas Attack Shows Why Liberals Should Break With the Left
Far-left celebrations of terrorism should shock center-left ‘liberals’ into asking whom they really belong with
“Liberals” and “the left” are pretty much the same thing, right? Maybe not. In the reaction to the murderous Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, a lot of people have been realizing the gulf that actually separates the two.
On college campuses, a flood of statements from pro-Palestinian student groups lauded the Hamas attack—the rape and indiscriminate murder of civilians, including infants—in terms borrowed from the “social justice” left. Stanford Students for Justice in Palestine issued a statement describing the terrorists as an “oppressed population striving for equality, freedom and self-determination” and “a reminder of the universality of the human desire for justice and freedom.” Meanwhile, an editor at Harper’s hailed the “Palestinians’ world-historical … audacity” in committing “drastic actions in need of no apologia.”
This has shocked many on the American center-left. The Atlantic’s Gal Beckerman laments that “The Left Abandoned Me.” Substacker Noah Smith argues that “the bloodthirst pouring out from leftists in the streets and on the internet suggests that there’s a deep sickness in the Western leftist movement.” At New York magazine, Eric Levitz reports that “multiple progressive-leaning people in my life have expressed a sense of estrangement from leftists and newfound doubts about their worldview.”
This is precisely the right reaction. People who see themselves as liberals should investigate more closely the basis for the far left’s views on the Hamas attack and question the value of an ideological coalition that encompasses such an inhumane response.
When They Tell You Who They Are, Believe Them
The first question to ask is whether this “progressive” window-dressing on an attack with clearly genocidal intentions is merely reflexive posturing—or whether it is the real meaning of leftist ideology.
Consider Ryna Workman, the president of New York University’s Student Bar Association, who issued a statement condemning Israel’s “settler colonialism” but declared, “I will not condemn Palestinian resistance”—no matter what form it takes. Yet according to the New York Post, “Mx.” Workman “identifies as non-binary,” which I am sure would go over well with the Islamic fanatics of Hamas. This is an old absurdity, summed up by “queer” leftists wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the image of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara—who presided over the persecution of homosexuals as “sexual perverts.”
It is this sort of absurdity that causes Levitz to blame the left’s callousness toward mass death on the fake “performance of radicalism.” But what if this is actually the substance of their radicalism?
In grappling with this phenomenon, The Liberal Patriot’s Ruy Teixeira points to a related example: Ibram X. Kendi’s proposal for a federal “Department of Anti-racism,” staffed by unelected “experts” with veto power over all government actions down to the local level, along with the power to punish elected officials for speech they disapprove of. It’s a resurrection of the Leninist system of totalitarian rule by an elite ideological cadre.
In elevating Kendi, and wasting millions of dollars on his academic ventures, liberals were ignoring the actual, totalitarian substance of his ideas. They need to ask whether they’ve done the same thing with the rest of the “intersectional” and “anti-colonial” left—because that is what the “anti-colonialists” are telling them. At The Free Press, Peter Savodnik reports:
On Saturday, as the raping and murdering and kidnapping were happening in Israel, Najma Sharif, a writer for Soho House magazine and Teen Vogue, posted on X: “What did y’all think decolonization meant? vibes? papers? essays? losers.” So far, Sharif’s post has been liked 100,000 times and reposted nearly 23,000 times—by, among others, The Washington Post’s global opinions editor, Karen Attiah.
Now consider the reality of what these Western leftists are endorsing as “decolonization.” As I’ve pointed out before, the Hamas attack on Israel was not directed at any tactical or military aim. Its goal was the death of civilians. It was genocidal in its basic intent.
But more than that: Hamas embraces death on principle. Here is how a senior Hamas official explained it to Russia Today:
The Israelis are known to love life. We, on the other hand, sacrifice ourselves. We consider our dead to be martyrs. The thing any Palestinian desires the most is to be martyred for the sake of Allah.
This indicates why Hamas has genocidal intentions—not just toward Jews, but toward its own people. This is why it has built miles of tunnels for attacking Israel but no civilian bomb shelters and why Hamas has been actively blocking civilian evacuations from Gaza. Its whole ideal is mass death in the name of a higher cause. Hamas is literally a death cult.
To paraphrase an observation from Maya Angelou: When people tell you who they are, believe them. Believe it when Hamas tells you it loves death—but also believe it when its supporters on the Western left endorse that agenda.
But why do they endorse it?
We Need a New Political Spectrum
Many observers have been noticing the recent confluence of the pro-Hamas left and the white-nationalist right—killing Jews is a cause that joins antisemites of all persuasions—and citing this as proof of “horseshoe theory.” That’s the idea that the traditional right-versus-left political spectrum is not a straight line with opposing poles but rather a horseshoe in which the far ends bend toward one another and become nearly indistinguishable. As New York magazine’s Levitz notes, when American leftists endorse Hamas, they are backing “a far-right theocratic organization committing mass murder in the name of blood-and-soil nationalism.”
This analysis is tempting but misses a deeper underlying problem. If you subscribe to an ideology where you are the “moderate” version of an “extreme” that celebrates killing babies, maybe the problem is how you defined your ideology in the first place—and you need to redefine it in a way that doesn’t put you on the same spectrum with genocide. Or, maybe we need a new political spectrum that doesn’t make a horseshoe—one that instead puts liberals of all kinds at one end, and all the various flavors of genocidal illiberalism way out there at the other end.
Noah Smith observes that “the leftist movement contains, at the grassroots level, a lot of very inhumane, bloodthirsty people” who tell themselves that their own team’s “inhumanity is justified in the name of higher goals.” Smith ought to be familiar with this phenomenon since he has written before about the far-left subculture of “tankies,” a term that originated in the 20th century to describe people who defended Soviet tanks rolling into Hungary and Czechoslovakia to brutally suppress popular uprisings against communism.
This leads us back to the actual common thread. What unites the far left and the far right is not merely a philosophy that dehumanizes the enemy, but one that dehumanizes the individual. That’s the hallmark of the reaction to this new war in Israel. Civilians die in every war, and even a legitimate war of self-defense cannot be run so cleanly as to spare all innocents. But what distinguishes the barbarity of Hamas, and of its leftist defenders, is the act of prioritizing and celebrating civilian deaths.
This is an outlook that sees the individual life not as something to be preserved and defended, but as something to be sacrificed to a higher cause—and the greater the number of lives sacrificed, the more proof of your devotion to that cause.
That is the real bond between the far left and the far right. Both reject liberalism in any sense of the word, and just like their totalitarian predecessors in the 20th century, they hold an ideology in which an imagined collective—the workers or the race—reigns supreme over the expendable individual human.
What Is Liberalism, Really?
Considering what went wrong with the ends of the horseshoe should help us define the principles that are the true opposite of both of those extremes.
Liberalism in the broad sense, as opposed to every kind of illiberalism, is the belief in a society defined by freedom. But beneath that there is a simpler and more elemental principle: the value of the individual human life. Levitz describes it as a “fundamental commitment to the inherent worth of every human life.” This is the bond that all the different strands of liberalism ought to be able to agree on.
Teixeira wants liberals to “throw the intersectional left under the bus” and embrace this kind of “universalistic principle.” It’s going to be a wrenching thing for them to do, to turn away from people they regard as indispensable political allies and even as friends. But many who thought of themselves as being on “the right” have already had to do this in recent years. When the Republican Party reaches the point where it is now a matter of debate whether it’s OK to pal around with white nationalists, you get some idea of what we have been through in the Trump years.
To be sure, many on the right failed this challenge. But that should, if anything, be an extra incentive for liberals to do better. The chaos and collapse of today’s conservative movement is a cautionary tale of what happens when you wait too long. As The Atlantic’s Beckerman notes, the “same ideological hardening I’d seen on the right in the past few years, the blind allegiances and contorted narratives even when reality was staring people in the face, has also happened, to a greater degree than I’d imagined, on the left, among the people whom I think of as my own.”
With the Hamas attack, this is now a moment for liberals to readjust their mental map of who is their ally and who is really on their side. It’s time for them to strengthen their bond with those who share the universal principle of the value of individual life—and break with those who do not.