The American Left and Gaza


Pearl River      The cover of the most recent conservative-liberal magazine, The Economist, said two words: “Israel Alone.”  The Times reports that a dozen “liberal” organizations from the Working Families Party to the DC-based Citizens for American Progress, along with two unions, the National Education Association and the Service Employees International Union have written President Biden asking him to enforce the Foreign Assistance Act, which bars US assistance to any country not providing humanitarian aid in conflicts.  Other outlets are commenting that Israel is winning the battle, but losing the war because its tactical victories still far way short of its stated strategy objectives, and it lacks a post-conflict plan of any sort.  Six months of war since the Hamas attack on October 7th, and what a hot, bloody mess all of this remains.

The Times also headlines a piece titled “How the War in Gaza Mobilized the American Left.”  Reading the story carefully, much of it sounds more aspirational than real, finding more early-stage rumbling, than a movement.  Kill more than 30,000 mostly civilians in less than six months and starve millions while the whole world is watching, and any country playing those hands can guarantee that there will be protests of some kind almost everywhere.  Certainly, some rallies and protests at elite colleges and some well-executed tactical demonstrations in Washington and around presidential visits to battleground states have some impact, but none of that really establishes that anything other than left institutions and opinion leaders have mobilized.  A dozen groups, no matter how important, and two unions, no matter how large and powerful, are significant, but hardly indicate even a DC-based consensus where most unions are headquartered and there are more nonprofits than cherry blossoms this time of year.  Compare that to the petition by 900 Black church leaders calling for peace, and we have to wonder if these groups are the point of the spear or “walking point” with others still miles behind them.  With only the barest majority of Americans opposing Israel’s conduct of the war despite the bloodbath and depravation of an entire population, there’s a message we should be getting that somehow the needle has hardly been moved.

Trying to establish a base of support as the Times’ reporters do by looking at social media reactions is interesting, but disturbing.  On line “shares” and chatter are a weak and passive protest, easily discounted.  Certainly, social media is not worthless in getting the message across, but it is not powerful.  Sending the news is never a substitute for doing the real work.

There seems to be no way of avoiding the uncomfortable truth that the Left has thus far been unable to organize the base despite all of the horror in this Gaza war.  For example, compare the reactions to the Trump election in 2020 and the women’s march in the wake of the election.  There’s nothing similar now. 100,000 protest votes in Michigan is important, but where are the hundreds of thousands in the streets around the country on this issue?  They aren’t there, and thus far it isn’t clear that any organization or coalition has the capacity in this crisis to put them there, and even wants to try.

ACORN groups and others have demonstrated at munitions plants in England that are supplying arms to Israel, but where are there similar actions now in the US? Huge and continuous protests against the Vietnam War were critical in moving the American people to oppose the war back in the day. We seem unable to make lightening strike again in the same way.  Except for the American Jewish and Arab-American communities, this war is far away and less personal, but a Left building power should be able to bridge the gap, align the interests, and force change across multiple venues and platforms.  Facing today’s challenge is exposing our limits, and the gap between our program and our people.