Dexter Van Zile, managing editor of the Middle East Forum's Focus on Western Islamism, spoke to a July 10th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about the left's parallel efforts and methods to delegitimize Israel and the West. The following is a summary of his comments:
The point of delegitimizing Israel, the U.S., and the West in general, is to "demoralize and disorient" their populations and "render them incapable of defending the political order in which they live." A key technique used by the left is the current "woke" campaign of land acknowledgements. This delegitimization campaign has permeated U.S. institutions and can be found in informational brochures at historic tourist sites, on university websites, and even on church bulletin boards. Land acknowledgements remind the reader that early U.S. policies and practices during America's founding and expansion resulted in the "erasure" of the indigenous people, culture, land, and language of native American tribes through "oppression, injustice, and discrimination." The West's mea culpa can only be addressed through "reconciliation." The left conveniently sidesteps the fact that the U.S. has legitimized its claim to the land through treaties that long ago settled the war between the two sides and today oblige the federal government to honor and respect tribal rights and resources.
In its zeal to find fault with America, the left employs a "utopian ideology" to instill the notion that native tribes lived in pastoral innocence prior to America's founding, belying the historical fact that tribes such as the Sioux were using their skills in horse warfare to conquer more sedentary tribes in the period prior to the beginning of European settlement in North America. Many tribes today enjoy "semi-sovereign" status and have become active players in U.S. policy. Some of them have gone on to build casinos on tribal land and manage key functions in the Pacific Northwest such as salmon harvest and habitat protection.
The entire exercise of land acknowledgements does little to help North American native people. Instead, it stokes division and grievance which infect the minds of young people in the West with the same approaches used by anti-Zionists against Israel in their decades-long delegitimization campaign targeting the Jewish state.
The "3D Test" for antisemitism used by former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky holds that Israel's adversaries cross that line when they "demonize, delegitimize, and apply double standards" in their criticism of Israel. The aim of antisemitic rhetoric is two-fold: (1) To turn Westerners against Israel, and (2) to undermine the will of the Israeli people to defend the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the modern world. Similarly, the left "disorients" young people in the U.S. by denigrating any pride in the West's establishment of "democracy, free markets, and the rule of law" and by promoting self-hatred and nihilism in young people, convincing them that the West is "the source of all evil." Many of the same actors in anti-Zionist movements make common cause with anti-American movements.
A 2020 anti-Israel rally by Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) protesters at the State House in Massachusetts magnified their activism by merging their agenda with that of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifa. Targeting both Israel and the U.S. as "illegitimate nation states," the BDS activists featured a speech about Turtle Island, a name used by indigenous rights activists for the purportedly utopian land of North America that existed prior to the advent of European settlers. A Native American speaker incited the crowd of college students at the rally to utter a frenzied "primal scream" of shame and guilt over their sinful legacy as white oppressors. The whipped-up crowd then descended on the offices of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to vent their hatred of Israel and the U.S.
Disorienting young people into questioning the legitimacy of a political system that has benefited humanity since its founding is a manifestation of woke ideology. The methodology of "wokeism" creates racial divides by elevating the grievances of "people of color" while promoting feelings of guilt on the part of white people. This template of disorientation has its parallels in the Second Intifada in Israel in the year 2000. Israeli elites, comprised primarily of the left, promoted the idea that peace with the Palestinian Arabs could be achieved through the Oslo Accords without "maintaining a monopoly on force" in the disputed territories where Palestinians lived.
During the intifada, a false narrative was perpetrated through the Muhammad al-Dura hoax in which a young Palestinian boy was allegedly killed in cold blood by the Israelis. Broadcasts rapidly spread the image worldwide to portray Israel as immoral and evil, despite an investigation exposing the lies behind the carefully edited photo. That incident can be compared with the false information spread about the 2014 death of Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, Missouri, who was killed by a white officer during an altercation. An FBI investigation debunked the false narrative of Brown as an innocent victim, but riots ensued anyway, and the police were vilified. Fast forward to the years since 2014, where demonized police have been abandoning America's "monopoly on force."
False narratives, "land acknowledgement, Turtle Island ... has its roots in the notion that the Palestinians had a sovereign state in the Holy Land prior to the Jewish people." Again, the left ignores the historical evidence of the Jewish people as the indigenous tribes in the ancient Judean commonwealth. The same techniques used by the left to delegitimize and demonize Israel in the Middle East were adapted to demonize the West as a whole. BLM activists who were ignorant about the Israeli-Arab conflict traveled to Bethlehem and adopted the anti-Zionist rhetoric they learned from Palestinian activists. The left then constructed an intersectional agenda to deploy in the U.S. which combined portrayals of "indigenous peoples and the African American community or 'people of color,' in the same ... parallel universe as the Palestinians."
It is obvious the same arguments against Israel and the West keep circulating, even though they are repackaged to appear in some new iteration. The only way to disabuse the Palestinian Arabs of fixating on Israel's destruction as their raison d'etre is for Israel to "achieve some measure of decisive victory over the Palestinian [Arabs] in the West Bank and Gaza Strip." Only then will terrorism and violence against Israel and against Jews elsewhere in the world be contained and "basically make [the Palestinian Arabs] stop being such an 'invention shack' for anti-Western propaganda."
The shame foisted on young Americans through the wokeism that has penetrated nonprofit organizations is advanced by secular elites and an administration beholden to its leftist base. Promoting the caustic notion of "white privilege" fosters the idea that merit or accomplishment by young whites is a "political act" that furthers "oppression and racism." It is yet another tactic in the left's campaign to "disrupt the ability of people to pass on their middle-class bourgeois culture" by spreading the idea that they are not "entitled" to any of the benefits that a Western society offers. This self-loathing culminates in a nihilism that signals to its adherents that they should embrace any "ism" or identity other than their own guilt-ridden one. The appeal of Islamism for some young whites may trace back to its appearing to offer an exit from this dilemma.
This nihilistic scenario also played out in pre-revolutionary Russia. The God That Failed is a Cold War collection of essays by notable twentieth century writers who described how their youthful search for utopia to better humanity led them to embrace communism during the 1920s and 30s. Many of those adherents were motivated to support the Soviet ideology because of the guilt they felt over the privilege they enjoyed in their upbringing. Their subsequent disillusionment and rejection of the communist ideology after experiencing the abuse of power visited on its supporters is a cautionary tale for those imbued by today's leftist ideologies.
The leftist goal is to obtain power by dismantling the American founders' vision. They ignore the damage caused by disorienting young Americans into believing that the Western system is illegitimate. Muslim activists in their own communities "are making an explicit demand to defend their families"— a traditional structure for building a stable future that is missing in many American communities. Conversion to Islam could well offer an alternative ideology for young white Americans who are discontented with the left's promotion of divisive race relations and who want to stop being hammered by the self-loathing in leftist ideology. Given the terrorist attacks the West has experienced at the hands of radical Islam, Islamists have taken note of the nihilism propagated by the left. They can harness the decline, advancing their own goal to destroy the West and eliminate the useful fools who empower them.
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.