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Youth Gone Wild

The Democratic rift over Israel is deepening.

Cal State Long Beach students hold a campus rally in support of Palestinians amid the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 10, 2023. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

We begin today with a political Rorschach test. When you watch this clip, what do you see?

There are no wrong answers to a test like this one—although if you’re thinking “I see some righteous, well-grounded people,” the psychiatrist administering it will probably want to schedule a follow-up session.

One thing you might see is a reminder that there are few places in America with a higher number of freaks per capita than an open-mic session at a city council meeting. To replicate the vibe of the Mos Eisley cantina any more faithfully you’d need to attend a convention of furries, or libertarians.

You might also see a curious amount of COVID caution in the spectacle of two different speakers wearing face masks, a relic of the pandemic rarely spotted anymore outside of America’s bluest cities. There’s no obvious reason why radical pro-Palestinian activism should overlap with COVID hawkishness, but if you’re of the belief that it does, that’s a vivid data point for your thesis. 

Others saw political illogic on display. Is Israel’s campaign in Gaza immoral because Hamas doesn’t represent the innocent Palestinians who are caught in the crossfire? Or is it immoral because Hamas does represent the Palestinian people in a virtuous campaign to “liberate” the Holy Land?

Relatedly, you might see an inkling of how Holocaust denial gained ground after World War II among enemies of the Jewish people. When one’s antipathy to a group is sufficiently great, one’s perceptions of reality will yield before the moral imperative to deny that group victimhood does.

Our own Jonah Goldberg watched the video and saw a laughable media double standard implicitly at work. Had a group of right-wingers put on a show like the one above, Jonah noted, it would be capital-N News even though only so much can be gleaned about wider opinion from a group of fringe randos with nothing better to do than sound off at a city council meeting.

And in this case, the “fringe” turned out to be not so fringe: The Oakland City Council ended up not condemning Hamas for the pogrom of October 7 in the resolution it passed at the meeting calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The weirdos prevailed.

As the clip made the rounds on social media on Tuesday night, Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz watched it and saw … nothing of significance, really.

That’s a mighty glib response to the dregs of the American left making a public spectacle of gross, conspiratorial antisemitism. There’s a double standard in that reaction too, as some correctly noted.

What I saw when I watched the clip was age. Not every speaker was young, but most were. It’s not a coincidence.

And if Schatz thinks that’s insignificant, he won’t for much longer.

Any fool could have predicted that the pogrom and Israel’s reaction to it would drive a wedge in the left between older pro-Israel liberals and younger pro-Palestinian progressives.

I know because I’m a fool and I did predict it, 48 hours after it happened.

The polling foretold it. In March, Gallup found sympathy for the Palestinians among Democrats exceeding sympathy for Israel for the first time since it began asking about it in 2001. That trend was a function of generational trends: While senior citizens and middle-aged Americans still sympathized with Israel on balance, those born between 1980 and 2000 had tilted slightly toward the other side.

Other polls detected the same age gap. In March 2022 Pew asked Americans whether they viewed Israel and the Palestinians favorably; in all three older age cohorts, the share favorable to Israel topped the share favorable to the Palestinians by at least 10 percentage points. Only among the 18-29 group did the Palestinians finish slightly ahead.

That’s noteworthy because younger Americans skew lopsidedly Democratic. If they favor the Palestinians, chances are good that their party will begin to trend that way. And it has.

Left-wing opinion did shift toward Israelis briefly after October 7, as one would hope following waves of headlines about wanton murder and savagery. A Quinnipiac survey published 10 days after the massacre found Democrats now split 48-22 when asked whether their sympathies lay more with Israel or the Palestinians. Even young adults leaned toward the Jewish state, 41-26.

But the age gap was still there in the fine print for anyone who cared to look. Young adults agreed that supporting Israel was in America’s interest, 52-38, but in every other age cohort no less than 74 percent said so. When asked whether they supported the U.S. sending weapons and military equipment to Israel to fight Hamas, strong majorities in the three oldest age groups said yes. The outlier: Young adults, who opposed the practice, 39-51.

That was mid-October. A month later, the shock of the pogrom had worn off, and headlines had begun to focus on the civilian toll of Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza. Quinnipiac conducted a second poll to gauge how American reaction had changed. 

Any fool could have predicted that too.

In the new poll, fully 60 percent of Democrats said they disapproved of Israel’s response to October 7. Young adults had also reversed course on which side they sympathized with, favoring the Palestinians 52-29. Among young Democrats, the split was an astonishing 74-16. By comparison, Democrats aged 65 or older were 20 points more likely to sympathize with Israel than with the other side.

Young Democrats also now disagreed with the claim that support for Israel is in the interest of the United States, splitting 40-52. When asked if America should send more military aid to the Israelis, young adults firmly opposed the idea at a more than 2-1 clip. All other age cohorts wanted to keep the aid flowing.

Quinnipiac’s age-gap data isn’t an outlier. Here’s NBC News’ Steve Kornacki breaking down his network’s new poll on November 19.

A few days earlier, NPR published the results of its own survey that further confirmed the trends. Between October 11 and November 6, the share of Democrats who thought Israel’s response to the pogrom was “too much” went from 35 percent to a solid majority of 56 percent. Among voters under 45, the share who said so grew from 37 percent to 48 percent—17 points higher than the share of Americans 45 and over.

On the question of whether their sympathies lay more with Israel or the Palestinians, strong majorities of Republicans and independents sided with the former but Democrats split equally at 45 apiece. The reason was familiar: “Those over 45 (72%) are 25 points more likely to say their sympathies lie with Israel than those under 45 (47%).”

In a way, this is all surprising.

Not very surprising. The left is what it is.

But there were enough revelations of jihadist depravity in the first month of the conflict that one might have assumed progressives would end up more ambivalent about their rooting interests than they’ve been. There was the alleged bombing of al-Ahli hospital by Israel, a vivid lesson that Hamas’ accusations can’t be trusted. There was the exposure of Hamas tunnels under al-Shifa hospital by the IDF, right where Israel said they would be. There was ghastly evidence, much of it in the form of video recordings, of how berserk Hamas’ brutality on October 7 had been. And of course there was rampant hostage-taking of women, some very old, and children, some very young.

There was this too.

Whether you take that data at face value or not, it’s reason to want Hamas out of power. Either the group has nurtured an ethic of bloodthirsty fanaticism in the great mass of Palestinian civilians or those civilians felt coerced to respond the way they did out of fear of reprisal from Hamas. Whichever is the case, a progressive who cares sincerely about the welfare of Gazans should be desperate for new leadership. And unfortunately, Israel’s incursion is the only way a leadership vacuum might plausibly open.

That’s not to say leftists are obliged to support the counteroffensive in all its particulars, however ugly it might get. But it’s reeeeally hard to square earnest hope for a better future for Palestinians with the demands for a ceasefire that began before the bodies were even cold on October 7. One can’t be meaningfully pro-Palestinian and anti-anti-Hamas.

Ousting Hamas is what conventional morality calls for, as mainstream Democrats understand. Bernie Sanders, of all people, put it most memorably when he said, “I am not quite sure how you negotiate a ceasefire with a terrorist organization that is dedicated to perpetual war.” The problem for the Democratic Party is that many progressives are far past conventional morality as a frame for this conflict, as clips like this continue to remind us:

That non-answer is typical of various international bodies and women’s groups about the rapes carried out by Hamas on October 7 despite abundant evidence that they happened. Some of the proof comes from videos made by the perpetrators themselves, some from eyewitness and forensic accounts that are too horrific to dwell on:

The witness saw a woman bleeding from the back, she said, first bent over, then pulled back up by combatants. One man pulled the woman’s long hair and raped her, the witness said, then passed her onto another man, who also raped her before shooting her in the head.

“He didn’t pick up his pants,” the witness said. “He shot her while inside her.”

“We saw many women with bloody underwear, with broken bones, broken legs, broken pelvises,” said Shari, a volunteer worker at the Shura military morgue. She spoke on the condition that her last name be withheld to discuss the sensitive issue.

To borrow Jonah’s point about double standards from earlier, if Israeli troops had committed crimes like these against Palestinian women, international rage would be incandescent—and properly so. Condemnations would flow from every institutional body in the Western world. If those bodies are silent now in the wake of Hamas’ barbarity, it’s not because they’re having trouble discerning whether the behavior was barbaric.

It’s because within the progressive moral framework of oppressor and oppressed, colonizer and colonized, victim status can never fully be granted to the former. It’s not that Israeli women had it coming—although some of our friends at the Oakland City Council meeting might beg to differ—so much as that condemning Hamas would risk giving political cover to the Israeli military to continue its “aggression” against the Palestinians. And stopping that is a higher moral priority for progressives than stopping Hamas from brutalizing Israeli women.

If pressuring Israel not to retaliate against terrorism requires being anti-anti-gang-rape, hey: What did y’all think decolonization meant?

Frankly, I’m reassured by the fact that some of the nuts in Oakland prefer to believe that the IDF, not Hamas, brutalized the victims of October 7, as that proves that they can’t justify the behavior morally in good conscience and would rather attribute it to the enemy than condone it. Not every Hamas apologist is as scrupulous.

All of this is going to catch up to Joe Biden and his party.

It’s already caught up to them, and I don’t just mean in Biden’s declining presidential polling. On Tuesday night, while the Oakland video was going viral, the president tweeted this curious statement:

Leaving aside whether Palestinians would in fact be willing to co-exist peacefully with Israel absent influence from the top, the second sentence implies that Israel’s operation to oust Hamas is … helping Hamas?

And therefore should stop, because leaving Hamas in power would hurt Hamas?

Biden’s statement isn’t the sort of thing you say when you’re following a keen military and PR strategy toward a specific goal. (The White House had to clarify afterward that he wasn’t announcing a change in U.S. policy toward Israel’s operations.) It’s the sort of “maudlin twaddle” you say when you realize you have a political revolt brewing among the leftists in your base and you’re desperate for rhetorical appeals to appease them.

They’re going to demand more than maudlin twaddle soon. Biden may be poised to give it to them.

The grassroots revolt has already reached Washington, with progressive Democrats like Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and John Fetterman all being pressured by former aides to call for a ceasefire. Lawmakers tend to be much older than their congressional and campaign support staff, of course; the age gap on the left over Israel and the Palestinians is playing out in their own offices, it seems, and in some cases even in protests outside their homes.

Biden also endured a pro-Palestinian protest outside his home recently that resulted in graffiti dubbing him “Genocide Joe” being left on the White House gate. The term has begun to creep into some young voters’ criticism of him, even occasionally trending on social media. Which seems suboptimal for a guy who’ll be dead in the water electorally in less than a year if he doesn’t have those voters turning out for him en masse.

An optimist might reason that educating young adults on Israel’s history or having Israelis eventually elect a left-wing peacenik government might lead American progressives to a more equivocal position on the conflict. I’m skeptical of that, though, and not just because horrors like October 7 have all but eliminated the peacenik faction in Israel.

I don’t believe the rift between older pro-Israel liberals and younger pro-Palestinian progressives is reparable, for the simple reason that they’ll never agree on which side is properly thought of as “the victim.” To the older faction, the conflict will never be black and white. As much as they sympathize with the Palestinians for being impoverished and deracinated, their knowledge of regional history doesn’t begin circa 2010. They’re under no illusions about which side is truly genocidal in its intentions. They don’t fault Israel for its place in the Western liberal order and its commitment to classically liberal values. To the contrary.

For the younger faction, it’s as black and white as black and white get. Oppressor and oppressed, colonizer and colonized: Nothing could be less morally complex than the righteousness of the Palestinian cause relative to the Israeli one. And because that’s so, there’s no scenario in which support for the cause will weaken due to Hamas’ overexuberance, shall we say, in trying to advance it. If their atrocities can be denied, they’ll be denied. And if they can’t be, they’ll be embraced.

It’s the sort of rift that can’t be resolved, only papered over in the short term. In the long term, well, you can read the trend lines as well as I can.

Nick Catoggio is a staff writer at The Dispatch and is based in Texas. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 16 years gradually alienating a populist readership at Hot Air. When Nick isn’t busy writing a daily newsletter on politics, he’s … probably planning the next day’s newsletter.