Tolerating the Radically Intolerant

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

Dear Reader (excluding any of you who “sign” protest letters anonymously), 

Someone pointed out the other day that in certain quarters of the left right now, it is more acceptable to shout “gas the Jews” than to say “men can’t get pregnant.” 

Call me crazy, but this strikes me as suboptimal. 

I need to make some distinctions and clarifications because there’s a lot of nutpicking out there. There is a good number of left-wing people saying truly indefensible things. And a lot of right-wing people are delighting in claiming that these gargoyles are representative of the broader left. For instance, there’s a self-described “tranarchist” named Jemma Decristo who purports to teach at UC-Davis who thinks it would be just dandy to have a domestic campaign of violent terror against “Zionist journalists” here in America. “They have houses [with] addresses, kids in school. They can fear their bosses but they should fear us more.” Decristo concludes the post with emojis of a knife, an ax, and some drops of blood. If you have a more favorable interpretation of what that’s supposed to mean, I’m all ears. 

I do not think Decristo is representative of very many people, even on the faculty at UC-Davis, the left generally, or even in the no doubt vibrant tranarchist community.  

Similarly, I do not believe that most people on the left are chanting “Gas the Jews,” nor do I think very many people on the left want to gas the Jews or even to see Jews ethnically cleansed from the River Jordan to the sea—though the number who would welcome making Israel Judenfrei is certainly much larger than the number who would endorse gassing Jews generally. 

Where it becomes fairer to generalize about “the left” more broadly is its tolerance for the radically intolerant. At various universities, presidents and faculty find themselves in an exquisite pickle. They’ve spent years coming up with elaborate theories about why it’s imperative to limit, shape, regulate, bend, fold, and mutilate “discourse” that does “violence” to “marginalized groups” while “privileging” the “voices” of the “oppressed.” 

If my prodigious deployment of scare quotes was lost on you, I’ll just be clear. I think most of these theories are on the merits best seen as ornate, polysyllabic efforts to cram 10 pounds of bulls—t into five-pound bags. 

But the merits are beside the point, and you’re basically a sucker if you engage them in good faith. The point of these theories is more practical than their peddlers like to concede. All of the social justice prattle is best understood as tools for social engineering and caste-protection. Faculty-speak—“Latinx” and all that crap—boils down to in-group shibboleth manufacturing.  

The anti-Zionist crusade.

Still, that’s not to say that some real ideas aren’t smuggled into the discourse. Campus social engineering is an ideological project after all. And one of the core ideological products of these academic factories is “anti-Zionism.” I don’t think anti-Zionism is synonymous with antisemitism, though there’s obviously a very heavily shaded portion between the two circles of that particular Venn diagram. But one way the terms are similar is how they work linguistically. 

The term “antisemitism” was coined by a German radical leftist named Wilhelm Marr. He was, not surprisingly, an antisemite.  The whole point of the term was to sanitize and intellectualize bigotry against Jews.  Judenhaas—Jew hatred—was too theological and Old World. Antisemitism was scientific and plugged into the rage for eugenics. 

It also made it sound like Jews were just one of many groups—“Semites” or “Semitic peoples”—and so being antisemitic wasn’t necessarily about being opposed to Jews. Arabs are semitic too. Indeed, to this day, you can easily find Jew-haters who insist they aren’t antisemitic because they don’t hate Arabs or because they are Arabs. In other words, antisemitism was born to dodge the accusation of just hating Jews. (Also, FWIW, the whole concept of Semites is largely the product of “scientific” philological mythmaking.) 

Anti-Zionism works along similar lines. Zionism refers to a singular project in a singular Jewish nation. When someone says they’re anti-Zionist, they are saying they are anti-Israel because there is no other country they could be describing. Anti-imperialism can refer to any number of countries and historical chapters. Saying you’re anti-Zionist can only mean you’re anti-Israel. 

What’s always been funny to me—though not necessarily haha-funny—is how anti-Zionism supposedly flows from anti-imperialism and that stopping Zionism is the most important, and for some, the only, way to fight imperialism. I always thought it was ridiculous how the Soviets and their legions of satraps, vassals, apologists, and useful idiots could, with straight faces, condemn Zionism as imperialism. The Soviet Union invaded countless countries and subjugated their peoples, but yeah, sure the Soviets really hate imperialism. 

This idea that anti-Zionism is a vital international mission is pervasive on the hard left, on and off campus. The other day, I saw this clip from a co-founder of Black Lives Matter in 2015. “Palestine is our generation’s South Africa. … If we don’t step up boldly and courageously to end the imperialist project called Israel, we’re doomed.”

Wait, what? Look, I think this is stupid for a lot of reasons. But I at least understand what people mean when they compare Israel to apartheid South Africa. I don’t think it’s a good comparison, but I get it. What I can’t get my head around is how Israel’s continued existence would spell the “doom” of black people in America.

I think part of the answer is that the left needs to conceive of itself as “anti-oppressor.” That’s not a terrible self-conception. But it can lead you to a lot of terrible positions if you care more about reveling in your heroic self-conception than about thinking critically about the actual facts. Israel has become mythologized as a permanent representation of oppression. Its relative success as a prosperous, functioning democracy adds insult to injury. As I wrote on Wednesday,  the story of Jewish perseverance and triumph over victimhood is a rebuke to many of the narratives that define the “speak truth to power” crowd. I think it helps explain why Israel takes up a clinically insane amount of headspace in some people. 

Indeed, one of the main reasons many Jews see anti-Zionism as antisemitic—I mean besides all of the Jew haters who call themselves anti-Zionists—is the selectivity of their outrage. China, for instance, is literally an apartheid state. It practices Han supremacy and treats other ethnicities in China as second-class citizens—or worse. Virtually none of the supposed anti-Zionists care a whit. 

As I argued a couple years ago, the fundamental logic of “structural racism” makes it impossible for me not to conclude that the United Nations is structurally antisemitic. It holds Israel to a different standard than any other country. The only standing agenda item for the Human Rights Council, every year, is Israel. Since 2015, the General Assembly has condemned China and Cuba zero times, Russia 23 times, Iran seven times, the United States nine times, North Korea eight times, and Syria 10 times. 

It has condemned Israel 140 times.

The free speech motte-and-bailey.

But back to the exquisite pickle.

Again, anti-Zionism is just one plank in the academic social justice platform, albeit an important one. But it meshes with the other planks in that they are all framed in the language of liberation from and opposition to oppression. The larger bundle of ideas has led to broad efforts to “decolonize” language, history, institutions, capitalism and, of course, freedom of expression. 

Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I wasted a remarkable amount of time reading this introductory article, “Locating freedom of speech in an era of global white nationalism,” from a special issue of First Amendment Studies. It’s a trip. But full of amazing anti-liberal pronouncements:

The histories of free speech that the scholars in this collection highlight point to the need for theories and practices of decolonization, that untangle freedom of expression from its liberal and colonial roots. Decolonizing theory is part of a larger solidarity project, focused on decentering Western modernities and whiteness itself by identifying the effects of colonialism and articulating resistive epistemologies.


Historically then, white liberal articulations of freedom and liberty are constituted within the organizing processes of colonialism and slavery.


The rhetoric of freedom of speech contradicts the practice of freedom of speech, all in the name of liberalism. Yet it retains its philosophical foundations and grounding in epistemological whiteness. This is to say that free speech is an outgrowth of whiteness and its political genealogies, organized through logics that are tied to violent civilizing missions and resource extractions.

It all calls to mind Thomas Sowell’s line that some ideas are so stupid only intellectuals believe them. 

Anyway, the University of Pennsylvania had the bad luck of hosting an anti-Israelpalooza on its campus shortly before the Hamas attack. Then, afterward, like a lot of schools, it was slow and clumsy in condemning the attacks. As a result, a bunch of donors have cut ties with the school. This has made the tri-chairs of the faculty senate very mad. They issued a statement:

As Tri-Chairs of the University of Pennsylvania Faculty Senate, we write to affirm our commitment to freedom of thought, inquiry, and speech as foundational values of our University. These values are being threatened by individuals outside of the University who are surveilling both faculty and students in an effort to intimidate them and inhibit their academic freedom. Let us be clear: academic freedom is an essential component of a world-class university and is not a commodity that can be bought or sold by those who seek to use their pocketbooks to shape our mission. We stand in solidarity with all University of Pennsylvania faculty, staff, and students whose research, work, or study has been affected by the recent efforts of intimidation. Academic freedom is at the heart of our educational and research missions, and we demand that it remain free from internal or external pressure or coercion.

“Apparently,” as my friend Cliff Asness—one of those former donors—notes, “not voluntarily donating is coercion” now. Also, paying attention to what faculty members say is now “surveilling.” 

Again, Penn is hardly alone in all of this. The Hamas pogrom did not create these problems, it shined a fresh light on them. These schools—and their political allies—expend enormous amounts of time and energy waging war not just on the theoretical constructs undergirding liberalism, but on the liberal practices inherent to a liberal education. (For instance, with the help of the Obama administration, the presumption of innocence for students accused of sexual harassment or assault under Title IX. Betsy DeVos rescinded those rules as secretary of education. But the official who oversaw those changes was put back in charge by Joe Biden). 

So after decades of chipping away at traditional understandings of free speech, academic freedom, and other “core values,” a lot of these higher ed apparatchiks are retreating like cockroaches frightened by the kitchen light back to those very ideas in order to defend people who are celebrating paragliding rapists and murderers and their broader agenda. Suddenly the people who’ve spent years saying that “offensive” ideas are “violence,” are taking offense at a backlash against many of the same people when they endorse actual violence. The people who insist that “marginalized” people need to be protected from dangerous ideas are appalled by those little Zionist snowflakes who take offense at the free speech of professors and students who want to eliminate the Zionist menace. 

It really is head-spinning. We get called philistines and ignorami for championing classically liberal values, but when we say that endorsing the slaughter of babies and old people in their homes falls outside of those liberal values, we get lectures about how we’re the ones who really don’t understand liberal values. If there had been an attack on virtually any other group—save perhaps for the Uyghurs or Klansmen—a fraction as heinous as the 10/7 pogrom, it would not take days for university presidents to figure out how to find the words to condemn it. But because Jews, particularly Zionist Jews, are not members in good standing of the official Coalition of the Oppressed, they struggle to find the right words, if they ever find them at all. And they pretend that the real outrage isn’t to be found in terror or apologies for it, but being made to have to defend liberal values they don’t actually believe in. 

Various & Sundry

Canine update: While we’re in Italy, Zoë is staying with Gracie and the housesitter while Pippa is staying at Kirsten’s. I know that’s weird but it was Kirsten’s idea. Zoë and Pippa got into some territorial disputes the last time we left them both with Kirsten and we didn’t want a replay of that. Pippa is definitely having a grand time, playing the part of Zoë with the little dogs and having the rule of the roost at Kirsten’s. Zoë seems fine with it all. She still gets her walks and does some security work to boot, and is getting along great with the housesitter (I don’t know if she wants to be named).   


Last Friday’s G-File

Last weekend’s Ruminant

What Israel and Ukraine have in common

My annual Remnant reflection on the state of The Dispatch with Steve Hayes

Wednesday’s truthful and powerful “news”letter

The Remnant with Yascha Mounk on the origins of identity politics

And now, the weird stuff


Modern warfare


Car trouble


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