At a Sunday afternoon rally at New York’s Times Square, hundreds cheered as a speaker celebrated the previous day’s attacks on Israel. “Our heroic resistance continues to prove that we will never sit idly while our people are colonized, brutalized, and ethnically cleansed,” the speaker, a young Arab woman, told the crowd. “We uphold the right of our people to resist colonialism and imperialism, and to return to our land by any means necessary.”
What means would those be? One video of the weekend attacks showed Noa Argamani, 25, screaming “Don’t kill me!” as she was separated from her boyfriend and taken captive by Hamas. Another showed the naked body of Shani Louk, 30, a tattoo artist from Germany, being paraded through the streets of Gaza in the back of a truck as Palestinians shouted “Allahu Akbar!” According to Israeli medical services, 260 bodies were recovered from the site of the music festival from which Argamani was taken.
Who can describe these shameful acts as heroic? And yet the Democratic Socialists of America promoted the Times Square gathering and has lent its support to this rhetoric. Six sitting members of Congress—Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Shri Thanedar, and Greg Casar—belong to the organization, which sets the tone for many political intellectuals and journalists.
Accordingly, leftists on social media defended the idea that change must happen by any means necessary. Noah Kulwin, a contributing editor of Jewish Currents, compared the attacks to John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry. Lake Micah, an editor at Harper’s and The Drift, hailed the attacks. “A near-century’s pulverized overtures toward ethnic realization, of groping for a medium of existential latitude—these things culminate in drastic actions in need of no apologia,” he wrote on X.* It is interesting to find an editor at a prestige magazine celebrating bloodshed as a means of “ethnic realization.” And it is fortunate for him that he seems incapable of writing clearly, or he might simply have written, “Kill the Jews.” Gabriel Winant, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, said that criticizing Palestinian tactics was “politically meaningless.”
As millennial socialists embrace the bloodiest form of Palestinian nationalism, it is worth recalling the very different perspective once represented by the DSA’s founder, Michael Harrington. Harrington, who died in 1989, started out in the Catholic Worker movement, to which he had been drawn by the concern for the poor and rejection of violence modeled by Dorothy Day. As he lost his Catholic faith, he moved toward socialism (an ideology Day opposed). But unlike many on the left, he rejected Soviet apologetics and the vilification of Israel.
In a 1975 interview, Harrington described how many on the left had adopted a “third-world romanticism” that spoke of the “US always being bad and the Third World always right.” Harrington lamented the fact that “some young Jewish leftists, feeling a need to prove their commitment to socialism and internationalism, had to be more anti-Israel than anyone else.” Harrington, for his part, identified with the Jewish state’s social-democratic tradition, while supporting Palestinian self-determination on peaceful terms.
Whatever can be said against this view, it is far nobler and more humane than what one currently hears from the DSA and its media and academic allies. Over time, the left’s opposition to Israel has only grown—in part because of changes in Western perceptions of the country. What was once was seen as a secular nation, led by liberals and socialists and embodied in the kibbutzim, has now come to be perceived as religious and right-wing.
People who regard Western civilization as inherently racist, violent, misogynistic, and unjust have come to see Israel as the purest distillation of the essence of that rotten civilization. Polemics against the Jewish state often double as indictments of other Western countries, particularly the United States. “From Palestine to Mexico, all of the walls have got to go,” the rallygoers chanted in Times Square.
Across the street, pro-Israel protesters waved a Pride flag bearing a Star of David. It was an attempt to recapture for Israel the image of forward-looking secularity, but it may already be out of date. It is hard to imagine the Star of David joining the panoply on the Pride Progress flag, a banner that associates sexual liberation with a certain understanding of ethnic conflict.
This week, millennial socialism revealed its moral bankruptcy. While videos of atrocities circulated online, its adherents made excuses for kidnapping, rape, and the killing of noncombatants. In recent years, millennial socialists have come closer to the Democratic mainstream, but they continue to distinguish themselves by their eagerness to overlook, excuse, or embrace the crimes of Palestinian extremists. In doing so, they forfeit any right they might have possessed to speak as enemies of injustice and cruelty.