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Boohoo to You, Too!
Breaking the bad news to a good friend | Non-Fiction | Fresh Soup
A few days ago, I met an old friend. Like most Israelis I’ve seen since October 7, she looked broken and anguished. But in addition to the familiar feelings of grief, terror and loss, I picked up on something else she projected: a sense of betrayal.
As a staunch progressive, this had come out of nowhere for her. After all, she’d always been one of the good ones, she’d done all the right things: joined the most righteous protests, refused to use plastic straws, cancelled everyone that deserved to be cancelled. She was the first to switch her Facebook profile to the Ukrainian flag, the first to share the cartoon of Putin with a little Hitler moustache. For years, she stood with the weak and the oppressed, always identified with their pain and derided anyone else’s. And then, on the worst day of her life, on that bloody Saturday when a brutal terrorist organization murdered and kidnapped hundreds of her people, all those American and European partners to the struggle – the ones who’d always been at her side in various protest movements – were now suddenly giving her the cold shoulder.
“I don’t understand,” she lamented, her voice cracking, “don’t they have eyes? Can’t they see the massacre? The cruelty? The inhumanity? Can’t they understand that in the horrific story of October 7, we were actually the good guys?”
The answer is no. They can’t see that we’re the good guys because, in the world we now live in, there are no good guys: there are only bad guys and worse guys. The progressive paradigm has come to mean that you decide who the victims are, and you identify with them so completely that you utterly disregard the claims and suffering of the alleged perpetrator. And in that mode of thinking, it’s very easy to find yourself on the side that gets cancelled. Especially when you’ve been occupying another people for over 56 years. Reality is complex and ambiguous, while the progressive worldview is simplified, unequivocal and righteous—or at least it can appear that way when you’re part of the well-meaning crowd gathered for a public stoning.
This friend was there when standup comics were cancelled because of a homophobic, racist or misogynist joke. And when those unenlightened, humorless comics stammered to the press about how their lives had been destroyed because of one ill-conceived joke, she was there to mockingly boohoo them. Because how could a privileged West Coast comedian have the audacity to compare his own suffering to that of a person of color, or a trans person, or a woman?
I suggested to my friend that she close her eyes, take a deep breath, and try to experience what it feels like. How does it feel when someone reduces your existence to good or bad, like or dislike, one or zero? How does it feel when someone disparages your suffering and treats it as unworthy of empathy?
The progressive left has not betrayed Israel. In the binary worldview that says you must support one side and hate the other, progressive leftists chose—legitimately, as they see it—the oppressed, impoverished, occupied side. And the second they made that choice, they lost interest in the other side’s agony. So when the beheaded children, the raped and murdered women, and the elderly people kidnapped to Gaza all belong to the culpable side—they’re fair game for cancellation.
I told my friend that instead of charging the progressive left with betraying its own values, we should admit the truth: these organizations and individuals have actually remained steadfastly loyal to their credo. It might be over-simplified, heartless, and not all that fair, but it’s still a credo, and it has brought about many positive changes in the world. In this credo, you can cancel a bad person or a bad opinion, and after that there’s no further need for self-reflection, ambiguity, scrutinizing the facts, or anything else that gets in the way of writing a furious post that might go viral. I told my friend that, the way I see it, the progressive left is still exactly the same, except that now it’s turned against her. That’s how it goes: if cancelling people is legitimate, it’s only a matter of time before entire countries are cancelled. And once that happens, there’s no way back. A nation that occupies another people’s lands shouldn’t go crying to Greta Thunberg or Roger Waters when its families are burned alive in their homes.
We spent a long and sad afternoon talking about people we knew who’d been murdered or kidnapped: a historian we once met, the son of a student she knows from university, the sisters of the newspaper editor who edits my op-eds. Death was all around us and we felt both relieved and guilty that, for now, it was keeping its distance from our families and close friends. Before we said goodbye, I reminded this friend of an old argument we had a few years ago about MeToo. I claimed that the movement was less focused on examining facts and doing justice, more on giving voice to anger and revenge, and that on its way to correcting fundamental wrongs, it might end up also cancelling people who didn’t really deserve it. “When you chop down trees, some woodchips go flying,” she answered with a shrug. Who could have imagined, back then, that the day would come when she would be one of the woodchips?