Barely three months have passed since the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment allegations story exploded, and since the #MeToo campaign followed and went viral shortly thereafter. Since then, the number of men who have been fired or forced to resign – in the entertainment industry, the arts, academia and politics – has been nothing short of shocking. Quite likely, only the tip of the iceberg has been revealed; there are doubtless numerous other victims with stories to tell and wrongs that still need to be righted.
Even so, the conversation has begun to broaden beyond the obvious cases which need to be exposed. In The New York Times last week, noted author and feminist Daphne Merkin wondered aloud whether we have gotten carried away. In an op-ed headlined “Publicly, We Say #Me- Too. Privately, We Have Misgivings,” she expressed concern about “scattershot, life-destroying denunciations” and a climate in which “to be accused is to be convicted, [because] due process is nowhere to be found.” “There is an inquisitorial whiff in the air,” she said, so that “[s]ome women... have gone so far as to call it an outright witch hunt.”
Merkin’s purpose is obviously not to diminish the importance of the #MeToo phenomenon. What motivates her is a desire not to return (in her words) to a “victimology paradigm for young women,” not to see them “as frail as Victorian housewives.” Not surprisingly, her piece elicited a tidal wave of response; what she has done, even at great person risk and with great courage, is to add nuance to a critical conversation in a society in which nuance is tragically rare.
Merkin’s nuanced pushback needs to be compared to the responses of others who are seizing on #MeToo precisely in order to expand the “victimology paradigm” far beyond women. Not surprisingly, when that happens, the named culprit is often Israel.
Peter Beinart, who wrote a compelling mea culpa in The Atlantic a few weeks ago, in which he acknowledged that he had “made a series of moral compromises in order to stay at The New Republic,” now wishes to apply the lessons learned to Israeli oppression. “As I watch the extraordinary reckoning between women and men,” he wrote in The Forward more recently, “I sometimes wonder: Will there ever be such a reckoning between Palestinians and Jews?”
Beinart’s argument is not new. Just as many men (including himself, he honorably admits) looked the other way when confronted with sexual harassment in the workplace, so, too, American Jewish support for Israel fosters “a relationship of oppression and deliberate ignorance. American Jews help sustain America’s near-automatic support for the Israeli government. And that support makes possible Israel’s denial of basic rights... to millions of Palestinians.”
Beinart and I have been disagreeing – and debating – about Israel’s foreign policy, American Jewish attitudes to Israel and more for years. We are not likely to agree anytime in the near future. But something about this new analogy strikes me as particularly pernicious, deeply unfair to both Israel and women.
Beinart’s assertion that the #MeToo paradigm ought to be applied to Israel and the Palestinians is deeply unfair to Israel; it suggests that the relationship of Israel and the Palestinians is as cut and dry as the Weinstein or Lauer cases. But that, of course, is absurd. Whatever one wants to say about Israel’s conduct of the occupation, the Palestinians do not yet have a state largely because of decisions that they have made. It was Palestinian terrorism that killed the Oslo Accords. Yasser Arafat’s response to Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David was the Second Intifada. The Palestinians’ response to Ehud Olmert’s offer was to ignore it. But mentioning that, Beinart says, is an “absurd rationalization.”
But what is truly absurd is analogizing Israel to the moral reprehensibility of men abusing their power, when there are often no “two sides” to the story. In the most egregious cases, such as rape (we’ll ignore the controversy about explicit consent now sweeping across American campuses), blame must never be shared. Rape is a vicious violation of the very worst order. It is black and white; there are no grays, and we must never pretend there are. Does Beinart really think that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is equally clear, and that the Israelis are the rapists? Why must every moral conversation in society end up dumped at the door of Israel’s “sins”?
Beinart’s analogy is equally unfair to women. For if female victims are analogized to Palestinians, then he is suggesting that they share some of the blame. But that is obviously not what he wishes to do. The drive to blame Israel ironically leads him to sully what should be a conversation about moral outrage and the treatment of women.
“Intersectionality” in the American progressive world, in which all liberal causes are intertwined and one has to buy into all in order to have a voice about any, is always intellectually nonsensical and almost invariably leads to Israel-bashing. That is unfortunately nothing new. What is new and sad is that to buttress their progressive credentials, even ostensible supporters of the Jewish state are willing to embrace that intellectual and moral shoddiness, doing both women and the Jewish people a heinous injustice.
The writer is the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalem College. His latest book, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, received the National Jewish Book Award as the 2016 “Book of the Year.”