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Wesley Yang On The Successor Ideology

Wesley Yang On The Successor Ideology

The writer who coined that term - a sort of unifying theory of wokeness - talks with me about the Great Awokening, and how to counter it.

Wesley is a columnist for Tablet magazine, the author of The Souls of Yellow Folk, and a newly minted substacker. I’ve long admired him both for his essays and for his dry-as-toast Twitter feed. In this episode, we discuss the Great Awokening and critical race theory in great detail. You’ve be warned.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). Read the full transcript here. For three clips of our conversation — on Wes describing the core concepts of the successor ideology, on some ways BLM has arrested a multi-racial liberalism, and on how wokeness has captured corporate America, including top magazines — head over to our YouTube page.

Understandably, given the polarizing topic of Israel and Palestine, many readers are upset over last week’s episode with Peter Beinart, who has become highly controversial in Jewish circles. This first dissenter accuses me of having a lens similar to the successor ideology when it comes to Israel:

I could begin this email denouncing you for letting Beinart lead us into the factual swamp of Israel/Palestine. I’m sure some will. But surely over the years you have read all the bulletins and bullet points — about how many times the Palestinians and their leadership has been offered generous, or at least negotiable, promising terms for a peace settlement. 

These are proposals that would have given Palestinians so much more than they might get today — land swaps, half a capital city of Jerusalem, etc. I would even spare you the history of the 48 War of Independence (who invaded whom etc.); the attempts to negotiate after various conflicts; the failure of Oslo; the terror; the genocidal Hamas charter; the refusal to give up the right of return; the fact that Israeli Arabs CAN vote in Israeli elections; the miserable conditions of Palestinians in neighbouring countries which so many anti-Zionists couldn’t give a damn about. Etc. Etc.

No doubt you know all of that — and how the center and left in Israel have been hollowed out by the failure of all of this, and the poisonous lack of trust on both sides. But what really amazed me about your episode was how you seemed to discard all that. It’s a great example of how a “successor ideology or narrative” can drain the complexity and nuance from the situation — even from from you, a complicated conservative who argues for nuance and complexity every week. It’s a victory for what might be called “ideological capture.” I expected more from you.  (Your friend Beinart, well, I expect little from him but utopian fantasy.)

I do indeed know all of that, and sympathize with much of my reader’s points. I also know that the settlement policy is now and always has been the core obstacle to any deal and that Israel has doubled down on that repeatedly, enabled by Washington in successive administrations. Another reader, “genuinely saddened by your episode with Beinart,” gets into more specifics:

I’m an Israeli, and like you, I’m originally from the UK. I’ve come to regard your podcast as essential, and up to this episode, you had not discussed Israel, and I had no idea of your views on my country. I listen and read enough from people, from all sides, discussing my all-too-obsessed-about little state. And it turns out that you share Peter Beinart’s far-left, anti-Zionist, historically selective views.

You say that liberal Zionists are lying when they claim to want two states. I know that’s not the case. I’m a liberal Zionist, I want two states. I’m desperate for an end to the conflict, if for no other reason than I’d like my young children to not have to serve in the army. I also know Palestinians, who I would love to see free from occupation.

But it’s not that simple. (This blog piece I wrote in the wake of Trump’s “Deal of the Century” non-peace plan is a decent summary of where I stand.) You, who are so consistently excellent at understanding the nuances and complexities of American society, and capable of seeing the threat to liberal democracy from both sides of the political map, must surely appreciate that you are not getting the full picture from your vantage point in the U.S.

I’m sorry, but it is not the case that no Israeli government was serious about two states. We can agree that the Netanyahu government was not, but even that government, under pressure from the Obama administration, took steps towards negotiations that the Palestinian leadership rejected. There was a long piece by, I think, Jeffrey Goldberg telling the story of Obama/Kerry’s failed push for Israeli-Palestinian peace. In addition to much criticism of Netanyahu (all of which I agree with), there was also the retelling of a scene where Obama administration officials are raging in disbelief at Mahmoud Abbas’s seeming unwillingness to, at the very least, call Netanyahu’s bluff and sit down at the negotiating table that Kerry’s efforts had brought to his door.

Peter Beinart knows all of this, and he can be really thoughtful and nuanced, but he’s totally bought into the anti-Israel left. An example of his willful ignorance was his endorsement on the podcast of the idea that South Africa and Israel had an ideological partnership, not just a marriage of convenience, “especially under Begin.” I happen to know that’s bullshit. In fact, it was Begin who visited South African Jewish communities in the 1960s and refused to talk at events where blacks were banned from attending. Begin’s plan for the West Bank (never realised) involved offering the Palestinians the option of Israeli citizenship because, as he said, “we do not want to be South Africa.”

I’m pretty sure Beinart knows all this. I wish you would realise that your frustration at his distortion of U.S. politics, through woke lenses, almost exactly mirrors the way liberal Zionists experience his description of Israel.

Israel is facing its own challenges to its democracy, not directly connected to the occupation but rather to the growing illiberal, populist nationalist right — we have our own Trumps and Viktor Orbans. (This is a struggle I’m very involved in here, and I’ve written about for the Persuasion site.) One of the reasons the revelation of your Israel views was so disappointing for me was that I see Americans like you — committed to liberal democracy, with zero tolerance for its enemies — as allies.

I am an ally. And I’m glad to air your dissent. I have long recognized the self-defeating intransigence of the Palestinians and the excrescence of Hamas. But again, I can’t explain or defend the settlements. It’s really that simple. And it’s striking that neither of my two correspondents mentions them. This is precisely what frustrates me about liberal Zionists: in the end, they always avoid that inexcusable reality. Which is why the two-state solution is definitively dead.

Another Israeli lays into me:

Your substack — intelligent and insightful — has been a highlight of my week since its inception. But I was horrified listening to your conversation about Israel with Peter Beinart. 

I would not have guessed that you would buy into the patronizing view that the main obstacle to peace is Israel’s unwillingness to make concessions, denying all agency to Palestinians, whose rejectionism is manifestly the primary reason that peace has failed. The Israeli public moved from support to suspicion of the two-state solution after two painfully deep gestures were met with violence: the Clinton peace initiatives having been answered by deadly intifada (in which nearly every Israeli, myself included, had a personal connection to one of the thousands of murdered Israelis), and the wrenching Gaza withdrawal of 2005 having been met with murderous rocket attacks targeting civilians. Absent any evidence whatsoever that Palestinian attitudes have moderated, why would Israelis make a 3rd such deadly mistake? Based on real historical experience, Beinart’s bi-national state is a delusional proposal.

Personally, I felt deeply wounded and insulted to hear your own view that Israelis’ new skepticism about Palestinian readiness for peace is evidence that earlier support of two-state initiatives by people like me was in bad faith. Seriously? Maybe you think that Jews’ expressions of concern about being murdered are exaggerated, but alleging that they were made in bad faith is going way too far. 

I used to advocate for a two-state solution, but changed my mind because I prefer not to be murdered. Two generations ago, close relatives of mine were murdered by the Nazis. During the Intifada, in response to peace gestures that you see as based on “lies,” my younger brother’s close friend was murdered in a bed in which my older brother had slept five days prior. Two months ago, my 9-month-pregnant daughter labored in a bomb shelter, listening to missiles explode that were sent by a Palestinian government with the intent to murder her. Two weeks ago, a Rabbi in Boston was stabbed by an Islamic extremist, four minutes walk from the house where I raised my children, surviving only because he was a judo black-belt. 

Peter Beinart has the excuse that he is exorcising his own demons, but I am much more shocked by your assertion that people like me are liars. Although I would like to believe that you personally bear my people no malice, I cannot help but see the open disparagement of realistic Israeli safety concerns in your conversation with Beinart as aligned with the current worldwide surge in antisemitism that quite literally endangers me and my family. I expected better from you.

I’m sorry you feel that way. And to be clear: I don’t think liberal Zionists were consciously lying all those years; just that their convictions about a two-state solution never amounted to backing pressure to stop and reverse the settlements, which made the whole process a farce. They did everything to prevent Washington imposing real costs on Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Another dissenter turns to Beinart:

Your interviews are a kind of litmus test, for if someone won’t consider all sides of an issue with you, they’re unlikely to do so at all. But I’ve never heard any of your interviewees turn off their intellect in the midst of an interview before this week.  At the start of the last half-hour of your interview with Peter Beinart, when you started talking about the lack of intellectual diversity at the NYT, the give and take of the preceding hour vanished and Beinart transformed into an Ally. 

As I listened, I pictured Beinart putting his hands over his ears and screaming la-la-la-la-la in order to ignore your persuasive and well-founded criticism of identity politics. He could be objectively compassionate about Palestinians or non-white South African. However, his ability to reason vanished when it came to criticizing, even indirectly, black Americans who have graduated for the most part from elite universities (like Beinart himself) and who are generously compensated at papers like the NYT and magazines like The Atlantic. It’s so bizarre. That is one of the tragedies of Allyship on the part of otherwise talented journalists. It happens all too often these days, alas.

Another reader notes an omission:

I felt as if you were challenging Beinart effectively throughout the episode, especially midstream when he was letting South African black leadership for the last 30 years off the hook a bit (the soft racism of low expectations on his part, methinks). But then I listened in dismay as there were no similar call-outs of Palestinian leadership (I listened — the word “Hamas” wasn’t uttered once).

We didn’t discuss everything but, for what it’s worth, I share your belief about the Palestinian leadership’s complicity in the quagmire, and of Hamas’ evil. Yet another dissenter:

It’s funny how you can see how wrong Beinart is on racial issues in the U.S. without realizing that his wrong views on Israel stem from his insistence on exporting American views about race and white supremacy to an arena where they simply don’t fit.

Israel is not a melting pot in the same way that the U.S. is (though I think it’s supposed to be racist to use the term “melting pot” now). Israel is a Jewish ethnic democracy that extends full rights to citizens of other backgrounds. While this definitely feels foreign to Americans, it is roughly the same deal as in Japan, Korea, Portugal, Greece, Norway, etc. So when you and Beinart go on about how Israel is denying the right to vote (to whom? to the Palestinians who aren’t citizens of Israel and don’t want to be citizens of Israel? certainly not to the Israeli Arabs whose votes proved the linchpin in the latest round of elections), or when you two compare Israel to apartheid South Africa, you are only proving your ignorance.

You can follow, and challenge, and learn from Peter over at The Beinart Notebook, his trusty substack. As far as future Dishcast episodes on Israel and Palestine, this Israeli reader has some recommendations:

I don’t know if you want to explore Israel and Zionism more on your podcast — I suspect not, as I know it’s not your focus and it’s a horribly radioactive topic, attracting extremists on both sides. But if you did, I’d recommend you have on someone like the Israeli-American writer Yossi Klein Halevi, or the Israeli-British journalist David Horovitz. Both are highly knowledgeable and sophisticated thinkers about Israel, both committed to liberal Zionism.

Indeed. Halevi would would be a wonderful guest. We’ll invite him on. Another reader:

Please consider bringing a thoughtful dynamic Israeli thinker on the program who views things very differently than you but with whom you can relate well on an intellectual level, just so you can kick the tires on your views of Israel and that part of the world, potentially learn a bit, and maybe even help bring about a tad of healing and better understanding. Whom am I thinking of? Maybe Hen Mazzig, a Zionist Jew of Iraqi and Tunisian descent. Maybe the two guys (Palestinian and Israeli) who just did that provocative rap video that has really struck a chord. Or even a more familiar, pro-Israel voice (like Bret Stephens or Bari Weiss) whom your listeners would enjoy and benefit hearing from.

Agreed. Even more suggestions from this reader:

I’d love to hear you engage with a Zionist on this issue. Former MK Einat Wilf has that Oxbridge pedigree you love, and Yossi Klein Halevi and Micah Goodman are two of the most interesting contemporary Israeli thinkers. All three are committed liberals who would make for fascinating guests. I hope you’ll consider it.

Absolutely we will.

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