Is ‘Political Correctness’ Just a Rightwing Bugaboo?

Categories: Israel, Letters From Leadership
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My new essay on the complexities of “Political Correctness” was published at the Jewish Currents Blog-Shmog on April 22.  (I had no hand in choosing the illustrations.)  It explores the subject in general and in three specific areas, one of which caused me to be expelled from the ranks of writers for Tikkun magazine and its blog.  What follows is the part on Israel and the Palestinians:

. . .  On one level, using PC terminology in reference to women, the disabled, and ethnic or sexual minorities is truly about politeness and consideration for the feelings of others. It also elevates our shared awareness of how common stereotypes or hateful assumptions have become embedded in everyday language, as in such hurtful expressions as “Jewing someone down” or “Indian giving.” But zeal for this virtuous purpose has given rise to a new orthodoxy.  . . .

PC expression is not just a question of terminology, but also of the cause being promoted or denigrated.  The Left traditionally champions people who are regarded as downtrodden and battling against powerful social and political forces.  Hence, the Palestinians are obviously the PC cause of choice in their conflict with Israel, and for some very good reasons — given the Palestinians’ underdog status and the ongoing violence and oppression that disproportionately affect them.  One can argue about whether their leaders have been adequate partners for peace, or if other conflicts and oppressions in the world are not much worse, but that’s not relevant to my purpose here.

Still, some left-wing Jews, even as they support Palestinian rights, complain of being subject to a demeaning litmus test regarding Israel and Zionism, risking ostracism or expulsion if they don’t come up with the “correct” response.  This was the problem experienced by the Renewal rabbi, activist and journalist Michael Lerner, who was barred from addressing an anti-war rally in San Francisco in February, 2003, because of his support for a two-state peace between Israel and the Palestinians.  I dined with Lerner when we both attended an SF Bay Area conference entitled “Facing a Challenge Within,” about anti-Semitism on the Left, during the summer of 2004.  There I learned of activists for gay rights and other progressive causes feeling constrained against expressing support for Israel’s existence, or even in criticizing Palestinian violence against unarmed civilians. 

Political Correctness at its worst rejects complexity and cuts off discussion. I got a further sense of this in reporting for the Forward in 2012 on a panel in New York at the New School, in which Norman Finkelstein was the moderate for supporting a two-state solution. Fellow panelist Anna Baltzer — the “national organizer” (i.e., the number two staffer) at the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation — called J Street “racist” for advocating an end to the occupation primarily because it’s in the best interest of Israel and Jews; she insisted that Jews must subordinate their efforts and concerns to Palestinian leadership, since Palestinians are the oppressed party in that conflict..  . . .

Click here to read my piece in its entirety.

About Ralph Seliger

A veteran editor, freelance writer and blogger, I edited the print magazine, "Israel Horizons," from 2003 until 2011; and I've blogged for and edited the Meretz USA and now Partners for Progressive Israel Blog since its inception in 2006 (although I no longer edit the PPI Blog). I've been an active supporter of the Zionist peace camp since 1982. Other print and online platforms where I've been published include: The Forward, The Daily Beast, History News Network, Tikkun, In These Times, Jewish Week, New Jersey Jewish News, Jewish Currents, Huffington Post, and Dissent.
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