What’s become clear, over the past month, is that the loud, social-media-savvy, and very active “pro-Palestinian” efforts across the United States and the world are the opposite of spontaneous events. They are, rather, individual moments that make up a sophisticated but extraordinarily loose and even somewhat anarchic plan carried out by network of activists, political types, small-dollar fundraisers, computer warriors, hysterics, hotheaded teenagers obsessed with TikTok and Snapchat, and not-especially employed people (students and others who are no longer students but act like students).
They were activated almost immediately, and brilliantly. They have done an astonishing job amplifying an argument rejected by most rational people—that somehow Israel should be judged the aggressor in a conflict that began when 5,000 Israelis were killed and injured in just eight hours. When I say “activated,” I don’t mean that someone pushed a button and they all rose like automata to fulfill their mechanistic roles. I mean that what has happened is the culmination of 20 years of online organizing, listserving, meet-upping, and social-network-building on the left. It began with moveon.org, designed to help the longshot Howard Dean campaign in 2003—and proved astoundingly successful when Sanders was able to raise a literally jaw-dropping $80 million online through small donations in a way no one had ever fundraised before.
Moveon.org was the beginning. It turned out the people’s tools on the Internet—chat rooms, discussion board, email chains, and the like—represented a way of harnessing a disparate public that never before had the means or the ability to congregate nationally or internationally. Social media made it even more potent. And then the issue sets of the 2010s and 2020s pulled all of it together. The rise of Black Lives Matter rhetoric was matched by organizational savvy in helping pull together demonstrations following the event in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 in which a police officer (justifiably, in the eyes of every serious investigation) killed a fleeing suspect.
Moving on, the 3.5 million people who gathered in Washington for the “pussy hat” counter-inaugural against Donald Trump spoke to the cross-generational, cross-class, cross-demographic potential of the Internet to organize, direct, and create. That movement in turn was critical to moving matters off the streets and into the back rooms to help make possible the astounding anti-Trump vote gathered in 2018 in the midterms to knock the GOP out of the majority in the House. And then, of couse, came the aftermath of George Floyd, a multi-week explosion of events and demonstrations and marches and bridge and highway shutdowns, all of which simply resulted from the broadcasting of information and key advice on how to get where you were supposed to go and what to do once you got there.
So when October 7 happened, and the word went out that something Black Lives Matter-y was happening to Palestinians, all the usual suspects over the course of 20 years were there, ready, receiving emails by the dozens with geolocating pins for where to gather and make noise. And what to do. And where to go. And if they might have flagged for a single second, or given two thoughts to what they were actually doing and saying and protesting, no worries—because the organizational emails and the TikToks and the made-up stories and the accusations that the other side was making up stories simply did not allow reality to break through to the latest good-guy-bad-guy-melodrama into which they had yet again been thrust—another woke party, another progressive pantheistic pandemonium they could join and just have a whole hell of a lot of fun with. See those posters? Tear ’em down! And if someone with an iPhone asked you why you were doing it, why you were taking down a picture of a four year-old trapped in a tunnel by kidnappers, you just said “F— you” and giggled and kept on doing it.
All this is to say the combination of Internet and social-media culture and the motivating drive of progressive American politics always to be “in your face” proved uniquely suited to bring people into the streets and out onto the campuses and making videos on social media and tweeting their hearts out. Automated letters to senators and congressmen and local politicians, pioneered over the past decade or so to make it as easy as possible for people to express political views without any effort, went into overdrive. And those cost-free, effort-free letters and robocalls did their jobs, freaking out public officials from the demagogic Sen. Chris Murphy to the uber-hack Sen. Dick Durbin and getting them to start chanting “ceasefire” to give Hamas the time it wants and needs to regroup down below, target more Israelis, and who knows, maybe torture some more children.
As for those who stand against all this, basically the sheer force of this 20-year system knocked us back on our knees. No sooner were we dealing with one outbreak at one college than there were four more. No sooner had we clucked our tongues at a creep tearing down a kidnapped poster than there were 30 more, and in every city, everywhere.
And that’s the ultimate point. What is the purpose of this? It is all a psy-op. It is designed to confuse, to muddle, to distract. It is to knock us off our stride, and keep us from advancing the aggressive argument that a Holocaustal slaughter was visited upon the Jews and the Jews must take every step to make it clear that any Holocaustal slaughters will be met with the kind of force that will end the lives of anyone who wants to try it again. And to some extent, here in America, they have achieved their aim. We are arguing over the evil of tearing down posters rather than the evil of Hamas, to some extent. And mostly, they want to scare the fragile old man in the White House who wants that second term and also wants to support Israel but not tooo much, mind you, because he never wants to do anything toooo much because then he can’t pull back and say nothing was his fault.
This is all a psy-op—a massive psychological operation to make fighting alongside the actual fighters in Israel more difficult and more exhausting and maybe we should just go home and watch the football game. But here’s the point about psy-ops. They’re not real. They’re projected shadows into Plato’s cave, seeking to scare people about the monster outside that doesn’t really exist. Something like 70 percent of Americans say Hamas is to blame for the civilian casualties in Gaza. Americans support Israel over Hamas five fold, and that number has not been declining.
Don’t fall for the psy-op. Keep going.