July 14, 2020

FOX | The Tragedy of the Campus Conservative (Take It From the Progressive Jew)

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As the COVID-19 pandemic batters the United States — the most wealthy and well-warned country in the world — we are reminded again of the failure that is the modern Republican Party. Its leader is both malicious and foolish, intentionally letting people die en masse while commending the medicinal  potential of bleach. Its congressional representatives have abandoned their duty to the American people in favor of waging a bloody war on democracy and truth for the sole purpose of securing more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. The party is rotten. What’s a campus conservative to do?

Well, I’m no conservative. Far from it. But I offer a parallel: The crisis of the liberal Jew — raised on progressive values of justice, camaraderie, equality and communal agency —  in the face of Israel’s pursuit of annexation. The trajectories of our stories are both parallel and linked, their outcomes equally tragic.

When the modern state of Israel was born in 1948, Jews across the globe wept tears of joy for the realization of a 2,000 year-old dream. Five years later, Republicans returned to the White House for the first time in over two decades with Dwight Eisenhower’s landslide election. But, in a musty back corner of Israel’s bold vision for a progressive state, lurked a sinister aspiration for settler colonialism. As Eisenhower’s vice president, the equally-sinister Richard Nixon bided his time.

In the summer of 1967, Israel decisively won its second major war against its neighbors. Over the course of six days, it claimed the Golan Heights from Syria in the North, the Sinai Desert and Gaza Strip from Egypt in the South and the West Bank of the Jordan River from Jordan. Thus began the Occupation.

One year later, Richard Nixon clinched the presidency with deployment of the Southern Strategy, which aimed to attract white voters angry about the successes of the Civil Rights Movement away from the Democratic Party. The GOP never looked back.

Israel returned the majority of its new land to Egypt in exchange for long-sought peace. But it maintained dominion over the West Bank and Gaza, resulting in the longest occupation in modern history. Over the next five decades, the Occupation became intractable. Quality of life in Gaza plummeted. Israeli society raised multiple generations to be administrators of the lives of millions of Palestinians with ever-diminishing hope of self-determination. The soul of Israel, once defined by a ragtag bunch of Jewish socialists fleeing discrimination, violence and genocide to build an egalitarian homeland, darkened with each passing year.

With its fortunes invested entirely in white America and funded by corporate interests, the party of Lincoln transformed. Ronald Reagan was a ferocious racist who spent his career reallocating wealth to the already wealthy. The Federalist Society was founded to mint judges to fill federal court seats and release decisions bolstering the Republican Party. This move paid off in 2000 when the conservative majority on the Supreme Court handed the presidential election to popular vote loser George Bush — a first in American history. Bush then appointed the judges responsible for gutting the landmark Voting Rights Act years later.

In the years since its prime, Israeli society has so thoroughly digressed from its founding ethos that it threatens annexation of the West Bank, dehumanizes Palestinian people and repeatedly elects a criminal with anti-democratic asperations, Binyamin Netanyahu, as their prime minister. The left-wing is diminished to a shadow. After its most recent election, Netanyahu’s chief competitor, himself right-of-center, capitulated entirely and handed control of the government over to a racist soon to be tried for corruption.

Perhaps something is rotten in the State of Israel; but, more probably, the State of Israel is rotting. So too is the American Republican Party. From assaults on voting rights and civil liberties to disavowal of climate science to threatening to shoot Black Lives Matter protesters, the party has become politically anti-democratic and morally wicked. It must be stopped.

As the young Jew must recognize that Israel’s moral corruption has become endemic, the young conservative must understand that the modern Republican Party is rotten to the bone. Neither can be cured until they are made to experience the consequences of the collapse of their principles.

The tragedy of the campus conservative is the looming choice between intra-party rebellion — political homelessness — and allegiance to history’s villains. Turn your back on your party, conservatives. Demand morality as a minimum price for loyalty. It will be painful. But, in the end, you will have a party to proudly call home. We Jews must withdraw our unconditional support from the state that manifests our people’s 2,000-year dream and denounce its crimes. Only then might we once again be able to look proudly toward a homeland defined not by division and oppression, but by equality and shared purpose.

A terrifying road awaits us. The worldview cultivated in our youth was simple, a sturdy foundation. But the foundation is crumbled. We either take this road toward rebuilding, or stumble into a future of pain for others and regret for ourselves. Know that as you, conservatives of conscience, walk away from your party, you won’t be walking alone. This progressive Jew will be walking alongside you, waiting and working for a future party, and state, that can earn our support as moral and good.

 

Elijah Fox is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at efox@cornellsun.com. What Does the Fox Say? runs biweekly this summer.