Israel Was Ground Zero for the New Woke Religion (Tablet, July 27, 2020)

How coverage of the Jewish state became a signifier of the ideological activism that now permeates Western culture

Tablet Magazine
July 27, 2020
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
A video cameraman for the Reuters News Agency in the West Bank city of Ramallah, April, 2002. CHRIS HONDROS/GETTY IMAGES

This year many people have discovered that liberal life and institutions in the West are in the grip of something resembling a new religion. Anyone following the doings of the past few months won’t need a recap of the attempted “cancellations” of scholars and scientists for heresies, the purge of editors for running the wrong op-ed, or the excommunication of J.K. Rowling.

Adherents of the thought system vaguely described as “woke” believe themselves to be fighting evil in the name of justice. They share a hierarchy of good, a lingo, purity tests, and a stark division of the world into friend and foe, all of which borrow heavily from religious modes of thought. But one of the most obvious signs that religion is in play, and not merely empirical observation or political criticism, is the way this ideology has focused and amplified the condemnation of Jews.

All of this has made me think differently about my experience as a reporter in Israel a decade ago, and particularly about an essay I wrote in 2014 for Tablet, which was one of the first publications to pick up on these trends. That essay, “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth,” and a second one that appeared in The Atlantic, described the replacement of journalism here by activism, the subjugation of objective description to higher ideological truth, and the manufacture of politically driven morality plays in the guise of news. I took this to be a problem related to, and perhaps limited to, perceptions of Jewish people and of Israel.

From the vantage point of 2020, that understanding was far too narrow. To pull a metaphor from this strange moment: I thought I’d seen the outbreak, when I was really just hanging out in the wet market. The Israel story was just a formative stage in the evolution of a more ambitious set of ideas. Israel was an early target for adherents of the movement for social justice, but it wasn’t just that. It was a place to manufacture a mobilizing mythology. …

(Read the whole thing here.)