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The left’s generational battle over Israel

Will the liberal donor class finally open its eyes?

Demonstrators call for a ceasefire inside the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 18. Associated Press/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

The left’s generational battle over Israel
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While President Joe Biden proclaims his steadfast support for Israel, many in his party and even some in his administration not only criticize the Jewish state but seem to believe it has no right to defend itself in the wake of the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust.

Old-style Democrats like Biden tend to stand with Israel, while the left’s ideologues tend to place Israel among the “white” “colonialist” oppressors.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a wealthy organization the left uses to demonize its ideological opponents, reveals the left’s dilemma on the Jewish state.

The SPLC serves as a good barometer for the activist left. As I wrote in my book, Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the SPLC built its reputation by rightly suing Ku Klux Klan groups into bankruptcy, but then the group turned to develop a program that simultaneously smears its ideological opponents and raises money by exaggerating hate.

The SPLC acts as an ideological enforcer for liberal ideology. It advocates the left’s views in education through its Learning for Justice education program, and it polices American speech through its hate accusations.

Yet the SPLC also has a well-earned reputation as a fundraising juggernaut. The group has an endowment above $730 million and brought in $140 million in total revenues for last year.

This means the SPLC has a large donor base, some of which dates to the early 1970s. The SPLC must keep both the old-style liberal donors happy while appealing to the younger generation who staff its offices and push its education programs.

So, how has the SPLC handled the Oct. 7 attacks, when Hamas terrorists slaughtered 1,400 Israelis, massacring civilians in their homes and youth at a music festival? How has it responded after some Americans celebrated this evil and engaged in anti-Semitic harassment? Surely this civil rights organization would come out swinging against such hate, right?

Wrong. The SPLC remained silent for three weeks. When it finally issued a statement, it blamed Israel for having “targeted” Palestinian children with airstrikes. Only after I publicly denounced this statement did the SPLC stealth-edit the statement to remove that false accusation.

That statement rightly condemned the Hamas terrorist attacks, but it also suggested that such terrorism is “outside of our purview” because it took place overseas. The SPLC showed no such restraint when it rushed to blame then-Fox News host Tucker Carlson for the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. It rushed up an article on the same day as that overseas terror attack.

Did the innocent Israeli lives horrifically taken by Hamas matter to the SPLC union? How about the hostages who live in fear for their lives every single day?

When it came to the Oct. 7 attacks, the SPLC did not delay because the terrorism was somehow outside its “purview,” but because the attacks were inconvenient for its political narrative—and its operations.

On Oct. 18, pro-Palestinian protesters occupied the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building, one of three buildings for congressional staff. U.S. Capitol Police arrested 305 protesters for illegally demonstrating inside a congressional building.

That same day, the SPLC’s labor union released a statement about Oct. 7, more than a week before the SPLC itself would later do so.

“What we see in Gaza is the violent imperialist desecration of a people—the beginnings of a genocide,” the labor union posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. The statement called for a cease-fire, even though Hamas still holds more than 200 hostages, and “an end to the occupation.”

Did the innocent Israeli lives horrifically taken by Hamas matter to the SPLC union? How about the hostages who live in fear for their lives every single day? The union had no words for the Israeli dead, for the American citizens who died in the attacks, or for the hostages.

When Gallup surveyed Democrats in January, it found that, for the first time ever, more Democrats sympathized with the Palestinians (49 percent) than the Israelis (38 percent). Although most Americans still favored the Israelis, younger Americans tended to support the Palestinians more.

The Gallup results aren’t out of the norm. An Economist/YouGov poll conducted after the Oct. 7 attacks found that younger Americans and those who described their ideology as liberal were more likely to sympathize with the Palestinians than self-described conservatives and those over 30.

The SPLC has faced many scandals in the past—including a sexual harassment and racial discrimination scandal in 2019—but this Hamas-Israel war may endanger its relationship with the older donor class. Perhaps the donors who think the SPLC is an upstanding force against anti-Semitism may finally see just how far left this organization has gone, and reconsider expanding the SPLC’s already incredible treasury.

Tyler O’Neil

Tyler O’Neil, managing editor of The Daily Signal, is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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