Have the Hamas attacks on Israel put “wokeness” on the ropes? Conservatives certainly seem to think so—and for some it’s a purposeful strategy.
But some progressives are acknowledging the phenomenon, as well, due to an increasing number of left-wing college students and other progressives who are siding with Hamas-ruled Gaza after attacks on Israel that began October 7 resulting in the death of 1,400 Israelis and the kidnapping of some 200 men, women and children.
Israel launched air strikes on Gaza and a ground offensive that have killed more than 10,000 Palestinians, the Associated Press reported, citing the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.
“Hamas killed my woke-ness,” wrote self-described progressive Alex Olshonsky in Tablet last month. He noted that he had previously embraced the writings of controversial Critical Race Theory (CRT) activists Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo and passionately supported Palestine for decades.
“I have heard no American Jew wish violence upon Gazans; I’ve witnessed many American so-called progressives who wish violence upon Jews,” Olshonsky wrote. “That’s not progressivism. That’s bloodthirst.”
‘Woke’ and the War
“Woke” is defined as being alert to social inequities, and its cousins are so-called “cancel culture,” diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and environmental, social and governance (ESG). Critics say it amounts to identity politics and all have been dominant and destructive forces in academia, the media, entertainment, corporate America and on Capitol Hill since the police killing of George Floyd erupted into Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests in 2020.
Seven months prior to October’s Hamas-Israeli conflict, a USA Today/Ipsos poll found that 56 percent of American voters deemed the term “woke” to be positive, associated with being informed and educated, while just 39 percent deemed it negative, likening it to censorship and being overly politically correct.
But since Hamas attacked Israel, “The woke movement has had some setbacks,” said John Pitney, a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College, though he also acknowledges it remains entrenched in educational bureaucracies.
On October 26, Gallup reported that President Joe Biden‘s job approval rating among Democrats tumbled 11 percentage points in one month to 75 percent, the worst of his entire presidency. Gallup said the poor showing “comes in the wake of the October 7 surprise attack on Israel by Hamas” and Biden’s pledge of “rock solid and unwavering” support for Israel.
And a Trafalgar Group poll taken October 15-17 that asked, “Who is most to blame for current violence in Israel?” revealed that 38.5 percent of Democrats but only 12.5 percent of Republicans blamed Israel.
Conservatives See Opportunity
James Lindsay, a critic of so-called “cultural Marxism” who has 444,000 followers on X, posted on the platform formerly known as Twitter that climate activist “Greta (Thunberg) and Hamas and the trans activists and BLM are all part of the same global revolution.”
Likewise, Christopher Rufo, the New College of Florida board member who is one of the nation’s foremost critics of CRT, posted on X: “Hamas, BLM, DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) and ‘decolonization’ theorists are bound together by the chains of intersectionality. It’s time to drive a wedge between them and the establishment left.”
He also posted on X that conservatives need to create a strong association between those groups. “Connect the dots, then attack, delegitimize, and discredit. Make the center-left disavow them. Make them political untouchables.”
Robert Cahaly, chief pollster and strategist at Trafalgar Group, says his firm’s data indicates that cancel culture and being woke is “cute and cool, until they minimize something you care about,” and Israel is akin to abortion and the Second Amendment in terms of passion among voters.
“People have woken up to the fact that woke-ness is way more important than they thought it was. It puts a dent in it,” he said. “First, it was tearing down statues and declaring your pronouns, but now its antisemitism. Now they’ve got your attention.”
Iranian-American columnist Sohrab Ahmari wrote that “woke is dying—long live the new center,” noting that the same crowd that promoted defunding the police are either refusing to condemn the actions of Hamas or celebrating them. He called it a “punctuation mark on a longer process of decline for the complex of ideas and practices that came to be known as ‘woke’.”
Brian James Godawa, who has written about the culture wars in several books, including his latest novel, Cruel Logic: The Philosopher Killer, said wokeness “has infected all realms of study in academia … This is not a passing cultural fad, or a conspiracy theory dreamed up by paranoid right-wing triumphalists.”
The goal of the woke is to create chaos, Godawa said, and conservatives are correct to be hammering that narrative.
Mark Penn, the chairman of the Harris Poll and a former chief strategist to Bill and Hillary Clinton, said the right’s effort to “connect the dots” will fail because the divide over Palestine-Israel is more generational than political.
Indeed, a Harvard CAPS/Harris poll conducted October 18-19 found that 52 percent of voters ages 18-24 believe that Hamas’ attacks on Israel “can be justified by the grievances of Palestinians,” compared with 24 percent of voters of all ages.
The young have had a “strong awakening to climate change and race relations that most people thought was good, but now they’re saying things that verge on antisemitism so it takes the shine off their purity,” he said.
He predicts, though, that it’s a short-term problem for progressives.
“Young people have no connection to the Holocaust or terrorism, so they’re susceptible to narratives that I don’t agree with,” he said. “The question is: where are they getting these narratives from? And if the left supports Hamas back in power in Gaza, it will lose a lot of supporters.”
He also notes the “contradiction” of some in the LGBTQ+ community, such as Queers for Palestine, who have been critical of Israel. “How can they square that given the human rights abuses by Hamas?”
“The Hamas terror attack should have caused many on the hard left to rethink their views of the regional conflict,” said Pitney, the political science professor. “But they are trying to shift the focus to the suffering of people in Gaza, which they blame on Israel instead of Hamas. And when Israeli ground operations lead to more civilian casualties, they will amp up their criticism of Israel.”
Hollywood Stars Face Backlash for Israel Support
An incident involving Amy Schumer, a comedian who skewers Donald Trump in her standup routines and is a passionate supporter of Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, recently illustrated the rift on the left. She posted on X a cartoon with protesters holding signs like, “Beheading is resistance” and “Gazans rape Jewish girls only in self defense,” and added the text: “Yeah yeah totally Cease fire. But mind if we get the babies back? Can y’all give that a shout too? And also try not to kill all the Jews again?”
The backlash included social media posts calling her a “Zionist liar,” “white supremacist” and “stupidest b**** on the face of the f****** planet,” thus she removed her post. This incident took place shortly after she used her social media account to call for the top editors at several mainstream news outlets to resign for initially reporting the “propaganda lie” that Israel bombed a hospital in Gaza killing 500 Palestinians.
Israel blamed a failed rocket launch by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group for the blast at al-Ahli hospital in October.
She told her 13 million followers on Instagram that, “I’m so sad to have lost so many friends these last few weeks … Im (sic) a proud Jewish Woman and have every right to be.”
Likewise, actor Josh Gad, best known as Olaf in Disney‘s Frozen, posted that he has “always called myself a Progressive. The past 2 weeks have made me feel so desperately alienated & disheartened by what that seems to encompass.”
He also noted that in many cities young, allegedly progressive activists have been ripping down posters with the names and photos of Israeli hostages who have been kidnapped by Hamas, and he laments that those behind that effort are “people I’ve always identified with.”
Also, actor-comedian-sports commentator Michael Rapaport, who routinely uses social media to bash Trump and his supporters, has instead been bashing proponents of a ceasefire.
“Hamas doesn’t give a f*** about anything except for the destruction of Israel and the destruction and death of all Jews,” he said a week ago in a video posted on X.
Such sentiments led to an online war of words between him and reliably progressive actor John Cusack. After the latter posted on X on October 18 that taking Israel’s word for it that it didn’t bomb a hospital in Gaza “won’t cut it,” Rapaport posted: “Hey @johncusack do me a favor and focus your voice on freeing the Israeli hostages captured by terrorists 10 days ago.”
Cusack’s lengthy response included, “I’ve known you a long time … do I look like a f****** rube? Don’t lecture me on morals—yr gonna loose (sic) … Don’t tell me to condemn Hamas again—or how to focus my voice—you f****** fool. I want everyone to stop killing and dying.”
Breaking With Biden
Democrat representatives Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush each voted against a House resolution dubbed, “Standing with Israel as it defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists.” And political commenter Briahna Joy Gray, a former national press secretary to Bernie Sanders, posted to social media: “The decapitated baby lie, the lies about rape—it was all to establish some moral distinction between the pile of bodies killed by Israel & the pile of bodies killed by Hamas.”
After a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu where Biden said the U.S. “will continue to have Israel’s back,” Tlaib issued a statement saying Biden “has not expressed one bit of empathy for the millions of Palestinian civilians facing brutal airstrikes.”
Members of Congress known as the Squad, a group that is usually to the left of the president, weighed in with similar sentiments, and even Democrat Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a usually reliable supporter of Biden, told NBC, “I am certainly concerned about his approach to this.”
On October 16, more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers deviated from Biden by issuing a resolution that calls for an “immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine.”
Israel and Palestinian Positions Invoke Cancel Culture
After Thunberg, the climate activist, posted online a photo of herself with a sign that read: “Stand with Gaza,” the Israeli Education Ministry said her views disqualify “her from being an educational and moral role model,” and removed references to her from text books.
Thus, conservatives maintain that cancel culture is rightfully also under the microscope now that the shoe is on the other foot.
After more than 30 campus groups at Harvard University authored a letter saying, “We the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence,” alumni like hedge fund managers Bill Ackman and Ken Griffin said they’d never employ the signatories, ditto for a federal judge.
After Ackman, the billionaire founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, was criticized for engaging in cancel culture, he responded on X by writing: “If you were managing a business, would you hire someone who blamed despicable violent acts of a terrorist group on the victims? … It’s not harassment to seek to understand the character of the candidates you are considering for employment.”
A conservative group called Accuracy in Media (AIM) went so far as to drive a billboard truck around Harvard’s campus with photos of some of the students who signed the letter along with the caption: “Harvard’s leading anti-Semites.”
Progressive defenders of “cancel culture” call it “consequence culture,” but those consequences rarely apply to left-wing speech, notes Sasha Stone, a self-described “former Democrat and Leftist who escaped the bubble.”
Ryna Workman, the president of the Student Bar Association at New York University Law School, had a job offer publicly rescinded after they (the student’s preferred pronoun) wrote that “Israel bears full responsibility for the tremendous loss of life” for creating the “conditions that made resistance necessary.”
This episode, and others, caused Stone to write, “For one brief moment, the social justice warriors, the fanatics, the pitchfork mob did get a small taste of their own medicine.”
“Woke moral reasoning justifies rape and murder, even of children, and there’s no reason to think it would never be applied here at home,” said Seth Dillon, CEO of the Babylon Bee, a parody news outlet that pokes fun at wokeness.
He uses the example of BLM protesters who were praised in progressive circles for riots that caused an estimated $1 billion in damage and caused the death of an estimated 25 people in 140 cities two years ago.
Wokeness, said Dillon, was never about suppressing hate speech or keeping people safe, but ensuring that left-wing students were free to say what they please without consequence while right-wing students were largely shut out of debate.
“Universities thought misgendering and microaggressions were dangerous just days ago,” said Dillon. “But now—when it comes to defending literal terrorism and hatred for Jews—they’ve suddenly decided it’s critically important that people have the freedom to say outrageous, offensive things.”
He said that wokeness has taken such a hit that brands are distancing themselves from BLM, citing Coca-Cola as an example. In October, after BLM’s Chicago chapter posted an image of a paraglider—reminiscent of the Hamas paragliders who flew into an Israeli music festival and killed more than 200 people—with the text, “I stand with Palestine,” the maker of soft drinks deleted from its website the boast that it has donated money to BLM.
“Caught red-handed. @CocaCola’s website deletes its support for BLM,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz posted on X. “Editing your website is not enough. Americans demand an apology.”
Coca-Cola didn’t respond to Newsweek’s request for comment.
“This is significant,” said Dillon, “and could ultimately unravel the entire woke agenda. That’s the goal of conservatives, to tie it all together and see it collapse.”
Was Woke Losing its Cachet Prior to Conflict?
Like others, Cahaly said that, anecdotally, there’s been a backlash against woke that predates the Hamas attack on Israel, perhaps beginning in 2015 when Jerry Seinfeld revealed that many comics won’t perform at colleges because students are too politically correct. “They just want to use these words: ‘That’s sexist. That’s prejudice.’ They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about,” he told podcaster Colin Cowherd.
Belittling wokeness was front and center in an October 28 episode of South Park, which Paramount describes as such: “Cartman has a nightmare that all of his friends have been replaced by a diverse group of women who express their grievances about the patriarchy.”
And prior to Hamas attacking Israel, Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University laid off half its staff, despite raising up to a reported $55 million in the past three years, including $10 million from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. While Kendi has blamed COVID and said he’s scaling down for strategic purposes, the college has launched an investigation into the center’s culture and grant management.
Also, Fireside Campaigns, a progressive communications firm with former high-profile clients like BLM and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, laid off the bulk of its employees on October 31. CEO Brad Bauman declined to comment beyond noting that the firm is still in business.
Larry Elder, whose latest book, As Goes California: My Mission to Rescue the Golden State and Save the Nation, is in part about how destructive woke ideology has been, told Newsweek that “there’s a never-ending search for a villain guilty of oppressing minorities, women, gays and transgenders.”
As an example, he cited Florida State University criminology professor Eric Stewart. According to an August report in the New York Post, Stewart was fired, and at least six of his studies published over a 16-year period were retracted after he was accused of faking data to prove that Americans, especially conservatives, are racists who want longer sentences for Blacks and Hispanics who commit the same crimes as whites.
Long before Hamas attacked Israel, the right was attacking wokeness for a plethora of perceived injustices, mostly tied to transgenderism. They objected to biological men competing with women in sports and using female locker rooms, and to the ease with which progressives recommended life-altering drugs and surgeries for teens who claimed to be born of the wrong sex.
But it’s the Hamas attack on Israel that conservatives are hoping is the nail in the coffin of wokeness, and Cahaly, the Trafalgar pollster, says they could be onto something.
“The Republicans should get their act together, because the Democrats have never been so split. It’s huge,” said Cahaly.
“It’s not just college kids, it’s young people in general,” he said. “Being for Hamas is trendy, in the same way it’s trendy to be on board with transgenderism. If you’re pro-Hamas, you’re part of the cool crowd. But being for Israel makes you a ‘Boomer.’ You’re old. That’s what they’re telling us.”