Enough of Blood and Tears:
A Liberal Marxian Reading of Israel/Palestine Para-Conflict

David R. Adler
11 min readMay 3, 2024


“This generation wasn’t fooled” is a claim commonly heard from radicals regarding Israel/Palestine. Earlier generations, runs the argument, were hoodwinked into supporting the watertight Zionist consensus, while today’s broadminded young protesters have broken free, seen the light. This rests on a shallow understanding of history, Jewish history in particular, and something I’ll modestly call the nature of human existence.

The intellectual model for “this generation wasn’t fooled” is essentially “manufacturing consent,” a term employed by Noam Chomsky and his late collaborator Edward S. Herman. (You might also recall George W. Bush’s memorable take on getting fooled.) For many, Chomsky remains “the conscience of the left.” He has written extensively on Israel/Palestine. He has also been lambasted for giving his imprimatur to scurrilous deniers of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, and recently stating that China’s mass internment and cultural erasure of Uighurs in Xinjiang cannot be called a genocide.

“Manufacturing consent” describes how powerful government and media forces manipulate public opinion into passively supporting injustice. It’s a tidy thesis, crosses disciplines, easy to make resonate outside the academy. It could even be flipped, like a reversible jacket, to suit MAGA or any tinfoil-hat premise. And it fits together snugly with “this generation wasn’t fooled”: the view that an oppressive older majority has been controlling the minds of the young to suit its interests, and that this needs to be challenged. One might say dismantled.

Chomskyite thought is an irresistibly shiny object but ultimately little more. The proof of that, I would suggest, is Chomsky’s own record. Far better to look to historical materialism, the theoretical breakthrough of Karl Marx. I say this as a liberal anticommunist in the Sidney Hook tradition. Marx’s theory at its core has something profound to teach us.

Marx is indisputably one of the most important academic philosophers in the Western canon, for reasons having nothing to do with the Soviets or the Cold War. He never set foot in Russia and died 35 years before the October Revolution. This does not render him blameless, but it’s complicated, and crude thinking on Marx is of course always abundant.

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This one

Marx held that human beings in social groups have always had to confront the material conditions of their existence, and that the belief systems they developed flowed from this. This is how history moves, and this is the theory of historical materialism. In philosophy, the contrary view is idealism, the notion that ideas come first, and then we act upon those ideas to drive history forward. Marx turned idealism upside down, sparking a revolution in thought that still endures. We might apply his insight not only to the current war and resulting protests, but to many things that got us to this point.

Communist regimes hung portraits of Marx and his trust-fund benefactor Friedrich Engels on the walls, like Christ figures. And yet Marx was a fierce and effective debater, absolutely determined to express his views on public matters. (His grandfather was a Dutch rabbi.) Stalin or Mao would have put him in the ground and dug him up later just to make sure. As the Mussolini regime said re Gramsci: “We need to cease this mind from functioning.” But up there on the wall, old Karl is safe for consumption. It’s monumentally tragic when you think about it, but that’s where I’m going with this.

Jews of my generation grew up in what one calls interesting times. I was born in 1968, almost exactly one month before Martin Luther King’s assassination, less than one year after the Six-Day War and the start of the occupation, and a mere 23 years after the liberation of the Nazi death camps. The Holocaust is as close in history to my birth as 9/11 is to me right now.

My mother and father were born, in New Jersey and Queens respectively, in the early ’40s, which means my grandparents on both sides were young parents while the Holocaust was beginning to unfold.

When I was an activist against the occupation in the ’90s, the historical math I just outlined was effectively not present in my consciousness. If anyone suggested I should check myself and give that math serious thought, I would typically ignore it, or grow suspicious and flag it as an attempt to manufacture my consent.

I recall a family gathering on my mother’s side, somewhere in New Jersey. It’s 1990 or so, I’m 22, and talk of impending German reunification is in the air. A few of my mom’s aunts and cousins are chatting over whitefish, and I’m overhearing them. One says something like, “Uh, maybe German reunification is, ya know, a … bad idea?” A bit of back and forth on that. I remember inwardly rolling my eyes. These scared, simple people.

These were senior citizens, born well before my parents. They not only watched the Holocaust unfold from afar — they lived through the whole prelude, as teens or young adults. And I’m there scoffing. They didn’t exactly predict the rise of Alternativ für Deutschland or France’s Rassemblement National, but they also didn’t not predict it.

In the historical blink of an eye, in 2017, neo-Nazi Richard Spencer was holding forth in a DC hotel ballroom praising Trump’s inauguration, with numerous admirers raising Hitler salutes. Did I see that coming? The old Jewish ladies already had their antennae up, enjoying their bagel nosh. Back in the day, the entire world gaslit them and told them to chill (as I was silently doing right then). The members of this generation had a lot to teach us when we deigned to listen. The historical and material conditions of their lives shaped their ideas, as they do all of ours. This is how historical materialism fosters compassion, and basic respect.

A few years later, one of my MA seminar advisors at The New School critiqued me, in a full room, for using the words “the Jewish establishment” in a draft, and I responded, explaining the context (I was active in progressive Jewish orgs at the time and wanted to draw a distinction). She explained this in turn, in front of all: the careless language just might be hiding careless, unexamined thought. And this project is being graded. I don’t remember if I changed the phrase, but in thinking it through, I realized I had to write a whole new section. Those were some long nights. All because I had a professor who cared enough to flag lazy, easily misconstrued rhetoric. I owe Margaret Jacob, eminent historian now at UCLA, a debt of gratitude. We all do.

This is not an essay about the current Israel/Palestine war, the one involving a sadistic and predatory attack on Israeli civilians, followed by a shockingly grisly, unprecedented civilian death toll among Palestinians. This is an essay about the “para-conflict,” the conflict about the conflict. Pro-Palestine movement leaders have spent years trying to fuse the two in the public imagination: Israel is Bull Connor, Palestinians are civil rights heroes, and little more need be said. Numerous Israeli leaders have been happy to play ball.

It’s a powerful message, built not on sound and good-faith inquiry but manipulative and propagandistic intent. It pre-emptively slanders generations of Jews as handmaidens of the cops, always at the ready to oppress and silence POC and support Israeli war crimes. It is a method of — I’m searching for the term — “manufacturing consent.” Tell people enough times that Israel is demonic, that Palestine is the glowing harbinger of world revolution, that any mention of Hamas is a sneaky racist diversion, and one has cleared a path for generations of activists to say and do things that are plainly indefensible. By October 7, 2023 this process was already far along. Hamas gave it a helpful shove.

The para-conflict now involves some of the deepest issues roiling American society. Attacks on higher education from the far right, free speech vs. censorship, police militarization and brutality: no one can address all this and the actual war in the same breath in a way that makes sense or lends clarity. By insisting on the linkage, Palestine propagandists make dialogue all but impossible, which happens to be their clearly stated goal.

This is also not an essay about Jewish communal dysfunction, and the shameful conduct of so many who stood by and watched messianic West Bank settler ideology grow like a cancer until now, when it has fully infiltrated Israel’s government and is steering its decisions, with results clear enough for all to see. I’ve written about blinkered, objectionable and outright hateful thinking on the pro-Israel side. I was threatened with death along with my friends at an anti-settlement protest, by Victor Vancier (a.k.a. Chaim Ben Pesach), one of the scariest individuals anyone could encounter. I had “Death to the Arabs!!” screamed in my face on Fifth Avenue while protesting settlement building at the Israel Day Parade. (We were popular that day.) Anyone who presumes to teach me about ultra-right Zionist extremism and racism is wasting their time.

Victor Vancier, a.k.a. Chaim Ben Pesach

Many young Jews had the good sense to be repulsed by this element in our Jewish world, which the community at large was always trying to tip-toe around and explain away, some supporting it outright (this is starting to sound … familiar). We were something like the overwrought Jewish student who stated in a letter to the editor in The Washington Post: “I feel as though the Israeli government and its supporters who claim that murder and oppression are the path to Jewish safety have stolen my Jewish heritage and access to religious joy.” Rather than wallow in narcissism and self-pity, however, I found a vibrant, dedicated community of fellow Jews who shared my values, with zero help from the internet, which did not exist. (I’m not sure what the excuse is in 2024.)

I became active with a newly formed group called the Alliance for Judaism and Social Justice (AJSJ), which had a solid run from about 1994–1998 if I recall. I still have friends from that period. The Hebron Massacre took place in our early days, and the sense of togetherness as we processed the implications of this unbearable event is something I’ll never forget. I can’t pinpoint exactly what led to the group’s dissolution, but I do know one thing that happened toward the end. Antizionism happened.

There was a small, more radical cohort within the group. Not a problem — we were Jews. If we agreed all the time, we’d be letting our ancestors down, badly. Soon one radical member brought in a friend from a different circle, who seemed to introduce another kind of energy. One day the larger group was invited by the radicals to watch a slideshow of a recent factfinding visit to the West Bank and Gaza. Factfinding is good — American Jews should see the occupation for themselves. I learned from the slideshow. (Gaza was still occupied and had Israeli settlements at the time.)

Next thing you know we’re seeing slides of a smart-looking Hamas official with a microphone, addressing an earnest group of “internationals,” the term back then for Westerners glomming onto the Palestinian cause. Meeting Hamas members on a journalistic or research basis, under safe and prescribed conditions, is unobjectionable. This seemed like something else. There were two other people in the room as we watched and listened, strangers, friends of the radicals, with whom I was not impressed. The vibe was off. This was in fact the beginning of Hamas’s ingenious effort to lure and cultivate the Western far left, setting the groundwork for much of what we’re seeing today. Some of us, to coin a phrase, were in the room(s) where it happened.

To anyone who would claim that I am smearing justice-loving students or anyone else by association, we are simply beyond that conversation now. If Ivy League students and their professors lack the discernment to distance themselves, firmly and loudly, from the actions and the rhetoric that have come to dominate their movement — “Zionism Out of CUNY,” “Zionist Donors and Trustees, Hands Off Our Universities,” and “From Brooklyn to Palestine, Settlers are the Problem” are slogans I just happened to see today — then they are beyond help. From purported social justice activists who gave the world the term “microaggressions,” it is doubly outrageous. “I don’t agree with all that’s being said”: this is the limp noodle that so many of us rejected from the mainstream Jewish community re West Bank settlements.

At some point this narrative will turn dramatically, and those on the left who ignored, rationalized or in fact used rhetoric like the above will have to account for it. They cannot simply “backspace it out of their résumé,” to quote Tom Nichols. A reckoning will come, because on May 1 in Virginia, a civil suit was filed by the National Jewish Advocacy Center and three highly regarded law firms. The plaintiffs are survivors of October 7 and their families, families of deceased victims, and Israelis displaced from kibbutzim in the south. The suit alleges that National Students for Justice in Palestine, in a knowing and official capacity, functions as “Hamas’s propaganda arm in the United States,” using shell companies to obscure its funding.

The allegations in this 49-page document are quite detailed and extremely disturbing. Again, I saw direct evidence of antizionist activists playing footsie with Hamas 25 years ago. NJSP offered fulsome praise to the mass murderers on October 8, and the way so few people on the activist and academic left even blinked, or shrugged and said what did you expect, will haunt me until I’m dead. I have no credentials to comment on the lawsuit’s viability.

I wish I had done more to counter the extremism I saw arising among activists I considered friends. I finished my graduate degree and returned to music, playing guitar professionally and starting a second career in jazz journalism. (I know, old Jewish ladies, those aren’t real jobs. I’m all too aware.) I put these other matters to the side. It was too much to bear, and I never felt equal to the task. But I knew it would ensnare me again.

Somehow, the young activists who succeeded us will have to rethink and rebuild. They have done more than enough dismantling for now. We were shaped at different times by different historical forces, and I would not expect them to uncritically swallow or replicate my ideas, nor anyone else’s. But as they go forward, hopefully they’ll consider what Marx wrote in 1843, in a letter to philosopher Arnold Ruge: “Mankind is not beginning a new work, but is consciously carrying into effect its old work.”

The author dedicates this essay to Lillian W. Adler (1912–1996) and Jonathan Adler (1941–2019). זיכרונו לברכה זיכרונה לברכה



David R. Adler

Writer, guitarist and music educator based in Wakefield, United Kingdom.