When Extremism Is Normalized


When Extremism Is Normalized


Leonard Zwelling


If you want to see what might happen in 2024 if Donald Trump ascends to the White House again, take a glimpse at what is happening in Israel today and keep your eyes peeled.

The proponents of the two-state solution have been largely marginalized by a right-wing coalition of Orthodox parties and the Jewish Power Party led by ultra-nationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir. This is a guy who really does want a Muslim ban in Israel—the expulsion of the Arabs who make up 20% of the population—and the consolidation of all of the land captured in the Six Day War of 1967. He is largely uninterested in a Palestinian state. And he’s got the young people behind him. What used to be considered the extremes of Israeli politics is now the mainstream. Sound familiar?

In the United States the extreme fringe is considered more and more mainstream with election deniers running for high office and some even winning. After all, the insurrectionists of January 6 were considered tourists by some members of Congress. There are people in the House of Representatives right now who would like to turn America into an all-white Christian nation simply because, for now, the white Christians represent the majority of the people in the United States—for now. They actually believe that this is what the Founding Fathers intended (along with the Electoral College and no women or Black voters) and, thus, should be what we do today.

In both Israel and the United States, the traditions of liberal (small L) democracy are being threatened by a right-wing movement to quash freedom and legal immigration. In Israel, people with these ideas have been elected to the Knesset. In the United States, they are already in the House. It is important in both Israel and the United States that everyone take a deep breath and remind themselves of the basic tenets of the countries—freedom, welcoming legal immigration, and tolerance.

As usual, I’ll bring my discussion back to MD Anderson where the tolerance of unusual, but productive personalities is under attack under the guise of professionalism and the value of the faculty and its input is being diminished under an autocratic president and his lawyers.

Free organizations that maximize the talent of all of their members do best. This will be true in Israel. If the tradition of liberal democracy and the tolerance of non-Jews inside the country and its military is tossed aside, Israel will be a lesser place. In the United States, if Trump wins, we are likely to have a cabinet of small thinking right-wing wing nuts like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan and our freedoms, already dented by the right-leaning Supreme Court, will continue to be eroded.

Inside MD Anderson, I believe that a lot of the talented faculty are keeping their heads down and voices quiet so as not to attract the attention of the Pisters morality police, aka, outside counsel. This is no way to optimize the cancer center’s resources nor is it a formula for success in the battle against malignancies.

All three entities, Israel, the United States, and MD Anderson are being threatened by extremism. Those organizations that remember their past, will flourish by preventing the untoward influence of these untoward forces. Those entities that give in to these dark forces, may pay a terrible price.

What both the current political situation in Israel and the pending one in the United States have in common is an old, charismatic bully of a leader (Netanyahu and Trump) and an inept opposition in the central and liberal parties in Israel and the Democratic Party here, despite the Democratic miracle of holding control of the Senate.

At MD Anderson, the lawyers and their puppet master will triumph unless the faculty just say no. However, like in Israel, the young faculty at MD Anderson may be unwilling to risk their futures and their careers by standing up to the power of the president. It is up to the senior faculty to lead the way back to normalcy. Let’s hope they do.

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