We are indeed living in dark times: racists/fascists are exerting tremendous pressure to silence dissenting voices, thereby threatening the very foundations of our fragile democracies. In the face of extreme polarization and disappointing positions taken by some intellectuals (Habermas, et al.), and considering the enormous right-wing/fundamentalist (zionist/islamist/etc) intimidations, I have been thinking deeply about the ethical duties of intellectuals.

In the annals of intellectual activism, the so-called “moral imperative” to advocate for peace and democracy stands as an absolute benchmark. This parrhesiatic duty — to tell the truth no matter the consequences — rooted in historical precedents.

For instance, The Academics for Peace in Turkey, through their petition in 2016, accused the government of the “deliberate massacre and deportation” of civilians. The Islamist government’s response to this non-violent demand for peace was to prosecute. Many academics lost their jobs. Although the Supreme Court ruled favor of the Academics for Peace, many scholars are still not allowed to return to their jobs.

Turkish intellectuals’ history of steadfast stance against the violent state apparatus parallels past and present instances of Jewish intellectual activism.

Today’s episodes bear a striking resemblance to a historical instance of intellectual resistance: in 1948, Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Sidney Hook, and other prominent Jewish intellectuals publicly denounced the fascist tendencies of the Freedom Party (Herut) in Israel, warning against the erosion of democratic values. Their collective stance against the militarization and erosion of democratic values in the nascent state of Israel highlighted the critical importance of vigilance in safeguarding democracy from within.

Organizations like Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) embody the continuation of this rich legacy of Jewish intellectual activism. JVP’s dedication to advocating for human rights in Palestine, renouncing Zionism while opposing anti-Semitism, and critiquing policies that undermine peace and justice in Israel-Palestine represents an iteration of the moral imperative that guided Einstein, Arendt, and their contemporaries. Since October 7th, JVP has taken a precise position against the fascist Israeli state while advocating the return of hostages.

Numerous articles in Haaretz have documented how Netanyahu’s government strategically supported Hamas to undermine the possibility of a two-state solution; it’s astonishing that some intellectuals refrain from condemning Hamas and its acts of terror, knowing how they “collaborated” in the genocide.

Yet, let’s not fall into the trap of the “two-sides” narrative. Given its power, the organized state holds the foremost duty to handle military crises responsibly and to safeguard civilian lives. As citizens, our role is to ensure the state fulfills this obligation!

Finally, it is important to resist state violence and genocides without being manipulated by opposing extremist groups. Under the ongoing genocide, it’s not our place to prescribe actions to Palestinian citizens, yet, the question, is it possible to imagine beyond binaries, seeking a third, fourth, or fifth way forward?

So complicated.