The 2016 election of Donald Trump, sent waves of shock and dismay both in the U.S. and across the Atlantic. A man notorious for despicable comments on women, minorities, and even his own colleagues, is now the leader of the free world. Opposite of him, was the first woman to be nominated by the Democratic Party. This monumental event continues to play a part in our daily social and political discourse. The left has set Trump and what he represents as our enemy to be resisted at all cost. ‘We need women and especially women of color to lead us’. Women of color have been ignored for decades for leadership spots so now we must and will promote this idea to show our solidarity. It had the potential of being uplifting and inspirational.
However, it wasn’t all rosy.
The 2018 midterm elections gave us the largest wave of women in congress. It also gave us women in power we were told exist only on college campuses and present no real threat, yet a new battle has emerged. Jewish women are kicked from the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history- The Women’s March. Two freshmen Democrat congresswomen have come out in support of BDS. College campuses are rife with anti Israel and anti Zionist activism. A rise in antisemitic hate crimes is reported in the U.S. and Europe from both white supremacists as well as Islamists. Jews are packing their homes and leaving to Israel, and if you’re a Jew, everyone wants to know where you stand on the question of Israel.
With the rise of Social Justice movements and ideologies, an idea of intersectionality has cemented itself as the arbiter of bigotry and power. We no longer regard the individual as the agent of their own life but a participant in its meticulous compartmentalized identity. Your biology is now the main factor in how you will be regarded and set in your place, like a strange zoo of humans who need to be separated and caged with their own for their and others protection. You find yourself either elevated by this theory, or maligned and tossed aside with your kind.
“As a…” has become far more important than what follows; as a WOC, as a disabled person, as an immigrant, etc. But has it? What happened to Jewish identity during this shift in our understanding of power, privilege, and bigotry? I can’t help but get a slight feeling of discomfort hearing the same questions others have posed in the form of the Jewish Question for more than a millennia. The obsession over Jewish presence in non-Jewish society is laden with historical victimization, persecution, and genocide. The ideologies presiding over this question have spanned across the political spectrum from communism, nazism, islamofascism, and Farrakhanism.
The Jewish identity is a complex one. It is neither white nor of color. It is neither religious, nor secular. It is not defined by politics nor is it void of political narrative. To me, the Jewish identity is far more motivated by those who wish to define us than our own search of meaning in our bodies, minds, culture, and history. The one thing overwhelming majority of Jews agree on happens to be the one thing that unites Muslims; the idea of a nationhood or Ummah, that binds us together. We are a nation and we must continue what was the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. This is the crux of Jewish identity, carried for thousands of years. From the Seleucides in 167 BCE, to religious antisemitism of the Christian church throughout the Middle Ages, Arab and Muslim antisemitism in the Middle East and North Africa, Czarist Russia and the Soviet Union, and most famously- Nazism, those who wished to annihilate us, have also defined us and our need to survive in our ancestral land.
While it may seem as a simplification of identity, this expression has taken form in many ways, by many people, in different places and times throughout history. This isn’t a dissertation on antisemitism. You could create an entire library on this topic alone but this is where we are at, again.
American-Israeli author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi has been lecturing on American campuses with Palestinian coexistence activists. When asked why “humanizing” Zionists was acceptable — comparing it to asking black Americans to “humanize members of the KKK”, Halevi responded with the following: “Those who traffic in that kind of language, are on very thin ice. My understanding of antisemitism is the following; Antisemitism is not simply hating the other, the Jew, the other. Antisemitism works a little bit differently. What antisemitism does is turn the Jews “The Jew” into a symbol of whatever it is that a given civilization defines as its most loathsome qualities.
And so, in Christianity, before the Holocaust and Vatican too, the Jew was the Christ killer. ‘His blood be upon our heads and upon our children’. That’s forever. Under communism, “The Jew” was the capitalist. Under Nazism, “The Jew” was the race polluter. Now we all live in a different civilization. Now we live in a civilization where the most loathsome qualities are racism, colonialism, apartheid. And lo and behold, the greatest offender in the world today, with all the beautiful countries of the world, is the Jewish state. The Jewish state is the symbol of the genocidal, racist, apartheid state. That’s Israel, that’s the Jewish state.
An Israeli political philosopher named Yakov Talmon, once put it this way; ‘The state of the Jews has become the Jew of the states.’ What that means to me is, criticism of Israel is not antisemitism. Criticism of Israel’s existence, denying Israel’s right to exist, calling Israel the Zionist entity, that is antisemitism. That is a classical continuity of thousands of years of symbolizing “The Jew”. That kind of language can come today from the far left. It can come from white supremacists. It can come from Islamist extremists. It can come from many sources, but all of those groups converge on one idea- the Jew remains humanity’s great problem.”
The progressive movement, much like its actors in previous lives, wishes to detach Jews from their identity and place us in neatly defined boxes ranked by our passing as whites along with our ability to roll a red carpet for those will show us nothing but the bottom of their boots. And they are not alone. There will always be an ally or even a Jew willing to forgo self preservation in pursuit of a savior’s knighthood.
The main two arguments used by the new left are:
1- Jews and Israel are two different things- which allows them to attack the heart of Jewish identity while escaping the label of anti jewish hatred. The idea that Jews not only support but protect a country that would enact apartheid and genocide, and will use the charge of antisemitism in their quest to silence critics, is a step above and beyond offensive. It is pernicious and incendiary.
2- Criticism of Israel isn’t antisemitism- which conflates disproportionate hatred centered around hyper focused singling out of a state, reframed as healthy and productive criticism of policies and laws of the state. Calling a nation evil or charging it and its people as dominating the media, banks, politics etc, is hardly an address of its laws.
Two statements, at face value, absolutely unequivocally correct. As utilized in daily language and discourse- almost never adhering to its core intent.
So long as Jews are maligned as owners of white privilege, holders of dual loyalty, promoters of racism and upholders of white supremacy, antisemitism thrives. In a time where most Jews have turned to secular lives, the idea that antisemitism is simply hatred of the Jewish religion and its adherents is antiquated and increasingly dangerous.