“We need this solidarity desperately now.”
November 20, 2019 10:27 AM   Subscribe

“ The threat of antisemitism is not some abstract idea to me. It is very personal. It destroyed a large part of my family. I am not someone who spends a lot of time talking about my personal background because I believe political leaders should focus their attention on a vision and agenda for others, rather than themselves. But I also appreciate that it’s important to talk about how our backgrounds have informed our ideas, our principles, and our values.” How To Fight Antisemitism by Sen. Bernie Sanders (Jewish Currents) Responses.
posted by The Whelk (27 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I'm just reading the op-ed and haven't gotten to the responses yet, but I'm betting that Bernie's comparison of Palestinian views of the founding of Israel to America's founding on the backs of the native population is gonna cause a few aneurysms.
posted by hanov3r at 10:33 AM on November 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've been waiting my entire adult life for a Jewish politician to say exactly something like this. It is a direct reflection of my own Jewish values and politics as it pertains to the idea of Jewish Social Justice, and if someone were to ask for my opinion on these issues I would gladly point them to this statement from Sanders.
posted by windbox at 11:14 AM on November 20, 2019 [19 favorites]

I agree with everything Bernie said it that piece. Each of the proposals fall in line with progressive values that I cherish. I'm skeptical they would have much impact on antisemitism. The holocaust predated the founding of modern Israel. The Protocols forgery predated the holocaust. The blood libel predated the Protocols. The notion that the actions of Jews somehow determines levels of antisemitism in society is not just factually baseless, it is immoral.
posted by gwint at 12:06 PM on November 20, 2019 [17 favorites]

The notion that the actions of Jews somehow determines levels of antisemitism...

Well, if we didn't want them to be antisemitic, we could just all stop being Jews, right?
posted by hanov3r at 1:00 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Well, if we didn't want them to be antisemitic, we could just all stop being Jews, right?

Of course. No single drops of blood to see here, nosiree.
posted by clawsoon at 1:11 PM on November 20, 2019

To be read with On the Frontlines of Progressive Anti-Semitism (NY Times op-ed).

"I ...view the establishment of the state of Israel as a fundamentally just cause... even as I oppose the occupation of the West Bank. ... my view is not at all shared by the progressive activist crowd I encountered on campus. ...any form of Zionism — even my own liberal variant, which criticizes various policies of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and seeks a just two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — is a political nonstarter. ... On college campuses and in progressive circles across the country, it does not matter if you strongly oppose the right-wing leadership in Israel; if you are a Zionist, you are seen as the enemy."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:44 PM on November 20, 2019 [12 favorites]

So it’s very troubling to me that we are also seeing accusations of antisemitism used as a cynical political weapon against progressives.

Just because it’s being used as a cynical political weapon doesn’t mean it’s not true. The last time I brought up my personal experience with antisemitism in progressive circles on here, I ended up buttoning, so I’m not going to go over it again. So I’ll just say that I’m once again disappointed to see that antisemitism is a topic that cannot apparently be discussed on its own, without the government of Israel being brought into it. The conversation always goes along the lines of “antisemitism is bad but“ where the But involves a condemnation of Israel. It’s never just antisemitism is bad, full stop.
posted by Ruki at 4:41 PM on November 20, 2019 [11 favorites]

if you are a Zionist, you are seen as the enemy."

Acknowledging these realities does not “delegitimize” Israel any more than acknowledging the sober facts of America’s own founding delegitimizes the United States.

Left (handshake Emoji) Right

"Israel has as much right to exist as Australia, Canada and the United States."

Seems like the relevant meme here.
posted by Acid Communist at 9:18 PM on November 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

The conversation always goes along the lines of “antisemitism is bad but“ where the But involves a condemnation of Israel. It’s never just antisemitism is bad, full stop.

Well, there's a lot of context here, both around Sanders and American Judaism in general. There's been a ton of ink spilled this year, by both Jews and gentiles, that has been specifically directed at interrogating Sanders' Jewishness, and it's extremely rare that those articles and discussions don't bring up his relationship to Israel. Indeed, among the Jewish right, his choice not to emphasize his Judaism and his stance on Israel is seen as something sinister, evidence of being a "JINO" or kapo...or worse. There's also a general tendency among American Jews (and it's an article of faith on the right) to conflate one's Judaism with their level of Zionism, even inadvertently. Many Jewish publications and organizations have talked up the statistic that ~95% of American Jews support Israel without delving too deep (or at all) into the millions of shades of what that actually means.

Sanders' discussion of Israel in his opposition to anti-Semitism is the result of one of the big conundrums at the heart of Jewish politics in the US. On the one hand, to tie Jewishness to Israel is considered one of the classic forms of anti-Semitism, the foundation of modern dual-loyalty accusations. On the other hand, not professing support for this Israel right now at some point (and often, in the right way) is also inextricably tied to anti-Semitism, even and sometimes especially in intra-Jewish conversations. Like every other leftist Jewish public figure, he's operating in a world where one's Zionism is seen simultaneously as unnecessary to be stated, yet suspicious if never openly expressed.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:59 AM on November 21, 2019 [10 favorites]

I also feel like the literal tokenization of Jewish leftists in that NYT editorial is cruel and extremely dangerous. It's of a piece with the assertions of people like Bari Weiss that we are complicit or even actively involved in fomenting anti-Semitism for no other reason than to become sniveling quislings. That places us in a very scary space where we're Jewish enough to be targeted by anti-Semites, yet also to blame for being put there in the first place. Even more frightening is that, if the successors to the Jewish Defense League and other Kahanist extremists continue to flourish, we might not be Jewish enough to be spared their wrath. Stephen Miller, Ben Shapiro, and their ilk are already echoing the Nazis with their accusations that we're fake-Jewish, back-stabbing, elitist parasites that should be removed. It seems like it's only a matter of time until someone takes them up on it.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:54 AM on November 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

"Israel has as much right to exist as Australia, Canada and the United States."

Or Greece, Turkey, Poland, Germany... most central European countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

All created as ethnostates in their current forms during the 19th and 20th centuries as part of the violent dissolution of non-democratic, multi-ethnic empires, all involved population transfers with at least some coercion. The only real difference is that the split of mandatory Palestine into a Jewish Israel and an Arab Palestine was incomplete or rather it was complete between 1948 and 1967 and then once again incomplete after 1967.

People are of course very welcome to be opposed in-principle to all countries which are ethno-states in principle or in practice although they may find that they're left with very few countries. Of course one can also be opposed to the existence of all forms of state but let's not pretend that's a majority opinion anywhere.
posted by atrazine at 7:19 AM on November 21, 2019 [7 favorites]

I've always taken in part to be a call for ideological coherence. There's a lot of people who are willing to support BDS and criticise Israel from afar but be unwilling to face the dispossession they are actively part of themselves.
I think that can be a warning sign in pro-Palestine advocacy.
posted by Acid Communist at 9:28 AM on November 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

To get it out of the way, I was thrilled to just get a BBC News alert that Netanyahu has been indicted. About time.

Anyway, Republicans love Israel. Dominionist evangelicals, who progressives are better informed about than the average Democrat imo, love Israel, for very antisemitic reasons. I think Israel is singled out, and it is singled out, because of a reflexive belief that anything that dominionist evangelical Republicans support is bad.

On top of that, there is a pervasive antisemitism on the left. That’s just a fact. I don’t know how many progressive Jews have to say so before we’re believed. No, it’s not the brazen neo-Nazi antisemitism of the alt-right, but it’s there, and it’s still dangerous. It affects my own life more than Republican antisemitism and it scares me because when I try to bring it up, I get gaslighting on how it’s not there or it’s not as bad as neo-Nazis, or that it’s somehow dangerous to talk about or or or...

I had actually just reread the MeTa post that made me button a few days ago. I think about that thread a lot. I think about how antisemitism was minimized, and how it was predicted that someone was going to go shoot up a shul, and how nothing has changed.
posted by Ruki at 9:37 AM on November 21, 2019 [9 favorites]

The Damage Done by Shouting Down Ideas

"One million Middle Eastern Jews were exiled from their homelands and 650,000 of us found sanctuary in Israel. Talks like the one I gave at Vassar bring to light that reality and that anti-Zionist groups do not value our voices nor safety.

My talk was titled “forgotten refugees” for a reason. Too often Mizrahi history is excluded from Jewish memory. But anti-Zionists, whose narratives of white saviorism are disrupted by our mere existence, actively work to keep us forgotten. If they don’t chant outside so loudly that no one can hear our voices, they will be forced to admit that their movement is a fraud.

Anti-Zionism, which is distinctly different than advocating for Palestinian rights, isn’t about protecting marginalized communities. It’s about silencing us — and any other threat."
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 12:15 PM on November 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'd rather we not bring a bigoted provocateur like Hen Mazzig, who has a history of lying, as well as portraying investigative reporting from Jews as Nazi propaganda and tattling to his critics' employers over minor disagreements, into this conversation.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:52 PM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, the Jewish Journal recently hired Ariel Sobel as a columnist, despite the fact that she's well known among JOC as a white supremacist, and who recently pretended to be an anti-Zionist Jewish WOC to make threats against herself, and claimed that Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley should be held accountable for anti-Semitic pogroms.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:01 PM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

zombieflanders, are there any circumstances under which you'd accept that progressive antisemitism exists? This person is a provocateur, this publication isn't reliable, this article is cruel and dangerous, this lived experience is wrong... I mean, really. Why are you so invested in this narrative you're pushing?

And to answer the obvious question, I'm invested in it because it directly affects my life. I'm invested because I'm a progressive Jew. I'm invested because I believe there's little that can be done about the overt antisemitism of the right, but antisemitism on the left can be abated, but only if it's acknowledged.
posted by Ruki at 1:19 PM on November 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

zombieflanders, are there any circumstances under which you'd accept that progressive antisemitism exists?

I have never said that progressive anti-Semitism exists, so that accusation is out of fucking nowhere.

This person is a provocateur, this publication isn't reliable, this article is cruel and dangerous, this lived experience is wrong... I mean, really. Why are you so invested in this narrative you're pushing?

Because I am far more in danger from them and the anti-progressive Intellectual Dark Web circles in which they travel than I am from leftists. Mazzig is a serial liar and uses his position to deplatform his critics for minor disagreements. I genuinely think he is a danger to the leftist Jewish community and that his activism exists largely as a megaphone for his hatred than any serious progressive concerns. As Professor Harry Reis put it a couple days ago while discussing Mazzig and Weiss, and which pretty much perfectly mirrors my thoughts:
[T]o be clear, I do think that anti-Semitism is possible and exists on the left. I just think it is wildly dishonest and reckless to suggest it is “more insidious” or threatening than lethal weaponized white supremacy which has literally killed Jews in America. I also am convinced that someone looking to trash progressivism writ large, who is looking to break china is definitively NOT the person to constructively address it. It’s the Jews of the left who are working hard on this. Yes it’s orgs like @JFREJNYC, @jewishaction like @IfNotNowOrg like @EgSophie @homeandfreedom @dove_kent and specifically Jews of color, who are leading in building a theory of anti-Semitism for the left and actually training allies to fight it — not trashing intersectionality.

I also think that @bariweiss accusation of left Jews being the agents of their own “cultural genocide” is an unspeakable falsehood that is not only erasing to a rich history and present of left Jewish culture, it’s deeply offensive. Offensive bc part of what was lost in our people’s *actual* genocide was a whole generation of left/progressive Jews. It erases a legacy of egalitarian, left Zionism that is pitched in battle with her muscular Zionism. She doesn’t get to claim it while calling left Jews traitors.
Furthermore, the idea that I exist as a "token"--the word the NYT writer used--Jew serves to effectively exile me from talking about anti-Semitism unless I do it within a explicitly Zionist framework, for which I will apparently then get criticized for because I'm supposedly the one talking about Zionism. So I'm invested in the "narrative" that you claim I'm pushing (rather than it, y'know existing and being true) for what would appear to be similar reasons, although my Judaism being further left means how I percieve my life being directly affected (and threatened) will be different from yours, possibly much moreso.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:35 PM on November 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

It wasn’t an accusation. It was a question.
posted by Ruki at 1:41 PM on November 21, 2019

I've made my criticisms of progressive anti-Semitism before, and I've dealt with this question before, so not sure why it's a big deal again.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:43 PM on November 21, 2019

I'm also not sure why a conversation about anti-Semitism has ignored the murderous right-wing anti-Semites in order to nitpick why leftist Jews are to blame for aiding and comforting anti-Semites on the left.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:55 PM on November 21, 2019

Because every time the issue comes up, it seems like you have something to say to minimize progressive antisemitism (which is not helpful to those of who do experience it) and because it seems like your own views on Israel define your definition of antisemitism, which is not helpful for those with different views and experiences or to be able to discuss antisemitism in the US without mentioning Israel entirely.

Oh. I see your most recent comment now. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Saying I’m nitpicking and blaming leftist Jews is not just wildly uncharitable, it’s completely dismissing my experience. It’s fine that you disagree with me, but that characterization is not fine at all.
posted by Ruki at 2:02 PM on November 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

In Sanders's own words, "we need this solidarity desperately now."

And yet here we are, again, arguing with each other about who are the worst Jews rather than trying to stand together to fight it. Zombieflanders, I'm sorry that as an anti-Zionist Jew you feel like you're particularly threatened because you don't fit the overarching narrative. The belief in Israel as a Jewish homeland is so deeply baked into Jewish texts and prayers that it's almost impossible to detach unless you're also completely detached from Judaism as a religion rather than just an ethnicity (and you and I have sparred over this before). But this is not a conversation about Israel or Zionism, nor should it be.

I don't know where you live, but where I am in New York City, anti-semitic attacks are rising drastically - and they're getting more and more violent. But the perpetrators who have been caught on film are not white supremacists. And they don't seem to particularly care about Israel - though it's possible that the "progressive" conflating of Zionism with racism could easily be a background contributing factor. And the attacks in Europe also seem to be split fairly equally between white nationalists and left-wing Muslims. This is a huge, terrifying problem on both sides - demonization of Jews could be the one thing the far left and the far right agree on.

There's so much precedent historically that when things go bad in a country - name any country - eventually they start coming for the Jews. So I think for anyone Jewish with any sense of history at all, there's a real existential terror at play here, on both sides of the political spectrum, which is making the stakes higher. Right-wing Jews fear a leftist government who would allow Israel to be destroyed, leading to another Holocaust, as some sort of expiation of other nations' colonialist sins, or out of the optimistic belief that a Palestinian nation would act differently than it does now as a territory (or differently than any of the other Arab nations, every single one of which decimated their Jewish populations or never let them in). And left-wing Jews fear that a right-wing government would encourage white supremacists to attack Jews, or worse, spark another Holocaust on American soil, and/or that fundamentalist Jews on the right will negate their existence as Jews and destroy the progress that explicitly Jewish liberal activism and anti-racism worked so hard to achieve. Jews on the right are terrified that America will turn into current-day France, where Muslim violence against Jews is rampant and horrifying. And Jews on the left are more likely to live in regions where white supremacists are comfortable, making their synagogues more likely targets for crime-of-opportunity shooters or bombers - also horrifying. And there is truth to both those fears. But some of that is based in Islamophobia on the right. And some of it is based in anti-religious hatred and conflation of religious Judaism with racism on the left. The thing is, either scenario is plausible. Jews are under attack, here and in Europe and in South America and in South Africa and in Australia and in Israel. And they're under attack by white nationalists, and by Muslims, but mostly by people without a larger agenda, just plain old xenophobia. Making this a left-vs-right issue is muddying the waters. It's dividing us when we need to stand together.

And yes, that flashpoint is Israel. Sanders is walking a very narrow path, and it's one I happen to agree with. But he's still being attacked by progressives for daring to support Israel's existence, and by right-wingers who believe that any acknowledgement of Palestinian suffering is taking the first step toward dismantling the only safe homeland that Jews have, at a time when it's arguably needed most. He shouldn't have had to write this piece in the first place. That he felt he needed to wasn't for the non-Jews. It's for us. I can't see inside his heart, but I'm pretty certain that the last thing he wanted his essay to do would be to cause yet another People's Front Of Judea / Judean People's Front battle. And yet here we are.

One of the bedrock, fundamental commandments in Judaism is Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Bazeh - All of Israel is responsible for one another. It doesn't matter who is more wrong - the enemy isn't ourselves. We need to try to find ways to lock arms together -- and that means calling out anti-semitism on our own side louder than we do on the other side. Because that's where we're most likely to be heard. But in the end we're all responsible for one another, we're all family. We need to make every effort to see through the eyes of the Jews on the other side - not dismiss them as cynical, not dismiss them as self-hating, but to see that the basis of their argument is wrestling with G-d and what it means to be a Jew in the modern world. Because I think that's what's at stake. No one of us wants to be erased.

We need this solidarity desperately now.
posted by Mchelly at 3:24 PM on November 21, 2019 [12 favorites]

Mchelly, that was beautifully expressed.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:31 PM on November 21, 2019 [5 favorites]

Adding my two cents: Antisemitism isn't a right/left issue, and people trying to force it into that paradigm fundamentally misunderstand it. Conservatism is, very broadly, about people's fear that they will lose their privilege. Socialism is, again very broadly, about people's anger that they are being denied a fair deal. Antisemitism sits at the intersection of this: Jews foment insurrection and invasion and miscegenation (which is a sort of internal invasion); they are also privileged oppressors.

The bases of both right-wing and left-wing antisemitism are mostly false, although I should hope Jews (like everyone else) do encourage equality and freedom, and examine their privilege. But antisemitism doesn't arise out of the facts; it's a prejudice that gets interpreted in terms of people's existing ideology. This is why there's so much crossover at the right/left intersection: you get right-wingers claiming that Israel is disloyal to the US; while nominal leftists go on about Jews not really being Jews, but Khazars. Or look at the way a Jewish billionaire, George Soros, is apparently a radical socialist, while theatre troupes and university students are the vanguard of an oppressive military force.

This isn't a theoretical issue: I myself have avoided posting because I don't want to see people here behaving hatefully. I was going to make a post on the outrageous antisemitism of authorities in the Ramapo valley, but I couldn't bear to. Or anything to do with the UK's Labour Party. I just don't want to see people dismissing or even supporting antisemitism.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:27 PM on November 21, 2019 [5 favorites]

Britain's chief rabbi blasts Labour Party for anti-Semitic ‘poison’

The article describes Mirvis as "the spiritual leader of Britain’s 62 Orthodox synagogues." It also quotes a Jewish supporter of Corbyn. I have a feeling that as an American, I'm missing a lot of context.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:32 PM on November 26, 2019

Yes, the office of Chief Rabbi is one of those institutions that's a bit hard to explain. The office came into being when there were far fewer Jews and far less Jewish diversity in the UK. Technically, he's just the spiritual head of the United Synagogue; a roof body for a number of synagogues which was established in the 1800s. He has no official or religious power over anyone outside those synagogues, and not all that much within it. None the less, his office is generally regarded as capable of representing Jews in the UK, and the holders of that office behave as if they did. This sort of political statement by a Chief Rabbi is literally unheard of.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:17 AM on November 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

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