Why has the Jewish left turned their back on Israel?
My friend, Lilia Gaufberg, wrote a wonderful article illustrating exactly how I feel about being a liberal feminist Israeli Zionist Jew.
In the past, I was able to reconcile the two facets of my identity. I was able to march in Gay Pride Parades, even with a flag with the rainbow Star of David, and nobody would bat an eye. I participated in feminist organizations and nobody but the most radical among their ranks cared that I was a Zionist. However, one day I reached a tipping point.
A leader VDAY, the feminist alliance that I was part of and ran workshops with, unceremoniously kicked me out because my political views made it clear that I did not understand intersectionality, and how the oppression of the Palestinians by Israel disproportionately affects women.
For the first time in my life, I had to choose: Was I a Zionist or was I an advocate for social justice? Do I choose between one child or the other? I suddenly felt like Sophie having to make Sophie’s Choice.
Unfortunately, many young Jews are forced to choose between their two identities. More likely than not, they choose to be “social justice activists,” knowing that in order to be allowed into the club, they had to leave their Zionism at the door.
In the diaspora, most Jews choose “social justice,” for a few reasons.
First, because it sounds better. It sounds a lot more moral to sacrifice what’s good for you for the benefit of those who are much less fortunate and much lower on the privilege totem pole than you are, than to give in to the selfish desires of Jews who want their own homeland for protect their own at the expense of another people “who were there first” or “who need it more than we do,” as the media and the education system loves to portray.
Second, Jews in the diaspora are necessarily a tiny minority, so like most oppressed minorities who are often lucky enough not to stand out physically, the pressure to fit in is intense. Since the social justice activists are lauded by professors and admired by students, disproportionately taking over the student government in most cases, they are seen as “the cool kids.” Their movements become what is in style, because anyone who doesn’t support them gets shamed and character assassinated, and nobody wants to get shamed and character assassinated. As a result, many Jews choose social justice because it gets them much more social capital, and sometimes prevents social ostracism, and those who don’t choose “social justice” usually stay quiet and apathetic.
This feeling of being forced to make a choice is what has majorly fueled J Street’s success on American campuses, because it absolves young Jews of the guilt of making that choice while slowly leading them to abandon Israel in favour of social justice, the latter of which is seen as more of a priority, more “tikkun olam,” so if one has to sacrifice one’s Zionist identity, then it’s seen as for the best.
Meanwhile, in Israel, young liberal Jews also feel like they have to make a choice. Parties like Meretz are the only parties that actually seem to actively support secularism, full LGBT and trans rights, and removing the keffiyah datit (disproportionate control of religious Jews over the rest due to the ruling party needing them to make a coalition) that they see as casting a shadow on their Zionism and their Zionist experience. In university, professors act as if Zionism is an old, outdated form of nationalism that has outlived its purpose, something we have progressed beyond with our globalized society. Therefore, liberal Israeli Jews often feel they have to make the choice too, though fortunately most ultimately choose Zionism because this choice affects them more. However, they too sometimes feel a pressure to minimize their Zionism, patriotism, and pride, especially on university campuses, because Zionism isn’t considered cool by any means in the academic world.
The last nail in the coffin was when the left decided it wanted to be a package, and that anyone who didn’t support the entire package might as well be a member of the Tea Party. Suddenly, “intersectionality” tied everything together and made everything appear inseparable from everything else, making “social justice” suddenly an all-or-nothing endeavour. Now, in order to be seen as properly pro-LGBT, pro-women, pro-trans, and pro-alleviation-of-suffering, you had to side with anyone the left deemed the underdog: somehow, that included, Palestinians, who are part of an Arab ummah with 22 countries and a Muslim ummah with 57 countries, and excluded Jews, who are barely holding on to one country that people are further trying to cut in half to make a 23rd Arab country and a 58th Muslim country.
The reason for this phenomenon is because the Palestinians worked extremely hard. With all their aid money, they provided funding so that people could dedicate their lives to researching and eventually working to fit in with and eventually join the New Left. Suddenly, these same people are painting Sharia Law as socially just, and convincing liberals that women covering up is feminist because that way, they are judged for their brains and character rather than their looks. Ironically, they are conspicuously silent about their opposition to LGBT rights, seeing manipulating well-meaning members of the LGBT community into believing that “Palestine is a Queer Issue.” They went even further to opportunistically take over the nascent #BlackLivesMatter movement, by aggressively tweeting messages of support and comparison seconds after the movement began, joining their rallies, and working their way up to the upper echelons of the organization only to eventually take over part of their mandate and make it about Palestinians. They compared IDF shootings of Palestinian terrorists to American police shootings of unarmed black men, carefully omitting the part that the IDF were shooting murderers.
The same phenomenon was seen again at the Women’s March, which was opportunistically taken over by Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour, who has made disparaging comments about Muslims who work alongside Jews, believes that Israel has no right to exist in any capacity, and wants Sharia Law to be the law of the land. She is also known to frequently hijack other causes to promote the Palestinian cause, with her and fellow organizer Angela Davis injecting subtle anti-Israel rhetoric into their speeches. If only we were that brilliant, harnessing the widespread passionate anger and unrest at President Trump in the wake of his inauguration to channel that same passion towards supporting the Palestinian cause, or at the very least associating Palestinians with “on your side,” creating positive feelings among people who genuinely care about women’s rights that Palestinians are their allies. There’s a reason her Twitter following went from 60,000 to 140,000 followers in the three days following the march. Now, more than double the number of people are exposed to her virulent anti-Israel propaganda. And liberal Jews who were pressured by basically everyone into supporting her movement because “the cause is more important than the figurehead” only granted her more legitimacy. The influence of people like her serve to marginalize Zionism, and are ensuring that people like my friend Lilia aren’t welcome at these marches.
Right now, young liberal Jews feel that if they choose “social justice,” they have to give up their Zionism, and if they choose unapologetic Zionism, they have to give up their social justice, and sadly, most seem to go where it is more socially expedient, or fade into the background entirely. I hope one day we can start a movement for unapologetic Zionists who support liberal values and social justice wholeheartedly, a movement that won’t get hijacked by well-meaning haters who believe hating Israel gives them the moral upper hand.