As the millennial cohort swings left, a group of young Jewish activists, IfNotNow (INN), is appealing to a wide swath of Jewry with proclamations of social justice and progressive ideals. But the seemingly-open and inclusive stance is a soft veneer for Israel-bashing rhetoric. Worse, INN’s public agitations at times fuel anti-Semitic sentiments.
The group seeks to influence public institutional change in Jewish organizations that support the State of Israel, yet doing so fractures the relatively small American Jewish community. The most recent target of the group’s efforts was the National Ramah Commission, responsible for providing over 11,000 kids — including myself some years ago — with a fun, Jewish summer experience and instilling a love for Israeli culture and Jewish traditions. During my days at the camp, I recall the “promotion” of Zionism manifested through eating Israeli food, singing Israeli songs, and immersing in Israeli cultural life. INN must take umbrage at these aspects of camp life for young American Jews since they recently attempted unsuccessfully to politicize the camp experience by imploring Ramah leadership to instruct about Israel’s “occupation” policies and practices. Wouldn’t an inclusive stance encourage a measured analysis of complex Israeli politics and a love for the Jewish homeland instead of absolute condemnation?
A good window into the motives of an organization involves looking at its leadership. Founder of INN Simone Zimmerman served a brief stint as coordinator of Jewish outreach for the Bernie Sanders presidential bid, but was let go after her vitriolic and unwaveringly anti-Israel Facebook posts were exposed. Zimmerman was too left-wing and anti-Zionist for Bernie Sanders’ liking, something extremely telling about the founding principles and doctrines of the INN movement. Moreover, the co-founder of INN, Max Berger, regularly makes egregious assertions via Twitter. “The GOP is a white nationalist party,” Berger tweeted on June 12, later stating that Trump’s cabinet is “full of the dumbest Nazis” on June 15. On June 9, Berger retweeted Sarah Silverman, who compared ICE immigration officers to Nazis, and on June 7 retweeted Linda Sarsour, the controversial figure who maintains that feminists cannot be Zionists. These Tweets took place in the span of a week and are prime examples of the biased beliefs of an INN co-founder, and by extension, the partisan organization.
As INN gains an increasing base of followers, it undermines the loyalty of American Jews towards Israel with skewed information and damaging rhetoric. Ramah’s interactions, along with countless other reputable Conservative-Jewish and Reform-Jewish organizations, proves how INN has permeated into the mainstream for American Jews, and along with them, a lopsided anti-Israel agenda. Per their website, INN’s indoctrination has reached members of key Jewish youth organizations in America: Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue Youth, Solomon Schechter (my alma mater), Ramah, BBYO, North American Federation of Temple Youth, and more.
INN has created a “Liberation Syllabus” (#LiberationSyllabus), a compilation of learning materials, much of which unjustly slanders Israel. The syllabus features Michael Chabon, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, and many other people and organizations that maintain a harsh and aggressive stance towards Israel. Chabon, a known anti-Israel activist gained notoriety — or apparent clout among IfNotNow followers — during his commencement address at the Hebrew Union College in California when he condemned Jewish in-marriage and professed his distaste for religion. Also prominent on the list was B’Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), the organization which offers a pro-Palestinian advocacy without acknowledgement of Israeli concerns and perspectives. Like INN, B’Tselem is an ardently partisan organization pushing an inherently flawed agenda.
INN does “not take a unified stance on… Zionism or the question of statehood,” yet purportedly supports a two-state solution. What this intentionally ambiguous verbiage accomplishes is reserving the right for the institution to allege support for the State of Israel, while accommodating the sizable sect of their supporters who denounce Israel’s existence altogether.
It’s very troubling that IfNotNow (INN) has gained traction and credibility among American Jews, especially millennials. INN is virtually silent on the ills surrounding Israel — including civil war and chemical warfare in Syria — but focuses exclusively on Israel’s continued control of pre-1967 border land with no acknowledgement of why or how. No democracy is immune from criticism, certainly including Israel, but INN does nothing to advance or deepen understanding of multiple perspectives in this complex region of the world. #YouNeverToldMe