Now that the organizers of the March for Racial Justice have apologized for planning their march on Yom Kippur, and have planned a march for the following day, we should absolutely accept the apology and work together for justice for all races, ethnicities, and communities. Indeed, as Rabbi Jill Jacobs noted, we should accept it with “a whole heart and a willing spirit,” appreciate the listening and problem solving that led to the apology, and should continue to “work across lines of difference even –and especially– when it’s difficult, and when feelings are hurt.”
However, this march is but one example of the exclusion of Jews from social justice movements and progressive causes. We know the bigoted removal of Jews from the Chicago Dyke March. We are all too familiar with safe spaces on campuses excluding Jews. And, we have had enough of the demonization of Israel, zionists (read: Jews), and the Jewish people’s rights to self-determination, a nation in our homeland, and to not commit national suicide. It has not gone unnoticed that every progressive march for years has lumped in attacks on Israel.
In other words, those who espouse the ideals of inclusion for all communities, who claim to understand the intersection of various identities and systems of oppression and discrimination, but who continually ignore and silence Jewish concerns – or even worse perpetuate anti-semitism, sometimes unwittingly – owe a much larger and introspective apology.
In the first place, it should not take white supremacists and Nazis marching in the streets of America chanting anti-semitic slogans and surrounding a synagogue for the left to take seriously the issue of anti-semitism. Jewish Americans remain a top target of hate crimes and our schools, synagogues and bodies are things we worry about every day. This is why we willingly pay what I call the Jew tax, i.e. the cost of paying for security for our institutions, a cost unseen by others. While most Jewish Americans may have white skin, not all Jews do, and in any event it does not protect us from anti-semitism or violence. Yet, too many on the left place Jews in the privileged category, and fail to prioritize our concerns in part because of the inaccurate belief that all Jews are white and are therefore immune from hatred.
Nor is this a zero sum game or competition. As Lily Herman put it, “You don’t have to denounce anti-Semitism over other forms of hate; you just need to make sure you include it.”
Second, standing up against Nazis, and against those who seek to exterminate or subjugate people based on their race, peoplehood or nationality is easy and is the baseline for showing one’s humanity. These are the obvious things to stand up to. Indeed, people from across the political spectrum have forcefully stated that there is no moral equivalence between those who promote hate and those who oppose it, and have expressed no tolerance for the bigotry of white supremacists, neo-nazis and the KKK.
Paraphrasing CNN’s Van Jones: when you have white supremacist terrorism, or any other kind, you must have moral clarity about who is the enemy. And yet, the left has utterly failed to take a clear moral stand on Islamist supremacism, particularly when it targets Israel and Jews. This is clearly unacceptable, and is no better than being silent in the face of white supremacists.
And, just as people of all political stripes stood in solidarity with London and Paris and now Barcelona in the wake of deadly terrorism, the left should – must – stand unequivocally with Israel and Israelis when they suffer car rammings or bombings or missiles. But, too often those on the left justify and attempt to rationalize Jew hatred.
Nor can the left excuse its belittling of valid and rational Jewish concerns regarding the Iran deal. The Iranian regime denies the holocaust and has openly and repeatedly threatened genocide against Israel and works every day using conventional weapons and terrorism to undermine Israel’s safety. Progressives would never dare ask any other endangered group to ignore its legitimate fears and safety concerns or suggest paranoia on their part. Rather, they would listen, validate, amplify, and show solidarity. But, not for the Jews.
The left must also apologize for and part ways with those like Linda Sarsour who spread anti-semitism, and have no understanding of the justness of the creation of modern Israel. As President Obama put forth, at minimum one should be “aware of the particular circumstances of Jewish history” that require Israel’s existence and the “active presence of anti-semitism,” and one should know that “there are people and nations that . . . would do the Jewish people harm because of a warped ideology.”
As much as some thought we were past it, anti-semitism never went away. Modern anti-semitism often is expressed in blaming Israel for all the world’s troubles (it’s another version of the conspiracy theory that Jews control the world), questioning Jewish nationalism but no other nationalism, and blaming diaspora Jews for Israel’s policies. As I’ve previously written, the left – like everyone else – has internalized anti-semitism, just as we all internalize racism, sexism and homophobia. Here, I would ask not for an apology but openness to learning and self awareness.
Because Israel is the focus of the world’s Jew hatred today, to stay true to its professed values, the left must also re-educate itself on Jewish history, narrative and religion, and our millenia old connection to the land of Israel. In other words, getting woke requires learning. Indeed, securing peace requires knowing and accepting Jewish history. Some simple first tasks: If you don’t know about the second class status and later ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab countries, the connections between Nazi ideology and Arab anti-semitism, how race operates in Europe, or that “Palestine” was a name given to the land of Judea by the conquering Romans to erase the memory of Jewish independence, start reading.
If the left is truly committed to standing for justice for all, it must not excuse, normalize, or overlook anti-semitism, which is deeply connected to white nationalism. Open hatred causes harm, but so does silence.
So, in my opinion a greater apology is still owed, and should be followed up with appropriate action. There’s over a month until Yom Kippur. I’ll be waiting.