This Yom HaShoah, as every year, I was deeply moved by a recitation of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famed quote:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me –
And there was no one left to speak for me.
This Yom HaShoah, as every year, I could not help but feel guilty for my own passivity in the face of the Christian right*, as it creeps insidiously into the Zionist movement.
I thought about how these people have already come for black Americans (the Ku Klux Klan was known to hang white-skinned Jews alongside people of color). I thought about how they have already come for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer, intersex, asexual/aromantic, and otherwise non-heterosexual/non-cisgender (LGBTQIA+) community. I thought about how they have already come for Muslim Americans. I wondered, then, how I, as a Jew, could ever trust or depend on them. Can I shut my eyes to all the evidence and pretend to believe that I, who they believe killed their messiah, am not on the list (it should be noted that, while some Christian rightists conveniently claim that they no longer believe in deicide, even Christians United For Israel leader John Hagee has slipped and mentioned the Jews’ “piercing” of Jesus on National Public Radio)? That they won’t someday come for me?
Their record in the United States aside, it is hard to forget the history of the Christian right’s treatment of the Jews over the centuries. Zionism emerged, after all, in the wake of anti-Semitic incidents that they perpetrated. Am I to forget the crusades, the inquisitions, and the pogroms (the former two episodes were pre-Reformation, and the latter conducted by adherents of a different denomination but a shared ideology that has resulted in the aggressive homophobia today common between the Christian right in Russia and in the United States)? Am I to commemorate the Holocaust without recalling the propaganda that the Nazis borrowed from their religious predecessors, or the latent anti-Semitism planted through centuries of religious hatred that inspired the majority of Europe’s population to either tacitly or, in many cases, actively support genocide? Hagee himself has suggested before that Adolph Hitler was a G-d-sent “hunter” on a divine mission to herd the Jews to Mandate Palestine.
As if the history was not clear enough, it is undeniable that, even today, the rhetoric of the Christian right is tainted with anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. I have heard on multiple occasions the theory that Jewish control of the land of Israel is a step on the path to the second coming of Jesus, at which time all Jews will be sent to Hell for our failure to accept him as our savior. I’ve also heard the idea of a temporary alliance between Christians and Jews against some monolithic Muslim enemy (it seems that the common victimhood of Jews and Muslims at the hands of Christian religious authorities in the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and countless other occasions has been forgotten). Both of those lines of reasoning are rooted in hatred, and both lead to policies that right-wing Christian Zionists tend to support against the interests of Israel, such as cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority and demonizing Israel’s Arab allies.
Moreover, this presence in the Zionist tent is a powerful argument for the anti-Israel movement. I have heard multiple professors here at Brown University cite Christian rightist Zionism as a reason that Brown students, largely secular and leftist, should oppose Israel. In fact, it is my belief that the reason for the crisis between Israel and the American left today is, ironically, exactly that association between Israel and the Christian right against which the Zionist movement was founded in the first place.
I have been deeply disturbed by moments in which moderate pro-Israel organizations, groups that I trust, have put me in rooms teeming with thousands of people who are confident that I, personally, was present at the crucifixion of Jesus. It is as though the true Zionism, with its leftist, secularist, socialist history, has been abandoned. The core supporters of the Jewish state, people like me, are increasingly being edged out of the movement by ephemeral, anti-Semitic masses who support the Jewish state today because they have decided, at least for now, that they can benefit from a temporary alliance. I certainly don’t trust them, and I implore my fellow Zionists not to fall for their overzealous rhetoric either. It is with that same zeal that they drove my family from Eastern Europe.
Finally, I want to address the obvious moral wrong in collaborating with such forces of hatred. I have written most of this article in terms of the interests of the Zionist movement, because that is the case that I believe readers will find most compelling, but I also want to acknowledge; as a Jew, as a Zionist, and as a human being; the egregious sin inherent in such an alliance. I cannot help but cringe when I see an organization like the Jewish National Fund sinking so low as to honor Charles Stanley, as it did earlier this month, with his history of homophobic hatred. Any legitimacy that we give such people, whether in the eyes of their followers or even for their own egos, flies in the face of our commitment to Jewish, Zionist, and human values.
Thus I stood abashed at this year’s Yom HaShoah ceremony. I don’t want to be ashamed of any aspect of the Zionist movement, nor should I have to be. That is why it is up to us, those who believe in the true, revolutionary, socialist, secularist, leftist, bold, stand-up, light-unto-the-nations Zionism of Israel’s founders, to exorcise the Christian right from our movement before they can do the Jewish state or humanity any more harm from the platforms that we give them.
*I use the term “Christian right” to refer to those who support right-wing values and ideas through advocacy for the unification of Church and State. Of course, those who stand with the left are an integral part of the Zionist movement, regardless of religious faith (or lack thereof), and their presence is very much appreciated.