A Conversation with the Apologists

You all know the type.

The type of activists, for whom no extreme is radical enough, and who proudly wear their “as a Jew” cap as they bend over backwards to apologize for Israel, for the supposed bigotry of any and all Orthodox Jewish communities, for Judaism, and for their own existence.

This type is not assimilationist. Assimilated Jews eat their bacon on  Yom Kippur, do what everyone else is doing, and just don’t really care. They are disconnected, they may not have much of a sense of Jewish identity, but they are also likely not going out of their way to cause harm under the guise of doing good.

Of course, such groups will always derive the supposed justification from some feel-good interpretation of “Tikkun Alam” or some other example of how Judaism has been turned into bumper sticker philosophy for the intellectually lazy and for the spiritually vapid.

Two of the most striking examples recently included IfNotNOw activists trying to disseminate the “occupation” narrative propaganda at JFK to the outgoing Birthright participants, before being removed after some of the participants complained. Another example was a recent article in the Forward, addressing what Jeremy Corbyn, denounced as a dangerous anti-Semite by three very different British Jewish newspapers, can learn from Linda Sarsour (a BDS supporter, with links to pro-Hamas and pro-Hizbullah groups, who has stated that Muslims should not work with Jews.).

Linda Sarsour, for her own part, recently aligned with the rising Democratic star, Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, who proclaimed that she is getting her education on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Jstreet, IfNotNow, and the like.  It is easy to fall into the endless debate on whether Jews who support these ideas are well-meaning but ignorant and misguided or ideological and malevolent. Truth be told, I would rather they had no sense of identity at all and quietly lived their own apolitical lives, without using their largely symbolic Jewish identity to cause divisions in the community, and to do damage to Israel’s image, and act like useful idiots for the terrorist organizations and European NGOs funding BDS movements and similar efforts. However, being an activist seems to be an identity unto itself these days, so much as I wish that people with ideology I didn’t like chose not to benefit from the institutional experience of the organized Jewish community to wreak havoc and exploit philanthropical greed of Establishment Jewish organizations to move them leftward, that’s obviously not going to happen.

Also, advocacy gets weird when some leftist British Jews defend Corbyn, while others within his own party are fighting an uphill battle to expose and denounce anti-Semitism. Who should have the credibility on this issue? The Jews who have made neo-Communism under a different name their religion or those who believe that identity hatred has no place in politics, no matter how legitimate otherwise the cause? Add in the fact that  some very legitimate British activists who denounce all sorts of extremism, such as Maajid Nawaz,  are likewise coming out against the alarming targeting of the Jews within Labour, and Jeremy Corbyn’s willful ignorance of the phenomenon – and the question arises, how is it that once again Jews are perfectly willing to side against their own and to sacrifice Jewish security to the comfort of having a mouthpiece they like spout the ideas they support? Why are the same leftist Jews  unable to separate Corbyn’s extremism from leftist politics and demand something better? (For instance, a party leader not aligned with international terrorist organizations).

Needless to say, the Jewish activists who have crossed that line into supporting the likes of Corbyn, and making excuses for anti-Semitism, are not particularly concerned about the effect their positions will have on their community or how it all looks like to the perplexed non-Jewish supporters who see such attitude as an act of disloyalty to one’s family and friends (forget bigger ideas such as the Jewish nation-state or religion or whatnot).  We have a generation of people who are so open-minded that their brains are falling out, and who are simply unable to tell the difference between friends and foes. Same people shy away from the Evangelicals or non-radicalized Muslims under the pretense of the first being “all missionaries” and the second being “too fringe” and not representative of Islam (whatever that is supposed to mean). Such deluded thinking is a serious and growing problem.

It’s a problem in Israel, where you have a growing number of secular liberals disinterested in joining the IDF or simply looking for a way to leave the country even as the Haredim are finally beginning to join the military and becoming slowly but surely increasingly productive in society. It’s a problem in Europe, where ignorant Jews are contributing to the destructions of their community, as other people who are turned by Jew hatred and embrace of radicalism, are fleeing their countries.

It’s certainly a problem in the United States, where these radical movements are taking over the education for young Jews.  It’s no less of a problem that t hose young Jews who seek to oppose this radicalism learn not from the original philosophers and political theorists of capitalism, or socialism, classical liberalism, or various statist thinkers, but from local talk show hosts and pseudoactivists. We have the supposedly pro-Israel Jews who are hardly any more educated than their confused counterparts, and we have activism deteriorating into the competition of shouting matches. Whoever shouts the loudest and the longest wins. Or something. Let’s not pretend there are any quick fixes to a long-festering problem, breaking out like acne now due to decades of neglect and self-righteous pooh-poohing. We can spend a great deal of time and resources exposing sources of funding for these organizations and going after the NGOs behind it, but at the end of the day, we, as always, would be playing catch-up and wack-a-mole. That’s not to say, this should not be done. But ultimately,  the spread of the ideological wildfire cannot be stopped with defensive tactics alone.

“Jewish” education clearly has not helped, either. It is too expensive for many, and even for those who benefit from modern Orthodox education of the most vigorous academic caliber, there is no real preparation for fighting identity battles. Jewish day schools and yeshivas are reluctant to get involved in that, and frankly, there is only so much time in the day between the Judaism classes and the mandatory educational curriculum. Being clustered in familiar Jewish bubbles also doesn’t help. Young Jews are growing up sheltered, whatever their background, with no exposure to other perspectives.

They grow up not having non-Jewish friends, unless they go to public schools, and they are more likely to be indoctrinated anyway.  So there is no inocculation against various types of ideas through slow deliberate exposure at home and through the teaching of basic critical thinking skills in early childhood. We produce academically successful people, but not necessarily well adjusted people who can handle relationships, build friendships with people different from themselves, or survive in the world where flexibility and resilience are as valuable as your academic pedigree or all the extracurricular activities and volunteerism participation you think will make or break your career.

My generation to some extent is stunted and one-sided, neurotic and unable to respond to intellectual or emotional attacks. We get scared when someone starts shouting at us, or calls us names.  Forget physical altercations. Yes, you can prepare for those. (There’s the Legion, which I very strongly recommend, as it increases situational awareness and creates a stronger mindset). Overall, as a community (or communities), we are more prepared for fighting with each other over minutiae, than standing up to outside incursion on what we believe to be our core values. Our tribalism works only one way = through internal disputes. Sometimes, however, a bit of tribalism against a common enemy is not all that bad.

None of that, however, ultimately addresses the ultimate question: what do we do we the sort of pervasisve thinking that is launching an assault now, at the moment, at our unprepared college students going on Birthright trips?  That is defending the enemies of our community in our newspapers? That is exploiting our image in the media, and in the “multicultural” hubs, where Jewish communities in the US tend to cluster? What do we do when they see nothing as sacrosanct and go after us in our very homes? When they seek to penetrate our safe spaces and destroy our safety bubbles? What do we do when they are prepared to wage a total war of ideas, and we don’t even know how to land a punch?

First, there is no need to meander and try to reinvent the wheel. We join forces with anyone with a bit of common sense who likewise is threatened by the threat of radicalism. Radicalism is radicalism, no matter what form it takes. “Peaceful” methods do not make an organization or its ideology any less radical. I regard IfNotNow and its ilk no different than CAIR or other such organizations, who claim to speak on behalf of entire swaths of population, with little evidence other than fearmongering and shutting down of any criticism. Stop giving legitimacy and platform to radical extremists, even when they are masquerading as peaceful activists. There is nothing peaceful about delegitimizing Israel’s existence, or spreading one-sided emotional propaganda to Birthrighters at airports. Those are dirty tactics, that deserve to be called out, denounced, and fought back against. You wouldn’t tolerate that if CAIR did that, or some missionary group took advantage of young or confused people’s ignorance unchallenged. When Jewish groups do that, it is just as insidious, if not more, because they are using their status as members of the Tribe to act like infiltrators, to spread bad ideas. On the one hand, young, unaffiliated, or previously apolitical and unprepared or underprepared Jews, should be aware of the ideological threats they facing and be able to react to those as they do to any other temptation that is not good for them – i.e. hard drugs.

The problem is, once you start granting legitimacy to one thing that is not so great, it is easy enough to keep pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable until you have no willpower or motivation to resist anything at all, and you end up falling for anything. The danger of pot is not in pot, which, may even have its medicinal uses. The danger is when people start believing they are invincible, just because pot is not as bad as alcohol or not as addictive. When they stop smoking recreationally in their backyard with friends after dinner, and use it right before driving with their kids in the backseat. Or when they start thinking that if pot is not that terrible, then maybe some magic mushrooms on occasion aren’t that bad either, and on it goes. We all think we are special, and that we’ll know when to stop. But then we just don’t stop. Same thing with these ideologies.

Even 3-4 years ago I had these conversations with the “mainstream” left-leaning Jews, who thought that these young movements were just there to challenge the status quo of rich lazy Establishment Jews who didn’t give young people a voice. Fair enough, but they should have been pushing for alternatives, instead of buying into the Establishment thinking themselves, until such point that they have become total tools, while letting these movements fester and spread until such point that they have now reached OUR schools, universities, Birthright trips, and so forth.  Five years ago, the likes of Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and Linda Sarsour had very limited platforms. Now, they are seen as the ONLY legitimate alternative to the corruption of someone like Hillary Clinton and establishment party bosses. Now, the activism of Linda Sarsour is a thing not despite being anti-Semitic and radical, but because it is. We having increasingly activists on both sides of the aisle, who instead of denouncing name calling and incivility in all its forms, embrace it when it’s convenient, or better yet, excuse it as “hard core and authentic”. Well, the search for authenticity has brought us to the bottom of the barrel in the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and the Jewish CAIR-types.

We should always leave room for teshuva (a return) for individuals. However, there is no room for tolerance of the descipable and intolerant ideologies and ideas. Try to bring the people back into the fold, but fight the organizations and propaganda with everything you’ve got. We’ve got plenty of resources and experience accumulated over centuries and millenia of tolerating and fighting back against oppression. Time to make use of our arsenal. Time to end the spread of ideological oppression, which is aiming to bring down our civilization as we know it and to put an end to us all.

About the Author
Irina Tsukerman graduated with a JD from Fordham University School of Law in 2009 and received her BA in International/Intercultural Studies and Middle East Studies from Fordham University in 2006. Her legal and advocacy work focuses on human rights and security issue, mostly in Muslim countries. She is also involved in diplomatic outreach and relationship-building among different communities.
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