Matthew David Finkelstein

AOC and Cori Bush: Deicide myth is NOT progressive

X/ Ritchie Torres

It is the original and unforgivable sin of the Jewish people, a people “evil” enough to have murdered “the lamb of God”. It is the source code of all antisemitic violence in the West, responsible for driving pogroms, inquisitions and the mass murder of Jews. It is the deicide myth, the blood guilt libel that Jews murdered Jesus, the foundational mythology of antisemitism and it has now become common parlance from a few leaders on the progressive left.

On Christmas morning bright and early, representative Cori Bush retweeted a video from Rev. Munther Isaac, a Lutheran cleric in Bethlehem. She singled out some choice words to quote: “Jesus is buried under the rubble”. Later that day, her fellow member of the squad, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez echoed the sentiment on Instagram, posting a picture of a Palestinian coded baby Jesus bedded atop a rubble filled mock nativity scene. “In the story of Christmas, Christ was born in modern-day Palestine under the threat of a government engaged in a massacre of innocents. He was part of a targeted population being indiscriminately killed…”

To break this down simply, the Israeli Defense Force is the official military of the only Jewish state in the world. Its army and leadership, in vast majority, are Jewish Israelis. There are many ways to be critical of the IDF. Accusing the only Jewish army of murdering Jesus all over again shouldn’t be one of them, as a rule, for anybody. But it is truly shocking and egregious when representatives AOC and Cori Bush, widely regarded as leading representatives of the progressive anti-racist left, engage in millennia-era antisemitic tropes. The fact that they did so on Christmas day is nearly Orwellian. Let me explain.

Christmas deicide myths have a particular historical legacy and carry a particular resonance for Jews. In Catholic and Protestant churches, clergy would drive congregants into fits of rage with the story of the passion of Christ and the wicked Jews responsible for his torment and murder. Over and over, this would result in pogroms. The theatrics go back to the early 1200’s with the Chaumont Christmas plays, where Jews were depicted as devils tormenting Jesus. Shortly after, violence would explode in Fulda, Germany where 34 Jews would die at the hands of a mob, convinced the Jews had drunk the blood of German children in order to win salvation for the sin of, you guessed it, murdering the son of God. Jews would be burned at the stake in Judenberg, Austria in 1312, for desecration of the host, an accusation that Jews were not even done killing Jesus, undertaking to defile his Eucharist offerings.

These events and more patterned the outbreak of violence against Jews for hundreds of years culminating in the raping and pillaging of the Warsaw Pogrom of 1881 where over 34 Jews were murdered. These torments persisted for so long that Jews had taken to renaming Christmas with Yiddishisms such as Vey Nacht as in (Oy vey this night!) and Moyredike Nahcht (Fearful night).

Because antisemitism is structural and rooted, it often emerges unconsciously from people, in instinctive ways. When activists dressed up a Palestinian coded Black baby Jesus doll, covered it in red paint, and left it on representative Ritchie Torres’ door step on Christmas day in retaliation for his support of Israel; and when an anti-Israel activist at Vallejo City Hall yelled at our community of Jews “YOU DID KILL HIM [JESUS]”, it’s not impossible to suggest that they were unaware of the vast historical inertias and long rooted bigotries. But for others, the supposition of ignorance becomes less believable.

Take for instance notorious right winger Jake Shields, often retweeted by Elon Musk. Just prior to Christmas he tweeted in response to a thread about Palestine, “Jews killed Jesus and according to the Talmud he’s in hell”. It is hard for me to imagine that a guy like Jake, a big believer in replacement theory and a dogged and outspoken antisemite, could be acting out of unconscious bias.

AOC and Cori Bush have staked their entire careers on the notion of supporting social justice and fighting racism. Although I suppose it is possible, it is still hard for me to imagine that they do not know or recognize what antisemitism is or what it looks like. But I can tell you this much: it’s not because they’ve lacked opportunities to learn. It took AOC almost 2 years to sit down with the Jewish community in her district despite repeated and worried pleas that they were being shut out. Cori Bush was most recently surrounded by Jewish Voice for Peace at the DC rallies against Israel. Of course, the primary reason for many anti-Israel Jewish activists to showcase their Jewish identity is when they are protesting Israel. That seems obvious by the fact that I’ve not seen any of them object to Bush’s brazen deployment of the dreaded deicide myth in the comments on her post, but if I’m wrong about that, kindly send me some links.

As a lifelong Democrat and a progressive Zionist, I don’t want to lecture anybody, so let’s consider this a return to fundamentals.

These are first principles: racism and antisemitism exist. They are deeply rooted and structural. It is our job as Democrats to learn to recognize, deconstruct and resist them. But, above all, we should never reenact or perpetuate them in our activism or in pursuit of social justice. At the same time, we cannot abide in silence as the icons of progressive activism directly perpetuate unreconstructed antisemitic tropes, unless we are content to live in an inverted Orwellian world.

We are not, so here’s how things stand: antisemitism is fast becoming normalized, if not a central organizing principle, of the “new” progressive political order. This is not ok and if it is not resolved, this order will inevitably trend towards movement collapse, as does any movement that trends towards antisemitism. We must not allow that, and we must not allow the spread of antisemitism into the wider party.

Critically, this doesn’t mean that progressivism itself is flawed, it just means that there are better models yet to emerge. As progressive Zionists, we look forward to helping replace the broken models and advancing the new ones, with enthusiasm and gusto. In our vision neither antisemitism nor any form of discrimination can be tolerated, much less become an enacted organizing principle. If you are a progressive and you are feeling put off by antisemitism, please know that you’re not alone.

We at Progressive Zionists of California are here for you and we are hopeful about what lies ahead. Come join us!

About the Author
Matthew Finkelstein is a Democratic party and community activist and leader, Cofounder and board member of Progressive Zionists of California and President of the Jewish Democratic Club of Solano County.
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