Democrats, don’t lose me

Anna Abramzon at 2017 Women's March in Washington DC
Anna Abramzon at 2017 Women's March in Washington DC

I have always been a progressive. In November of 2016, devastated by Trump’s victory, I booked a flight to DC for the Women’s March long before the movement spread to cities all over the world. That whirlwind weekend of pink hats and comradery was empowering and invigorating. As I linked arms with fellow feminists of all ages, colors and backgrounds, it struck me as strange that the only non-domestic issue any speaker mentioned that day was that of Israel-Palestine, but I tried to brush it off and not let it mar the feeling of oneness and sisterhood of that weekend. I too support a better life for the Palestinian people, after all, just as I support a Jewish right to self-determination and Israel’s right to live in peace. Later, when the antisemitic roots of the newly installed leadership of the Women’s March came to light, I was heartbroken, but I couldn’t honestly say I was surprised.

As an American Jew, I have always felt that it is my duty and my responsibility to stand up for social justice. After all, it says right on the statue of liberty that America is for  “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.  I have gone to my state capitol and to Capitol Hill to lobby for reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, and for a fairer justice system. I have marched against unjust wars and in support of protections for our country’s weakest. I have voted straight Democratic ticket in every election since I was old enough to vote. But after the last eleven days, for the first time, I am wavering.

The last few weeks have been fraught with heartache and heartbreak. My heart aches for my Israeli friends hiding in stairwells and bomb shelters, many with their small terrified children. My heart breaks for innocent civilians in Gaza being held hostage and used as human shields by their own terrorist government. I am worried sick about the escalating tensions in Israel herself and about the rise in extremism.

But I am also heartbroken by what I am seeing unfold in America and on social media.  I am immensely grateful for President Biden’s unwavering support for Israel’s right to self-defense, and that most of our congress has also shown support and denounced terrorism. But at the same time, a synagogue in my hometown outside Chicago was vandalized. A Jewish couple was attacked down the street from where I live in Los Angeles.  My little sister was called a “stupid Jew” out of the blue by someone she had considered a friend. Anti-semitic incidents and attacks are being reported all over the country and the world. Through all this, I am seeing a very painful reality: many people in what I always considered to be my community, that is, progressive Americans, seem to be perfectly comfortable with this.  And even worse, many are enthusiastically cheering it on.

Growing up in the Soviet Union and then as a child immigrant in the United States, I was always very aware of how my parents saw everyone as “us” and “them”. I understood intellectually that this is a consequence of living most of your life in a systematically anti-semitic society, where you are always the “other”, but it was not something I could relate to emotionally. I was grateful for that. My friends were all religions and colors and we all stood up for each other and against bigotry of any kind. But today I understand what my parents felt all their lives.

For some reason liberal American Jews are expected to denounce actions of the Israeli government to be “the good Jews”, but Arab Americans are under no pressure from the left to denounce Hamas, despite the fact that it is a terrorist organization which causes immense suffering for the very Palestinian people who elected them — not to mention that their charter is explicitly genocidal towards the Jews. I don’t like or support everything the Israeli government does any more than I agree with or support all the things the US government does.  And I vote accordingly. But, would we expect our government to just stand down if bombs rained down on our cities?

Democrats, wake up! Our party is being highjacked by a false narrative, extremism, and a mob mentality. Why is it ok for the Palestinian cause to be an excuse for antisemitism and even hate crimes in the name of “progressive values”? We, Democratic Jews, have always stood up for other minorities, whether it be marching with Martin Luther King or standing up for Muslim Americans after 9/11. So where is the outcry when we are under attack? Where is the support? When Jews are the ones under fire, be it from bombs or from mobs, the vast majority of the media and the liberal world is silent, or even worse, making excuses for or siding with the attackers. Is this what progressivism is?

This pisses me off. It is infuriating when comedians and political commentators run completely one-sided segments demonizing Israel and excusing terrorism. They wouldn’t excuse terrorism against anyone except Jews. John Oliver’s abhorrently biased segment may have gone viral, but viral doesn’t equal right. I have no doubt that in the future his segment will be seen as just another example of how far the media has strayed from a moral compass, and from caring about nuance, or even truth. The celebrities and “influencers” who are so passionately posting “Free Palestine” now remain completely silent when Jihadist organizations such as Isis slaughter thousands of innocent people, or when China perpetuates full genocide against the Uighurs (who are also Muslims by the way). But when Israel is involved, everyone suddenly has an opinion.

I am very grateful to the few public figures who have had the bravery and moral clarity to stand up to the internet mobs and show critical thought, or even to simply admit that they don’t know enough to have an opinion. But way too many of my fellow liberals are blindly following the party line and joining the mobs, both literal and digital. Being familiar with life under an oppressive regime, I’m a bit allergic to “party lines”, and herd mentality terrifies me.

The fact that Israel rose out of the ashes of one of the worst genocides in recent history seems to be forgotten and the fact that the Hamas charter, a political document, literally calls for another Holocaust in which “the earth itself will cry out for Jewish blood” is ignored entirely. When you cry for the civilians killed in Gaza (a sentiment I wholeheartedly share), but denounce Israel’s right to defend her citizens against indiscriminate attacks, you are telling me that the lives of my people have less value than of their Palestinian counterparts. When the Washington Post runs an article with the headline reading that the Iron Dome, which has saved thousands of lives and hurt no one, is perpetuating the conflict, they are telling me that they’re disappointed Hamas is not successful at killing more Israelis. Honestly, guys, is that really what you want to say?

Fellow progressives, when mobs protest in front of and vandalize synagogues and Jewish businesses, when they burn Israeli flags, chant “Death to Israel” and throw bottles at Jews sitting at outdoor diners in Los Angeles, they are sending the exact same message as the White Supremacists chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville. Is that who we want to become? We need to do better. Way better. Jews being “othered” on both sides is all too familiar, but does it lead us where we want to go?

About the Author
Anna Abramzon is an artist based in Los Angeles. Her work explores the intersection of contemporary figurative painting and traditional Judaica. She specializes in ketubah art, painted tallitot, and Jewish motifs. She is also a blogger on issues of Soviet Jewry, Israel, and Jewish lifestyle.
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