Raymond M. Berger
Real Bullet Points

If I am Not Stupid, What am I?

The kids of IfNotNow are not the only Jews whose brains have fallen out.

It seems to be a Jewish hazard: the alarming habit of many Jews to take the point of view of their enemies.

A New Organization with a Bad Idea

A good example of this is the organization of American Jews that calls itself IfNotNow.  This organization was established by a group of young liberal Jews in 2014 on the heels of the conflict between Hamas and Israel during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. It is named after the famous words of renowned scholar Rabbi Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”

The stated purpose of these wide-eyed and well-meaning Jewish kids is to end the oppressive Israeli occupation of the Palestinians. Their Statement of Principles suggests a broader purpose: “We do not take a unified stance on BDS, Zionism or the question of statehood.” This allows IfNotNow to include members who believe a boycott of Israel is justified and that Zionism is not. Thus, those who believe that Israel has no right to exist are welcome here.

That notion is consistent with the anti-Israel rhetoric that populates almost every paragraph of the IfNotNow web site. These Jewish kids push a poisoned narrative: While in the past, Jewish history and tradition led to humane values, today Jews have lost their way and become monsters. They are intent on oppressing others. As the organization’s website explains:

As we were dehumanized by the oppression we faced, we are now dehumanized by that which we are inflicting. Our elders told many of us that because of our history, we should oppose oppression in all the places it lives, whether it preys upon us or others. But generations of American Jews have now watched as Israel enforces its occupation: a system of violence and separation that deprives Palestinians of civil, political and economic rights. 

Not a Smart Narrative

IfNotNow has identified the enemy. It is not radical Islam that threatens to annihilate the Jewish people; it is not world-wide anti-Semitism; it is not a hopelessly anti-Israel United Nations; it is not the 70 year war against Jewish sovereignty carried out by Israel’s Arab neighbors; it is not Iran’s threats of nuclear destruction.

In this one-eyed view, the real threat to the Jewish people are the mainstream Jewish American organizations. IfNotNow’s targets include not only advocacy groups like AIPAC, but all the major American Jewish organizations, as well as elected representatives who support Israel. According to IfNotNow, these organizations and politicians threaten everyone because they have “refused to speak out” against the dehumanization and oppression of Palestinians carried out by Israel.

Most remarkable about the IfNotNow website is the absence of context. If the reader did not know otherwise, he might think that the Jews have marched onto Palestinian lands, deprived them of their homes, turned them into serfs, and that the Palestinians have done nothing except capitulate to an unprincipled aggressor. There is no mention of the Arabs’ war of annihilation against Israel, the mass expulsion of Jews from across the Arab world, constant Arab support for anti-Jewish terrorism, or Arab Jew-hatred and intolerance.

Do the IfNotNow folks know that a recent public opinion poll showed that Palestinians living under Palestinian Authority rule view corruption of their leaders as a greater problem than the occupation? Do the IfNotNow kids know that 98% of Arabs in the West Bank live under Palestinian Authority, not Israeli, rule?

IfNotNow tells us that the occupation is a daily nightmare for Palestinians. The Israelis have imposed “a system of violence and separation that deprives Palestinians of civil, political and economic rights” along with their “basic freedom and dignity.”

On the IfNotNow website the reader learns there is no limit to Israeli evil. Israelis even send their young people “to kill and be killed.”  But the evil extends to individual American Jews themselves. According to these moralizers, “a fearful American Jewish community ostracizes those who see the Palestinians as human beings, deserving of the same things we wish for ourselves….” These kids pose as moral exemplars while they view Jews who support Israel as morally deficient.

The IfNotNow groupies have swallowed the twisted rhetoric of the far left. They believe in intersectionality, that is, the idea that “none of us can be free” as long as others are not free. Those others include only people whom left-wingers like. They don’t include Jews, who apparently never have to worry about their freedom. The website boasts that the organization models itself after laudable movements: the Labor movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and of course, Black Lives Matter. I wonder if they are aware that Black Lives Matter is part of a coalition of groups that calls for the “decolonization of Palestine”, that is, the destruction of the state of Israel. I don’t think that would bother some of the IfNotNow crowd.

The kids of IfNotNow are not the only Jews whose brains have fallen out. During the brutal Stalin era, large numbers of American Jews worshipped Stalinism and Mother Russia, despite Stalin’s murderous campaign against his own people and his suppression of Jewish life. In the present day, Jews such as George Soros, Norman Finkelstein, Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky use their high public profiles to demonize and weaken their Jewish brethren. So pervasive is the phenomenon of the self-hating Jew, that playwright and author David Mamet was moved to write a book about it: The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred and the Jews.

It is easier to understand the “what”—-the statements and actions—-of these anti-Jewish Jews than it is to understand the “why.” What in the world makes a Jew adopt the narrative of his enemy?

Why Be Dumb?

There are a variety of reasons that some young Jews are drawn to the IfNotNow narrative. I’ll name just a few.

These kids get an emotional high from their loud public displays of righteousness and their chastisement of the adult Jewish community. In their words: “Our elders told many of us that because of our history, we should oppose oppression in all the places it lives, whether it preys upon us or others.” But lo and behold, the adults have lied and the kids, with their greater moral rigor, have arrived to save the day. Observers of the left have correctly identified this as virtue signaling. It must be deeply satisfying to its practitioners because they do it all the time.

In his book, The Strange Death of Europe, Douglas Murray talks about a Europe that is vulnerable to the loss of enlightenment values—freedom, respect for the individual, free speech and the like—as the result of the immigration of large numbers of people from Muslim countries. That vulnerability is the consequence of a Europe that has lost its self-confidence. Europe has lost its belief in itself, its way of life and its values. Europeans have come to believe that the beliefs and practices of others are of equal value to their own, and perhaps superior. Add to this a sense of guilt for historical wrongs such as colonialism, and the end result is a culture that is easily tipped over by a competing ideology. I think something similar has happened to the IfNotNow kids.

According to a Pew Research Survey conducted in 2014, only a little over a third of American Jews reported that religion is very important in their lives (although the numbers who feel this way have increased in recent years). Without the anchor of religion in their lives many young American Jews have experienced a loss of confidence in their own values, a moral confusion, and a refusal to believe that good and evil truly exist. In the process of denigrating their own values, the IfNotNow kids have turned a blind eye to the moral failures of their enemies. That is why they never challenge the Arabs for their Jew-hatred, misogyny, religious intolerance and lack of democratic practices.

The IfNotNow website is replete with references to human rights, freedom and dignity, benefits that the Israelis have purportedly stolen from the Palestinians. The kids pushing this narrative believe all that is required to secure these benefits is for the Jews to stop persecuting the Arabs. Have the kids taken a look at Arab society? Any Arab society? Why do they believe that if the Jews just went away, freedom and dignity would flourish in Arab lands?

Most American Jews, and most Americans, support Israel from a perspective of moral clarity. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that guards the values that the IfNotNow kids say they hold dear. These values include freedom of thought and expression, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, equal rights for minorities and women, and a free and fair system of justice. The best way to ensure these values for Jews and Arabs alike is to support Israel.

The boys and girls of IfNotNow have lost their way because they refuse to acknowledge that there are good guys and bad guys in the world, and that people can choose between the two. That is not to say that Jews are good and Arabs bad, but rather that any government, like that of Israel, that defends good values is a government worth supporting.

The kids of IfNotNow may have blundered due to simple ignorance. Do they know the history of Jews and Arabs?  The organization’s website claims that IfNotNow was founded in response to “the violence of Operation Protective Edge in 2014.” Are they not aware that the Hamas terrorist organization started the war? That Israel offered many cease fire opportunities to Hamas to stop its rocket attacks? That Hamas launched thousands of rockets at Israeli population centers? And that Israel invaded Gaza only as a last resort to stop the rocket attacks.

IfNotNow has adopted the left’s practice of always blaming Israel for its justified defense against Arab attacks. The narrative is as simple as it is ignorant: Leftists see Israel as the persecutor and the Arabs as victims. They allow nothing, and certainly not facts, to get in the way of this narrative.

A final explanation for Jews who adopt the narrative of their enemy should be considered. In another context this has been called Stockholm Syndrome. This is a psychological condition in which hostages become so traumatized by their kidnapping and imprisonment that they come to identify with their kidnappers. This serves as a means of emotional survival in a high threat situation. The kidnapped victim protects himself by re-imagining the kidnappers as good guys and by adopting the kidnappers’ cause. The over-protected Jewish kids of IfNotNow have not been kidnapped or threatened directly. But many of them have been subjected to intense anti-Israel propaganda on their college campuses. Some have felt threatened and demeaned by a campus climate characterized by anti-Israel student resolutions, “Israeli Apartheid Week” and other anti-Israeli events, as well as the disapproval of anti-Israel professors. Identifying with and supporting those who demonize Israel is one way for these students to cope psychologically.

There is a Right Side and a Wrong Side

It is stupid to believe that every conflict between a stronger and a weaker power places the stronger power at fault.

In the Second World War, Germany was far stronger than other European countries. That doesn’t mean Germany was in the right. Today we judge Germany based on a historical understanding: they promoted an inhumane, racist and fascistic ideology and they were the aggressors who started the war. Had they not been defeated, a curtain of darkness would have descended upon all of Europe and spread across the world. The German people may have been innocent, but their government was the bad guy.

Are the young Jews of IfNotNow smart enough to know who the good guys are? If they are not stupid, what are they?

About the Author
The author is a life-long Zionist and advocate for Israel. He believes that a strong Jewish state is invaluable, not only to Jews, but to the world-wide cause of democracy and human rights. Dr. Berger earned a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has twenty-seven years of teaching experience. He has authored and co-authored three books as well as over 45 professional journal articles and book chapters. His parents were Holocaust survivors.
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