On February 21, 2017, Jews in America and world over awoke to a horrific sight. An historic cemetery in St. Louis was vandalized in an apparent act of anti-Semitism. Over two hundred headstones were overturned. Gratifyingly, public reaction has been loud in support of the Jewish community and in condemnation of this disgraceful act.
Interestingly, support for the Jewish community also came from a very surprising place. Linda Sarsour, a well known social justice activist, anti Zionist and supporter of BDS, spearheaded a very successful fund raising campaign for money to right the toppled headstones. She said she did so in a demonstration of solidarity with the Jewish community. Her gesture, such as it is, should be entirely rejected by the Jewish community.
Sarsour is no stranger to the Jewish community. She’s made her antipathy for Israel well known, as well as her support for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) tactic designed to economically isolate and harm the Jewish state. I guess she feels justified in doing that since, in her own words, she finds Zionism “creepy.” Indeed Sarsour thinks nothing else in the world is as “creepy” as Zionism. She supports a “one state solution” in the hopes that Jews in that state will lose influence as a matter of demographics. While she doesn’t approve of violence, she wants Jews out of the Holy Land; or at the very least Jews should not have real political agency in the Holy Land.
There are those in the Jewish community, who notwithstanding Sarsour’s attitude toward the State of Israel, embraced her overture. The argument goes that where Jewish and Muslim interests align, it is reasonable to work together with them. And that doing so will open up new lines of communication, which will pave the way to great mutual understanding of each other. That could form the basis for an example that just might serve to end the conflict between the two peoples. And in pursuit of that relationship we should mutually assist one another in combating all forms of racism.
In theory, that argument has great merit. But as applied to Linda Sarsour and the Jewish community, it’s perverse. In actuality it’s a restatement of the old Christian anti Semitic saw “let the Jew live, but not prosper.”
Linda Sarsour, as a pro-Palestinian, pro Muslim activist, has made a brilliant career of mining the intersectionality between her interests and those of other minorities. She was the one who mobilized the American Muslim community to action in support of the black community in Ferguson. And, sensing a commonality of experience between the two communities, she’s strengthened black-Muslim ties since them. It is the perceived intersectionality between what many see as systemically entrenched oppression of women and racism against Muslims in the United States that led her to assume a leadership role in the Women’s March in Washington D.C. when President Trump was inaugurated. To paraphrase much of her rhetoric, she will ever stand with the persecuted and downtrodden, the oppressed; whomever and wherever they may be. And she does so in the noble pursuit of social justice, and a better world for all.
And that’s precisely the problem. Sarsour’s gesture to the Jewish community is the result of her seeing Jews as another oppressed minority or in pursuit of relegating them to being an oppressed minority. It’s a negation of everything the Jewish community, through its hard work, through its refusal to demand privileges for being a minority, has accomplished. Much of what Jews accomplished in the last century is the result of Zionism’s success. Zionism, among its many purposes, primarily is a movement that advances the notion of Jewish self determination and national independence. We don’t want to be a pitiable minority. We expect an equal seat on the world stage and will settle for nothing less. Sarsour’s pursuit of intersectionality with Judaism is a negation of Zionism, a delgitimization of the Jewish nationalist enterprise. Taken to its logical conclusion, Sarsour’s fund raiser in actuality seeks to end Jewish self determination and nationalism. Sarsour, echoing Augustine of Hippo, would have us live, but not prosper. Worse yet, she would have us live ever dependant on the support and grace of those who rendered us a pitiable minority.
Sorry Ms. Sarsour. We will not give up who we are. We won’t intersectionalize with you because we have nothing in common with you. We are a nation among the others, perhaps to your chagrin, but we are. Your offer of charity is merely age old anti-Semitism wrapped up in a bow. Give the gift to someone else.