We have been progressively sliding into antisemitism since Arafat’s cunning and perverse “Zionism is Racism” speech (United Nations, 1975), gained momentum in Progressive spaces.
The narrative was set in motion, growing into the twisted logic of BDS and false claims of “Apartheid” by the far left and dangerously infecting popular culture.
Unchecked, antisemitism spreads like any infectious disease.
As someone who has traveled in the progressive lane for several decades, I have seen it grow past the fringes of the far Left into Progressive politics.
Antisemitism never stays in one lane. It is no longer limited to racists chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville or Nazis marching in Skokie. No group is immune to the “world’s oldest hatred,” repackaged today as “anti-Zionism.” We are told we cannot be both a Zionist and a Feminist, that we cannot bring a Rainbow Flag with a Star of David to a Pride Parade.
Given my background as a stateless Egyptian/Iraqi Jew schooled in International Catholic and Protestant missionary schools as a curombo gaigin (darky foreigner) in Japan, coupled with my particular personality, I resonated with all civil rights movements once I landed in California, on my Red Cross student visa.
With my layered background of my parent’s and grandparents’ flight from Arab lands because they were Jews, and my personal experience of anti-Jewish prejudice growing up in Christian schools, I heard the antisemitism in responses to my Magen David.
“Why do you have to make yourself ‘different’ by wearing that (Star of David)?’initially took me by surprise. And “does it have to be so big?”
It wasn’t the nuns anymore, telling me Hitler had more of a chance of getting to Heaven than the recalcitrant Jew, me. This was coming from fellow liberals, friends, and clients, in progressively oriented spaces in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
As a therapist working in San Francisco’s Community Mental Health centers with primarily LGBTQ communities in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I was a part of “alternative”clinicians fighting old hatreds, hired to be our strongest selves as women, as queers, as people of color, working through internalized prejudices. But not as a Jew, and a Zionist.
Even back in the 1980’s, Israel kept coming up as a litmus test of how progressive you really were. I found myself suspect.
I tried to explain how Jews are multicultural People, how diverse Israel was, how half the Jewish population in Israel were Mizrahim, Jews from Arab lands like most of my relatives living in Israel, forced out of our native lands in the 1950’s. My inconvenient facts were generally unwelcome.
I was told by a facilitator in the Therapists of Color support group to “leave the Jew outside the door.”
My shock but not-a-surprise look was met with his “What? You think I’m being ‘antisemitic?’ ”
“Focus on similarities not differences,” the director of Clinical Services, a Jewish woman, directed me, when I asked to be excused from the group. She gave me a lecture on “teamwork,” adding, “and use Jew–ish not ‘Jew.’”
I remember being on a panel at a Jewish Feminist Conference in 1981, and I mentioned being an Egyptian/Iraqi Jew and Zionist. A colleague I knew from the community, screamed out from the audience; “If one Palestinian has to be killed for Israel to survive, it has to go!” I felt sick.
That fringe she was a part of joined JVP (so called “Jewish Voice For Peace”). What was once “far left” anti-Zionism is being normalized by rabbis having “existential angst”on pulpits and taking down the Israeli flag over Israel’s self defense, BDS, and the Peter Beinarts.
Yes, of course criticizing, speaking out against this or that country’s policies including Israel is normal, questioning its right to exist is not normal. Jew hatred is old, but it’s not “normal.”
We have seen antisemitism normalized in the past in its various iterations; if we open our eyes, we can see its normalization today in the Left as anti-Zionism.
A few years ago I was happily on a lunch date with a new friend who wanted me as part of her intimate circle. Before we ordered our pizzas, she had an important ask; “Can you be less of a Jew,” because her social circle “was a sea of anti-Zionists,” she explained. Needless to say, but I will, no.
I expected the White supremacy legacy of “no Jews no dogs,” other circles, not mine. It was supposed to be different here in the United States, a staunch ally of the Jewish state. That’s why my family waited twenty years for immigration.
It takes understanding the history of the Jews as a People to dismantle the false narrative of anti-Zionism. We were always “Zionists” longing in our hearts to go back to Zion before the modern day term/movement was created. It’s no surprise the reggae tune “By the Rivers of Babylon ”gave me chills the first time I heard it.
The fact that Jews from every part of the globe, from Ethiopia to Iraq to Poland, are an indigenous People to the land of Israel, and managed to return after an exile of 2,000 years and more only makes sense when you know the history.
A lovely woman I chatted with about clothes and our puppies when I shopped at her store turned out to have strong assumptions about Zionism.
I was shopping for a trip to Israel. “You’re not going with a Zionist group are you?” Ok, so I explained; “Zionism means Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish country.” Her projectile yell, “No! It has to be worse than that!” was shocking.
Anti-Zionism is being normalized. Michelle would never imagine her anti-Zionism is antisemitism stemming from popular misinformation and a deep unexamined ambivalence towards Jews being a free People/Israel.
When Jews in progressive circles have to disavow Israel to fit in there is nothing “progressive” about the space. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on a college campus, jobsite or a social occasion. It’s just not progressive to single out the one progressive country in the MENA as evil.
Antisemitism is never a “limited” hate. When Jews are targeted it doesn’t matter if they are Zionists connected to Jews as a People, if they have brown, black or white skin, if they are Torah Jews or atheists, rich or poor.
Questioning the Jew’s right to exist is not new. Progressives embracing the “new” antisemitism as anti-Zionism have been infected with a very old sickness.