Bubbling just below the surface of the losing side’s public outrage over the election of Donald J. Trump as president, the American Jewish alt-left is smacking its lips in jubilation because now there is something they can rally against “bigly” — and use to raise buckets of money.
As the Devil, Donald Trump is a gift from God to those groups whose tune had flat-lined. Now they have a new shrill song of warning to chant. My inbox is full of howls of protest from the likes of the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Voice for Peace, J Street, Bend the Arc, Code Pink, Open Hillel, IfNotNow, and others, decrying Trump – and asking for a donation so they can “fight the good fight.”
The President-elect’s appointment of Steve Bannon as chief strategist is a special gift to their furious fundraising efforts. From the ADL’s embattled Jonathan Greenblatt’s squeals of opprobrium to J Street’s Jeremy Ben Ami’s politically calculated falsetto cries, everybody is pumping out the fundraising emails as fast as they can. As they say: never waste a “good crisis” to raise money, and stoking fear raises the most.
By his words and actions, Donald Trump opened this Pandora’s box. There’s no need to repeat the list of fears America’s next President has kindled. They are justifiably horrifying to many. That’s a big reason why the appointment of Bannon merely confirms these good people’s most dire concerns. His meme, whether deserved or not, would have been disqualifying in the past, but apparently that’s no longer so in this post-fact political environment. Or, as Stephen Colbert would say, “In this time of ‘truthiness.’” That must explain how the same line of truthiness – “a person can be Pro-Israel but anti-Semitic” – can be used to excuse both the antics of alt-left BDS supporters and to denounce Bannon, the alt-right Breitbart boss.
In this new Trumpian world, the American Jewish alt-left, with ADL and J Street sliding to its right edge with JVP still holding down the far left, now has an unholy Trinity against which to focus their moral outrage. And, boy, are they! For the past eight years, these moralizing high-grounders couldn’t really rage and fundraise against Obama, and the incessant harangue against Bibi Netanyahu had grown stale becoming nothing more than a scratchy broken record on a continual tone-deaf loop being pumped into the same silo.
But now … Trump and Bannon! … can be added to “Bad Bibi!!!” … and there is a new tune to sway hearts and win minds. The hashtags — #JewishResistance, #FireBannon, #StopBannon — are sprouting like dandelions. Fusillades of withering, venomous Tweets rain down on Trump & Company landing with all of the effect of dull rubber-tipped darts.
Indeed these are glorious days for social-justice outrage marketing targeting Jewish affinity groups. With 71% of U.S. Jews voting for Hillary Clinton, mining the deep social indignation at a time of high political flux is a slam-dunk no-brainer.
But is it completely calculated and cynical in its execution? The early reviews say it is. Especially as practiced by the ADL and J Street, who unless they hit the exact right note of moralistic fury risk sinking into deeper future irrelevance.
Of course, one would expect hyperbolic fundraising emails from the likes of Jewish Voice for Peace. In a recent email opposing Steve Bannon they plead, “This violent, racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, antisemitic (sic) bigot will have a West Wing office if we don’t fight back.” And, always looking to take shots at the legacy Jewish establishment while lauding its own moral superiority and purity, adds, “This is our first concrete, winnable campaign versus the Trump agenda. There are some Jewish groups stepping up, but even more are missing in action. AIPAC, Hillel, the RJC, Haddassah (sic), or the JCPA or JCRC, for example.”
JVP, which opposes the two-state solution, likes to position itself as the intersectional heart and soul of America’s BDS and “anti-Occupation” social-justice movement. In opposing Trump, JVP’s message is that “we’re in this together.” By together, JVP reaches deep and broadly in its target marketing by calling out “black and indigenous communities, to immigrants, to queer and trans people, to people with disabilities, to Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities, to women, to all communities of color, to radicals and rabbis and teachers and healthcare workers – we will show up. We will fight. We will build sanctuary. We will love, protect, and organize our way through this, together.”
Some would call those words inspirational. Others might note who is excluded from the “together.” To those brave gay Jews and their allies, who were attacked last winter at the Chicago Hilton by a large mob organized by JVP and Students for Justice in Palestine at the Creating Change conference, they’d probably laugh out loud over the words “love and protect.” But one would expect that JVP is succeeding in raising alarm within its silo and filling its coffers by using such tired and trite red-meat email marketing pabulum.
J Street, which bills itself as “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace,” faces a more daunting problem. It is now out in the political cold. With Hillary’s loss, and the Democrat party in deep disarray, the progressive Democrat Jewish political lobbying organization stands at a crossroads. Now largely cut off from the White House, and its two main platforms – the two-state solution and “anti-Occupation” – flying toward the scrap heap, J Street must tack even harder left to survive. Opposing Trump and Bannon, along with Bibi, may bring in more money and members initially, but in the end will make this partisan group even less relevant.
It’s biggest opportunity is at U.S. colleges where its J Street U chapters, which bill themselves now variously as “Pro-Israel, Anti-Occupation” and “Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine,” have eclipsed AIPAC’s sclerotic and moribund campus program. It is fair to say that J Street U will push even harder for the two-state solution and against the “Occupation” and will ally more frequently with alt-left “anti-Occupation” and pro-Palestinian groups, especially with the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War approaching. Indeed, on campus over the last three years, J Street U has succeeded in turning AIPAC toxic and undermining its influence among the majority of Jewish college students, who are mostly liberal and/or unaffiliated. By frequently challenging Hillels to drop their historical apolitical mission and adopt J Street U policies, they work to create safe-space Democratic ward clubs at the exclusion of other voices. At places like Brown University, and some others, they’ve met with success.
As for the ADL and Jonathan Greenblatt, a growing chorus of critics says that the organization has lost its compass under his new watch. With his recent fitful outbursts regarding Trump, Bannon and the rise of anti-Semitism in America, the former special assistant to Obama risks becoming quickly irrelevant, if he is not already so. That’s too bad because the ADL, which has wandered away from its historic core mission under Greenblatt, is vitally important today as we do see a rise in anti-Semitism in the U.S. and around the world. But doing it the right way and with the right tone and message is paramount in order to be taken seriously. The jury is still out on Greenblatt, but one thing is certain – he is no Abe Foxman.
As we embark into this new Trumpian America, keep a watchful eye on the American Jewish alt-left. Don’t be surprised if they start comparing Trump to Bibi and broadcasting that the “Israelization” of America – the U.S. turning into an apartheid, walled, white colonialist state like Israel — is at hand. This is just the beginning.