Jarrod Tanny
Jarrod Tanny

The Un-Jews Are the Enforcers: A Response to Shaul Magid

Shaul Magid’s “The Enforcers”, published in Tablet on July 14, 2021, is a lengthy critique of Gil Troy and Natan Sharansky’s now-canonical censure of anti-Zionist Jews in the academy. Troy and Sharansky branded these Jewish studies professors as “un-Jews”, because their bellicose anti-Zionism is undoing Jewish peoplehood, negating our right to self-determination, and jeopardizing our security. The term un-Jews has really struck a nerve among Jewish academics who endorse the abolition of Israel as a Jewish state. Whether the term is “offensive” or not is immaterial. The point is that it has gotten people’s attention.

I am not going to deconstruct Magid’s piece. It is jargon-laden and replete with selective and often disingenuously decontextualized readings of Jewish historical figures spanning millennia, some famous, some not so famous.

But Magid fails to address several pressing issues, which is inexcusable, because Troy and Sharansky have explained these matters with crystal clarity.

Magid conflates non-Zionism with anti-Zionism, acting as if every person who falls into this rather nebulous realm has been denigrated as an anti-Jewish renegade and excommunicated by the “Zionist enforcers” he hates so much.

However, there is in fact a world of difference between non-Zionists and anti-Zionists.

Non-Zionists are people who give little or no thought to Zionism, the state of Israel, and the conflict with the Palestinians.

If these non-Zionists are Jewish, then they may identify as Jews through religion, food, music, Holocaust memory, literature, or a myriad of other components drawn from the well of our rich cultural heritage. Israel is simply not a core element of their identity, even if they chant “next year in Jerusalem” every Passover. Israel is just there, a place on the map associated with their wider community but devoid of meaning to them.

Much as agnostic and atheist Jews rarely set foot in synagogue and do not begrudge those who pray daily and keep kosher, non-Zionist Jews have little interest in how other Jews engage with Israel. They do not care that Zionists view Israel as their birthright and the fulfillment of 2000 years of exilic longing for home. This is not anti-Zionism.

Anti-Zionists — Jewish or otherwise — are people with a profound interest in Israel, which they express in public with tenacity and malice.

Anti-Zionists include people who embrace slogans such as “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” which implies the eradication and erasure of Israel and its replacement with another state bearing the name of a nation whose current leaders do not recognize Jewish peoplehood.

Anti-Zionists deploy phrases like “Jewish supremacy” knowing full well that such phrases come straight out of the Nazi playbook and serve as dog whistles to David Duke, Linda Sarsour, and other antisemites across the political spectrum.

Anti-Zionists sign statements (especially those of May and June 2021) that blame Israel entirely for the recurring carnage, ignoring Palestinian-Hamas terrorism.

Anti-Zionists openly admit that they are not interested in the complexities of the conflict; “Palestinian advocacy” takes precedence over historical objectivity because their conception of “social justice” allows for the perversion of facts.

Anti-Zionists for all intents and purposes deny Jews the right to peoplehood and self-determination in our ancestral homeland, yet affirm Palestine’s right to nationhood. Anti-Zionists are Palestinian nationalists first and foremost, even if it means the decimation of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants.

Anti-Zionism — not non-Zionism — is now the party line in academia. Count the number of pro-Palestinian statements issued last May and June that vilified Israel and ignored Hamas’s rockets. Count the number of gender studies departments that unequivocally elevated Palestinians as hapless victims of “racist Apartheid” Israel. Count the number of scholars who have publicly committed to supporting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement on their campuses to “liberate” the “indigenous” oppressed and erased nation of Palestine. For these scholars, it is a zero-sum game. Palestinian national liberation hinges upon the elimination of the Zionist colonial state. For these scholars, Zionists are not welcome in the academy and they have expressed their intent to silence us.

This brings us back to the controversial term coined by Troy and Sharansky: the un-Jews.

Un-Jews are Jews in academia and academic-adjacent spaces, particularly in Jewish studies, who have endorsed this party line, a position that, as argued by Troy and Sharansky, is undoing Jewish peoplehood because Israel is today a core component of Jewish identity, much as going to synagogue, keeping kosher, and reading the Torah are core components of Jewishness. Non-Zionists want to ignore this component. Anti-Zionists seek to annihilate it. The latter — not the former — are the un-Jews.

Magid acts as if he is ignorant of this distinction. Why? Perhaps he is doing this to “prove” that those he disparages as “the enforcers” of Jewish supremacy are casting a far wider net than they really are. Perhaps he wants non-Zionist Jews to fear impending ex-communication from Zionists, even though nobody has any interest in excommunicating them. Nobody is forcing anyone to be a Zionist. All we are asking is for anti-Zionists to leave us in peace to express our deep connection to the Jewish state.

Finally, Magid ignores the fact that the un-Jews are endangering the security of the very diasporic Jewish community he claims to love. Anti-Zionism in academia is fomenting leftist antisemitism at an alarming rate, and beginning last May it has engendered violence against Jews in the streets of America and Europe.

Jewish studies scholars, who have committed themselves publicly to defend Jews and virtually every minority from white supremacy, have remained silent in the face antisemitism from the left and Palestinian advocates. Why? Because they have adopted the academic anti-Zionist party line, tinged with the belief that it is best to ignore attacks on Jews when these assaults come from Muslims and people of color. Unlike white supremacists, these perpetrators are viewed as victims who are acting out against their perceived oppressors, and, according to the logic of social justice, Zionists – and by extension American Jewry – belong to the imperialist oppressor class.

Sure, the un-Jews occasionally issue some anodyne statements condemning “antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of bigotry.” But when you insist on denouncing Islamophobia in the same breath that you condemn antisemitism, at a time when Hamas apologists are attacking Jews in the street, then you are “All Lives Mattering” the Jews. You are siding with the antisemite.

Unfortunately, the ticket of admission to social justice circles is to “All Lives Matter” the Jews, to reduce antisemitism to a right-wing phenomenon bound up with all forms of racism, and to deny that it even exists on the left in any meaningful way. Anti-Zionism is a non-negotiable prerequisite for being Woke. And for un-Jews, a commitment to Wokeness supersedes accepting Zionists and defending Jews for whom they are, even when their security is endangered. They are delineating the boundaries of acceptable Jewishness and signaling to their non-Jewish allies that we do not count. We are unworthy of protection because of the way we construct our Jewish identity.

Yet Magid claims that “the enforcers” are demonizing “those who do not support the Jewish nation-state project … [as] bad Jews, disloyal Jews, possible [sic] not worthy of the name ‘Jewish’ — at the very least complicit Jews.” This is patently false.  The so-called enforcers have exclusively taken issue with the militant rejectionists of Zionism, the Jews who publicly brand Israel a colonial project, a war crime, an artificial expression of Jewishness that has harmed Judaism; the Jews who want to see Israel replaced by Palestine.

The true enforcers are in fact Magid and his cohort of Jewish scholar-activists because they have decided that the Zionists are the villains. And in bowing down before the militant anti-Zionism of academia they have imperiled our safety and our right to be who we are in a society that is supposed to give primacy to freedom of speech and identity, including the right to be Zionists in public. They are trying to strip us of our Jewishness.

Any critique of Troy and Sharansky’s “un-Jews” that fails to address these crucial points is not an honest critique. Much as we would expect non-synagogue Jews to leave synagogue Jews alone and to not construct their Judaism around the destruction of the synagogue, we are insisting that Jews who reject Israel cease to construct their Judaism and their politics around the destruction of Israel. Nobody is asking them to be Zionists. But we are demanding that they not interfere with our inherent right to build, support, and love our Jewish state.

About the Author
Jarrod Tanny is an Associate Professor and Block Distinguished Scholar in Jewish History in the Department of History, University of North Carolina Wilmington.
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