Recently, the fringe anti-Zionist organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, hosted a panel focused on “dismantling antisemitism”, featuring a cast of controversial characters such as Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, Peter Beinart, Marc Lamont Hill, and Barbara Ransby, moderated by Rabbi Alissa Wise. The panel received a lot of criticism beforehand for only including two Jewish voices and ones that don’t represent the overwhelming majority of American Jews.
The panel opened with remarks from Rabbi Wise who gaslighted Jews who have experienced antisemitism within progressive movements around the issue of Israel. She boldly suggested that criticism of Israel can never be considered antisemitic, which is outright false. While not all criticism of Israel is antisemitic, many leading anti-Israel activists cross that line by demonizing, delegitimizing, and applying double standards to Israel. Unfortunately, the absurdity throughout the evening didn’t stop there.
Next, we heard non-Jewish panelists explain to us who our perceived enemies are, where the threats to our community come from, and what we should be worried about. However, the focus of these perceived threats and enemies was squarely on far-right nationalists, and no attention was given at all to similar challenges stemming from the far-left. We heard a lot about Neo-Nazis but not at all about the folks who accuse Israel of being the modern-day version of the Nazis, a stark paradox that was hard to ignore. The panel continued most of the night with zero mention of antisemitism also coming from the far-left until Beinart brought it up. However, when advocating for the inclusion of Zionists in progressive spaces, Beinart was clear that he meant Zionists who believe in a one-state solution, which would envision a binational state with equal rights for both Arabs and Jews, a stance that is out of touch with a majority of American Jews who believe in a two-state solution.
Perhaps the craziest moment came when Congresswoman Tlaib addressed the Jews in the audience (an audience of mostly anti-Zionist Jews) by saying: “tell everybody, I don’t hate you, I absolutely love you” and that if anyone were to come through her doors pushing antisemitism she would use a bullhorn to tell them to “get the hell out”. I was stunned. This, coming from a Congresswoman who has used problematic antisemitic language herself, who denies the right of Jews to self-determination in a state of our own and is surrounded by some of the most virulently antisemitic voices within the anti-Israel movement. While I appreciate the love from Congresswoman Tlaib, what we really need is her support.
The American Jewish community is facing an unprecedented level of rising antisemitism in this country. As we celebrate Chanukah this week, there have been almost daily attacks on our gatherings, community centers, and places of worship. Last year during the holiday season, you had several deadly attacks in Jersey City and Monsey, not perpetuated by the enemies we were told to fear, but folks who don’t come from the political right. Every day, there is an increasing amount of pressure for American Jews to hide their identities or abandon their ties to Israel to participate in progressive movements. College campuses today have become hostile places for young Jews who feel afraid of openly expressing their love and support for Israel, even if that means they don’t love every decision the current Israeli government makes. While I am happy to see Congresswoman Tlaib wanting to be an ally to us during a time of need, allyship requires more than just saying you’re an ally. Those empty words need to be backed up by action for them to be believable. We need you to truly call out the antisemites within your ranks and inner circle, to make the progressive movement a safe space for all Jews regardless of their Israel politics, and to help us tackle antisemitism wherever it rears its ugly head whether that is the political right or left. Being an ally requires you to meet with Jewish voices and groups who are not explicitly anti-Zionist and to understand there are many areas where we can work together even if we don’t fully agree on Israel-Palestine.
What was true about the panel was that American Jews are looking for allies. Our community is under assault and the challenges we are facing are not being taken seriously outside of our own community. However, we need allies that do not expect us to check certain aspects of our Jewish or Zionist identities at the door. We need allies who will let us, the Jews, define what is and isn’t antisemitism, and who our enemies are. We need allies that will unequivocally stand with us and call out, condemn, and cancel the antisemites regardless of which side of the aisle they call their political home. We need allies who will own up to their own actions and mistakes that have hurt us and who will do the necessary work to do better. And most importantly, we need allies who recognize why Israel is so important to the Jewish people and why it is essential that Israel remains the Jewish and democratic state of one of the world’s longest oppressed groups of people. Our allies need to understand that for us, Zionism is not racism or white supremacy, but the national liberation movement of our people and the only safeguard we have to ensure the security and future of our people.
I welcome Congresswoman Tlaib’s and the other panelists’ willingness to want to be allies to our community. This panel was perhaps a step in that direction, but it was only a small first step, with much more work needed to be done to become effective allies to our community. We need our alliance to not come with pre-conditions. I hope that in the weeks that follow, we will see these leaders take concrete steps to continue to learn about us, to be open to meeting with the larger Jewish community instead of just fringes and that they take the time to listen to our concerns and needs. We don’t need just their love, we need their support.