In the last month or so, life online has been emotionally turbulent and painful. Like you, I’ve unfriended and even blocked a number of lifelong friends. My social media world is filled with laments by Jews long active in social justice campaigns, wondering why their non-Jewish friends are not the allies they expected in the face of rising antisemitism in Europe and in North America.
Here’s my response to those dismayed and shocked social justice Jews wondering where their ‘allies’ went:
Is it sad and disappointing? Yes.
Is it surprising? Not at all.
And if you think it is, you simply haven’t been paying attention.
Here’s a partial list of what’s been hiding in plain sight for everyone with open eyes to see:
- questioning the validity of statistics – even government statistics – about rates of antisemitic actions;
- excusing antisemitic violence as ‘anti-Zionist’;
- insisting that Jews are ‘white’, and therefore not subject to discrimination;
- insisting that Jews are ‘white’, and therefore achieved their success through unfair advantage;
- insisting that Jews are wealthy, powerful, and ‘control the media’;
- tolerating blatantly and vocally antisemitic leaders in the name of‘allyship’;
- banning Jews and Jewish symbols from social justice demonstrations;
- insisting that anyone on the left “is anti-racist and therefore can’t be antisemitic”;
- insisting that “Jewish’ is only a religion and not a people;
- brushing off public calls for “Death to the Jews” in pro-Palestinian settings;
- insisting that Israel is a project of “European colonials”, even though the majority of Israel’s Jews are Sephardi or Mizrahi;
- refusing to acknowledge or consider the 900, 000 Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews dispossessed of their ancestral home communities – some as much as 2500 years old — in the mid-20th century;
- insisting that any attempt to view Israel’s situation in its wider geopolitical context, rather than as merely ‘Israel vs Palestine’, is ‘whataboutism’;
- ignoring the UN’s obsessive-to-the-point-of-malevolent focus on Israel;
- insisting that any mention of other countries’ truly genocidal actions is ‘whataboutism’;
- erasing Jewish history and presence from Israel and the entire Middle East;
- conflating criticism of Israeli government policy with calls for the “illegitimacy of Israel”’
- labeling Israel “racist” for some of its ethnically-based laws, while ignoring the same in many other countries — eg, Armenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Liberia, Lithuania, Poland, Serbia, Turkey, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Malaysia, Romania, Russia, and most countries in the Middle East.
I wanted to get to Chai, so I’ll stop my list here. Sadly, I could go on.
For the record, I still believe in allyship, and in the imperative of social justice for all. My heart is broken by the loss of friendships, some lasting my entire adult life and forged in social justice battles. I mourn those friendships; I also mourn the long stretches of my own time and energy spent educating these friends in Jewish history and particularity, time I now realize was wasted.
I feel betrayed; I feel erased.
But I am not surprised. I’ve been watching the signs. When people tell you the same thing over and over, it’s wise to pay attention.
We Jews have been riding the dialectic of universal and particular for at least 2000 years. Sometimes I think we may have invented it. Depending on our politics, we tend to focus on one or the other of Hillel’s statements in Pirkei Avot, only for ourselves or only for others. Now more than ever, we must hold the complexity of both: for ourselves and for others.
Neither can stand alone.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
And being only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?