Strangely, many Jewish liberal progressive leftists have become inured and blinded to the Jew-hatred prevalent on the left.
Despite its affinity for extremists who delegitimize Israel using classical stereotypes, the Jewish left often attempts to silence critics by branding them antisemitic. Progressives have no problem excusing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) movement, validating Hamas, or disparaging Jewish historical integrity, but they often cry “antisemitism” when rebuked for maintaining alliances with anti-Israel zealots. Given their apparently selective sensitivity to bigotry, however, the question is whether they have waived the right to claim victimhood status by consorting with those who promote ancient conspiracy theories or demonize the Jewish State.
There is no dispute that BDS is antisemitic given its revisionist contempt for Jewish history and stated goal of opposing a Jewish state in any part of “Palestine. ”This goal denies Jewish historical rights in favor of a country that never existed and whose proponents lay claim to another people’s ancestral homeland.
Nonetheless, progressive grant organizations support a variety of groups and NGOs sympathetic to boycotts or hostile to Israel’s existence. Some claim not to endorse BDS while simultaneously providing grants to radical organizations that impugn Israel’s legitimacy or falsely accuse her of human rights abuses. When chided for maintaining relationships with those who malign Israel’s Jewish character, progressives often respond by ironically accusing their detractors of antisemitism.
Though some critics of the Jewish left are undoubtedly motivated by antisemitic hatred and the belief in global Jewish conspiracy theories, many others are sincerely dumfounded at how leftists can betray their own people’s tradition, legacy, and history. It is ironic when progressives ascribe hateful intent to those who honestly challenge them for legitimizing terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, slandering Israel, supporting Congressional Democrats who express antisemitic views without fear of party censure, or endorsing UN resolutions (e.g., Security Council Resolution 2334) designed to bolster apocryphal Palestinian claims by denying the Jews’ well-documented history and presence in their homeland.
Progressive communal and religious leaders are inconsistent when they validate such conduct while proclaiming fealty to Jewish tradition. Many nontraditional rabbis, for example, falsely accuse Israel of racism, consort with Islamist front organizations posing as moderate, or defend political attacks against the Orthodox community. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered shutdowns in observant neighborhoods during the festival of Sukkot – citing community resistance to anti-COVID measures while ignoring widespread noncompliance during Black Lives Matter demonstrations–some liberal and secular leaders cheered.
It was especially disturbing when hundreds of predominantly liberal rabbis publicly supported Cuomo’s disparate treatment of the Orthodox community, which was benignly described as an effort to contain pandemic “hotspots.” If they were so concerned about public health, however, they should likewise have criticized the failure to practice social distancing or wear facemasks at anti-police rallies or protests against President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It seems that concern over the pandemic was merely pretext for clamping down on religious neighborhoods during the holidays and shielding Cuomo from criticism for apparently singling out observant Jews.
Such pandering contrasts with the liberal failure to acknowledge and condemn antisemitism at BLM and Antifa demonstrations or coming out of identity communities. Though quick to side with Cuomo against the Orthodox, the liberal rabbinate was largely silent when progressive-inspired mobs turned against Jewish targets in Los Angeles and New York and vandalized Jewish buildings and landmarks on college campuses and across the country.
In promoting social activism from the Bima as an innately Jewish virtue, moreover, the nontraditional movements seriously misrepresents traditional values.
On an individual level, the amelioration of Jewish tradition leads to personal estrangement from community and facilitates assimilation, while on the communal level it triggers the erosion of normative standards and weakens cultural cohesion. This is especially apparent when secular and non-Orthodox leadership elevates “social justice” over observance and spirituality. But progressive ideology does not become intrinsically Jewish when adopted by non-Orthodox clergy or secular communal organizations– any more than violations of Jewish law are reconciled with tradition by the prevalence of nonobservance. Playing golf on Shabbat or eating bacon for breakfast do not rise to the level of tradition simply because many secular Jews do so. Likewise, progressive causes that contravene Halakha do not become synonymous with Jewish values just because liberal clergy and congregants support them.
Individuals who jettison observance and ritual may risk personal assimilation, but those who impose alien ideologies on their communities threaten Jewish cultural integrity and continuity.This has been amply demonstrated throughout Jewish history.
The story of Hannukah, for example, is not merely a political parable about Jews rising up against Greek domination, but rather emphasizes the rejection of Hellenistic influences that infused Jewish culture of the day. Jewish Hellenizers were arguably more threatening than foreign occupiers because they promoted alien culture from within using their own language and societal frames of reference. The Maccabean revolt was as much about rooting out internal corruption as rebelling against Greek authority.
Similarly, apostates during the Middle Ages renounced their ancestral communities and beliefs while assisting the Church’s persecution of Jews who remained faithful to their heritage. Indeed, some were even complicit in the disputations that precipitated the burning of the Talmud. And as demonstrated by the pathological cruelty of Torquemada, degree of Jewish ancestry was often proportional to one’s zeal in persecuting fellow Jews who refused to submit.
The Haskalah (Enlightenment) brought an entirely new threat when Jews believed they could achieve political enfranchisement by voluntarily casting off that which distinguished them from ancestral Europeans. For perhaps the first time in history, westernized intellectuals sought to supplant religious observance with secularity among the Jewish population. Some maskilim may have believed they were reforming Jewish culture rather than degrading it, they discarded many of the beliefs, doctrines, and practices that had assured Jewish physical and spiritual continuity throughout generations of exile.
As a result, many progenitors of Enlightenment failed to preserve for subsequent generations the tools necessary for Jewish survival. Moses Mendelsohn is widely considered the father of Jewish enlightenment, for example, but within two generations all his descendants were culturally and religiously assimilated. Others ended up abandoning their roots altogether, like Eduard Gans, a leader of the German Society for the Culture and Science of Judaism (“Wissenschaft des Judentums”), who chose baptism in 1825 to advance his academic career.
Though assimilation from within was always exacerbated by the rejection of personal observance, the impulse to force it on others became a hallmark of the European progressive movements, particularly socialism and communism. The left declared ideological war on religious faith and national character and in particular despised a people – the Jews – whose identity incorporated elements of both. Consequently, progressive leadership attempted to enforce assimilation, often with enthusiastic assistance from the Jewish left.
The most militant assimilationist group in the former Soviet Union was the “Yevsektsiya,” or Jewish Section of the Communist Party, whose goal was the destruction of Jewish tradition, Hebrew culture, and Zionist thought in the USSR. The Yevsektsiya led the charge in closing synagogues, seizing communal property, criminalizing the practice of Judaism, and outlawing Jewish education. Despite its willingness to serve its Soviet masters, however, the Yevsektsiya was dissolved in 1929, and many of its members, including chairman Semyon Dimanstein, were executed during Stalin’s “Great Purge” of the 1930s. Persecuting their own people in the name of Communism clearly did not save Section members from being murdered as Jews.
Today’s radical left seems guided by the same rejectionist impulse as the Yevsektsiya in Soviet Russia. Its proponents miss no opportunity to disparage Jewish tradition and history, delegitimize Israel, or promote the Palestinian national myth. Perhaps more insidiously, their dogmatic self-rejectionism has filtered down to the liberal mainstream, which as a consequence often blames Jewish behavior for provoking antisemitism among progressives and minorities or accuses Israel of disproportionality whenever it defends itself against unprovoked attacks and terrorism – views that are common among non-Orthodox clergy.
Certainly, not all Jewish liberals are self-loathing rejectionists, but far too many have become inured to Jew-hatred on the left. Moreover, most will not acknowledge progressive antisemitism because doing so would require them to admit that liberals are just as capable of intolerance as the political opponents they routinely slander–despite their protestations of moral superiority. Considering how they falsely conflate Jewishness with liberal politics, such an admission would likely produce existential angst. For some, however, the resulting identity crisis mayprovide the moment of clarity needed to encourage self-reflection and to reconnect with authentic tradition.
For others, it might just lead the way to cultural oblivion.
©Matthew Hausman, J.D. All rights reserved.