It should not come as a surprise that the left has an issue with anti-Semitism among its ranks, and considering the extent to which I’ve written about this issue leading up to this point, it may come as a surprise that I’m continuing along this path instead of moving forward with my life. After all, what more is there to say?
But considering the events of the past summer, the anti-Semitic attacks in the wake of violent, supremacist riots Charlottesville and the progressive left’s failure to adequately address it, I must begrudgingly agree to once again write the same article I’ve written repeatedly in past years. Although I wish the left didn’t need repeated reminders that anti-Semitism is bad and should be addressed, I suppose I should appreciate that their failure to understand this keeps me with topics to write about.
Perhaps the reason for this, especially at Vassar, is that the left is enamored with the concept of self-critique without any interest in following through with it.
The American left separates itself into different groups, and instead of critiquing its own factions, it criticizes others while believing the same thing. The left believes that the solution to every problem is pure leftism and that any issue the left has is a symptom of impure leftism. Fingers are pointed. The Libertarian Left and the Authoritarian Left are at each other’s throats. Everyone attacks centrists.
Yet, as a proud Jew myself, I feel considerably safer around a moderate or mainstream liberal than I do around a hard leftist. This is because anti-Semitism appears to run rampant among those on the left who are most concerned with social justice causes. This is true both at Vassar and in the real world.
In all fairness, not every progressive has ignored Jewish voices. Major figures in the Democratic Party made statements condemning anti-Semitism in the wake of Charlottesville. Some social justice activists like Kat Blaque have made active efforts to combat anti-Semitism and make progressive causes more accessible for Jewish people. Yet there is a disturbing trend, seen particularly in progressive blogs and websites, away from such inclusivity that must be addressed.
For those of you who do not know, Everyday Feminism, a social justice website, posts articles on a variety of progressive issues ranging from white privilege, to rape culture, to gentrification and so on. In many ways, Everyday Feminism is a progressive’s utopia and conservative’s nightmare. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I am a progressive myself, and I agree with progressives on most social issues.
Moreover, I can get behind a website that values social justice, empowers marginalized voices and informs its audience on issues that they may not know anything about. While I am not a regular reader of the website, I suppose that would be its appeal. And while it is not a cultural force by any means, it does have well over 500,000 followers on Facebook, so at the very least it can be described as having an audience.
It is therefore concerning that, merely one day after the Charlottesville riots, the website posted an anonymous article titled “Forget Gal Gadot: Here Are 5 Palestinian Wonder Women You Need to Know About” (they later changed this title, eliminating “Forget Gal Gadot”). The article immediately begins by identifying Gadot, who is an Israeli Jew, as a white soldier who served in the Israeli Defense Forces (which actually is required by Israeli law). It claims that “Zionism and feminism are contradictory” before celebrating Rasmea Odeh, a convicted terrorist who participated in bombings that killed two Jewish students in 1969. The article sends a clear message to Jewish progressives: you are not welcome here.
As with most horrible things, it was met with a fair degree of backlash. This led to the editor and author adding a note to clarify that this isn’t anti-Semitism. They write “[W]e…believe that our society needs to address and end anti-semitism and protect Jewish lives, just not through the occupation of Palestine…at the cost of Palestinian lives.” They further clarify that “many folks believe being anti-Zionist and pro-Palestine is also being anti-Semitic” and that they “deeply apologize for the oversight in the timing of this piece during a moment of heightened sensitivity around anti-Semitism for Jewish folk.” They then proceed to stand their ground on everything the article puts forth, declaring that “Zionism and feminism are just not compatible,” endorsing the #BlackLivesMatter platform that ludicrously suggests that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians and erasing Judaism from Zionism entirely. The note ultimately comes across more as an acknowledgement that some people were wrongly offended than a genuine apology for doing something wrong, a response Everday Feminism would call out if seen anywhere else.
Over a week later, Everyday Feminism republished an article by Jonah S. Boyarin. The article, “Jewish Fear, Love & Solidarity in the Wake of Neo-Nazism,” appears at first to be a genuine effort at raising Jewish voices and acknowledging pervasive anti-Semitism in the wake of Charlottesville. Yet Everyday Feminism could not promote a Jewish voice on anti-Semitism without using that voice to attack the Jewish people. Even this account couldn’t avoid accusing Jews of turning every criticism of Israel in an anti-Semitic attack. It demonstrates that Everyday Feminism did not understand that they had done something wrong, only that they were being attacked. I for one am sick of my voice being devalued for calling out anti-Semitic nonsense. However, I suppose it could have been worse. After all, at least Everyday Feminism understood that people were upset with them, and at least gave the appearance of trying to correct it.
Enter The Love Life of an Asian Guy, a progressive blog focused on social justice issues with more than 200,000 followers on Facebook. Less than one week after Charlottesville, the blog’s author went on an anti-Semitic tirade on Facebook in response to being asked to speak up in defense of Jewish people. His response was to claim that Jewish activists never “show up on behalf of their people to stand in solidarity with POC,” and that Jewish organizations never speak out against racism. (This statement ignores the Anti-Defamation League’s advocacy against Islamophobia, a long history of Jewish activists on the front lines of various social justice movements and less popular Jewish organizations that are entirely focused on appearing anti-racist, such as J-Street or Jewish Voice for Peace). He conflates Judaism with whiteness and Jewish people with power in a way that would be deemed inappropriate if it had been applied to any other segment of society.
Moreover, the article implies that every Jewish person is responsible for condemning everything any Jewish person does on a consistent basis. When conservatives make the same kind of demands of muslims, the left justly condemns it as being unreasonable and Islamophobic. And I believe they are right in doing so; it is not the responsibility of a Muslim to constantly monitor other Muslims so that they can publicly condemn everything they do. Why, then, is that concept so difficult when applied to Jewish people? Yet, unlike Everyday Feminism, the blog never apologized and deleted critical comments. Again, this is the type of behavior for which this blogger would and has called others out. A response such as this in regards to accusations of any other form of prejudice would be deemed unacceptable. Yet within the social justice movement, an allowance is made in which those who are applauded as warriors against racism are forgiven for prejudice against the Jewish people.
These dynamics are seen here at Vassar as well. My freshman year, the debate over the BDS movement led to rampant anti-Semitism that the Vassar Student Association failed to adequately address, in which Jewish students felt unsafe being on campus. This year, in the wake of Charlottesville, it will likely be brought back. The left is not the least bit interested in fighting anti-Semitism. The left wants to call out other people’s anti-Semitism to make their own movement look better while ignoring their own bigotry. And although I acknowledge that the right is just as guilty, they at least do not have the gall to do so under guise of inclusivity.