Political Identity in the Face of Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

May 30, 2019
Josh Elkin

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States

Class of 2022

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A year and a half ago is when I truly began crafting political beliefs. Coming from a small conservative town and politically conflicted family, I questioned politics throughout middle school. Only thirteen, I was reasonably oblivious. However, at the beginning of eighth grade, I found an Instagram post shedding light on racial politics and immigration reform in light of the Trump administration announcing its ambitions to shut down the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). After reading the hefty caption, I wanted to learn more. I started to read about white privilege, follow the refugee crisis in Syria, and hear multiple perspectives regarding marijuana legalization. After the massacre in Parkland, I was one of two students in my school who walked out to advocate for gun reform. From there, I spread my views on social media and debated my friends on pressing issues. I started considered myself a liberal with a “woke” mindset.

Around April last year, I was exposed to the political complexities surrounding modern-day Israel. I began exploring the Israel-Palestine conflict, delving into the relationship, territorial claims, and how the struggle of both nations continues. I began accumulating eye-opening knowledge about the conflict that made me view Israeli policy and government more critically. However, my love for a Jewish state did not falter. I developed a deeper and more meaningful connection with Israel and began positioning myself as a progressive Zionist.

Unfortunately, progressive Zionism is viewed as an oxymoron; many on the left feel the two cannot coexist. Multiple accounts I normally shared views with attacked Israel and its right to exist. They labeled Israel as an apartheid and discriminatory state. I spent countless hours defending Israel’s legitimacy in comments sections while trying to learn more. I continued encountering posts from left-leaning accounts that started to criticize Zionism, labeling it racist, imperialistic, and inhumane. This made no sense to me: Zionism is Jewish self-determination. Although dispute exists over borders, self determination is a legal desire outlined by the United Nations upon its establishment. Therefore, it eludes me how many do not view this rhetoric as anti-Semitic. Denying the notion of a Jewish homeland does not reflect progressive values; in fact, it is the antithesis of progressivism. Some argue that being anti-Israel is not anti-Semitic, yet I cringe at this argument. This bigotry is hiding behind a facade.

The anti-Semitism attributed to criticism of Israel correlates to how it’s presented. It is one thing for a liberal-leaning person to make an educated and direct denunciation of Netanyahu’s right-wing government. Governments are far from perfect, and a left perspective could heavily disapprove of the prime minister’s actions. On the other hand, rejecting Israel’s legitimacy and portraying Zionism as evil ignores the diaspora, the scapegoating of Jews, and the constant persecution we face. The anti-Zionist movement has intentionally taken this ethical concept, manipulated it, and fed it to left-wing activists. Declarations that “anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism” and “anti-Israel does not mean anti-Jew” are the very epitome of attempting to tear our Jewish connection with Israel. Conflicting border disputes should never advocate for the delegitimization of a land that plays such a significant role in Jewish identity.

Sadly, it gets more concerning; the methods through which anti-Zionism is being portrayed have served as a guise for more direct anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism has heavily utilized Holocaust comparisons through rallies, such media, and marches. Claims have been put forth that characterize Zionism as Nazism while disregarding the murder of 6 million Jews and eugenic beliefs put forth by Hitler. Signs at such protests have said: “Hitler would be proud” and “Zionists are the Nazis of the Middle East,” while showing swastikas as equal to the star of David. The gross comparisons anti-Zionists iterate minimize the Shoah and reject the struggle of our people.

The facade anti-Zionism upholds has also protected anti-Semitism that, in other settings, would be harshly condemned. In early March, the world was appalled when a Belgian parade included caricatures of Jews with offensive and stereotyped features. The floats garnered international attention from Newsweek, the Atlantic, and New York Times. On the contrary, similar protest signs portraying Jews as holding major political influence are somehow acceptable in anti-Zionist settings. They know the concepts of Israel and Judaism are heavily intertwined and understand the correlations between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. However, as long as their anti-Semitism is referred to by an alias, it is somehow fine to portray such appalling behavior. This alias has contributed to the normalization of anti-Semitism in left-wing settings.

The average American would conclude that anti-Semitism is heavily concentrated on the right wing. Our style of fighting anti-Semitism is through recalling the Shoah, where the perpetrator was an alt-right dictator who radicalized a nation. Although remembering the lives lost because of hate is vital, it creates a narrow and inaccurate perception of what anti-Semitism entails: more specifically, who its perpetrators are. Our politicization of bigotry has enabled many on the left wing, who are typically at the forefront of intersectional activism, to mask hateful rhetoric through partisan affiliation. The deceptive yet nonviolent anti-Semitism has been deemed acceptable, and liberal activists argue their politics exempt them from accusations of hate. Unfortunately, anti-Zionism is not the only way we are coming to the worrisome realization of how dangerous left-wing anti-Semitism is.

Left wing anti-Semites have become an ever-increasing threat. It can be seen when Shaun King, leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, tells Jewish followers on Twitter that being able to define their oppression is their privilege. It can be seen when the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan asserts “satanic Jews” are responsible for controlling Hollywood. It can be seen when Women’s March leader Bob Bland shares a post placing blame on American Jews for perpetuating Islamophobia that killed 51 Muslims. It can be seen when Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez continue praising Farrakhan and creating conspiracies about the role of Jews in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It can be seen when Linda Sarsour retweets a man who calls Hamas a normal organization. It can be seen when Alice Walker calls the Talmud poison and supports an author who promotes stereotypes. It can be seen when the UK Labour Party has elected anti-Semitic bigot Jeremy Corbyn as its leader.

I struggle learning about the anti-Semitism prevalent in the left wing. As a progressive, intersectional feminist, and politically-involved teen, I have embraced the liberal ideology and have committed myself to promoting those values. Therefore, it is difficult to believe that the same people who promote climate legislation and gun control simultaneously tolerate anti-Zionism. One thing I have learned, though, is political labels do not define a person’s behavior. We may differ in partisan affiliation, but society needs to recognize that anti-Semitism is dangerous throughout the political spectrum. We are all in the same fight against hate, no matter your stances on healthcare, who you voted for last election, or how you remain civically engaged.

Josh Elkin is an Aleph from Wisconsin Region and his favorite band is Florence + The Machine.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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