The situation of Jews in the United States is very serious right now. Antisemitic violence has been on the rise since before Trump came to power, and the deadliest single instance of antisemitic violence in the history of the United States happened in 2018 at a Conservative Jewish synagogue an hour and a half from where I grew up. Worse still, Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn experience daily violence, often fatal, and this gets precious little attention from the mainstream press, who find blaming Orthodox Jews for COVID-19 to be a much more attractive angle.
Attempts by the Jewish left at showing solidarity have generally not been helpful, and have made the problem worse if anything, scapegoating Orthodox Jews for gentrification and other modern problems. Furthermore, Jewish leftists have helped spread the antisemitic canard that Israel controls the world through a “transnational police force,” and that Israel taught U.S. police officers the technique that killed George Floyd at police exchanges that began after September 11th, when in fact, U.S. activists have been trying to get the technique in question banned since the 1980s.
With this in mind, it truly is time for Jewish leftists and Jewish activists to start giving a shit about Jews, about violence against Jews, and about the role that this violence and the antisemitic tropes that fuel them play in perpetuating the oppression of others. However, Brooke Goldstein’s article “The Time Is Now for a Jewish Civil Rights Movement” takes an opportunity to make an argument for Jews and uses it instead to take cheap shots at trans people, anti-ICE activists, and Palestinians.
It’s ironic that the article begins by saying that “intersectionality comes natural to members of our tribe.” I don’t share her sentiment; if it came so naturally to us, Jewish leftists and right-wingers alike wouldn’t butcher the concept so often when talking about it. Nor do I agree that we are “the most persecuted minority community in the world.” By what standard are we the most persecuted? How do you even measure that?
She then argues that the “just cause of Jewish rights has been abandoned by the Left and replaced with a reform agenda that includes gender-neutral Mattel dolls, protesting ICE and asexual pronouns.” Protesting ICE and fighting for Jewish liberation can be done at the same time; it isn’t a zero-sum game. It should bother her that ICE is forcing Muslims to eat pork in its concentration camps, so why doesn’t it? Maybe because intersectionality really doesn’t come natural to members of our tribe. And perhaps I misunderstand her position, but the only theories I know of that assert “the Left” to be behind “gender-neutral Mattel dolls” also involve the Elders of Zion or their sanitized stand-in, George Soros. It’s no coincidence that antisemitic violence is rising at the same time as an epidemic of violence against trans people. This has happened before.
She then expresses dismay at how American Jews haven’t lined up behind the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Is she aware that there are other people living in Jerusalem? Is she aware that these people have families, lives, goals, needs and wants? And that Israel has been gradually dispossessing them, little by little, over the course of its history? Yes, Jerusalem is important to Jews. Yes, we have a history there. But “to what end were Jewish values degraded” when we “failed to unequivocally support” a move to normalize the State of Israel’s reconquista? We didn’t degrade our values; we honored them. It’s our Jewish values that tell us that human life is more precious than 612 of the 613 commandments. Jews were living in Jerusalem for centuries before the creation of the State of Israel, and it was only by attempting to negate the Jews’ “degraded condition” that the Zionists created the State of Israel and the idea of “the sabra” which was, by design, opposed to all Jewish values.
She also talks about how American Jews have made a “strategic mistake” in memorizing talking points about defending Israel. She’s halfway there, but, perhaps by design, she misses the bigger picture. By focusing excessively on Israel and not on opposition to antisemitism, “we” (the “legacy Jewish institutions” she speaks of) have left antisemitism to fester. That’s the problem. She suggests only a change of strategy for combating criticism of Israel, but not a re-orientation against antisemitism and against the forms of hatred that go hand-in-hand with it. To do so would be to admit that these fights (Israel advocacy and opposition to antisemitism) are not identical, even if at times, what passes for “criticism of Israel” is truly just veiled antisemitism.
Lastly, in not seriously fighting antisemitism, the left is ceding space to people like Brooke Goldstein. A lot of what she touches on, particularly the serious physical violence against Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, are real and growing problems, and it’s a shande that the Jewish left hasn’t seriously fought against them. As long as we fail to address these problems, Israel-advocacy groups like The Lawfare Project will fill the void unchallenged.