The predicament of Liberal American Jews

It's only fair to share...Share on Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Email this to someone

In under a week, two events happened at The New York Times—the arbiter of liberal news and opinion—which highlight the growing precariousness of the American Jewish community’s position in the Democratic Party.

On July 8, the Times published an op-ed by Peter Beinart, a far-left American Jewish writer and self-anointed spokesperson for liberal Jewish opinion on Israel.

Beinart’s article, entitled, “I no longer believe in a Jewish state,” argued that Israel no longer has a right to exist. It should be destroyed and replaced by a non-Jewish state. Beinart ended his article by urging American Jews to get over their Holocaust-induced fear of genocide and join him in his rejection of Jewish national rights.

To be clear, Beinart’s position is anti-Semitic.

The Obama administration adopted the definition of anti-Semitism published in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). IHRA’s definition includes a list of common manifestations of anti-Jewish bigotry. Among those manifestations are, “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

Beinart’s declaration that he has joined the jackals came as no surprise to those who had been paying attention. For the past decade, Beinart has been arguing that Israel’s right to exist is contingent on its willingness to satisfy his American Jewish preferences. In his Times article, Beinart proclaimed that Israel is not delivering the goods. So as far as he is concerned, Israel needs to stop existing.

Beinart’s advocacy of Israel’s demise is significant not so much for what it says about American Jewish views of Israel (80 percent of American Jews support Israel and two-thirds feel an emotional attachment to the Jewish state), but for what it says about the political Left’s view of Israel—and of Jews.

This is the case because for the better part of the past decade, Beinart has served as a weathervane of leftist opinion on Israel and Jews, and as a fig leaf for leftist anti-Semitism.

In 2012, Beinart began advocating on behalf of the campaign to boycott, divest and sanction Israeli Jewish businesses, institutions and communities in unified Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), and products produced by Israeli Jews in those areas. His position earned him a prominent spot as the go-to Jew in the progressive camp.

Beinart’s decision to move from boycotting some Israeli Jews and some parts of Israel to rejecting Israel’s right to exist in any borders was not a function of a shift in liberal Jewish opinion. It was a reflection of the shift in opinion regarding Jews and the Jewish state on the political Left in America.

This is a tragedy for the American Jewish community. According to a 2018 survey by the Jewish Federations of North America, 50 percent of American Jews define themselves as liberals. In 2019, Pew found that 64 percent of American Jews identify with the Democratic Party.

To get a sense of just how inhospitable the political Left and the Democratic Party have become to liberal, pro-Israel American Jews, it is worth considering the source Beinart furnished to present his bigoted view as an expression of progressive opinion in America.

Beinart linked to a survey of U.S. opinion of Israel and the Palestinians conducted in 2018 by Shibley Telhami at the University of Maryland. The survey found that 42 percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 support Israel’s destruction and replacement with a non-Jewish state. 55 percent of Democrats (and 19 percent of Republicans) believe the Israeli government has too much influence on U.S. politics and policies.

According to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, “Making…stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective” is a manifestation of anti-Semitism. By asserting that Israel exerts undue influence over U.S. politics and policies, 55 percent of Democrats (and 19 percent of Republicans) were channeling an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. And 42 percent of young Americans have embraced the main pillar of contemporary anti-Semitism: the racist rejection of the Jewish people’s right to national self-determination.

This brings us to the second major event that occurred at The New York Times with dire implications for the American Jewish community: the July 14 resignation of pro-Israel staff op-ed editor and writer Bari Weiss. Among other things, in her letter of resignation, Weiss discussed the anti-Semitic harassment she suffered at the hands of her colleagues.

In her words, “My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m ‘writing about the Jews again.'”

Like Beinart, Weiss has spent the past several years adapting to the Left’s rising hostility to Israel and to Jews. Unlike Beinart, Weiss has not coped by embracing the hatred. Instead, she has sought to negotiate with the Left to secure a space for Jewish rights on the political Left.

Weiss’ bargain was fairly cut and dry. She served as a spokesperson for the allegation that President Donald Trump is the enabler-in-chief of white nationalist anti-Semitism. And in exchange, she sought the right to criticize anti-Semitism on the Left, as she did, to the indignation of progressives, in an August 2017 column describing the anti-Semitism of the leaders of the Women’s March against Trump.

Weiss did her best to uphold the bargain she hoped to make. She distinguished herself as a major voice castigating Trump in the aftermath of the massacre of Jewish worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018. Appearing on the “Real Time with Bill Maher” show days after the slaughter, Weiss effectively accused Trump of partial culpability for the massacre, despite the fact that it was carried out by an anti-Trump white nationalist who opposed the president precisely because he is not an anti-Semite.

In her words, Trump was guilty of “inculcating an atmosphere of conspiracy-minded thinking” which, she alleged, incited the murderer to kill elderly Jews.

In 2019, Weiss used the Tree of Life massacre as the basis of a book called, How to Fight Anti-Semitism.

Weiss presented her book as a taxonomy of anti-Semitism in America and a guide for Jews to stand up for themselves. But more than a summation and guide, it was a case study of the liberal Jewish predicament in contemporary America.

Weiss reinstated her attacks on Trump as an enabler of white nationalist anti-Semitism in America. As she put it, “In the nearly three years he has been in office, Donald Trump has trashed—gleefully and shamelessly—the unwritten rules of our society that have kept American Jews, and, therefore, America safe.”

The unfairness of her condemnations of Trump became clear when they were compared to her analysis of anti-Semitism in her own political and ideological camp.

Trump has never had much of anything to do with white nationalist anti-Semites—or any anti-Semites, for that matter. The worst he can be fairly accused of is not always rushing to distance himself from them, and of using indelicate language to describe his admiration for and affinity towards American Jews.

In contrast, former president Barack Obama spent 25 years in the pews of anti-Semitic pastor Jeremiah Wright. During his presidency, Obama had Al Sharpton over to the White House more than 80 times. Obama demonized and attacked Israel and its Jewish supporters while emboldening anti-Semites in the U.S. and worldwide.

But Weiss’ criticism of Obama was rare, apologetic and mild. And she gave a pass to other Democratic leaders. Weiss described progressive anti-Semitism as real and dangerous, but she tread cautiously around the big fish.

Weiss’ rush to present Trump as the enabler-in-chief of white nationalist anti-Semitism and her careful, almost clinical description of anti-Semitism in her own political camp, was an expression of the bargain she sought to strike with the Left.

Weiss’ letter of resignation, replete with its description of the anti-Semitic ostracism she suffered at the hands of her progressive colleagues at the Left’s newspaper of record, makes clear that she had no partner for her bargain. Today, the American Left is not interested in making any deals; not with her, and not with the liberal Jews she emblemizes. The modern American Left is not willing to combat or disavow anti-Semitism of any kind, unless it can be attributed to Donald J. Trump, Public Enemy Number One.

In the current environment, the only Jews who are welcome at the Times—and through it—in the progressive camp and the progressive-dominated Democratic Party are those who maintain a frightened silence, or Jews like Beinart who are willing to promote anti-Semitic positions “as Jews.”

Originally published in Newsweek.

It's only fair to share...Share on Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Email this to someone