Wake Up, Jewish Left!

Jews on the left as well as the right side of the political spectrum must recognize and speak out against anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head. Silence is equvalent to complicity.

Matthew M. Hausman, J.D.

OpEds Matthew Hausman
Matthew Hausman

In supporting Barack Obama for president, Jewish Democrats argued that he would be good for Israel despite his relationships with antisemites and anti-Israel bigots.  They continued chanting this mantra after his election, ignoring that his stated views on Israel were ambivalent at best.  But even his staunchest supporters couldn’t spin his Cairo speech, that first appearance on the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which he distorted Jewish history, regurgitated the myth that Israel was a European invention foisted upon the Arabs, blamed Israel and the “settlements” for stalling the peace process, and whitewashed the long history of Arab colonialism, rejectionism and antisemitism. His behavior towards Israel since then has only compounded this shaky foundation.

Jewish discomfort is evident in polls showing that a majority of Jews question Mr. Obama’s treatment of Israel, although – incredibly – they continue to support his presidency.  This contradiction reinforces the charge that Jewish liberals are more committed to progressive politics than to Israel and Jewish values.  It also reflects their tendency to ignore the influence of left-wing hatred of Israel in the mistaken belief that antisemitism is the exclusive
Supporting Israel should not be a conservative versus liberal issue.
province of the political right.

Antisemitism has indeed often been a force in right-wing politics, particularly when wielded as a sword by reactionary governments and churches, radical groups and demagogues, but historically it has been no less potent in left-wing circles. As the ghetto walls came down in 19th Century Europe, Jews flocked to the nascent liberal movements in the belief that anything opposing the forces that had oppressed them was good.  But they were so enamored of their apparent enfranchisement, and so eager to assimilate into European society, that they often overlooked the virulent and open antisemitism permeating the fabric of the movements that seemingly afforded these opportunities.  And this false affinity carried over to New World shores where it persists to this day.

The belief that antisemitism doesn’t exist on the political left arose from an idealized view of the birth and growth of European liberalism.  Most Jewish liberals are unaware that some of their most cherished philosophical icons were as antisemitic as the monarchs and despots they were rejecting.  Voltaire’s hatred of Jews was well-known,  as was the disdain of Diderot, Holbach, the French Utopians, including Proudhon and Fourier, and the later European socialist intellectuals.  Georg Ritter von Schonerer led the antisemitic, left-wing German Liberal Party in Austria, while Wilhelm Marr, a German socialist, actually coined the term “antisemitism” in two pamphlets published in 1873 and 1880, in which he promoted hatred of Jews on political, economic and racial grounds.

Perhaps most famous was the hatred of Karl Marx who, with Friedrich Engels, wrote the Communist Manifesto.  Most liberals are unfamiliar with early socialist history and don’t know that Marx and Engels learned Hegelian philosophy and dialectical materialism from the writer Moses Hess, a traditionally-educated Jew who had become radicalized in his youth. 

Hess was considered one of the early pillars of European socialism and was highly regarded until Marx denounced all nationality as evil and the Jews as the most pernicious of all national spirits.  Thereafter, Hess concluded that Jewish political salvation lay not in European political socialism, but rather in Jewish nationalism and self-determination.  This epiphany prompted him to write Rome and Jerusalem, which presaged Herzl’s Der Judenstaat by more than a quarter century.

Unfortunately, Hess’s national stirrings did not similarly motivate his political brethren. Acceptance into liberal
The viciousness with which today’s radical left condemn Israel is reminiscent of those medieval Jews who..instigated the burning of the Talmud.
society required them to cease identifying religiously, nationally and intellectually as Jews. The requisite disaffiliation was typically expressed by outright rejection of traditional values; and rejection was the common thread binding Jews who rose to prominence on the left – from Marx himself, to those of the old international Comintern, to the radical ideologues of our day who affirmatively support Israel’s enemies.  The viciousness with which today’s radical left condemn Israel and Jewish particularism is reminiscent of those medieval Jews who joined the Dominicans and instigated the burning of the Talmud and other holy writings during the Middle Ages.

And then there are left-wing advocacy groups claiming to be pro-Israel and “pro-peace.” The most prominent of these is J Street, which boasts an agenda that chides Israel for defending herself, encourages the USA to pressure Israel, discourages sanctions against Iran, condemns Jewish presence in Jerusalem, and trumpets the so-called Saudi “peace plan,” which is a thinly veiled prescription for Israel’s demise.

Now clearly, not all liberals are self-rejecting extremists, and many probably consider themselves part of the moderate mainstream.  Nevertheless, they are misdirected in their failure to view their political bedfellows critically, to hold them accountable for moral inconsistency, and to condemn “progressive conduct that is clearly antisemitic. When liberal criticism is leveled at Israel for her reaction to terrorist aggression but not at those whose vile actions necessitate the response, when the United Nations Goldstone Report condemns Israel’s retaliation for thousands of rockets, when Human Rights Watch falsely accuses Israel of perpetrating “massacres” that never occurred, or when liberal actors and artists protest holding international film festivals in Tel Aviv, liberal Jews become complicit by their silence.  Their failure to speak out implies agreement with even the most absurd accusations.

Liberal Jews also err in their willingness to abandon the religious and cultural heritage that kept the Jewish People intact during two millennia of exile, and to replace them with secular ideals that are often antithetical to core Jewish values. There are also those who are ignorant of their heritage and who, because of their ignorance, cannot honestly distinguish between transient political concerns and authentic Jewish priorities. The knowing rejectionists are like the son spoken of at the Seder table who rebels despite his knowledge, while the benignly ignorant are like the son who does not know how to ask and risks moral darkness and spiritual decline.

The risk in being the child who does not know how to ask is that it renders one susceptible to the rejectionists who misrepresent history for the sake of political agenda.  Those lacking in Jewish self-awareness can be manipulated into believing that support for Israel is not an absolute and is antithetical to humanist values. Supporting Israel, however, should not be a conservative versus liberal issue. Rather, objective knowledge of world history should a priori engender support for Israel despite political affiliation.

The late Ronald Reagan offers an apt example. During his first administration, his relationship with Israel was influenced by James Baker, George Schultz and Caspar Weinberger, none of whom were friends of Israel.  When Reagan disagreed with the annexation of Golan in 1981, he reportedly decided to punish Israel by suspending a recently concluded strategic cooperation agreement.  The administration had also been highly critical of Israel’s bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor and weapons plant, and in fact had formally condemned the action.

When PM Menachem Begin learned that America intended to suspend the agreement, he rebuked the administration through its ambassador and refused to back down when challenged.  Moreover, he made the dispute public and the standoff ended with Israel retaining the Golan.  Thereafter, President Reagan was commonly
Antisemitism is indeed a potent force on the political left, and has been harnessed to fan the flames of liberal discomfort..regarding Israel.
viewed as friendlier towards Israel, although they would not always see eye-to-eye.  The point is that he was neither inherently supportive of nor opposed to Israel based on doctrinal grounds, and his relationship with Israel seems to have been facilitated by Begin’s forceful assertion of Israel’s historic rights and strategic concerns.

If American Jews now recognize that Mr. Obama’s policies will compromise Israel’s safety and security, they should openly acknowledge the danger that his administration poses for the region.  They should vocally challenge his toxic foreign policy, which presumes an unworkable and historically unjustified two-state solution.  Their objection should be grounded in history and informed by the knowledge that antisemitism is indeed a potent force on the political left, and has been harnessed to fan the flames of liberal discomfort masquerading as legitimate political discourse regarding Israel.