(JNS) One of the favorite strategies deployed by Jew-baiters is to divide the community into Good Jews and Bad Jews.
Good Jews have politically correct, progressive opinions. Jews who don’t hold with those opinions are Bad Jews.This distinction is helpful to Israel-bashers, who can use it to claim that they can’t possibly hate the Jews because there are Jews who support their hostility to Israel.
The White House this week hosted a round table on antisemitism to discuss the alarming escalation in attacks on American Jews. Yet the Biden administration conspicuously failed to invite to this discussion the Zionist Organization of America, the Coalition for Jewish Values and the Jewish Leadership Project.
These organizations defend Israel and the Jewish people against left-wing ideologies. They are therefore Bad Jews.
Sadly, this odious Good Jew/Bad Jew trope is now being promoted within the Jewish world itself.
Both in Israel and the Diaspora, progressive Jews have been convulsed over the composition of the new government being assembled by Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu.
This is because he is handing out government positions to three highly controversial lawmakers.
The so-called rabble-rouser Itamar Ben-Gvir is set to become minister of national security.
Bezalel Smotrich, who supposedly hankers after an Israeli theocracy, will reportedly be a junior defense minister with certain powers over the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria.
Avi Maoz, whose party opposes LGBTQ rights and other progressive causes, is apparently being given control over outside input into the school curriculum and a new office devoted to “Jewish identity.”
This has produced epic pearl-clutching by Diaspora Jews, who are falling over themselves to announce that they might now withhold their support from Israel. Such hysteria also promotes the Good Jew/Bad Jew agenda.
This week, Richard Ferrer, the editor of Britain’s Jewish News, announced to readers of the online edition of The Times of London that many British Jews were “horrified” by Israel’s new government.
His claims in this article were exaggerated, distorted and absurd.
He described Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and Maoz as “the Jewish Taliban—theocrats in search of a Jewish Iran.”
Leave aside for the moment that the Taliban are Sunni Muslims while the Iranians are their Shia foes. The idea that any of these three Israeli Jews represents the mortal and unprovoked threat to life and liberty embodied by the Taliban and the atrocities they have committed is grotesque.
Moreover, the Taliban are Islamists. Yet Ferrer had not felt impelled to tell Times readers—as he did this week—that “Theodor Herzl must be turning in his grave” when the government of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid went into coalition with Mansour Abbas’s truly Islamist Ra’am party.
This was despite the fact that Ra’am is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which promulgates paranoid conspiracies about Jews and seeks the destruction of Israel and the West.
Ferrer foamed that the three Israelis were “not liberally-minded democrats,” and that two at least were anti-gay. But last year, his Jewish News reported that Ra’am was “socially extremely conservative, and Abbas famously spoke to an Israel news site in favor of conversion therapy for LGBTQ people.” His paper nevertheless purred over that coalition and described anti-gay Abbas as a “pragmatist.”
Moreover, Ferrer’s article inverted the truth in a manner that would have done justice to any Islamist propagandist. He accused Ben-Gvir of “stoking last year’s riots against Israeli Arabs that sparked conflict with Hamas.”
The police did indeed accuse Ben Gvir of inflaming the tensions that roiled Israel’s mixed cities in May last year. But most of that violence—including the murder of Israelis—was committed by Israeli Arabs with cries of “with fire and blood, we shall redeem Palestine” and “slaughter the Jew.” before Ben Gvir said anything.
It was only after Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad started firing hundreds of rockets at Israel from Gaza during this Arab nationalist uprising that Israel took military action. Yet Ferrer implied that Israel was to blame for the violence.
Placing this disgraceful travesty in the Times will undoubtedly provide further ammunition to Israel’s enemies and demonize any Jews who support it. Indeed, the implication of Ferrer’s claim to hold the Jewish state dear is that anyone who isn’t “screaming not in our name” is a Bad Jew.
This has been echoed in Israel itself, where the left has also gone into meltdown.
Any Jew who fails to denounce Ben-Gvir, Smotrich or Maoz will be tarred and feathered as a Bad Jew. Character assassination is a way of shutting down an argument altogether.
Maoz sparked outrage in the Knesset this week by comparing the Lapid government to the Hellenizing Jews of the Hanukkah story. “Anyone who tries to create a new so-called liberal religion is the darkness,” he said. “Anyone who—with intentional concealment and obfuscation—tries to brainwash the children of Israel with their agendas, without the knowledge of the parents, is the darkness.”
This provoked Yesh Atid MK Michal Shir Segman to shout: “Who are you to decide who is a good Jew and who is a bad Jew? Chutzpah.” But what was she doing if not precisely that?
For such people, Bad Jews include anyone with an Orthodox and conservative take on the Torah commandments.
Rational people who are understandably alarmed by the past record of these three or find their current positions distasteful will wait to see what they actually do. Netanyahu, after all, has made plain that he intends to keep them on a tight leash.
As Shany Mor and Einat Wilf have written for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, considering the many occasions when the election of a new Israeli government has conjured up horrific scenarios, “What stands out is that Netanyahu’s governments, all of which, without exception, were greeted with tears by the defeated side, never implemented these nightmare scenarios, and sometimes even the opposite occurred.”
But today’s pearl-clutchers aren’t waiting to see what happens. They object to these three being in the government at all. They are panicking that they might be associated with these characters because they are all Jews.
To grasp just how curious this reaction is, look at it from the other end of the political telescope.
Progressive Jewish viewpoints—on identity politics issues such as race and gender or on matters to do with Israel and the Palestinians—offend, upset and frighten other Jews. They think the progressives are wrong, illiberal, hypocritical and in various ways threaten the integrity and security of Israel and the Jewish people.
Yet these anti-progressives don’t feel that their own identity is compromised by these positions, so they do not feel the need to say “not in my name.”
What does this difference tell us?
First, what always matters most for progressives is how others see them—and how they see themselves.
Crucial to their identity, however, is that they define themselves by what they are not. They term their opponents “the right” not as an accurate descriptor (it often isn’t) but as an insulting benchmark of unacceptability. The worse that benchmark, the more virtuous they become. That’s why they are so quick to elide “right-wing” with “far-right,” “fascist” or “Nazi.”
This is despite the fact that they make themselves look ridiculous, as did Tel Aviv’s Mayor Ron Huldai, who urged Israelis to rise up against the country’s impending “fascist theocracy.” But of course, under actual fascism no such revolt would be possible. And inciting revolt against a properly elected government is hardly democratic.
No matter. Any Jew who fails to denounce Ben-Gvir, Smotrich or Maoz will be tarred and feathered as a Bad Jew. Character assassination is a way of shutting down an argument altogether.
Those who try to silence others like this do so out of fear. So why are these “Good Jews” so frightened that their own identity is so vulnerable?
Here’s the final curiosity: It’s because they are terrified, at some subterranean level of their psyche, that these “Bad Jews” may be right.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir Guardian Angel has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy. Go to melaniephillips.substack.comto access her work.