American Jews must give up the illusion that they have ‘no enemies’ to the left or the right

Betrayal is always a possibility, no matter which side of the partisan divide the Jews are on.

Kanye (“Ye”) West. Source: Twitter.
Kanye (“Ye”) West. Source: Twitter.
Benjamin Kerstein
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his work on Substack at No Delusions, No Despair. Purchase his books here.

One of the worst aspects of Kanye West’s recent anti-Semitic meltdown has been that many figures on the right have chosen to not quite endorse but to whitewash and obfuscate it. Particularly shameful is that some Jewish conservatives, who shall remain nameless, have joined in the whitewash. Others, however, have expressed deep pain and anguish at seeing those they considered allies and friends rush to West’s defense.

One example of this was a cri de coeur by Ian Haworth, who has worked in conservative media. He wrote, “As we witness supposedly anti-anti-Semitism conservatives brush the open and unapologetic anti-Semitism of cultural figures like Kanye West under the rug in exchange for the second-hand cultural attention his presence might provide—as well as cash and clicks—a familiar and brutal reality has resurfaced for Jews: No one cares about us.”

“Until our movement is willing to look in the mirror and stick to their supposed principles, the Jewish people cast out from this tent will wonder whether any of this is worth fighting for,” he asserted.

I was moved by Haworth’s anger, because he felt betrayed, and I know what that’s like. For me, however, the betrayal came from the other side. I grew up in an extremely left-wing Boston suburb and, needless to say, I was not immune to the relentless indoctrination. In my teens and early 20s, I was a half-inch from being a communist. I considered all leftists my brothers and sisters in solidarity, and never questioned this conviction.

That changed with the outbreak of the Second Intifada. At first, I went along with the general loathing of Israel that surrounded me, even when people began asking me why I, personally, was oppressing the Palestinians so horribly. It took me a while to finally wake up, but when I did, it was life-changing.

The final straw came in 2000, when Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader held a massive campaign rally in Boston. From the stage, I was told, his running mate, Winona LaDuke, shrieked, “We’re going to stop the slaughter in Palestine!” This would have been bad enough, given that it erased Israel’s name from the map and, with it, the numerous Jews then being murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the name of “Palestine.”

But what made my blood run cold was the description of what followed: The crowd howled its approval and rose to its feet in a standing ovation. At that moment, what I saw in my mind’s eye was Hitler and the great crowd rising as one to hail him. These people, I suddenly realized, wanted to kill me.

What followed was not merely anger, but a horrific sense of betrayal. I believed in the catechisms of the left. I felt that I was one of them. But now, I suddenly realized, they did not think I was one of them. And this was because, despite everything, I did believe that the Jews have a right, at the very least, to defend themselves. I now knew that my former comrades did not believe in that right. But I did, and I would fight for it.

I will not go into the long journey that followed, which led me to Zionism, aliyah and everything that came after. Suffice it to say, I rejected the left in its entirety, and became very right-wing for a very long time.

I can no longer count myself an ideological right-winger. I believe I have learned a great deal from both the left and the right, from the likes of Orwell and Camus along with Burke and C.S. Lewis. These days, I prefer to keep my own counsel. But that sense of betrayal has never left me, and I am still angry about it.

That many Jews on the right now feel the same way is painful but also, I regret to say, not particularly surprising. All non-Jewish movements contain people who believe very ugly things about the Jews. The left has Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the right has its “alt” contingent and now Kanye West.

But I must say, and perhaps this will comfort him, that I do not agree with Haworth’s despairing conclusion that “no one cares about us.” In fact, there are non-Jews on both the right and the left who care very deeply about the Jews, whether they be Ritchie Torres on the left or Meghan McCain on the right. Sometimes they are forced to fight a rearguard action against the haters, but they are there, they are not to be underestimated and we must work to embrace them all.

Indeed, for Jews to believe that we have “no enemies to the left” is as absurd as believing we have “no enemies to the right.” There is no single political movement—except Zionism—that is monolithically philo-Semitic. Jews, in the end, have no right or left. We have only ourselves and our friends or enemies, wherever they may be on the political spectrum. To wholly commit ourselves to one side or the other only sets us up for a rude awakening followed by a terrible disillusionment.

Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his writing on Substack and his website. Follow him on Twitter @benj_kerstein.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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