Being a Jew on left has become more and more difficult, and the apparent mainstream acceptance of Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic lies, rooted in hate, rightfully enraged our community. But as I learned by joining the Zioness Movement—a national group for progressive Zionists—the antidote to being dehumanized is that we must show our humanity.
I have been bitter and angry, hell-bent on attacking anti-Semites and anti-Zionists. I was stuck in a shtetl mentality of helplessness and desperation with the feeling that the walls have been closing in on American Jews; I’d thought that the way to liberation was outrage, and hammers to the walls and the people erecting them.
Anti-Semitism is real, but the truth is that the walls the anti-Semites have been erecting are mostly in the minds of the Jews they target. That’s where the biggest barrier is: the barrier to participation. If they can get us to feel that it’s not safe to be ourselves in public, they know they’ve won. If they can reduce us to marginal reactionary anger, they’ve won.
I about lost my lunch when Linda Sarsour, in essence, claimed that “Zionism and Feminism are incompatible.” I remember how viscerally angry I was at the Chicago Dyke March, when three Jewish women were harassed and thrown out of the parade for daring to be proud LBGTQ Jews. Finally, when Tamika Mallory couldn’t stop gushing over Farrakhan without so much as a word concerning his anti-Semitism, I became incensed.
I’ve always set out to try and bring anti-Semitism itself into the limelight. I’ve highlighted as much as possible and with much vitriol every single incident of anti-Semitism on the left to my fellow leftists.
The thing is that this kind of activism creates a wall between myself and the people I want to reach. The desire to attack anti-Semitism directly is important, but what I’ve learned through Zioness is that it’s not the most effective framework to stop it from taking root.
The best answer to anti-Semitism on the left is the assertion of progressive Zionist identity in complete solidarity as feminists, as gun-control advocates and in so many other progressive causes. It’s to be a loud, proud, Zionist Jew in sincere solidarity with our progressive allies.
I have seen this when marching with Zioness, most recently at the “March for Our Lives” in Sacramento, Calif., where I helped lead a contingent. There were so many people who were surprised that Zioness existed, and the creation of that possibility contingent in their minds is the most powerful antiseptic to anti-Semitism conceivable. Imagine this. Until the moment they met us, many people didn’t even believe that such a combination of progressivism and Zionism was possible, much less an inherent identity.
And the effect of our presence was two-fold: Many Zionists came up to us and gathered under our banner. The moments they spent with us meant the world to them. They left that space with a sense of empowerment and hope. We affirmed their identities, and they are better able to speak up for our common causes as Zionists and progressives.
Don’t get me wrong; attacking and deconstructing anti-Semitism is important, but Zioness taught me one thing above anything else. The simple act of representing our shared identity and standing with our shared values is far and away the more emotionally fulfilling, personally impactful, constructive and proactive way for an individual to fight anti-Semitism. It is the simple of act of fearlessly being ourselves in public, and sharing our identity and experiences as human beings. There is no antidote more potent to this dehumanization that’s been on offer. There is nothing so potent as the radical act of simply being who we are: progressive, Zionist and proud of it.
If American Diaspora Jews are going to stop anti-Semitism on the left—if we want to make sure that what is happening in the United Kingdom does not happen in the United States—then Jews on the left cannot check our identity as Zionists at the door. Our people have a long history in fighting for and leading progressive change in America, and we must continue to do this—as Jews, as Zionists and as Zionesses.
Matthew is a Sacramento Zioness leader who has helped lead contingents in both the Women’s March and the March For Our Lives. He is also a co-founder of the California Democrats for Peace and Justice.