In the midst of an alarming rise in anti-Semitism, it’s easy to overlook that the Jewish brand in America has been an extraordinary success story. Jews are deeply engaged with American society, from politics to academia to media to science to spirituality to civic leadership. Jewish culture has greatly contributed to American culture in areas such as literature, movies, television, arts, music, theater and comedy. And Jews have been at the forefront of social justice and progressive activism.
It’s not a coincidence, then, that as recently as 2014, according to a Pew survey, Jews were the most popular religious group in America.
So, what happened? Why does it feel as if this great Jewish brand is suddenly getting tarnished?
For one thing, recent societal currents have given Jew-haters a double jackpot—they can now squeeze the Jewish brand from two sides, both of which reinforce anti-Semitic tropes. On one side, Jew-haters characterize Jews as the ultimate example of “white privilege,” one of the more derogatory terms in today’s America. And on the other, they’re linking Jews with the Jewish state of Israel, which they malign as a conniving, colonialist, oppressive entity that steals land.
It’s a squeeze play that has caught much of the Jewish world off guard and off-balance. This is not the blunt and blatant Ku Klux Klan type of Jew-hatred. This is sneakier and more insidious. It hides behind noble causes and can ambush you at any time. It can come from popular social-media influencers, intersectional activist groups, college professors, ethnic studies programs and even Representatives in Congress.
Progressive Jews are well-practiced in fighting Jew-hatred from the partisans they hate on the right, but when the Jew-hatred comes from the left they love, they are flummoxed. But that is precisely what is needed now: collective outrage from Jewish progressives who have the credibility to counter the unfair attacks from both sides—“white privilege” from one side and “thieving Israel” from the other.
The problem is that most progressives are keeping their mouths shut, and for good reason. First, they’re afraid that if they speak up, they might, God forbid, help the other side—in this case, the dreaded Republicans. When politics is the new religion, helping the other side is sin No. 1.
Second, they’re so caught up with the anti-white social justice movement sweeping the nation that any collateral damage to Jews is treated as an annoying distraction. They know, for instance, that it’s unfair to characterize multicultural Jews as white oppressors; that being Jewish is not a privilege but a responsibility; that the attacks on the Jewish state are discriminatory and libelous. They know exactly how to push back, but their priorities are not to defend their people but to remake America, maintain their social status and strengthen their party.
Third, they’ve been bashing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians for so long it’s hard for them to suddenly turn around and yell, “Hey comrades, you’re going too far!” The best they’ll do is spew platitudes about Israel having a right to defend itself. Attacking Hamas for cowardly hiding behind their own civilians to murder Jewish civilians? Attacking the Palestinian Authority for subsidizing terrorists and putting its corrupt interests ahead of its people? Reminding the world of Israeli peace offers that would have ended the occupation but were summarily rejected? After decades of submitting Israel to its “tough love,” that would be too much love.
In light of this shameful silence from influential Jewish progressives, malignant narratives about Jews and Israel are allowed to spread and fester, tarnishing the Jewish brand more and more each day.
When it comes to taking on their political opponents or bashing white nationalists to strengthen their side, Jewish progressives know how to be fiercely loyal and take the gloves off. It’s time they do the same on behalf of their other tribe, the one that goes back 4,000 years.
If you can’t defend your ancient tribe and your Jewish brand when it urgently needs you, even at the risk of upsetting your side, what kind of a partisan are you?
David Suissa is editor-in-chief and publisher of Tribe Media Corp, and “Jewish Journal.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.