How US Jewish liberalism metastasized into hatred of Israel

Driven by the 'oppressor vs oppressed' dichotomy, some of American Jews have come to identify Palestinians as the underdog and therefore worthy of consideration and concern, while Israel is seen as the epitome of white colonialism

Ofer Chizik|
"After 16 years of Israeli siege, Palestinian fighters from Gaza launched an unexpected attack. While the Israeli government may have just declared war, its war against the Palestinians began 75 years ago. Apartheid and Israeli occupation—and the partnership of the United States in them—are the source of all this violence," described the Jewish anti-Zionist organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), in a statement from that same day.
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On October 10, just three days after the massacre, IfNotNow organization stated: "One-sided declarations and solutions that only address losses in Israel do not help stop the bloodshed. Where are those with the courage and heart to talk about the lives of Palestinians lost and homes destroyed today by Israeli planes? Or about the context of ongoing occupation and siege that created this crisis?"
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מפגינים חוסמים את תחנת הרכבת המרכזית של מנהטן
מפגינים חוסמים את תחנת הרכבת המרכזית של מנהטן
Protesters in Manhattan
(Photo: AFP)
These are American organizations that define themselves as Jewish and represent, in their view, the positions of many in the second largest Jewish community in the world, almost as much as that in Israel. Their media influence is significant - just in the past few months, JVP protests against the statue of liberty and their blockade of Manhattan's central train station are remembered, as well as the demonstration involving IfNotNow members outside the White House on October 16 - and becomes particularly dangerous when it undermines the American public's knowledge as a whole, and that of American Jewry in particular, which may believe in the erroneous narrative these organizations espouse. But how did we reach a situation where Jewish organizations act with such lack of solidarity toward their Israeli brethren?
Dr. Zohar Raviv, Deputy Director of International Educational Strategy at Project Taglit, is well-acquainted with these organizations. In 2018, a controversy erupted when IfNotNow activists asserted they were ejected from a Birthright tour for discussing the occupation. According to Raviv, this issue runs deep and is apolitical: "There were activists who actively sought to disrupt the Birthright tour, ignoring calls from their tour guides to share their perspectives and engage in meaningful dialogue. They arrived with their own written materials, cameras, pre-scripted statements, and no willingness to entertain different viewpoints. It's a troubling trend seen in extreme organizations on both ends of the spectrum. Genuine dialogue requires all parties to have the right to speak and the responsibility to listen, yet extreme organizations often believe they have the right to speak while listening is reserved for those who echo their sentiments."
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מחאה נגד ישראל על אי פסל החירות
מחאה נגד ישראל על אי פסל החירות
Anti-Israeli protest under the Statue of Liberty
(Photo: GettyImages)
Raviv highlights a broader trend beyond the scope of these organizations: "This marks an era of what I call 'enlightened ignorance.' The so-called 'liberal-progressive' discourse, with 'progressive' being the operative term, largely overlooks the plight of marginalized minorities, favoring instead a simplistic oppressor-oppressed narrative, 'white privilege' versus everything else. The oppressor is typically portrayed as the white individual, a legacy of colonial empires dating back to the 16th century, who has historically advanced his own interests at the expense of non-white minorities.
"From this viewpoint, it's crucial to grasp the near-impossible predicament of Jews overall, especially young Jews: they witness societal activism advocating for various minorities – African-Americans, Latino-Americans, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities. Yet, when they turn to themselves, they find they're the sole minority seen as part of the white privileged majority. They're stuck between a rock and a hard place because they don't neatly fit into any minority category."
And Jews actually help other minorities. "Correct. Young Jews, and not only them, are seen becoming activists for the rights of other minorities. This is not new and certainly not invalid – we've seen it before in the times of Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King Jr. The problem today is that within the socio-political context accompanying the superficial perception of oppressor versus oppressed, the liberal progressive Jew, who lacks sufficient knowledge about what's happening in Israel, adopts the perception prevalent in their environment of Israel as white, colonialist, and privileged, leading them to identify Palestinians as the underdog.
"One of the claims raised among many Jews who identify as liberals and progressives is that Jewish educational systems they grew up in 'lied to them.' The narrative of the Jewish people, especially the establishment of the State of Israel, is perceived by them as false, distorted, and demagogic. This is the bread and butter of the organizations we're talking about. They copy-paste from European colonial narratives and project it onto the Zionist movement."
ד"ר זהר רביבDr. Zohar RavivPhoto: Taglit
So the issue stems from distorted education? "In some way, the broader framework within which young Jews perceive Zionism as a core value has faded. It's impossible to debate Zionism without delineating clearly between the Zionist movement and the Zionist ethos. Herzl pioneered the Zionist movement - Abraham, the father of our nation, epitomized the Zionist ethos. We must reinstate Zionism to its central position in Jewish ethos, ensuring it doesn't fade away completely in generations to come."
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