Opinion | How the Anti-Israel Left Could Scramble Jewish Politics newsbhunt


Like the 2,000 delegates to the New Politics Convention that fall, in Chicago. Originally conceived as an organizing platform to recruit an anti-war challenger to President Lyndon Johnson, the convention adopted a resolution denouncing the “imperialistic Zionist war.”

Or the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), once a mainstream civil rights organization, which published a broadside asserting that “Zionists conquered the Arab homes and land through terror” and that “the famous European Jews, the Rothschilds, who have long controlled the wealth of many European nations, were involved in the original conspiracy … to create the ‘State of Israel.’” These claims ran beside a cartoon of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, with dollar signs plastered to his epaulets and a rendering of a hand bearing a Star of David and a dollar sign, tightening a noose around the necks of Egyptian President Nassar and the boxer Muhammad Ali.

The New Left — a hodgepodge of younger activists, precursors to today’s self-identified “progressive” activists — was one matter. More disappointing was the seeming silent betrayal of friends closer to the center left, particularly Christian lay and religious leaders who had been longtime partners in a variety of reform movements.

In late 1967, the American Jewish Committee reported that while “there were a number of open declarations of support from individual Christian leaders” that past June, “such public statements from Christian institutional bodies were noticeably rare.” In particular, the “reluctance of the two powerful ‘umbrella’ organizations — the National Council of Churches and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops … to commit themselves unequivocally on the basic question of Israel’s survival … came as a surprise to many Jewish leaders.” Time similarly observed that many Jews had not failed to notice that “the majority of Christian Churchmen [had] either remained silent, or failed to protest strongly when Arab nations threatened to annihilate Israel.”

“American Jews are taking a new — and long — look at the practice of holding dialogues — discussions — with Christian churchmen,” declared the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), Reform Judaism’s principal religious organization. “[T]he Six Day War had a chilling effect on American-Christian relations” and “many Jews, already cool toward what they consider unwarranted ‘ecumania’ [a term signaling ardor for interfaith cooperation and action] … are now turning to us with an ‘I told you so’ tone, asking: ‘Where was the Christian community during the past few weeks when Israel and the cause of world peace so desperately needed visible support?’” Longtime partners in civil rights and peace, the mainline churches seemed eerily quiet when Jewish lives, and Jewish security, were on the line.

“There is evidently much fence-straddling and conscience grappling, a pro-Arab undercurrent,” reported the Anti-Defamation League. Particularly enraging was a declaration by the National Council of Churches that “with due consideration for the right of nations to defend themselves, the NCC cannot condone by silence [Israeli] territorial expansion by armed force.” The organization particularly opposed “Israel’s unilateral annexation of Jordanian portions of Jerusalem. The historic city is sacred not only to Judaism, but also to Christianity and Islam.”

These were the very early days of the occupation, in the immediate aftermath of a coordinated effort to wipe Israel off the map. This was before there was a serious movement within Israel to keep and settle these lands. The country was still in a state of war with its neighbors. For many American Jews, it seemed wildly offensive for the NCC to demand that the Jewish state unilaterally retreat to its June 1967 borders. Voicing “due consideration” for the right of Israelis to defend themselves seemed like a throwaway line.

Liberal Christian leaders “worried about Arab refugees … but not about clear pledges to exterminate and massacre the people of Israel,” observed the UAHC — arguably the most liberal of the major American Jewish religious movements. “Was the Christian conscience so ambivalent on the question of Jews that, once again, a pall of silence would hang over the specter of Jewish suffering, until later, condolences and breast-beating and epitaphs and the croak of guilty conscience would fill the air?”

The standard historiographical narrative used to hold that American Jews turned inward and rightward after the Six-Day War. That interpretation doesn’t stand the test of time. Mainstream Jewish organizations continued to engage in anti-poverty, anti-war and civil rights work, and most Jews continue to this day to identify as liberal (50 percent) or moderate (32 percent) Democrats. To be sure, there were signs of ideological fracture — from the rise of a small but vocal neoconservative movement among Jewish intellectuals to the creation of Jewish vigilante and terrorist groups like the Jewish Defense League. Mainstream Jewish organizations also broke with civil rights allies over questions like affirmative action in the late 1970s, a break that might have come on its own but which was made easier by the fracture of the late 1960s.

But Jews remained a core component of the Democratic base, partly because the party increasingly drifted to the center in the 1970s, while left-leaning organizations became a more marginal force in politics. It was easy for Jews to maintain their political identity and home, if they didn’t have to share that space with perceived antisemites in the New Left.

The problem today is similar, but different. In 1967 Israel achieved its greatest triumph. Today, Israel — and its American Jewish cousins — are reeling from the single greatest act of violence committed against Jews since the Holocaust. As the journalist Michael Cohen observed, “the key difference is that in 1967 American Jews felt pride over Israel’s military accomplishment. Today it’s just anguish, not just at the murder and massacre of Jews but at the lack of solidarity from our supposed allies on the left.”

Furthermore, if the New Left became largely inconsequential to Democratic politics by the 1970s, the same is not true of self-styled progressives today. Grassroots movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM), and organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), may still play at the margins of party politics, but they have a seat at the table in a way their New Left predecessors never really did.

For many Jewish liberals who strongly disapprove of the Israeli occupation, hunger for a two-state solution, feel sick about what the people of Gaza are experiencing (even if some believe that Iran and Hamas are principally responsible for that suffering) and loathe Benjamin Netanyahu, it has been a clarifying two weeks.


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