“Progressive” movements mask anti-Semitism as opposition to Zionism


Shortly after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, my father (z”l) received a job offer from a chemical manufacturer in Pennsylvania only to have the offer rescinded when the firm discovered he was Jewish. He ended up making a living as a bookkeeper in his native Portland, where, until the 1970s, there were country clubs that refused membership to Jews.
With the adoption of anti-discrimination laws and the emergence of a more open, tolerant culture in the United States (the white supremacist fringe notwithstanding), it was assumed by many observers that such anti-Semitic exclusion would become a thing of the past. They were wrong.
Today, however, rather than the job market or country clubs, it’s from so-called progressive social movements that Jews are being barred. The new-age anti-Semites – most of whom readily support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns demonizing Israel – have established a litmus test that Jews must pass to be part of these movements. That is, anyone identifying as pro-Israel and Zionist, which happens to be the overwhelming majority of American Jews, needn’t bother.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more rampant than on college campuses. According to a 2016 study by the Amcha Initiative, a California-based nonpartisan organization that investigates and combats anti-Semitism at institutions of higher education, Jewish students on several campuses reported being excluded from participating in progressive social justice activities, such as anti-rape demonstrations, pro-immigration rallies and Black Lives Matter events.
“In addition to ostracizing and alienating Jewish students from certain areas of campus life,” the study reported, “anti-Zionist students repeatedly attempt to shut down events organized by Jewish students.”
Beyond the campus, pro-Israel Jews have been made to feel unwelcome in some social justice movements despite their capacity to play a vital role in advancing the respective movements’ agendas. The Women’s March on Washington in January, for example, was co-chaired by Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American BDS activist who once declared on Twitter that “nothing is creepier than Zionism.”
In several media interviews after the march, in which thousands of Jewish women participated, Sarsour insisted that there’s no room in the feminist movement for women who support Israel. Still, her apologists claim she’s not anti-Semitic, pointing out that she helped raise funds to repair a vandalized St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery in February. Apparently, she didn’t think there were any “creepy” Zionists among the buried.
More recently, in June, during Chicago’s “Dyke March” in support of LGBT rights, three Jewish demonstrators who were carrying rainbow Star of David flags were ejected after they refused to disavow Israel. In a statement issued following the march, organizers explained that “the [ejected] individuals were told that the march was explicitly anti-Zionist, and that if they were not OK with that, they should leave.” Zionism, the statement declared, “is an inherently white-supremacist ideology.”
Incredibly, the march organizers further proclaimed: “We believe in creating a space free from oppression… We welcome and include people of all identities [emphasis added].” Clearly, the blatant hypocrisy of that statement was completely lost on these anti-Semites.
Another group with an aversion to Zionists is Rethinking Schools, a national nonprofit magazine and book publisher headquartered in Milwaukee, WI, that focuses on “strengthening public education through social justice teaching.” Not only has this organization hopped onto the BDS bandwagon, it has also actively pushed for curricula that would present students with an overtly pro-Palestinian perspective under the guise of “social justice.” After all, says Rethinking Schools, “Zionist narratives often dominate textbooks.”
Every October, the Northwest Conference on Teaching for Social Justice, of which Rethinking Schools is a lead sponsor, draws hundreds of high school teachers from Oregon and Washington. Over the past few years, Jewish pro-Israel organizations wishing to table or present a workshop have been rejected by conference organizers. Even a proposed workshop on Arab-Israeli environmental collaboration was deemed too Zionist-friendly. Heaven forbid the teachers should learn about ways the Jewish state is improving the world.
For Jews in my father’s generation, anti-Semitism meant some jobs were unobtainable regardless of one’s qualifications; membership in certain social clubs was banned. Today’s leftwing anti-Semitism, though different in form, is disturbingly familiar.
American Jews’ long track record of involvement in civil rights campaigns, support for laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, and opposition to policies restricting immigration is reflective of the positive contributions we make to important social justice causes. Yet, for some left-wing activist groups, these credentials aren’t sufficient. If you don’t renounce Zionism as part of your core Jewish identity and swear allegiance to the Palestinian cause, you simply aren’t welcome.
It’s time for progressive groups to stop tolerating the anti-Semitism within their ranks that makes a total mockery of their pursuit of social justice.
This column was originally published in the Oct. 2 Jerusalem Report. Bob Horenstein is the Community Relations Director of the Jewish Federation of
Greater Portland.

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