The Un-Jews Two Years Later: Fewer, Louder, Crueler, Beyond the Pale—But More Popular?
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Jewish Journal 22.11.2023
The Un-Jews Two Years Later: Fewer, Louder, Crueler, Beyond the Pale—But More Popular?
Natan Sharansky and Gil Troy
It’s become an annual New York rite of spring. As the Israel Day Parade approaches, another blowup erupts, questioning whether certain organizations harshly critical of Israel can march along in solidarity. While everyone likes to like a big tent, every community by definition requires some boundaries. The Hamas horrors on October 7th—and the subsequent reaction—have helped settle the debate and define our big blue-and-white tent generously but unmistakably, welcoming most while clarifying some red lines patriotic Jews refuse to cross.
On November 14, 290,000 supporters of Israel and opponents of mass murder, baby-beheading, gang rape, kidnapping, torture, Hamas and Jew-hatred gathered peacefully in Washington. The largest pro-Israel gathering in history became an historic big tent event. Ultra-Orthodox rally-goers from Agudath Israel of America participated, as did left-wing critics of the Israeli government such as Americans for Peace Now. Addressing the crowd remotely from the Western Wall in Jerusalem, President Isaac Herzog summarized the message. Responding to Palestinian savagery, he declared “Never Again is Now.” He added, “Today we come together, as a family, one big mishpacha , to march for Israel” and free the hostages.
The next night, on November 15, barely two miles away, 150 members of the “Ceasefire Now Coalition,” led by many Jews, so menaced members of Congress and Democratic National Committee members on Capitol Hill, that the protest turned violent. The Capitol police, including some officers still recovering from the January 6 violence, felt forced to push back and arrest some demonstrators. Six officers sought treatment for injuries. In the “Ceasefire Now Coalition,” Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and IfNotNow (INN) collaborate daily with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) to denounce Israel as “genocidal” and an apartheid regime. On October 7, the DSA called the “events” a “direct result of Israel’s Apartheid regime.” It co-sponsored a rally where pro-Palestinian protestors chanted “resistance is justified when people are occupied.” Some thugs there stomped on an Israeli flag and flaunted an image of a swastika. Others shouted the number “700”—the estimate of Jewish dead as of that moment—and made slicing gestures with their fingers on their necks. Such toasts to atrocity prompted some prominent DSA members to resign from the organization. Apparently, JVP and INN activists were charmed.
These two contrasting demonstrations define just how big the pro-Israel tent is. Those who blame Israelis for being victimized or rationalize the Palestinian bloodbath have indeed violated Hillel’s famous teaching about unity in Ethics of our Fathers (2:5); they have separated themselves from the community. Their words and deeds also help illustrate the meaning of the concept we introduced two years ago. We called those hyper-critics trying to undo the core consensus placing Israel, Zionism and peoplehood at the center of modern Jewish identity “un-Jews.”
Watch their violent videos. Read their ugly words. Today’s un-Jews demonstrating in the U.S. Capitol, Grand Central Station, Hollywood Boulevard and elsewhere are harsher, crueler, and far outside the Jewish tent, no matter how large and welcoming the Jewish community makes it. Unfortunately, while their anti-Israel rhetoric went too far for many Jews, their words help shape the mainstream media and social media conversations about Israel, while resonating with many academics and students—including some young Jews.
In 2021, when Israel defended itself yet again from Gazan rockets, we published in Tablet “The Un-Jews: the Jewish Attempt to Cancel Israel and Jewish Peoplehood .” Both of us have devoted our lives to uniting the Jewish people. Earlier that year, we had published “Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People,” which we called a memoir-festo or manifest-oir. It recently came out in paperback. We used Natan Sharansky’s life-story to illustrate our manifesto championing a healthy Jewish dialogue. Unity has never required uniformity, we insisted.
Eight months later in May, 2021, events tested our commitment to Jewish unity. As Hamas bombarded Israel, a few rabbis, Jewish studies professors, and community activists blasted Israel unreasonably. They echoed the social justice talk spreading on universities and on social media while laying the groundwork for today’s de-colonizing apologists for Hamas’s sadism. It was shocking. Dozens of Jewish and Israel Studies scholars defined Zionism, in a cliché-bomb masquerading as a petition, as “a diverse set of linked ethnonationalist ideologies … shaped by settler colonial paradigms … that assumed a hierarchy of civilizations” and “contributed to unjust, enduring, and unsustainable systems of Jewish supremacy.” In denying the need for a Jewish state, such rhetoric declared war on Israel’s existence and on modern Judaism as we know it.
We labeled these delegitimizing insiders “un-Jews.” Bad enough that they reject the Jewish narrative and use a term with Nazi roots like “Jewish supremacy.” But these supposed experts seemed ignorant of that fact that, in returning to the land they never renounced, Jews did not fit typical Western paradigms of colonialism, imperialism or racism.
These critics are “un-Jews” because they believe the only way to fulfill the Jewish mission of saving the world with Jewish values is to undo the ways most Jews do Jewish today. Today’s literate, passionate, anti-Zionists know exactly what they are doing and undoing. They want to disentangle Judaism from Jewish nationalism, the sense of Jewish peoplehood, while undoing decades of identity-building. “It’s hard to think of Israel as something good, because we’ve only known it as a place where bad things happen and things keep getting worse,” Max Berger told Time . After working for J Street, which supported the Washington march, Berger co-founded IfNotNow, which defines itself as working “to end US support for Israel’s apartheid system.” These are the new Diasporists, seeing America as their Promised Land, often disdaining Israelis as particularist and primitive.
IfNotNow is particularly un-Jewish. Many activists emphasize that they are children of rabbis and Jewish day-school graduates. They are far more likely to be on the Jewish communal payroll as rabbis, educators or activists than other anti-Israel obsessives. Using their Jewish fluency to demean the Jewish state and the Jewish people, they blow shofars at anti-Israel rallies and brazenly say kaddish for Palestinians, which includes Hamas rapists and torturers, kidnappers and murderers. Taking the centuries-old sacred blessing “HaMakom Yinachem Etchem…” —may you be comforted with the mourners of Zion—and replacing the word “Zion” with “al-Aksa ” (we kid you not) is not just sacrilegious; it’s delusional. They should be honest and invoke the Jihadis’ sick, sexist, patriarchal, pornographic cry, “May you be rewarded with 72 virgins.” This goes far beyond anti-Zionism; it’s an attack on Jewish sensibilities, Jewish sensitivities, Jewish solidarity.
In defining a small, rabid minority as un-Jews, we want to build a rhetorical wall around their anti-Zionist fanaticism, thus carving out wide areas for robust debate. We want to call out these unreasonable, unfair, often unhinged critics while reinforcing our call for dialogue and unity. There is a clear line between healthy dialogue and unfair delegitimization—just as it’s easy to distinguish between patriotic dissent and unpatriotic dissent.
The late Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua made a career as a provocateur. He enjoyed needling American Jews for not being full-time Jews while challenging Israelis for ignoring the Palestinians. We often disagreed with him. But Yehoshua never crossed the line into delegitimizing other Jews, or encouraging enemies who threatened fellow Jews with violence. He never collaborated with Jew-haters.
Sadly, Jewish history is filled with moments of moral clarity and communal solidarity imposed by bloodthirsty enemies. Our friend, the human rights activist Irwin Cotler, who grew up in Montreal in the 1940s, recalls his parents teaching him that in Jewish history, “there are horrors too terrible to be believed, but not too terrible to have happened.” Tragically, throughout Jewish history, and right now, there are no anti-Jewish horrors so terrible these un-Jews can’t excuse. Just as you cannot “contextualize” the Holocaust to blame the Jews, or justify “both sides” of the Kishinev pogrom, the inability of these un-Jews to denounce Hamas’s evil categorically is as appalling as the despicable company of terrorist cheerleaders they keep.
The historical examples we mentioned of un-Jews throughout the ages, in our 2021 article, fit today’s Anti-Colonialist Massacre-Justifiers even better. Their stunning insensitivity to this mass atrocity reminds us of the German Marxist Rosa Luxemburg who scoffed in 1917 when asked about pogroms then: “I have no room in my heart for Jewish suffering. Why do you pester me with Jewish troubles?” In their self-destructive inability to recognize antisemitic enemies, they evoke the Evreyskaya Sekcia. Those cold-blooded fanatics of the Jewish section of the Communist Party spearheaded the destruction of synagogues and cheders to pave the road ahead for the Jewish masses to join the Communist Revolution, only to have Josef Stalin kill many of them, leaders and followers alike. In the glee with which they turn their Jewish literacy on their own people, saying kaddish for terrorists, today’s un-Jews repeat the evils of those Jewish converts who coached priests in Talmudic lore in the medieval disputations trying to convince Jews to accept Jesus’s truth over Judaism. And, in their joy in marching alongside those who wish to do all Jews harm by “globalizing the intifada,” let alone eradicating Israel “from the river to the sea,” they follow in the bloody footsteps of the traitorous Jew, Tiberius Julius Alexander, who helped raze Jerusalem and destroy the Second Temple.
Again and again, then as now, the treachery has been done in the name of purifying Judaism, of making it universal, of advancing social justice—and, most pathetically, of becoming accepted by the so-called Progressives of the moment. It’s striking. In each of these cases, the siren song of the Progressive cause of a particular era seduces the un-Jew. They’re desperate to be accepted by the “cool” kids of the moment: the social justice warriors and anti-colonialists of today, the Communists of the twentieth century, the Christians of the Middle Ages, the Romans of ancient times. To be popular, the un-Jew tries exorcising core values that make Judaism Jewish but not politically correct at the moment, be it Jewish solidarity, Jewish particularism, or monotheism. Again and again, un-Jews prove willing to undergo an identity-amputation while betraying their own people.
This year has been agonizing for the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Israeli society was horrifically polarized for months, until waves of Palestinian marauders instantly turned us all into one fighting family. After October 7, for the first time in memory, those distinctions left and right, religious and secular, ultra-Orthodox and non-believers, disappeared. Those who hated the ultra-Orthodox, now honor the ZAKA Search-and-Rescue heroes who lovingly, painstakingly, have helped identify the most mutilated bodies, seeing all kinds of sights no human should ever see, and that they will never un-see. Those who hated the secular now mourn the lovely left-wing kibbutznikim of Be’eri as ardently as they mourn the black-hatted Mizrachim of Ofakim. We all share the family feeling of common fate and shared destiny that President Herzog identified and embodies, especially as the killers made no distinctions among the Jews they targeted.
On Friday, November 10, a beloved Jerusalem principal, Yossi Hershkovitz, a 44-year-old father of five, sent his students a pre-Shabbat message. “I have a request,” Hershkovitz said, “Please don’t make lashon hara on am Yisrael – nothing.” In other words, please don’t trash Israel or the Jewish people. “Don’t say a bad word – don’t go back to what was before,” he continued, referencing the deep divisions before October 7. “Nothing – no left, no right, no ultra-Orthodox … nothing, just Jews. Hamas, those Nazis, didn’t distinguish. They didn’t care how you voted, what you think.” He reminded his students that “Israel won all its wars because we didn’t indulge in lashon hara.” A few hours later, a booby-trapped tunnel shaft next to a mosque in Gaza killed him and four other reservists.
This legendary educator, who deserved a long life, would grasp our central distinction. While supporting Jewish unity, he would blast those who, at this moment, are “making lashon hara on am Yisrael,” comporting with masked Palestinian thugs who rip down American flags, burn Israeli flags, and call for more Jewish blood to be spilled, as Hamas has promised.
Hershkovitz and so many others also recognized this moment as a powerful second opportunity to rebuild Israel and reaffirm Jewish unity worldwide. It’s sad that it took such violence, but clearly, American Jewry is also roused—with most American Jewish liberals feeling betrayed by the ways some Progressives have dehumanized Jews and legitimized them as targets. American Jews have realized that Jew-hatred is knocking on their doors, on their day schools, on their synagogues. This Jew-hating epidemic wipes out the silly distinctions between the antisemitism of the right and the antisemitism of the left. It ends the insane debate about whether anti-Zionism is antisemitic. In the Gaza corridor we saw how the extra Jew-hating zeal fueled the attacks on Israelis, and in universities and elsewhere we see the extra Israel-bashing mania when targeting the Jews.
“We are one” once again emphasizes that we don’t let the haters define our story: We take charge. The 290,000 demonstrators marching for Israel in Washington, and so many others throughout the world, share that feeling of common fate and a shared mission.
The un-Jews may dominate the headlines. But we Jews, fighting together when necessary, and rebuilding always, will determine our future, together.
A Distinguished Scholar in North American History at McGill University currently living in Jerusalem, Gil Troy is an award-winning American presidential historian and a leading Zionist activist. He is, most recently, the editor of the new three-volume set, “Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings,” the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People ( www.theljp.org ) . Two years ago he co-authored with Natan Sharansky Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, was published by PublicAffairs of Hachette. Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.
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