Friday, July 09, 2021

Haters, One-Staters, and Non-Participators: Why Liberal Jewish Groups Should Attend the "No Fear" Antisemitism Rally

The Forward has a very good article on the genesis of the "No Fear" Antisemitism rally, and how its development -- particularly around Israel politics -- alienated some progressive Jewish groups who now are not participating. Their absence stands out, as the rally looks to be one of the largest confluences of Jewish communal action in my lifetime.

The short version is that the earliest manifestations of the rally had mostly right-wing supporters. As it grew, there was a concerted effort to bring in more moderate and liberal elements of the Jewish community. But the early right-wing focus still had its stamp in terms of tightly linking antisemitism and anti-Israel activity together, in a way that rested uneasily with groups like APN's or J Street's critical approach to Israel policy. From there out, there was a push-pull dynamic as the rally sought to adopt more inclusive postures to bring in liberal Jewish groups, only to be reined back by its original conservative stakeholders who wanted to retain a narrower and more conservative hardline. A declaration that "haters and one-staters" aren't welcome drew ire from right-wing groups that, actually, are maybe a bit bi-national curious. Rally organizers posted, withdrew under right-wing fire, and restored a message saying the rally "will not tolerate expressions of racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia or any other hate" (ironically, the placating alternative for the right was to be even more "All Lives Matter" in tone -- replacing the specific listing of hatreds with a generic opposition to "all hatred").

Having read the article and some of the surrounding commentary, my conclusion is that the liberal groups who declined to sign on have made a mistake. They should be there, they should be vocal there, and it is not a good thing that they're staying away.

Before I explain why, though, I want to make one thing clear: the reason liberal Jewish groups should join the No Fear rally is not to "prove" they care about antisemitism. They do not need to prove that to anyone, and a mewling, "we can be just as gung-ho about this as any Conference of Presidents member" would only underscore the notion that they have something to prove.

Rather, the reason these groups should participate is more straightforward: when the Jewish community is coming together in united action like we are here, it is important for liberal Jewish groups to stand up and take our place. On the subject of antisemitism, specifically, we should not be "proving" that we can follow the leader. We should be using this forum to articulate a bold and uncompromising progressive Jewish vision of what fighting antisemitism means. 

We should be ensuring that the antisemitism that takes the form of Soros conspiracies and "cultural Marxism" and "needle Nazis" gets just as much attention as antisemitism which styles itself as "anti-Zionism" -- not because the latter isn't important, but because the former is too, and if we don't speak out against it, no one will. We need to call out the antisemitism that says Jews of color are not "real" Jews and that liberal Jews are self-hating traitors and that the American Jewish community is "disloyal" if our political choices don't match the preferences of right-wing Christians, because if we don't speak out against it, no one will. I dread to think how many times Ilhan Omar's name will be heard next week, and while that might be unavoidable, we can make damn sure Jim Hagedorn and Kevin McCarthy and Paul Gosar receive their name-checks too. Our voice is part of the Jewish community consensus, and so it is important that it be heard when the Jewish community comes out to speak.

It's important that it be heard, and it's important that it be heard as coming from inside the tent -- because that's where we are. Liberal Jews are not a beleaguered set of lone wolves overwhelmed by the right-wing majority. We are the majority, and we don't do ourselves any favors when we act as if we're on the outside looking in. "We are here and this is ours" indeed.

For example, one of the early boundaries the No Fear rally put on its participants is that "haters and one-staters are not welcome." So, appropriately enough, APN is busy tagging participants in the rally whose views on Palestinian statehood range from "strategically ambiguous" to "public opposition" and asking them if they support a two-state solution. The tacit critique here is one I've leveled before -- it cannot be that the Jewish community redline is that "one-staters" are only permitted if they think Palestinians shouldn't have rights in the state. But this APN's criticism isn't one that works from the outside -- what grounds do they have for complaining that rally participants are not adhering to rally standards when they refuse to attend at all? From the inside, APN could have seized the mantle of the No Fear rally by being vigorous and unapologetic about what "No haters or one-staters" means. From the outside, it's just gotcha sniping, and it isn't going to make much of an impact.

To be sure, some Jewish groups on the left take a self-consciously different approach. Groups like INN and JVP are gadflies; they intentionally hold themselves apart from a broader community they think is damaged and diseased, in order to critique it. They don't want to claim a spot in the big tent, they want to tear down the tent and replace it with a new one. Without going into the merits and demerits of that orientation here, I'll just say that this approach has never been one shared by groups like J Street or APN. They've always held themselves out as operating inside the tent (in spite of concerted efforts -- often, disgustingly, successful efforts -- to draw them out of the tent).

If you are part of the tent, yes, it does mean you may be sharing a stage with some terrible groups like ZOA. Believe me, I understand how that rankles, even as I understand the importance of a big tent. But I daresay liberal Jewish groups need to start thinking about these events a bit more like Rorschach: we're not stuck in a rally with them, they're stuck in a rally with us.

It is not hard to articulate a progressive Jewish vision that resonates with most Jews -- most Jews are progressive! So we need to have the confidence that we can deliver such a message such that, when ZOA-types get on stage, they're the ones who seem awkwardly out of place, they're the ones who have  to stumble through a transition following the crowd responding to a popular, progressive Jewish vision. I've remarked before that right-wing Jews are a 25% minority who act like they're a 75% majority; but it's also sometimes the case that, when it comes to claiming our spot in the Jewish communal tent, liberal Jews are a 70% majority that often has the neurosis of a 25% minority. We need to get over it, and now is the time to do it.

Attend the rally, sponsor the rally, be loud and proud in presenting a liberal Jewish vision for fighting antisemitism. Be confident that most Jews will be proud to hear from you. And the minority that isn't -- well, they're stuck in here with us, whether they like it or not.

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