Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Hard Left Jews Are Not "We Young Jews"

There's something just ... perfect about Annie Cohen writing a column in the Forward criticizing Jews for trying to hold Jeremy Corbyn accountable for his antisemitic associations under the title "Leave Jeremy Corbyn Alone. He’s The Leader We Young Jews Have Waited For."


Because last year, Annie Cohen ran for the presidency of the UK's Union of Jewish Students (as an avowedly non-Zionist candidate) -- a delightfully democratic mechanism for determining what, exactly, "young Jews" desire.

And she came in last place. With less than 9% of the vote.

Turns out, we have pretty compelling evidence that Annie Cohen doesn't have her finger on the pulse of what "young Jews" are waiting for.

Now, to be clear, Cohen has every right to dissent from the predominant view of her generation of Jews. She's absolutely entitled to say "while most young Jews believe A, I believe B, and here's why."

But what's troubling here is the pretension of being representative -- the claim of being right in the thick of a live controversy (if not on the leading side) as opposed to sitting way out on the marginal wings.

It's part of a disturbing trend among this sort of Jewish activist -- claiming to "speak for" communities that by all objective metrics want nothing to do with them. Ben Gladstone pointed out cases in the US, David Hirsh has written similarly about the function of groups like Jewish Voice for Labour in the UK. Groups and individuals whose modus operandi is to kick up dust to deny the existence of any "consensus" in the Jewish community around issues of antisemitism, to give third parties an excuse to simply pick the "side" that better matches their pre-existing priors.

The issue isn't of moral correctness, but simply of numbers. When Cohen writes vaguely that, "of those of us who voted Labour last year, many were Jewish," that might be technically true -- but only in the same way that "many" of Trump's voters were Muslim (Trump's level of Muslim support was in fact identical to Corbyn's rate of Jewish support). It's a classic example of how to tokenize with proportions. The sleight of hand isn't in acknowledging its existence of pro-Corbyn Jews, it's in implying that they're more than an obscure fringe that could satisfy any remotely robust obligation to "engage" with Jews as a group.

So this happens all the time. But normally it's obscured -- how can we really know who speaks for young Jews, or what politics they do and don't find appealing?

It is one of the many virtues of the UJS actually having democratic elections that here we get a crystalline case: where we know just how little support someone who claims to be representing "we young Jews" has among said "young Jews." That it didn't stop her from making the claim is testament to the hubris of the movement, and how little it cares whether its pretensions of authority map onto any reality.

I'm not sure which leader "young Jews" in the UK are waiting for. But they've been pretty emphatic in saying Annie Cohen isn't it.


Andy DM said...

Apart from in the headline, which almost always is not decided on by the author of a column, Annie doesn't appear to be claiming that she is in the mainstream of anything. The comment piece is clearly personal, so is your beef just with whoever picked the headline for Forward?

David Schraub said...

I think Cohen's article does at least hint at the idea that she's representative of young Jewish voices. That said, headline writers are journalism's greatest monsters, and so I'm always happy to lay more scorn at their feet.

Benjamin Lewis said...

I agree with David that the lens of old v. young Jews is innate and central to Cohen's claims, independent of the headline. (Not 'mainstream', but 'mainstream uv da yutes'.)
I linked your post here into a facebook discussion of Cohen's article that reached my newsfeed. Thank you for the post, it really is meaningful context for filtering the column. Full fb comment:

Linking to a limited commentary on the Cohen's column. He doesn't actually layout all the analysis, but basically Schraub is referencing statistical evidence that Cohen's young vs old lens is not valid representation of the Jewish community's views on Corbyn, most youth disagree with her.

Resonated strongly in Cohen's column with the prioritization analysis - essentially, with the degree that peoples from the Global South are intensely and directly under threat right now, is this degree of schism over the degree to which Jews may be under threat from Corbynism really an appropriate response? However, the sense that the Jewish community has been putting-up-with and back-channeling on this for several years without meaningful headway is a substantial and relevant refutation of that prioritization objection.

In CNN's digi-print coverage today, Jewish Chronicle journalist Sugarman is on record with "Mr Corbyn's Jewish acquaintances come, as a whole, from the tiny minority of far-left Jews. He doesn't seem to understand that such people are not all representative of our community." This is consistent with Schraub's statistical objection, and it seems like it might be extremely relevant both in terms of the intensity of criticism against him now and in past, and also in terms of inadequacy of his response to ongoing back-channeling, etc. The extent to which future / most recent statements and apologies acknowledge this non-representative sampling or congruent issues might be a bell-weather for their validity?


David, any thought on the sufficiency/necessity of his acknowledging (in apologies/reconciliation attempts) the unrepresentative sampling of Corbyn's allies from among the Jewish community?