You see, in the past when I'd found myself in predicting one of these trainwrecks from afar, I'd contact someone in the establishment Jewish community and plead with them to fire back. Don't let the bad faith actors occupy the field, don't let them control the narrative, don't let them poison the discourse without challenge. And over and over again, the response I got from the folks I talked to was "we don't want to give them any oxygen." The standard tactic in the face of these conservative narratives was to adopt an above-it-all posture of silence. It purported to be a stance of dignity -- not deigning to respond to such obvious falsehoods. In reality, it was an ostrich defense -- hoping that if they buried their heads in the sand, the problem would go away on its own.
And so when I sent out my now ritual missives on this issue; pleading with a leader of one of the organizations to push back against the Tablet narrative racing around the internet, I didn't expect much. And I wasn't surprised when the first response I got back was an instinct to just let it lie. The person I spoke with was worried that more attention might spark still greater backlash, threatening the incredible advances they had already made.
I argued that silence was more likely to see those advances disappear -- to the extent they were added in deference to the Jewish community, if the perception is that the Jewish community is still unhappy, that doesn't exactly assist the credibility of those Jewish organizations who had been their advocates. More broadly, the folks in the California education system who had made these changes needed to know that the reward for working with concerned Jewish organizations wouldn't be to be left high and dry as soon as there was pushback. The last lesson we want someone to draw is that it's useless to try and assuage Jewish communal concerns because even if you do work with prominent community members you'll still come in for attacks and your erstwhile partners won't have your back.
And wouldn't you know it -- she listened. And others in the Jewish community seemed to have listened to.
It has been striking to see over the past week just how decisively the mainstream Jewish community has rallied against attacks from the communal right on the Ethnic Studies curriculum. Tye Gregory of the San Francisco JCRC had an early editorial out defending the latest draft. It was swiftly followed by columns by Sarah Levin of JIMENA, Hen Mazzig, and JPAC, all blasting the "misinformation" and "misrepresentations" being promulgated about the curriculum. A huge coalition of Jewish establishment heavyweights -- the ADL, AJC, Holocaust Museum, even StandWithUs -- released a united statement urging support for the Ethnic Studies curriculum and condemning bad faith attacks.
I haven't seen anything like it. And it's made a huge difference. The Tablet article's author has been thrown on the defensive, with a weak authors' note appended to the piece that does less to address the substantive criticisms than it does make evident just how effective the pushback has been. In the space of a few days, the article has gone from "the story" in the Jewish press (per Bari Weiss) to almost uniformly discredited. It seems obvious to me that the folks who had been pressing the histrionics about the Ethnic Studies have been taken a bit aback. And why shouldn't they? They're use to peddling this sort of nonsense without any resistance. This was new for them.
I hope it is the start of a trend. I hope it is the start of a more muscular Jewish center, one that knows that it cannot make the problem of right-wing zealots go away just by wishing it so. We'll see if the lesson takes. But boy, has it been nice to see our side throw some elbows of our own for a change.