I’ve read your plaint before, in my own youth some 40 years ago. Then, as now, young progressive Jews were active in was then known as the New Left. We saw ourselves as progressives and fought what we thought was the good fight. Then we hit a brick wall: our fellow progressives would not allow their Jewish comrades any “special pleading.” There was no room for Jews as Jews in the movement(s). Speaking out for a Jewish concern (such as antisemitism) immediately made one suspect of being a “Zionist.”
I was drawn to the New Left as a young man because of the anti-war and civil rights movements. I have remember the Kennedy assassinations, the assassination of ML King. i remember the weekly body counts on the 6 O’Clock News.
I remember the New Left being comprised of a whole range of groups taking their ideologies from various ideologues: Stalin, Lenin, Mao. This was a major hurdle for me that I could not overcome. It never occurred to most New Leftists that these men were responsible for the worst atrocities of the 20th century, even outstripping Nazi Germany. From Stalin’s purges (millions killed) and the genocidal Ukrainian Famine (6–7 million killed), to Mao’s Great Leap Forward (some 45 million dead), to Pol Pots killing fields. Scores of millions of human beings were murdered, disappeared, sent to the “Gulag Archipelago” often never to be seen again. All in the name of “socialism” and “progress.”
The support for totalitarians turned me off completely.
I also quickly learned that if you wished to be a part of this movement, you had to check your Jewishness at the door. There was no room for addressing antisemitism, especially when antisemitic tropes were often adopted by the New Left.I experienced antisemitism growing up. I was beaten up, bashed, insulted for one reason only: I was a “kike,” a “dirty Jew,” a “Christ-killer.” Not because I was a privileged white male, but because I was a Jew. My personal experiences with a specific type of oppression that had its own language and mechanisms did not count among New Leftists.
I would not give up my Jewish identity for such a movement. We Jews were given this choice in decades past. Jews could join the movement, but not as Jews. Leave that all behind. Become invisible. And so, the Bronsteins changed their names to the Trotskys, hiding their identity, and often becoming the oppressors of their own people, carrying out the orders of their non-Jewish masters at the top of the Politburo food chain.
I left the Left.
So, Yotam, I read with interest your piece and for me it was just “deja vu all over again.” It seems your generation of young Jews is facing similar choices that mine did. It looks like you are learning the same lessons I had to learn. Some of you Bronsteins will bury your Jewishness and will “Trotskyize”. Others will eventually come to realize that today’s neo-New Left, like the old New Left and the Old Left before that, will continue to demand of Jews to become the “non-Jewish Jew” in order to fit in.
You addressed this: “So often, we collaborate with the silence around anti-Semitism, erase our own stakes in the struggles of which we’re a part, do everything we can to impress the non-Jews in the movement so they’ll keep us around. We perform our Jewishness for gentiles — tattooing our bodies with Jewish slogans about justice and making claims about how our ancestors wouldn’t stand for this sort of oppression — but put so little of ourselves in actual Jewish community.”
I wish you luck. I don’t see the Left changing. מה נשתנה הלילה הזה? Why is this Left different than any other Left? So long as the Left refuses to recognize that Jews have the right to determine our own identity, including a national identity through our own self-determination movement called Zionism (the real Zionism and not the one-dimensional conspiracy theory-laden zionism of Leftist imaginings that echoes classic antisemitic tropes), so long as the Left is unable to to process that anti-Jewish oppression (antisemitism) has its own mechanisms and history, so long as there are Jews willing to shill for this Left so their non-Jewish “comrades” will “keep them around,” the Left will not change and will remain a trap for Jews.
So, Yotam, if you wish to do your part in the strengthening of your people and bringing an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, come home. Come home to Savta’s kitchen in Haifa. Rejoin your people here in Israel, to fight the good fight here.