For Jews on the Left, a terrible position

‘A House resolution feels like one more step in the process of marginalizing progressive Jews. Speaking up in favor of Palestinian lives becomes more risky every day.’

Nancy Braus, until recently an independent bookseller, is a longtime activist who contributes often to these pages.

So we now have a House of Representatives with a large majority, in passing a resolution on Dec. 5, willing to back the totally bogus and dangerous statement "anti-Zionism is antisemitism."

Reading the list of Democrats who voted in favor, it includes some who are thought of as progressives, such as Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) and Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.).

Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.), who is Jewish and is personally acquainted with me and so many other progressive anti-Zionist Jews, voted present - on a statement she knows is a complete lie.

This resolution feels like one more step in the process of marginalizing progressive Jews. Speaking up in favor of Palestinian lives becomes more risky every day.

The Jews I know are divided between those in the camp of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that calls itself the largest anti-Zionist Jewish group in the world, and those who have fallen back on their traditional upbringing, believing "any threat to Israel is personal, and I will support Israel."

Since many of those pro-Israel Jews are also humanists, they will all accept that Netanyahu is a monster, that he has to go - but....

* * *

There have been decades when secular Jews in the United States have felt almost a part of the multicultural society that many Americans believe is our birthright.

Jews have always been a very small minority in the United States, but we have played a large role in the Left. Jews were heavily represented in the Communist and Socialist parties, and have been leaders in peace, environmental, and labor activism.

As the Republican Party has become ever-more-Christian-Nationalist, the party's support of Israel has become more intense and, in many ways, more convoluted.

The strange explanation of the evangelical support for Israel is theological and has to do with the far-right obsession with "the End Times." Any Jews who believe these Republicans are their friends are seriously in error. These same defenders of Israel will tell you that they believe, if they are honest, that we Jews will all descend into the fires of hell upon the return of Jesus - the hateful one these Christian Nationalists worship.

* * *

In the United States, a country where free speech is supposed to be a value, where Donald Trump is getting away with breaking gag orders by threatening judges and court employees, we are watching the suppression of citizens' ability to support Palestinians' lives.

In an unprecedented assault on speech, people have lost jobs for such benign activities as posting a statement declaring that a genocide is taking place in Gaza.

Others have been fired for working to organize a boycott of Israeli products, others for demanding a ceasefire.

Even when the first BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaign began in 2005, it felt like the powers-that-be were not going to accept this happening. Academics were blacklisted for participating. Some states even have laws banning BDS, and in February, the Supreme Court refused to review these laws.

* * *

The antisemitism in the United States is nothing new. As a child, while on my way to school, kids from the Catholic school would yell at us that we killed Jesus. Large corporations would not hire Jews.

However, since the rise of Donald Trump and his cult, Hitler has been evoked in a positive way ever more frequently. At first, when a Hitler quote would be noticed, it was often cited as a "mistake," or a "good quote no matter who said it."

Overtly antisemitic statements, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene's Jewish space lasers causing fires in California, are now accepted by the Right.

We are sure we will be safe, that our friends, neighbors, and connections would protect them.

But this is the exact trajectory of the Third Reich, which spread stories about Jewish perfidy, making us more threatening to the German population over time. By the time Hitler was clear about his genocidal intent, it was too late for millions to escape.

* * *

We are living in a country where Christian Nationalism and fascism are on the ascent, even though the polls clearly show this is not a majority opinion. Hating Jews, like anti-Black racism and anti-immigrant fervor, is a longstanding weapon of the U.S. Right.

At a time when we are facing the most terrifying existential crisis of our lives - a question of whether the planet can sustain life after a couple of centuries of capitalist destruction - antisemitism is being used again to rally the white base and to take their eyes off of the real problems of wealth inequality and the environment.

Israel has no right to kill thousands of innocent Palestinian citizens.

Israel has no right to send settlers into the West Bank to burn out Palestinians' generational holdings.

Israel has no right to withhold power, food, water, or medical care in Gaza.

Israel has no right to rule Gaza or the West Bank.

I am a Jew. I would likely be fired from any academic job for these statements.

In another year or two, could I be arrested and imprisoned for these statements?

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates