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The day I left the Left

Linda Sarsour protests during a rally in Ferguson, Mo. Photo courtesy of Linda Sarsour

I wrote something. Can I ask you to read it?

Here goes.

Our old political comrades today

Back in the 1960s, as I was preparing to go to my first peace demonstration, my father castigated me.

“What if, suddenly, those peace demonstrators decide to turn on the Jews?”

I, in my adolescent naivete, answered him: “They would never do that. Besides, most of them are Jewish.”

Today, I reflect on my father’s truth. The sounds that are coming from the radical left are becoming increasingly disturbing to the Jewish ear, especially to that of the Jewish radical who is finding it difficult not to reject a movement that has already rejected Israel and Jewish concerns.

Many Jewish leftists are feeling betrayed by the same people with whom they marched against United States involvement in Vietnam, for civil rights, the farm workers, and other causes. For many, their reward for their traditional values of concern for the downtrodden has been a stab in the back.

Often, that stab comes from their fellow Jews, who have accepted without question the distortions of the radical Left. I recently heard someone claim that Theodor Herzl was a “Jewish businessman” who “met with Hitler.” The fact that Herzl, a journalist, died when Hitler was fifteen years old seemed irrelevant.

The radical Left has created a paradigm into which all history and ideas must fit in order to be valid. The acts of socialist governments, no matter how heinous, are instantly justified as being for the liberation of the people.

Terror receives instant accreditation.

Evil becomes the exclusive domain of the capitalists. And, because the United States has been wrong in its foreign policy decisions in the past, it presumably stands to reason that its alliances will continue to be evil and self-serving.

The Jewish radical watches, listens, and if he or she can saw through the rhetoric, becomes angry. The Jewish radical is alone. The Jews are alone. The First World doesn’t need them, and the Third World doesn’t want them. The Left has become selective in hearing the truths that it wants to hear.

The Left worries about oppression; what group in the history of the world has suffered so much and so needlessly as the Jews? What group has finally pulled itself up so far as to be able to devote its energies to the aid of other oppressed minorities?

The Left worries about refugees; what is Israel, if not the archetypical haven for refugees, for whom there were no massive student demonstrations when they were needed most?

What nation stands alone among neo-feudalism and reactionary politics in the Middle East, if not Israel? Is the so-called “progressive” Left really going to accept without question the whims of Arab governments?

The outcome of this struggle cannot be good — not for the Jews, Israel, or the Left.

Many Jewish radicals have confronted the dilemmas and have sided with Israel. Others, alas, have decided otherwise.

What the rhetoricians of the Left should have realized is that their distortions would only alienate not only Jews, but others for whom the movement has become little more than folly. For that reason, many Jews have withdrawn all support for the various movements on the Left, even when there are other issues not related to the Middle East that they agree with.

Some will undoubtedly completely forget social action and still others will start a dangerous flirtation with conservatism. The New Left will lose a large base of its support — a base that has aligned itself with liberal politics since the early days of the twentieth century.

I originally wrote this essay for Sh’ma magazine, which is a small journal of independent Jewish thought and engagement. The founding editor of Sh’ma was the amazing Jewish theologian, my teacher and friend, Eugene B. Borowitz, of blessed memory.

I wrote that essay in the wake of the Yom Kippur War — 45 years ago.

I found that essay while cleaning out some old files. At first, I thought that my post-adolescent writings would embarrass me. Now, I see something else — or, I see someone else.

I reach back into time, and I see the tall, lanky, long-haired college sophomore. I had walked with my people through the pain of the Yom Kippur War. During the war, and immediately after, I had heard my fellow students chanting anti-Israel slogans. Even worse: I had heard my own professors deriding Israel for defending herself.

The attack on Israel had come on the holiest day of the Jewish year. It didn’t matter. Because if there was one thing that I learned in the university — the hidden curriculum, the class they don’t require but which is required nevertheless — nothing is holy. No time, no place, and certainly, no texts and no ideas.

This was decades before we used such terms as post-modern, or politically correct, or multi-culturalism. What I witnessed then was a mere dress rehearsal for what would unfold over the decades. I was feeling pangs of betrayal — at the hands of those who were my intellectual, political, and cultural peers and mentors. They had turned on Israel, as my father had predicted.

I am hardly a prophet. But, note: in that essay, I mentioned the rise of “a dangerous flirtation with conservatism” that would emerge after Jewish leftists internalized that betrayal.

That is precisely what happened. That was what gave birth to neo-conservatism — ex-liberals and ex-leftists who had soured on their own allegiances.

Often, because of Israel.

I, that long ago long-haired kid, now have a clean shaven scalp. The beard is gone.

So are the bell bottoms.

I could not have known back then what I know now, and what we know now: that the college campuses have become the fronts of a renewed intellectual war on Israel, Zionism, and on Jewish peoplehood itself.

Since those days, over the past almost half century, I have stubbornly maintained my liberalism.

But, as for the Left — I left it.

Or, it left me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

44 Comments

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  • Well you’re in the minority among Jews. There was a poll released today: ” The poll found that 74 percent of Jews planned to vote for Democratic candidates in November’s midterm elections. The figure corresponds with similar voting patterns in past elections. Overall, 75 percent of American Jews disapproved of the president’s policies, particularly on domestic issues such as immigration, taxes and health care. The survey was conducted by the Mellman Group, a U.S. polling agency, for the nonpartisan Jewish Electorate Institute. It surveyed 800 American Jewish voters from a variety of backgrounds and geographic areas and had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.”

  • I think you’ve misread the article. Salkin is a liberal, as he notes in the article. He remains a liberal, even though he wrote the bold part of the essay 45 years ago. He, I, and most American Jews will vote mostly Democratic because we disapprove of the President’s policies. But that alone does not make anyone part of “The Left.” There have been several signs over the past few years that the Democratic Party is becoming less pro-Israel as a whole. But those signs are mostly at the more local rungs of politics, such as Rashida Tlaib and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. It is still going to be the go-to party for most American Jews.

  • I object to the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu, my father an Irish Catholic who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood may have taken the lesson of the Holocaust to heart because no racism or bigotry was taught in my home, vaya con Dios………..

  • Thankfully, there are many Jews in Israel who similarly object to Netanyahu’s policies and that of his Likud party. When I say I am “pro-Israel” I count myself as being in sympathy with those Jews who have to endure Netanyahu in the same way we lefties here in the States have to endure Trump. And for the record, the Left never left me.

  • As Elagabalus says, many Israeli’s disagree with Netanyahu and I do was well. But it seems like part of the purpose of the article is to explain why someone like Netanyahu was able to rise to power in Israel – the abandonment of the Jews/Israel by liberal movements that had historically supported them driven by distortions and falsities. When people think the whole world is against them irrationally, they are driven by fear.

    Just today the Palestinian Authority arrested someone for selling land to a Jewish organization. The Palestinian Authority pays stipends to those who murder innocents. Hamas stated goal in their charter is to murder all Jews everywhere. Regardless of Israeli’s actions, if you object racism and bigotry, then you should not support the Palestinians until they reform. I do not support Netanyahu or much of Israel policy as a whole right now – just their right to exist in peace and security.

  • I too have left the Left. Not because I do not care about issues such as poverty, equal rights, safety net programs, everything the left used to stand for with grace and compassion. Speaking up to make sure everyone has a seat at the table. Today, they have gone feral in their beliefs and policies. There is no more common sense, dignity, respect, understanding, but instead they have become bullies, violent, and harpies.

    The issue with Israel specifically is one that shows how far they have devolved. It is not that there is voice to speak on behalf of Palestinians, but when they start with their apartheid talk they have jumped the shark. There is no reasoning with them with facts and truths, because they don’t want to hear it. They believe they cannot possibly be wrong. The same goes for other “causes” and ideologies. If anyone says “wait a minute that does not make sense” they are vilified and harassed. Their leadership instigates it, and big money pays them to do it. Then of course we have all witnessed the language they try to put on anyone who disagrees. If I question white privilege I am a racist, if I believe in the sovereignty of our country I am a nativist, if I want an immigration system the even hints that there should be any kind of border I am anti-immigration. They believe those labels shuts people down, but what it has done is push people away and has changed nothing. The fire they use is social media, where even the most depraved can find their supporters, to reinforce their positions. They act and behave like they have been brainwashed, indoctrinated into a way of thinking that does not tolerate dissent or varying views.

    Then when you add on top of it, their behavior modification laws, any sane person would run for the hills. Yes, I left the Left and it seems just in time too.

  • ” … most American Jews will vote mostly Democratic because we disapprove of the President’s policies”.

    Getting real is definitely hard work.

  • I don’t stand beside any supporters of Farrakhan. In any event, your logic would mean I should switch to the GOP and stand beside the supporters of the Jew-hating alt-right.

  • What then about the war record of the US? And its threats of war on Iran? Israel is not an apartheit state, and HAMAS is the root problem, but what of Israel’s behavior in Gaza? And its appropriation of West Bank land baded on theocratic doctrines? Are u to join the ranks of the destructive neo-Cons and vote Republican?

  • Why the photo of an Arab Muslim protestor? This is supposed to represent progressives and be added justification for the content of this article?

  • If you stand with Democrats, you stand with those that at best turn a blind eye to Farrakhan when they don’t outright support him. Republicans are the ones that still believe in MLK’s dream that the day will come when we will all be judged by our character rather than the color of our skin. Any support the Republicans might get from the White racists is because in their racists’ eyes neutrality is better than the anti-White racism so often displayed by the Left.

  • Good question, Stephen. The best I can tell, there is not as much difference between them as they would have us believe. They both ignore the values they say they support. They are more focused on destroying the other side than they are on building the kind of world we would wish for our children.

  • well said … In studying the Word of God it seems that the Pharisees fit the definition of “conservatives” or the “right of Jewish society

  • I’m more interested in the reasons the Republicans tolerate or support the Jew-hating alt-right. Your claim that the GOP believes in King’s dream is laughable. Is that why the GOP is trying to disenfranchise tens of thousands of non-white voters? Is that why they’ve admitted the only way they can win is to suppress the non-white vote? Is that why countless GOP officials have made racist comments about the Obamas?

  • Until the Palestinians receive fair and honest treatment from Israel there will be no peace in that country. There is plenty of blame on both sides. Until that fact is acknowledged there will be no peace in that country.

    The childish argument of “he hit me first” is an endless cycle with no way out.Someone has to step forward and say no more.

    I did take exception to one comment made, “no other people have been treated as badly as the Jewish people”. I think he should talk to Blacks and American Indians. Not to mention what was done to the Germanic tribes by Ceasar, I am in the process of reading a book about this. Anyway, playing the “poor me” card, we are the most oppressed, and thus deserving of special treatment, no longer works.

    White males of privelege are playing that card now and it is backfiring!

  • Just what anti-Semitic policies are Republicans trying to advance? I don’t know of one. Nor do I know of “countless GOP officials” that made racist comments about the Obamas. There have certainly been comments that many on the Left have insisted were racist, but when the Left demands that a professor be sacked for using the word “niggardly” it’s hard to take them seriously on the issue. As for charges of disenfranchisement, there is nothing racist about ensuring that only those that are eligible to vote do so. And while I will readily grant that there are those pushing such measures that hope it will have an impact at the ballot box above and beyond just preserving the integrity of the vote, they aren’t hoping to prevent minorities from voting but rather Democratic voters that might happen to be minorities.

  • I didn’t say Republicans are trying to advance antisemitic policies — but that they are actively courting the support of known antisemites, particularly from the alt-right. The Republican Club in NEW YORK CITY just last weekend invited Gavin “12 Things I Hate About the Jews” McInnes of the so-called Proud Boys to speak. It’s those kinds of things that keep Jewish American voters concerned about anti-Israel tilts in the Democratic Party from switching sides.
    The GOP candidate for Senate from Minnesota compared Michelle Obama to the chimp from “Bedtime for Bonzo.” The chairman of Trump’s 2016 campaign wished Michelle would return to “being a male” and be “let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.” That was from less than five minutes of googling.

  • Agreed but find it troubling that there is a sense of the Left turning anti-Semitic.with some caution in that definition. I wonder to what extent moving the Embassy to Jerusalem and who was lobbying for it has colored perspectives in a political sense.

  • I think that any criticism of Israeli policies is seen as being anti-semitic. For many you are either all in or all against. There is no middle ground where a moderate person can look at both sides of an issue and see where both sides have made mistakes.

  • I’d never heard of MacInnes, but he sounds like the reverse of some Black comedians I’ve heard. Did you know he’s married to an Amerind? His children have a MUCH better claim than Warren does. So is he a racist, or just pro-White? I’d say he’s a symptom of the generations-long insistence by the Left of the importance of racial identity, eventually, we could again end up with large numbers of Whites that consider THEIR race important–and Whites still make up a majority of the population.

    As for the jokes, you’ve named two, but that’s a far cry from “countless.”

  • I told you I spent five minutes on my search. If you want me to spend more time to find these “jokes” then I’ll need to spend more time on it.
    Are people that compile “10 things I hate about Jews” lists “just pro-white” in your eyes?

  • Why is it I never see articles condemning the anti-semantism of the right? They blame Soros for all the world’s ills and are convinced every protester is paid to do so by him.

  • The same way that one can be “pro-Black” or “pro-Hispanic” without being racist. Personally, I have a hard time seeing it myself, but in its defense against the discrimination lawsuit brought by Asian would-be students Harvard insists it’s possible. So do all the supporters of affirmative action.

  • I’d say he’s as “just pro-White” as Black comedians I’ve heard (and their appreciative audiences) are “just pro-Black.” Certainly he’s no more racist than, say, Maxine Waters and less so than Louis Farrakhan. Personally I don’t find racial humor all that funny, but a lot of people disagree with me.

  • No. There is a fundamental difference. When one supports those in society whose rights have been restricted, then one is fighting for equality. That is what being “pro-Black” or “pro-Latino” means. It does not mean that one is trying to restrict the rights outside of the group that i being supported, but that one is working to equalize rights.

    Our country has a sad history of denying and limiting the rights of those who are not white. Progress has been made, but it’s not been easy. After the Civil Rights Act, for a while, many people considered it inappropriate to show racism openly. For the last couple of years, for many people, it has become OK to be openly racist.

    In our country, white people do not suffer discrimination for being white. They may be discriminated against, but this is because they are members of some other disfavored group: disabled, or poor, or unemployable, etc., but not BECAUSE they are white. Non-white people suffer discrimination of all sorts precisely because of their race. The voting rights of non-white people are being limited. Non-white people are being openly demonized, and some white people are insisting that they need to “take our country back”.

    Given all of this, I believe that while it is possible to be pro-Black or pro-Latino without being racist (because then one is standing up for the rights of those whose rights are being reppressed), it’s not possible to say that one is being pro-white without being racist.

  • I find it to be more than a bit disingenuous to claim that the Israeli right wing gained strength because of what the American left has or has not done.

    Opposing many of the actions of the Israeli government ought not to be conflated with anti-Semtism.

  • “When one supports those in society whose rights have been restricted,
    then one is fighting for equality. That is what being “pro-Black” or
    “pro-Latino” means. It does not mean that one is trying to restrict the
    rights outside of the group that i being supported, but that one is
    working to equalize rights.”

    And at this point, thanks to Affirmative Action, being pro-White or pro-Asian can mean exactly the same thing–that one is demanding equal treatment under the law. And to deny their claims is to discriminate against them, just as we used to discriminate against Blacks, Hispanics, and Jews. Harvard is acting now just as it did before WWII, all that has changed is the race of the victims from Jews and Blacks to Whites and Asians.

    I have no problem with seeking diversity, so long as it involves people of roughly equal performance–if you have two people equally qualified and one is Black and one is White and you need more Blacks to look more like America, go for it! If you want to advertise your eagerness to have more minorities that meet your qualifications come to your school, go for it! But as soon as people of poorer performance are being promoted over those of better performance, those doing the promoting are no better than the Whites that discriminated against Blacks for so long, with a new Jim Crow mentality taking hold.

  • I like some racial humor (the erstwhile Louis C.K. for example) but politicians and activists aren’t where I look for it. And “It was a joke!” is not an excuse for a racial slur. If Maxine Waters has made racist remarks I’m unaware of them.

  • Excellent post. IMHO the main problem with Israel is that it has swung far, far to the right and is treating the Palestinians almost as badly as the Nazis treated the Jews. Homes are bulldozed with only accusations, rock throwers are summarily executed, Palestinians are confined to ghettos, denied citizenship, denied proper medical care, etc, etc. The only thing missing is the construction of massive crematoriums. As to the nonsense posted about Israel being the largest assemblage of persecuted people one only needs to look at the history of Native Americans to learn that statement is nothing but propaganda.

  • “I think that any criticism of Israeli policies is seen as being anti-semitic.”

    -From whose point of view? Even the IHRC definition makes it clear you can criticize Israel. While people do blow the whistle and those that do are overly vocal, I don’t think you can call yourself an honest person and generalize this much. You act as if you are an even handed person who can look at both sides but you clearly are incapable when you say things like this. Even Alan Dershowitz criticizes Israel. The far majority of American and European Jews are against Settlement expansion. Many Israeli Jews are against settlement expansion.

  • “Until the Palestinians receive fair and honest treatment from Israel there will be no peace in that country. There is plenty of blame on both sides. Until that fact is acknowledged there will be no peace in that country.”

    -So there is plenty of blame on both sides…but until the Palestinians receive fair and honest treatment there will be no peace. Which is it – is there plenty of blame on both sides or is it solely on Israel to give Palestinians fair and honest treatment?

    “The childish argument of “he hit me first” is an endless cycle with no way out.Someone has to step forward and say no more.”

    -So you mean do things like accept the original partition in 1947? Or bomb a ship your allied Jews in order to keep a truce when you have the clear advantage (see Altalena Affair)? Or make multiple peace offers and receive daily suicide bombings in return? Or unilaterally pull out of Gaza to see rockets rain down on your citizens? Or treat hundreds of thousands in Israeli hospitals even as the people you are treating call for your murder and destruction?

    “I did take exception to one comment made, “no other people have been treated as badly as the Jewish people”. I think he should talk to Blacks and American Indians. Not to mention what was done to the Germanic tribes by Ceasar, I am in the process of reading a book about this. Anyway, playing the “poor me” card, we are the most oppressed, and thus deserving of special treatment, no longer works.”

    -Regardless of the truth of who suffered the worse, as you say yourself, it does not matter. But for some reason, you are out to prove that someone suffered worse. And then tell the Jews that they didn’t suffer nearly as much as others. You seem dead set on it. Why? If it doesn’t matter, why is it so important to you to prove. Also, there is a good argument for the Jews having suffered just as bad if not worse throughout history as any other people – it’s simple research. You are also talking about genocide in modern times in a Western country.

    Your comment on how you think the Jews play the “poor me” card more than others caught me by surprise. But then I read your last line about “while males of privilege” and it all became clear. You do see Jews as privileged White Males. You cry about Jews playing the Victim card not because you are against the contest about who suffered worse, but that you are against Jews being included as an oppressed people. There is a name for someone like you.

    If we want to talk about whose suffering worse in current times, we can find at least 100 different peoples other than the Palestinians. Palestinians actually live better lives than the majority of people in the Middle East with longer life spans, lower infant mortality rates and higher education levels. This even includes Gaza but if you just look at Israeli Arabs and the West Bank, they beat countries like Turkey in these statistics. But who cares right…it’s about what people believe to be justice in the end…Not peace. You pretend to be part of the solution – but you are part of the problem.