Open Zion

08.08.12

Where the Jewish Right and the Black Left Meet

Once upon a time, Jewish conservatives disdained the black left. Now they mimic it. Consider the latest entrance into the right-wing Jewish lexicon: “Jew-washing,” a term used to describe the legitimacy conferred upon “anti-Israel” efforts by progressive Jews. Put aside the fact that people who throw around the term “anti-Israel” rarely define it. (To my mind, the term should only apply to efforts to end Israel as a Jewish state. And since Israel has no constitution, even determining what makes it a Jewish state can be tricky). The intriguing thing about “Jew-washing” is the implication that to be authentically Jewish requires holding certain views about Israel. If you don’t, you’re a dupe, a traitor, a sell-out, an Uncle Tevya.

This, as it happens, is exactly what the black left has long said about people like Clarence Thomas: that since being authentically African-American requires, for instance, supporting affirmative action, Thomas’s conservatism constitutes a repudiation of his blackness. Black conservatives, as Commentary lamented in 2011, are often “regarded as inauthentic, self-loathing, soulless race traitors.” For decades, conservatives have rightly called that view totalitarian. Telling someone that because of their race, ethnicity or gender they must hold a certain political view undermines their right to self-definition, and thus, their dignity. Being Jewish, it’s true, is slightly more complicated. One might reasonably argue that being Jewish does require believing—or at least not believing—something. That’s essentially what the Israeli Supreme Court held in 1962 when it determined that a Jewish-born man who became a Carmelite monk could not immigrate to Israel under the law of return.

But while one can make a case that being authentically Jewish requires not believing in some other religion, it certainly doesn’t require believing anything about Israel. I’m a proud Zionist, but the vast numbers of Jews who rejected Zionism in the first half of the twentieth century were not any less Jewish as a result. Nor are the left-wing activists, or the Satmar Hassidim, who reject Zionism to this day. Arguing against people’s views is fine; arguing that because of their identity they don’t have the right to those views is not. When it comes to African Americans who oppose affirmative action (or women who oppose abortion or Hispanics who want to crack down on illegal immigration), Jewish conservatives understand that very well. Let’s hope they also remember it when it comes to their own.