“Get ready for the new wave: Young, passionately Jewish — and anti-Zionist”

I have a new op-ed in the JTA, which is a large Jewish wire service. It’s a reflection on the new wave of Jewish radical left groups, like Outlive Them NYC and RAYJ – Rebellious, Anarchist, Young Jews; the role of anti-zionism on the Left in general; generational rifts and the Jewish institutional crisis; and how the Jewish community as a whole can move forward while embracing its differences.

Spoiler: the large, well-funded – and aging – “Zionist” Jewish institutions (ie, almost all of them) should embrace working with this new wave of younger, and largely anti-Zionist, Jewish radicals.

“It is an increasingly frightening time to be Jewish, even in the United States. The postwar taboo against anti-Semitism is collapsing, and this affects all Jews – regardless of their opinion on Zionism. The attackers in the Poway and Pittsburgh synagogues didn’t litmus-test their victims on Israel before murdering them.

Amid the impulses to assimilation, this new wave of radicals are among the small number of Jews who are actively seeking to retain and nourish Jewish culture. And, even though they are born out of the anti-Zionist community, which has been excluded from mainstream Jewish life, some of the groups – especially Outlive Them – are throwing a line out to the mainstream.

The mainstream Jewish community should grab this rope. After all, there are no shortage of opinions among Jews. There is no reason that Zionism and anti-Zionism – like secular identity versus religious observance, Hebrew versus Ladino language, and Ashkenazi versus Sephardic liturgy – should not just be another difference within a tradition that has retained cohesion even after several millennia of communal disagreements.”

Read the entire op-ed at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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4 thoughts on ““Get ready for the new wave: Young, passionately Jewish — and anti-Zionist”

  1. Hi Spencer, Glad to see this piece on JTA this morning. I’ve already shared it on fb. I’m chagrined though with the elision of so many radical Jewish groups of the past 40 years….the antecedents of the current wave of passionate radical Jews. This is where the piece gets it wrong, “A previous wave of Jewish radical groups emerged in the wake of the Second Intifada, including Jews Against the Occupation and the Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, as well as the turn to anti-Zionism by the older group Jewish Voice for Peace. These groups centered directly on Palestinian solidarity.” As I said on my fb post: No mention of New Jewish Agenda, Tikkun, Chuztpah in Chicago, Kadima in Seattle, Bridges Journal…. Sunshine didn’t need to say a lot about these, but to totally leave them out is such a loss. How does Sunshine talk about Jewish Currents, but not mention Workmen’s Circle.

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    • hi ckinberg, thanks for your comment. my piece was not an attempt to document all the US Jewish Left groups of the last 40 years. That would have been a very different essay – although one i would like to read! (Perhaps you would consider writing it?)

      I started the narrative about two decades years ago – which is around when i moved to NYC and started seeing the Jewish Left groups firsthand. So that’s why I started with that wave of anti-zionist groups. NJA was before this period. Yes, I could (and perhaps should) have mentioned ‘Tikkun’ as an example of “Left Zionism’; it just didn’t really occur to me. I used to have a subscription but it’s off my mind these days. ‘Jewish Currents’ was mentioned because of the complete staff overhaul makes them part of this new wave I was describing. Their big party at Union Pool the other year was a major event for this scene.

      Workmen’s Circle – and more importantly, JFREJ – obviously have existed this whole time. But these longstanding institutions have somewhat stood alongside the waves of Jewish left groups I am talking about. And in a sense many of these groups that are rising and falling are reacting to them – they exist because they are looking for something they can’t find in Arbeiter Ring or JFREJ. I agree that it would have been more complete to add them. (I am unfamiliar with Chuztpah, Kadima and, Bridges Journal however).

      Thank you for the close read and the comments.

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  2. What is anti-Zionist about Outlive Them NYC? I moderated a Social Democrats USA panel at the Left Forum last month with Ruth, a representative of OTN, on it, and when she explained the group, no mention was made of Israel/Palestine at all. OTN had its own panel besides mine and again, there was no declaration of anti-Zionism. And certainly, Jewish Currents is not anti-Zionist. I certainly wouldn’t be promoting it otherwise. And Spencer, you repeat what is by now this urban legend about Linda Sarsour saying that Zionism and feminism are incompatible – she told The Nation’s Collier Meyerson in 2017 that feminism was incompatible with an unwillingness to criticize Israel, that’s all.

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    • Hi Sheldon, you have slightly misread my piece on what anti-zionism means to this new wave. I did not say all these groups embraced anti-zionism as a *political position.* I said the groups all came out of the “the anti-Zionist camp,” which had split with the Left Zionist camp. I wrote that:

      “this new Jewish radical Left is … overwhelmingly anti-Zionist. Anti-Zionism is the default setting for this new wave – it is essentially the water they swim in. However, none of these groups or projects are centrally focused on Israel/Palestine for their activism, though they **MAY** [emphasis added] endorse BDS or engage in some level of political work around this issue. And because the new wave is also ***predominately**** anti-Zionist…”

      It is my understanding that JSC and RAYJ both explicitly embrace BDS. But, as I understand it (and i talked to members about this specifically), Outlive Them NYC does not have a stated position on I/P and that there is no litmus test on Zionism – two things i strongly approve of. Nonetheless its very obvious that most or all of the core activists come directly out of the anti-zionist milieu. They appear to have a variety of specific views, including anti-zionism, non-zionism, neo-Bundism and other such things. More than that, you would need to talk to them directly.

      As for ‘Jewish Currents,’ I would suggest that you look at the issues very closely since the new staff took over. Their politics look to me quite different than the old ‘Jewish Currents.’

      Last, thank you for pointing out that Sarsour’s statement was misrepresented; I did not realize that and I would have used a different example otherwise (there is no shortage of them). The argument still stands tho: she had no business litmus testing people on Zionism (critical or not) in a mass movement of domestic feminists open to people of all political stripes. To hold the stance that being in, for example, NOI is fine – but that an uncritical Zionism is not – is a completely inconsistent position that sets up a double-standard that falls predominately on Jews.

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