Progressive Face?

Before I could respond to Philip Weiss’ latest post on the dwindling progressive Jewish face in national politics, Matt Stoller on myDD joined in on this conversation about the face of Jewish national politics with the resounding call that “AIPAC Doesn’t Represent Me, or Most Jews”.
Weiss raises a number of important points, and interestingly enough ties it to his own Jewish roots, which some of us lament doesn’t happen often enough, and some of us would say ties into the very fact that he’s upset about: “In my generation, the prominent Jewish presence in American life is no longer progressive.”
Well, maybe if more of us actually talked about our Jewish identity explicitly in doing our work, that would be a good first step, but of course, there’s more that needs to be done.
In fact, I couldn’t agree with Stoller more when he says:

I’ve thought for awhile that a PAC or organization targeted to Jews like me who want a progressive foreign policy would do really well. Of course that PAC would have to consistently called groups like AIPAC and Senators like Chuck Schumer and Joe Lieberman on their immoral and whiny bullshit. Judaism is a beautiful religion and culture and I am proud I am Jewish. It’s a large part of why I am progressive.

And I would add NOT just on international policy, but domestic policies as well.
It’s interesting to note in one of my last posts about the rise of secular Jewish educational programs throughout the country, and conversations similar to the one that Weiss and Stoller are participating in.
And I must wholeheartedly agree with Weiss that, when it comes to the some of the national jewish voices that exist today: “The press routinely characterizes the evangelical Christians as rightwing; and I think the press should characterize the Jewish presence as centrist.”
But still Weiss doesn’t directly take on the tension that progressive Jews have been dealing with for the past twenty or thirty years, and that is the tension between somewhat decent Jewish progressive politics on domestic politics and hawkish international policies and explicitly link it to Israel and Palestine. Nor does Weiss or Stoller do justice in acknowledging the number of groups that have been trying to breach this issue for generations, but have had tremendous difficulty in getting through.
It is true Kushner and many Jewish progressive people can see a distinction in looking at international politics from multiple perspectives, but it does seem that Kushner primarily gets the heat he does because he calls for human rights for Palestinians. It’s not even a “radical” call, to ask people to acknowledge that Palestinians are not only treated as second-class citizens, but are denied access to basic life necessities, including water sources, housing rights, land, education, and the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, this ends up being a radical call and consistently gets shrouded, most notably by a conversation about defense and suicide bombers. A conversation that continues to not acknowledge or really address why people are bombing, or to really acknowledge that if you step on people long enough, yes they are going to fight back. We know this all too well–this is part of our history. We have fought back as well when people oppressed us. What we can’t acknowledge as well is when we are doing it to others, and that is exactly what is happening in Palestine. And I think organizations like Just Vision, and their latest film, Encounter Point, do a really good job of presenting the issues in new(er) ways that are refreshing and important to hopefully shifting this conversation.
And this conversational shroud has been part of what has turned the Jewish left into a bit of a dinosaur–of course, one cannot ignore the change in social and economic status due to economic policies like the GI Bill that have thus changed the political interests and party lines that some Jewish communities hold, but in all honesty, this isn’t enough. Many of us consistently wonder what has happened to the Jewish world. And while I believe there needs to be a stronger national Jewish voice that speaks for progressive domestic and international politics, I still wonder how it could hold all of the complexities that exist within Jewish communities, and the tensions even within Jewish progressive politics–particularly questions of leadership, race, gender and sexuality, and infusing real systemic social change work and policies into our call for tzedekah or tikkun olam. Maybe it’s time to heed the call.

12 thoughts on “Progressive Face?

  1. “but unfortunately, this ends up being a radical call and consistently gets shrouded, most notably by a conversation about defense and suicide bombers.”
    Defense and suicide bombers?? Where do people get this stuff from?

  2. Cole, sorry to burst your bubble but even international politics progressives such as the folks at Tikkun have been marginalized among those who lay claim to the Left, because the issue isn’t human rights for Palestinians (a just cause) but the destruction of Israel (the clear subtext of calls for a “One-State-Solution.”)
    When I was the Maskir of Hashomer Hatzair in ’96-97 one could be both a Leftist and a Zionist. I was welcome at meetings of the ISO–when they used to have lectures in Alphabet City–and participated in May Day celebrations. Could you imagine a Zionist doing the same today? They’d be chased out, no matter how dovish their stance on Israel-Palestine; the very fact that they affirm the right of the Jews to a State of their own disqualifies them from the narrative that has taken over the Left in recent years.
    A great example of this exorcism of Jews from the Left can be seen in this article by Todd Gitlin–someone who basically wasthe Left for decades.
    I know it’s hard to give up control of situation, and to realize the locus of control is external and our situation might be the cause of a strategy undertaken by certain States’ efforts to push out Jews from their place on the Left–but that is what seems to have happened.

  3. I want to see these progressive Jewish groups take on a corrupt and entrenched AIPAC, and degraded Senators like Arlen Specter, Chuck Schumer, and Joe Lieberman. The issue for me is not the rights of the Palestinians, but the corruption within the Jewish establishment that allows us to overlook their rights.

  4. Ariel,
    Your assertions about ‘the left’ are false. Any reasonable mainstream left-wing political coalition supports the right of Israel to exist.

  5. http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/11/16/150251
    JONATHAN POLLAK: Well, I think that Amir Peretz definitely has different rhetorics, but it should be clear that the Israeli left has been using rhetorics with complete – with absolutely no connection to their practices on the ground, and I have no hope that this will actually change the political situation in Israel. People should remember that the left was in control in 1948 with the expulsions. It was in control in 1967 when Israel occupied the Occupied Territories. It was in control when the settlement project, the illegal settlement project in the West Bank began in the 1970s. The left, the Zionist left, is the one that took the so-called peace process in Oslo and used it to cantonize the Occupied Territories and to maintain control over the Palestinians using less military might, but just as much control. And this is what we see from the Zionist left throughout history.

  6. xisnotx is informing us of a view that gets too little airing in Jewish circles: the the dichotomy between ‘left’ and ‘right’ is often false. What about the history of the Labor party in introducing neo-liberal economics into Israel during the 80’s? What about the massive expansion of settlements under Barak? What about the war crime of Kfar Qana as part of Peres’ effort to get re-elected?
    The same liberal Jews who condemned Kerry for waffling on the war, or who opposed the invasion of Iraq, are often much more hesistant to support their counterparts in Israel.

  7. It seems that in Israel, just as in the US, left and right are a spectrum, not a dichotomy. One would think that would be clearer in a country with a Parliamentary system, where there are parties to the left of Labour, as opposed to the US system, where the Dems are seen as the left (no matter how centrist they are) and third parties like the Greens and Labor Party are dismissed.

  8. There is a link to a relevant article on my username.
    Its by a Rabbi who essenitally believes Mearsheim-Walter got it right on the negative impact of “The Lobby.”

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