Christopher MacDonald-Dennis, Ed.D, assistant dean and director of intercultural affairs at Bryn Mawr College, is active with Meretz USA, Ameinu and Brit Tzedek V’Shalom. Chris weighs in here on the matter of the American Jewish Committee’s sponsorship of the essay by Prof. Alvin Rosenfeld,“‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism.” (Readers might also wish to read the excellent piece in The American Prospect by Gershom Gorenberg, “Shotgun Blast.”)
Lately, there have been a spate of articles that discuss how “liberals” and “progressives” criticize Israel and are being silenced by the “mainstream” Jewish community or are endangering Jews everywhere with their criticisms. As a progressive activist who supports Israel’s right to exist, I am worried about this conflation of left-wing views with anti-Zionism. It is time to state the obvious loud and clear: writers of these articles and reports are engaging in lazy scholarship. Supporting a liberal/progressive/left ideology does not automatically lead one to being an anti-Zionist.
Professor Alvin Rosenfeld of Indiana University, in his recent piece on “progressive” Jews and anti-Semitism obviously does not understand the nuances of the left. By using a sledgehammer to define progressive thought, he polarizes the situation even more. As the American Jewish Committee, whose publication it was, says on their website: “The article asserted that with the publication of the Rosenfeld essay we had launched an assault on ‘liberal Jews’. By the paper’s unfortunate framing of the story in this binary manner, i.e., conservatives versus liberals, readers could be left with the impression that the debate over Israel’s very right to exist was now defined along this political spectrum.” I appreciate the American Jewish Committee for making this important point. The scholars and groups being discussed should be labeled anti-Zionist, not progressive or liberal.
Unfortunately, it is too easy these days to say that these critics are merely left-wing and have people believe it. Too many writers have not explained that anti-Zionism and left ideology are two separate things. There are not enough of us who are progressive and support Israel’s right to exist, whether we identify as Zionist or not, speaking out and asking people to clarify their language and reminding people that some of us are Zionist because we are progressive. We support the State of Israel being a country that is Jewish in character, democratic, and secure within defensible borders. We criticize Israeli governmental policy and work for peace in the region but we realize that this conflict is complex. It is not the fault of only Israel. Israel has made mistakes but so have others in this conflict.
As people who are both proudly on the left and proudly Zionist, as activists who do not demonize Israel and support peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and within the region, we must challenge these articles. If we do not, those who are progressive will assume that the “liberal” position is challenging the right of Israel to exist and lay all the problems of the region at Israel’s feet. There are liberals and progressives who are anti-Zionist, Zionist, and non-Zionist. Reporters and researchers must understand this distinction or they will only serve to polarize this conflict even more.