Leftist Jews — Part I: Jewish Uncle Toms
Credit for inspiration for this two-part piece goes to both Diane Weber Bederman and to Sarah Tuttle-Singer. Diane wrote that J Street Jews (and I suppose others like them) can most accurately be understood as Jewish Uncle Toms. Sarah wrote about privilege. In Part I, I will expand upon Weber Bederman’s application of the term Uncle Tom to leftist Jews; in Part II, I will discuss how Uncle Tomism interacts with a (false) sense of privilege leading to Jewish leftism.
By Jewish leftism I am referring only to the issue concerning attitudes to the Israeli-“Palestinian” conflict, or political leftism. I am not a political leftist. Political leftism stands in contrast to economic leftism with which I do concur to a large extent.
Jewish leftists engage in behaviours that non-leftists see as directly or indirectly harming Israel, whether in the short term or the long term. Harming the Jewish state (either intentionally or unintentionally) can be seen as a form of self-harm. Some critics of the Jewish left call the leftists antisemitic Jews or self-hating Jews.
Defining Self-Hating Jews
Many of us struggle trying to understand the apparent willingness of certain Jews to operate against the Jewish state all the while proclaiming that they are concerned with the well-being of the Jewish state. Many of those, like me, do not feel that calling leftists self-hating Jews is either accurate or really captures the phenomenon.
Surely there are those who hate the fact that they were born into The Tribe. But that is likely not the majority. I am certain that those who act in ways that I see as being against the better interests of Israel believe, in fact, that they are trying to save Israel’s soul. I can say that more confidently about Israeli leftists than I can about North American Jewish leftists.
There is a difference between so-called self-hating Jews and Jews who just do not care about being Jewish. Let’s look first at the latter — Jews who feel no affinity for the Jewish people or Judaism. They perhaps marry out and do not care whether or not their children identify as Jews.
When I entered university in Canada at the age of 18, I did not care about being Jewish. I had grown up in a Jewish area of town and knew only Jews. An antisemitic incident directed against me at age 12 did not really affect me at the time. Being Jewish was but one aspect of my total being. I was neither ashamed of it nor proud of it. It was just a fact, no different to me than having green eyes. But my not-caring was challenged when I left my Jewish neighbourhood and was exposed to how others related to me as a Jewess.
The constant reminders that others saw me as a Jew-first-human-second and, therefore, as being different in an often negative sense had a profound effect on my view of myself. Looking back, I can now see that I could have, as a consequence, gone in one of four possible directions: I could have tried to hide being Jewish; I could have openly hated anything Jewish; I could have allowed the conflict between valuing my Jewish background yet wanting to be accepted by non-Jews to fester; and I could have embraced being Jewish. I chose the latter.
Those we commonly refer to as self-hating Jews likely either hate being Jewish or are conflicted about it. I have the feeling that those who hate being Jewish are most likely actually conflicted to an extreme degree. Probably the hiding Jew is as well, but he or she just keeps quiet about everything connected with Israel or Jewish issues. And there may be some who remain neither-here-nor-there Jews.
How Do Self-Hating/Conflicted Jews Behave With Respect to Israel?
They do one or more of the following:
- Join pro-BDS demonstrations, write in favour of BDS whether academic boycott or otherwise, vote in support of BDS declarations in their organizations.
- Promote the one-state solution whereby Judea & Samaria, currently under conjoint Israeli and Palestinian Authority administration, joins with Israel making one indivisible state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. It is unclear what name they anticipate would be attached to this new entity. It is abundantly clear, however, that whatever it would be called it would signal the death knell of the Jewish population between the river and the sea. (UPDATE 16.10.19: There are now a number of different options suggested and a one-state solution may not be the demographic danger it was one thought to be. The current equivalent to this item is the leftist opposition to the Nation State Law, suggesting that Israel should not be a Jewish state but a state of all its citizens, meaning that the national anthem, flag and other Jewish symbols are up for challenge in a court of law, as Adalah seeks to do.)
- Blame Israel (Netanyahu) for forestalling negotiations for a two-state solution in spite of the fact that all previous negotiated terms were rejected by Arafat and then Abbas.
- Refer to the situation in the Palestinian Authority as Israeli occupation and apartheid without caring that the current situation was agreed upon by both sides in the Oslo Accords.
- Blame terrorism on Israel, saying that if we played nice the Palestinian Muslims would stop trying to kill us.
- Scorn Jews who feel attachment to and want to maintain control over Judaism’s sacred sites, such as the Patriarchal Caves and the Temple Mount, saying that rocks should not be more important than people, while accepting that Muslims kill for those very same rocks, seeking to destroy any thread of connection between these sites and the Jewish people.
- Scorn Jews who want to live in ancient Jewish areas in Judea & Samaria, believing that Jews should accept the apartheid inherent in agreeing to stay out of there.
Leftist Jews sincerely believe that they are acting in Israel’s best interests. They are, in their opinion, trying to raise the ethical and moral standards demonstrated by leaders of the country so that Israel corresponds to their image of a just and tolerant society. In some cases, leftist Jews may believe that they are successors of those who fought for civil rights in the USA and against apartheid in South Africa. They draw some kind of equivalency between the Palestinian Arabs in Judea & Samaria and the Blacks of the States/South Africa.
However, they are aligning themselves with those who seek Israel’s destruction and not simply redress for crimes they accuse Israel of committing against Palestinian Arabs. It has been suggested by some analysts that cooperating with those who want to kill you, virtually an act of suicide, is a form of Stockholm Syndrome but the situation does not mirror that in which Stockholm Syndrome arises. Others have referred to leftist Jews as kapos. Weber Bederman says this is wrong.
Leftist Jews as Uncle Toms
In contrast with the kapos who were definitely in mortal danger from the Nazis with whom they cooperated, the leftist Jews are not in immediate mortal danger from the anti-Zionists with whom they cooperate.
I think the J Street Jews are the Jewish equivalent to Uncle Tom. Their lives are not in any danger. They, like all Uncle Toms, have chosen to curry favour with the “elite” and turn on their own people. [she is referring to diaspora Jews, not Israelis]
Weber Bederman was mainly talking about the Iran Deal. I would like to expand her application of the term to include all those Jews who support BDS against the Jewish state, who want to browbeat Israel into giving up land to the Palestinian Authority with nothing back in return, who agree that Jews should not go up to the Temple Mount and who think all our problems are because of some make-believe “occupation”. The mayor of Tel Aviv is one major player whose name comes to mind here.
What Is An Uncle Tom?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an Uncle Tom as “a black who is overeager to win the approval of whites (as by obsequious behavior or uncritical acceptance of white values and goals).” If we switch out “black” for “Jew” and “white” for “non-Jew”, we have the definition of a Jewish Uncle Tom.
Being an Uncle Tom means relinquishing your right for self-definition.
It means that if the non-Jewish majority of humanity sees the Jewish state as an occupier, then you agree that Israel is an occupier even though legally that is not so. It means that if the non-Jewish majority of humanity sees the situation in Judea & Samaria as apartheid, then even though the division of authority was agreed upon in the Oslo Accords, you agree that the situation is one of apartheid. If the non-Jewish majority of humanity calls Judea & Samaria the West Bank, then so do you. If they say Jews cannot pray on the Temple Mount, you agree. If they say Jewish communities are illegal settlements you agree; if they say building homes in these communities constitutes an impediment to peace while terrorist murder does not, you agree.
At what point do you stand up and ask about Jewish rights? Or do you not believe we have any?
What do you think would be the consequences of standing up proudly and assertively to declare Jewish rights to self-definition, self-determination, self-defense, and all the rest? Why do you instead bow your heads as if you are ashamed that a Jewish state even exists?
That brings us to the issue of privilege. In Part II, I talk about how a sense of white privilege intersects with Uncle Tomism and how that creates the Jewish leftist.
Thought provoking content. I’ve met a few of what I called “self-hating Jews,” which seemed to me to be rather hypocritical. But because I am not Jewish, it’s hard to say anything back to them, even when they make statements that I know are not accurate. I found a couple people were really hard to deal with, because they were rude, discourteous and made horrible remarks about their own people. I can’t respect that or the person doing it. The other Jews I’ve known have been kind and generous in speaking with me. Waiting for your next installment, and I know it will bring up just as many questions as this one.
Thanks, Nancy. Yes, the phenomenon raises a lot of questions.
These are not self-hating Jews. Just the opposite, they love themselves too much and think of themselves as morally superior to all other Jews. They demand their twisted level of perfection from people who face daily terror which they themselves don’t have to deal with. Richard Silverstein, Phil Weiss, Peter Beinart are examples.
They generalize any single incident by an Israeli as indicative of the whole country, but of course call you an Islamophobe if you dare to say that ISIS reflects Islam.
They claim to be pro democracy but do everything to undermine Israels democracy.
These people are ENEMIES of Israel.
And some of these leftists ARE facing the daily terror – they are our fellow Israelis living here too.
The Historian Paul Johnson had this category of “non-Jewish Jews”, putiing people like Trotsky, Rosa Luxembourg and Bela Kun in this category. During the Rissian Civil War in the 1920’sa lot of these non-Jewish Jews were in the Cheka oppressing their fellow Jews, committing many outrages that the other side took revenge on all other Jews when oppurtunity presented itself. Typically many of these leftist Jews were liquidated by their non-Jewish cohorts (Isaac Babael, Rudolf Slansky) once their usefulness was over. Great Article.
Thanks for the compliment and for the lesson. I love it when readers teach me new stuff. Now I have to go look up the non-Jewish Jews of the Cheka.
Finally getting to put down my thoughts here.
You are trying to logic out why some Jews adopt an antagonism to Israel and/or Zionism, manifesting itself as support of BDS. You posit these are Jews who feel conflicted about their Jewishness, and furthermore their support for BDS opportunistic, seeking out approval and advantage. Do I understand you correctly.
I can only speak from the experience of the few people I have read and the people I have met. Certainly people like Finklestein, Beinart, Blumenthal and Weiss have all boosted their careers on being anti-Israel and/or anti-Zionist. But, I think they all present in very different ways, are driven by very different outlooks and shouldn’t be lumped together.
I think what mainly drives the BDS supporting Jews is that they already are part of a group that supports equal rights, social safety net, economic opportunity, environmental protection, workers rights, etc. Attitudes traditionally associated with the political left. Anti-Zionism has successfully insinuated itself into the left, and they adopt the attitude uncritically after being exposed to misinformation from sources otherwise consistent with their beliefs.
So I think what is at work here is a combination of ignorance, misinformation, confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance and commitment. I have literally been told “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians.” When I have asked, “Can you please explain how a 2.5 fold increase in population, decrease in infant mortality, and increase in average life span amounts to genocide?” The answer I get is, “So, maybe lots of people aren’t getting killed, but it is still genocide.” Really!
So based on the people I have met, I see them as persuaded to support this view because they are already exposed to the view within the group where they find themselves already politically at ease.
Why does the “left” embrace anti-Israelism/anti-Zionism? It goes back to the cold war. The USSR adopted it to garner allegiance from the Arab states. They provided the rhetoric used by communist affiliated groups in the west.
It’s a long time coming, this response to you. You understood me perfectly. I think you have a pretty good picture of the situation. I have found materials that state that the Left embraced anti-Zionism in opposition to the USSR connection with the Arabs. Interesting, given the socialist bent of the Left. With people seemingly largely unable to tolerate ambivalence and complexity, Leftist Jews were unable, it seems, to critically assess the Left’s anti-Zionism while still agreeing with other aspects of Leftist ideology.