IAC Panel: Campus Jewish Left Faces a ‘False Choice’

Although left-leaning Jewish college students sympathize with progressive movements, like Black Lives Matter, social justice causes have often excluded them over their support for Israel, at least according to an expert panel at this year’s Israeli-American Council conference.

An Israeli-American Council festival in Los Angeles in 2013. | By Israeli-American Council [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Founded over a decade ago, the Israeli-American Council is an umbrella organization created to connect Israeli-Americans and strengthen American ties to Israel. Heavily funded by Sheldon Adelson, the IAC has come to be seen as a more hardline, up-and-coming alternative to AIPAC.

The panel, moderated by IAC chairman and Israeli-American philanthropist Adam Milstein, consisted of Jacob Baime, the executive director of Israel on Campus Coalition; Amanda Berman, co-founder of the Zioness movement and director of legal affairs at the Lawfare Project, a nonprofit that arranges pro-bono representation for the “pro-Israel and counterterrorism communities”; Israeli journalist Ben Dror Yemini; and Israel Hayom columnist Dror Eydar.

The political make up of the panel was a mix. Berman strongly self-identifies as progressive, while Baime worked on a gubernatorial campaign for a former GOP candidate in Massachusetts. Yemini, despite his reputation as a right-winger, aligns himself with the Israeli peace camp and supports the two-state solution, while Eydar co-founded The Second Zionist Revolution Circle, an organization for Israeli conservative intellectuals.

“When Israel is prospering, the Jews are prospering,” Milstein said, framing the discussion. “When Israel is under attack, the Jewish community is under attack,”

Baime began by arguing that the left presents “a false choice” to progressive pro-Israel and Jewish college students. They are forced to choose between Israel advocacy and the left-wing causes they care about, he argued, because the campus left does not tolerate Zionism.

Berman remarked that when progressive groups alienate Jews and Zionists, it hurts both the Jewish activists who want to participate and the social justice movements with which they identify.

“We need to reclaim [what it means to be progressive],” she added.

Berman mentioned the Lawfare Project’s ongoing lawsuit against San Francisco State University, filed last June, for fostering a hostile campus toward pro-Israel Jewish students, left-wing and otherwise, over the past two decades.

The lawsuit stems from an event where Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was shouted down by protesters in April 2016. “At that event organized by SF Hillel, Jewish students and audience members were subjected to genocidal and offensive chants and expletives by a raging mob that used bullhorns to intimidate and drown out the Mayor’s speech and physically threaten and intimidate members of the mostly-Jewish audience,” the Lawfare Project said in a statement.

Yemini analyzed the greater picture, describing the media and academia as major sources of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric. He qualified that this was on the basis that “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism,” because while it is normal to criticize Israeli policy, it is anti-Semitic to deny Jews’ right to a state.

This issue – progressive Jews having to choose between Zionism and progressive causes – came to a head this summer when three LGBTQ women were barred from the Chicago Dyke March for carrying rainbow flags with a Star of David, interpreted by organizers as a Zionist symbol.

The panel’s conclusion about how progressive Jews react to these pressures was best summarized in an article by New York Times columnist Bari Weiss after the flag incident.

“Jews on the left, particularly in recent years, have attempted to square this growing discomfort by becoming more anti-Israel,” she wrote. “But if history has taught the Jews anything it’s that this kind of contortion never ends well.”

Jackson Richman is a recent graduate of George Washington University. His writing has appeared in The Weekly Standard, The Washington Examiner, The Daily Caller, Red Alert Politics, and other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @jacksonrichman.

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