The Conspiracy

Zioness and the Tagalong Left

In recent years, especially since the 2014 Gaza War, American Jewry has seen the slow revival of its once-great political Left. The emergence of groups like IfNotNow and Open Hillel, along with the increasing reach of J Street and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, has brought about a kind of renaissance of radical Jewish culture and thought – a renaissance that found one of its most beautiful expressions this spring when 1,000 Jews marched, singing and drumming, on the AIPAC Conference in Washington, D.C.

Zioness logo poster | Via https://www.zioness.org/posters

But, like everything cool, the new Jewish Left has attracted imitators and impostors – old-fashioned Hasbarists and right-wing Zionists who now claim to represent progressivism and multiculturalism. The standard-bearer of this band of pretenders is Zioness, a self-described “unabashedly progressive” and “unquestionably Zionist” advocacy organization whose nature is perhaps most aptly expressed by its logo: it depicts a young woman, with dreadlocks and a magen david necklace, who is meant to be a young, cutting-edge millennial Zionist – but is actually a bike mechanic whose image has been lazily lifted from Getty.

Through its founder, Amanda Berman, Zioness claims to be both Zionist and politically progressive. Though its Zionist credentials are, as the slogan says, unquestionable, Zioness has done nothing at all for progressive politics. Instead, it has participated in a few low-risk, low-impact events with vague left-wing credentials – the Chicago SlutWalk and the March for Racial Justice among them. Neither demonstration was particularly radical, and neither involved any kind of civil disobedience, making Zioness’ participation a community-building but ultimately symbolic gesture. On its website, Zioness justifies its claim to progressivism with a bizarre digression into the political history of Berman’s mother that reads less like a political manifesto than a CV: “Amanda came from a left-leaning political family from outside Philadelphia, where her mom ran for state representative (as a Democrat, of course!) When her mom’s opponent smeared her with vile lies, her mom refused to go low, and lost the race because of it.” Somehow this piece of trivia is meant to prove Zioness’ sincerity.

The same website goes on to explain that Zioness “has decided not to take any official positions on any of the politics or policies of the State of Israel.” We cannot be expected to take this seriously. In the current Israeli political context, “no official position” – not even a mild condemnation of the excesses of the Occupation – means satisfaction with the status quo of illegal settlement and the blockade of Gaza. This is not progressivism; it is not even liberalism. It is nationalism.

None of this should surprise anyone familiar with Berman’s record. She’s spent her career with The Lawfare Project, a right-wing Zionist non-profit that encourages anti-BDS legislation (legislation which you don’t need to be pro-BDS to oppose) and has described the Muslim Student Association as a supporter of terror.

Her blog at The Times of Israel has been devoted to defending the IDF against charges of brutality in the Gaza Strip and lauding the Israeli military’s commitment to investigating violations of international law. In June 2015, she wrote that the IDF and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs had undertaken “…comprehensive and transparent internal investigations” in order to “identify ‘exceptional incidents’ which resulted in civilian casualties…with the express purpose of aligning IDF actions with international legal standards.” She continued, “It would be laughable to suggest that Palestinian leadership undertook similar investigations into civilian deaths or the use of improper tactics of warfare by Hamas combatants during the conflict.”

This is a classic, albeit baffling Hasbara tactic – suggesting that the State of Israel, a member state of the United Nations, ought not be held to a higher moral standard than the terrorist gang that controls Gaza. Never mind the fact that suggesting the Netanyahu government cares about international law is ridiculous when, of course, every settlement built in the West Bank is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Perhaps those of us in the Jewish Left ought to be flattered by our imitators. Just when we thought nobody was paying any attention to us, along comes Zioness, speaking the language of the Left with all the fluency and authenticity of an oleh chadash ordering his falafel with ketchup.

Jonathan Gelernter, class of 2018, is pursuing an English major and Judaic studies minor at SUNY Binghamton.


Correction: A previous version of this article suggested Zioness participated in the Chicago Dyke March. It participated in the Chicago SlutWalk. 

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