The Conspiracy

Cyber Bullies Made Life Lonely on the Jewish Left

“Oh Allah, liberate the Al Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews… Oh Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one.”

“The need to connect to my Jewish community and be supported by allies never felt more important.” | [Public Domain], via Pixabay

In July, Imam Ammar Shahin said these words in a sermon to his congregation at the Islamic Center of Davis. The sermon was delivered shortly after heightened security measures in Jerusalem, which made it significantly more challenging for Muslims to visit the Al Asqa Mosque.

My reaction to his words was intensely visceral. I felt fear, anger, disbelief, guilt, concern for the reputation of the Muslim community in Davis. The need to connect to my Jewish community and be supported by allies never felt more important.

The imam ultimately gave a public apology at a press conference, which I attended, and released a statement expressing his dismay at his own words. But naturally, Facebook exploded with posts from my friends, peers, and family within the Davis community.

Typical of Facebook, things escalated quickly.

A friend of mine, another Jewish lefty, wrote a post asking for allyship from the Muslim community and the Davis community at large. Another (former) friend, a Muslim woman of color, wrote a reactionary post, which argued that asking for Muslim allyship was Islamophobic and assumed the Muslim community was monolithic. It was not her responsibility or problem, she said. As the back and forth developed, I supported my Jewish friend.

But the focus of the conversation was no longer on the horrendously anti-Semitic incident that had taken place. It became a game of Oppression Olympics, aiming to publicly prove who was the most oppressed. This game often excludes Jews, despite a history of oppression. We don’t quite qualify as marginalized enough for the modern-day left, even in the face of blatant anti-Semitism, like white supremacists chanting “Jews will not replace us” at the rally in Charlottesville this past summer.

As the Facebook debate continued to evolve, the comments became petty. Every time my friend and I tried to bring the focus back to anti-Semitism as the crux of the problem, we were shut down.

The repeated denial of our Jewishness – and the anti-Semitic incident that spurred this conversation to begin with – led to a pointless downward spiral. After facing so much criticism, just for having a Jewish response to anti-Semitism, the original statement by the imam felt irrelevant compared to the public and personal attacks both my fellow Jewish activist and I endured.

I felt alone. Except for the other person in the throws of the Facebook fight with me, none of my Jewish friends backed me up. Similarly, none of my friends in the lefty activist community stepped up to publicly support me. Privately, I received some supportive messages, but they felt insignificant while being publicly berated for what I saw as my Jewishness. My friends felt a conflict of interest. Even if they did support my opinion, they didn’t want to seem insensitive, or receive the boot from the leftist community – or, worst of all, be viewed as Zionists.

“Alone, I was stuck in the middle.” | [Public Domain], via Pixabay

Alone, I was stuck in the middle.

I was afraid, constantly looking over my shoulder. Paranoid even. I felt so isolated that I couldn’t confide in the people I am closest with, like my imma and some friends, who I knew were also friends of my cyber bullies. In fact, I lost friends over this incident. When asked if I could trust them to support me in the face of anti-Semitism and bullying behavior, they could not give me a straight answer and many of them claimed that I was being “dramatic” and “ridiculous.”

It got to the point where my cyber bullies came into my workplace (Trader Joe’s) to intimidate me and speak to my manager. If it wasn’t for a motherly coworker who saw them taunting me and defended me to my manager, then I may have lost my job. Years of suppressed fear and historical trauma bubbled to the surface. I slept through the following day, completely unsure of how to productively move forward.

What left me feeling the most stuck was the irony of it all. I was being marginalized for implying that I was marginalized. In standing up for my identity as a Jewish person – which, according to my bullies, comes with no legitimate oppression – I was supposedly crying wolf. When in actuality, these individuals came to my workplace to single me out, a form of marginalization, in order to argue that Jewish people are not a group that gets singled out.

Two weeks after, I went to the University of Maryland for the J Street U Summer Leadership Institute. And for the first time, I felt supported and understood. It was a breath of fresh air after the isolation I felt over the imam’s sermon and the horrific Facebook aftermath. I was surrounded by others who understood the tensions inherent in being a proud progressive Jew, and I found comfort in that.

I needed that middle space. Far too often, young American Jews are being pushed out of either the left for being too “pro-Israel” or the right for being too open-minded towards Palestinian statehood and peoplehood. On one hand, we have been historically marginalized as Jews in ways that inspire us to stand with other minorities and make us particularly sympathetic to collective suffering. On the other hand, we are not marginalized enough, according to our own left-wing circles, to have allies in the face of overt anti-Semitism. At times, I doubt my own ability to truly support other minorities as a result of internalizing the messaging that Jews do not know real oppression.

So, how can we, young American left-wing Jews, continue to cultivate communities for ourselves? How can we be allies to one another in moments when we feel isolated from both the activist community and the more conservative Jewish community? How can we encourage non-Jews to be our allies when it poses a risk to their social status in left-wing circles? How can we emphasize that extremism – both on the left and right – ultimately pushes people who care out of the conversation and eventually leads to their silence? Given these challenges, how can we excite other young American Jews to invest in a better Israel by fighting for democracy and justice in our homeland? And how can we make space for ourselves as a marginalized identity (despite many Jews’ white-passing privilege) in an era of identity politics on the left?

I don’t have the answers yet. But my story highlights one poignant example of the loneliness and fear that can come with being politically left and pro-Israel in the face of anti-Semitism. But this is not just my story. This is the story of many young American Jews. There is a particular need for a large, inclusive, and outspoken community of young progressive Jews who are being pushed out of the left and right. So, when the next story comes along, we can take comfort in solidarity and energetically move forward.

Hailey Levien went to Beloit College and Sacramento City College for a total of two years to study political science. She is currently taking a break from her studies and traveling in Europe on her way to Israel to do community organizing for Achvat Amim.

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2 Older Responses to “Cyber Bullies Made Life Lonely on the Jewish Left”

  1. David Abramson
    December 20, 2017 at 1:40 am #

    Beautifully said Hailey!

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