Netroots and Anti-Semitism

T-Shirt sold at Netroots Nation calling for people to “Resist Racism, Sexism, Zionism, …”

The Netroots conference has met annually since 2006, and serves as a think-tank for progressive political activists and bloggers especially from the Daily Kos for which the conference was originally known as Yearly Kos. Last week was the first time it was held in Philadelphia, so I decide to give it a try and connect with fellow progressives, strategize on issues of common interest, and learn about various Presidential candidates. Instead, I was frustrated by the idealogical purity required by many participants.

Judaism has informed my progressive values such as standing up to hate, welcoming the oppressed, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and protecting the environment. Moreover, in foreign policy I see Israel as an example (albeit imperfect) of these values and the only true democracy in the Middle East.

I know that there are many on Daily Kos and elsewhere on left who do not share my views of Israel, and I was a bit worried when I browsed the biographies of the Netroots speakers and the attendees and found that all of the references to “Israel” were parts of references to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) and related groups.

Nevertheless, I was heartened to see a panel scheduled entitled How We Fight Anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, it would have been more accurately entitled “How we fight accusations of Anti-Semitism.”

The moderator and panelists spoke well about the threat of anti-Semtism on the right. Trump may not have invented racism or anti-Semitism, but he has certainly given cover to racists and anti-Semites. Anti-Semtism is now more socially acceptable, and what was once said in whispers or dog-whistles is now overt. GOP leaders spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. If even a small number of people are influenced by these memes and come to believe that George Soros and the Jews hate America and are organizing an invasion of illegal immigrants from the South to take our jobs, spread disease, commit crimes and engage in terrorism, then attacks like those at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue are not surprising.

However, the panelists went too far when they claimed that anti-Semitism on the left is entirely a fiction devised by the right in order to divide and conquer the Democrats.

There is some truth to what the panelists said about the Republicans. For example, the GOP accused Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Holocaust denial when she used the term “concentration camp” to describe the detention facilities which the Trump administration uses to hold refugee children. This is an accurate use of the term “concentration camp,” that is, a place where undesired people are collected in overcrowded conditions. Often life in these places are unhealthy, difficult and dangerous. Perhaps some of those who object to AOC’s terminology do not understand the distinction between concentration camps and death camps. However, the true purpose of these accusations was to divide the Democrats and distract from criticism of the President and his immigration policies.

In contrast, when Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar says support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” it is unknown whether her comments stemmed more from ignorance or from anti-Semitism. Either way she deserved to be corrected. Indeed, the Democratic leadership were right when they condemned her.

But we must not bury our heads in the sand and deny every accusation of anti-Semitism. The Republicans do not have a monopoly on anti-Semitism. Nor must we defend ourselves with “what-about-ism.” Even if White Nationalism is a greater threat, we are hypocrites if we white-wash any anti-Semitism on the left. In fact, we probably have more influence over our allies than over our opponents, so attention to lesser transgressions of our allies is worthwhile.

In Judaism, we have the notion of Tocheichah (constructive criticism). I hope that this article is read in this spirit. I do not point out fault in order debase my friends but rather to help them understand how we can all do better.

Doc Jess attended the panel with me and she had a similar reaction to mine, and walked out. (See the Democratic Convention Watch website for more about her experience at Netroots Nation.)

I stayed behind and waited until the end in order to ask a question about the reality of a certain amount of anti-Semitism on the left. I hoped to describe my frustration when I would happen to join a political rally for a progressive cause only to find that it had been co-opted by an anti-Zionist group.

The panel ended without an opportunity to ask this question, so I continued on to the next event on my agenda — a rally on Arch Street against the mass incarceration of children on the border. There was a large crowd and I was glad to hold a sign high and help protect the rights of these children.

However, soon the crowd was led in a chant repeating the refrain “No Walls Anywhere: Not America, Not Israel.”

All of a sudden, as a supporter of Israel, I no longer felt welcome.

I believe in freedom of speech. If the person with the megaphone wanted to hold a rally in favor of the BDS movement, then he is certainly welcome to do so. But please do it one block away, or an hour earlier or later. If you think your cause is right, then advertise it and like-minded people will come and support you. But you should not take a rally intended to support immigrants and refugees at the US boarder and turn it into a rally about Israel. Either you are co-opting the crowd which someone else organized, or you are engaging in bait-and-switch and tricking people like me into seeming to rally in favor of a cause they would not otherwise support.

I tried to be heard, but to no avail. I saw other people in the crowd who seemed similarly distressed by the turn which the rally had just taken. I then separated myself from the group and returned alone through the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

One of the panelists from that morning recognized me and expressed her regret that insufficient time had been allotted for questions and I had been unable to ask mine. I took the opportunity to tell her what concerned me about the panel and how the rally I had just left was a perfect case in point. She was surprised that I do not support BDS and told me that if I do not support BDS then they have no need for me at a rally of any kind.

I do not necessarily see eye-to-eye with the candidates I support on every issue, but there is a saying in politics, “If you agree with me on 9 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist!”

Similarly, if we adopt a narrow view of politics and shun the support on a given issue of anyone who does not support us on another issue, then we are doing ourselves harm. We should embrace a wide tent and welcome the support of anyone who is generally supportive of many of our goals. That is the way to build a majority and win elections. Similarly, in Congress, we should seek common ground and create alliances and co-sponsor bills even with legislators that diametrically oppose us on other issues. [Editor’s Note: Former President Obama recently made a speech against rigidity among Progressives: “you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues, and when that happens, typically the overall effort and movement weakens.” Also, an article about Black Lives Matter adding criticism of Israel to their agenda.]

There is much to do, but we can make progress one issue at a time. If instead we shun those who lack ideological purity, then we will accomplish nothing.

Daylin’s Resistance Forum

Sponsored by State Senator Daylin Leach, this is a non-partisan, issues-oriented event open to all members of the public. The forum will provide an opportunity for attendees to discuss the best ways to protect progressive policies and institutions. Participants will learn how to lobby elected officials and advocate for the policies they are passionate about. They will also have the chance to meet with experienced advocates from organizations that work on a variety of issues, including civil rights, women’s health and gun safety.

Leach explains his motivation for organizing this forum as follows:

The march of progress continues, but the election of Donald Trump has put all of it at risk. So many Americans who care about healthcare, fair wages, clean water, and civil rights are searching for the skills, strategy, and community needed to resist Trump’s coming attacks on progress. My forum will equip folks with those tools and help them get organized, energized, and united.

To RSVP, email Mary Pat Tomei, or call 610-768-4200.

Messaging Economics: How to Win, How to Lose

Economy

Felicia Wong, Joseph Stiglitz, Rana Foroohar and Stan Greenberg

While at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), I attended an event hosted by the Roosevelt Institute. The institute explains its mission on its website:

Inspired by the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor, the Roosevelt Institute reimagines America as it should be: a place where hard work is rewarded, everyone participates, and everyone enjoys a fair share of our collective prosperity. We believe that when the rules work against this vision, it’s our responsibility to recreate them.

The event hosted by the Roosevelt Institute at the DNC was a panel discussion between Joseph Stigliz and Stan Greenberg, moderated by Rana Foroohar. The primary part of the discussion centered on looking at two economic messages put forth by Hillary Clinton and how these ideas polled relative to election outcomes. The two messages were not all that different; they just took two different approaches. Interestingly, one will win the election, and the other will lose. And, if one is implemented, it could potentially change the course of American economics. [Read more…]

Boycott Divestment Summer Camp

— by Alana Goodman

Reprinted with permission from The Washington Free Beacon

Anti-Israel college students will trek to a scenic campsite in upstate New York this summer to learn how to launch campus boycotts against the Jewish state at a program subsidized and run by one of America’s largest Quaker faith groups.

The American Friends Service Committee “We Divest Campaign Student Leadership Team Summer Training Institute” describes itself as a “five (5) day intensive program for campus [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] organizers-those with campaigns already running and those hoping to get one launched in the 2013-2014 school year.”

More after the jump.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign was officially launched by a network of pro-Palestinian groups in 2005 and seeks to use economic and cultural boycotts to isolate Israel, force the government’s hand on Palestinian negotiations, and evoke comparisons between the Jewish state and South Africa’s Apartheid regime.

Students attending the AFSC’s Summer Training Institute, which is also sponsored by the anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace, will participate in “anti-oppression analysis workshops,” “non-violent direct action planning,” and “strategy sessions with BDS movement leaders,” according to the AFSC website.

The program runs from July 28 to Aug. 1 and promises “fun in a summer camp-like environment!” The cost of room and board is subsidized by the AFSC and the JVP, according to the website.

An AFSC official said the number of attendees for this year is not yet finalized and said the 2013 program will focus on “call[ing] attention to what is happening in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories while supporting a just and lasting peace that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis.”

Pro-Israel groups have vehemently opposed the BDS movement, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center released a report that said the campaign was driven by anti-Jewish sentiment in March.

“It doesn’t help a single Palestinian. It doesn’t improve the quality of life for Palestinians. It is simply anti-Israel,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Abraham Cooper told the Washington Free Beacon. “Unfortunately, the community of the people associated with this particular church have embraced [the BDS campaign] completely, so much so that they are using up whatever moral capital they have to do training for an immoral, hypocritical, and anti-Semitic undertaking.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center report said the BDS program meets Natan Sharansky’s “three D’s” test for anti-Semitism: It follows “double-standards” by criticizing Israel while overlooking human rights abuses across the Arab world; “demonizes” Israel by comparing its actions to those of Apartheid regimes; and attempts to “delegitimize” the Jewish state by targeting its existence.

Cooper said students attend these events “thinking their actions are doing the equivalent of the folks that [participated in] the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or following the route of Martin Luther King Jr.-complete and utter nonsense.”

“What a shame, for young people, who are highly motivated that want to do something good in the world,” he added.

The AFSC’s Michael Merryman-Lotze, who helped organize the summer program, objected to the argument that the BDS campaign is anti-Semitic.

“We see nothing inherently anti-Semitic in the use of these proven nonviolent tactics nor in the BDS movement as a whole,” said Merryman-Lotze. “Are BDS opponents next going to argue that these same tactics were anti-White in the Jim Crow south and apartheid era South Africa?”

Merryman-Lotze also disputed claims from critics that the campaign has been ineffective.

“Why, if BDS is ineffective and largely a failure, have the Israeli government and groups like the ADL, the Wiesenthal Center, and AIPAC invested millions of dollars in developing campaigns to counter minimally funded grassroots BDS activism?” said Merryman-Lotze. “If our efforts are ineffective, why write a story about our planned training program? The answer is that BDS is effective and successful.”

While the BDS campaign has gained traction on college campuses and won support from some high-profile names such as Elvis Costello and Stephen Hawking, it has failed to have an impact on the Israeli economy or influence policy.

Israel’s tech industry in particular continues to boom, with Google purchasing Israeli company Waze for $1 billion on Tuesday.

“Culturally-just this week-two enormous, international sporting events were held in Israel,” one D.C. Jewish organization official told the Free Beacon. “Economically, the world’s largest tech companies are rushing to invest there. Politically, Israel stands out more than ever as the only stable Western ally left in the entire Middle East.”

The BDS movement’s failure to meet its objectives suggests that efforts to fund and support the campaign are aimed at opposing the Jewish state rather than achieving any legitimate policy goal, according to pro-Israel advocates.

According to the D.C. Jewish organization official.

“You’ve really got to ask yourself where boycott advocates keep getting the energy, given that efforts to economically and culturally isolate Israel have been an utter failure. Let’s pretend that boycotters succeed in getting everyone to stop buying Israeli hummus, which is something they actually think is important. If they keep that up for a few thousand years, it will almost offset this week’s billion-dollar acquisition of Waze by Google. No company in its right mind is ever going to boycott a country that’s been nicknamed ‘Start-Up Nation.'”

Putting the High Back into the High Holidays at P’nai Or

— by Tobie Hoffman

This fall, in Summit Church’s Fellowship Hall, a High Holiday gathering unlike anything you may have ever experienced will unfold again, as P’nai Or – the Mt. Airy Jewish renewal congregation whose name means “Faces of Light” – offers High Holiday services of a different stripe to seekers of all backgrounds.

The High Holidays at P’nai Or are Jewish renewal at its best,” said Rabbi Marcia Prager who has been co-leading these festive gatherings, along with many talented P’nai Or members, for eighteen years. “We blend traditional liturgy with uplifting heart-opening poetic translations so that Hebrew and English prayers flow intertwined with each other. The music is profound – deep, high and sweet in a way that caresses your soul. And of course, everyone is included. There is passionate prayer, quiet meditation, opportunities to reflect and do some pretty deep inner work, and also time to share, to be creative and even make some new friends.”

More after the jump.
P’nai Or High Holidays are a great introduction to the themes of this season in the Jewish year, and to different styles and approaches to these themes that can make them even more powerful and personally relevant. “If you have grown past thinking of God as a judgmental King on a throne, and are ready for some of the more potent imagery that grows out of the Jewish mystical tradition, P’nai Or will be a refreshing change for you too,” said Abby Michaleski who came to P’nai Or after trying many different congregations.  

“I needed a more dynamic, more integrated way of understanding the creative life-force that I experience in the world and in my life. P’nai Or High Holidays takes the traditional liturgy and imagery and makes it soar in a way that is resonant with my experience. Boy was this a wow.”

“I wanted an informal, really friendly environment where I could have a spiritual experience, and also bring my kids” said Sam Steinig and his wife Rodi, who come with their daughters. The P’nai Or Children’s Program runs through the holiday, offering a blend of childcare and High Holiday activities and projects for children. We can bring our kids into the service to be with us, and also let them be with other kids and have educational fun.”

The themes of celebrating life and re-aligning with the Power that promotes goodness are strong currents at these gatherings.  The High Holidays invite us to work together for forgiveness, compassion, and shalom – which means wholeness, fulfillment and perfection, as well as peace. All the songs, all the prayers and all the inner work we do helps us heal our inner hurts and rededicate ourselves to be the best we can be, internally, in our relationships, and in the world.

Would you like to come? We would love to meet you! Because the sustainability of the P’nai Or community is dependent on dues and contributions, there is a suggested donation for attending. However, if this is your first experience with P’nai Or we invite you to make the donation that feels right to you. No one is ever turned away from a P’nai Or gathering for financial reasons.

Erev Rosh Hashana:  
WEDNESDAY evening, Sept. 28,  6 – 7:30 PM.
A short festive gathering: singing, davenen’, candle-lighting and apples & honey.

Rosh Hashana morning services:
THURSDAY morning, Sept. 29,  10 AM – 2 PM !
FRIDAY morning, Sept. 30,  10 AM – 2 PM  

A vegetarian dairy potluck lunch follows the service each day – please bring food to share.

Yom Kippur:
FRIDAY evening, Oct. 7,  6 – 9 PM.
Evening Service.  Kol Nidre – 6:15 Sharp!

SATURDAY Oct. 8,  10 AM – 9 PM.
Day service:  All day and evening including  Havdala  and  N’eila.
A vegetarian/dairy break-fast follows.  Please bring food to share.

Check our website for more info on P’nai Or, our community, our services,  and High Holiday registration. Or email: [email protected]

Summit Church is on Greene and Westview in West Mt. Airy, one block from Lincoln Drive, and one block from Weaver’s Way Co-op. Services are in Fellowship Hall. Come in through the Greene St. Entrance and up the stairs! We look forward to meeting you!