Stop Conflating Anti-Zionists with Progressives

Categories: Letters From Leadership

Lately, there have been a spate of articles that discuss how “liberal” and “progressives” criticize Israel but are being silenced by the “mainstream” Jewish community or are endangering Jews everywhere. As a progressive activist who supports Israel’s right to exist, I am worried about this conflation of left-wing views with anti-Zionism. It is time to state the obvious loud and clear: the writers of these articles and reports are engaging in lazy scholarship. Supporting a liberal/progressive/left ideology does not automatically lead one to being an anti-Zionist.

Professor Alvin Rosenfeld of Indiana University, in his recent piece on “progressive” Jews and anti-Semitism obviously does not understand the nuances of the left. By using a sledgehammer to define progressive thought, he polarizes the situation even more. As the American Jewish Committee, whose publication it was, says on their website: “The article asserted that with the publication of the Rosenfeld essay we had launched an assault on “liberal Jews.” By the paper’s unfortunate framing of the story in this binary manner, i.e., conservatives versus liberals, readers could be left with the impression that the debate over Israel’s very right to exist was now defined along this political spectrum.” This is not how it should be seen and I appreciate the American Jewish Committee for making this important point.

The scholars and groups being discussed should be labeled anti-Zionist, not progressive or liberal. Interestingly, some groups that are only anti-Zionist are being called liberal because of this sloppy thinking. How else could a fundamentalist, ultra-Orthodox Jewish group, Neturei Karta, be considered as liberal as it was in a recent newspaper article in the New York Times?

Unfortunately, it is too easy these days to say that these critics are merely left-wing and have people believe it. Too many writers have not explained that anti-Zionism and left ideology are two separate things. There are not enough of us who are progressive and support Israel’s right to exist, whether we identify as Zionist or not, speaking out and asking people to clarify their language and reminding people that some of us are Zionist because we are progressive. We criticize Israeli governmental policy and work for peace in the region but we realize that this conflict is complex. It is not the fault of only Israel. Israel has made mistakes but so have others in this conflict.

As people who are both proudly on the left and proudly Zionist, as activists who do not demonize Israel and support peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and within the region, we must challenge these articles. If we do not, those who are progressive will assume that the “liberal” position is challenging the right of Israel to exist and lay all the problems of the region at Israel’s feet. There are liberals and progressives who are anti-Zionist, Zionist, and non-Zionist. Reporters and researchers must understand the distinction because it will only serve to polarize this conflict even more.

About Christopher MacDonald-Dennis, Ed.D.

Chris MacDonald-Dennis, Ed.D., is Assistant Dean of the Undergraduate College and Director of Intercultural Affairs at Bryn Mawr College. He has been a scholar-activist for more than fifteen years and has been involved with many social change movements, including the feminist movement, LGBT movement and progressive Zionism. He received his BA from Framingham State College in Massachusetts, his MS from Northeastern University and his Ed.D. in Social Justice Education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Originally from Boston, he currently lives in Philadelphia. Chris' activity with Ameinu has found a number of expressions. He has written regularly for the website. He serves on the joint committee Ameinu has formed with MeretzUSA to address the Left's attitudes towards Israel and Zionism and is also part of the effort to establish an Ameinu chapter in Philadelphia.
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