“It’s infuriating and intolerable,” said Sophie Ellman-Golan, 27, the former director of communications and digital outreach at the Women’s March organization, who is now working on a project to mobilize Jews against white nationalism. Because the right purports to defend Jews even as it pursues policies that most Jews abhor, she argued, “it’s imperative that we loudly speak for ourselves because if we don’t the loudest voices that claim to speak on behalf of Jews will be right-wing evangelical Christians.”
There are, of course, plenty of established Jewish groups that make it their mission to speak for the community. But it’s hard to overstate the degree to which left-wing Jews feel alienated from and betrayed by the Jewish establishment, which often seems more concerned with left-wing anti-Zionism and rhetorical overkill than with right-wing white nationalism.
Never Again Action was born in reaction to the perceived failures of mainstream Jewish organizations to stand up to Trump. In June, after Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to migrant detention camps as “concentration camps,” establishment Jewish outfits like the Jewish Community Relations Council rushed to condemn her. Rubin was incredulous. A militantly xenophobic government is building internment camps for members of ethnic out-groups, and Jewish leaders worried that critics of this project were disrespecting the memory of the Holocaust?
“That compounded the outrage that a lot of Jews were feeling, that a mainstream Jewish institution would say something that just felt so out of touch,” she said. “That in part led us to really want to not just say in words, but actually take action to show how the Jewish community actually feels about this moment.”
People involved in the new Jewish left recognize that left-wing anti-Semitism exists. But they generally don’t believe it’s a threat on par with right-wing Jew hatred.
“No political party or movement is free of anti-Semitism,” said Ellman-Golan, who had to deal with the fallout from anti-Semitism at the Women’s March. But, she said, “only one political party is quite literally inciting white nationalists to shoot up our synagogues, drive cars into our peaceful protests, mail bombs to members of our community, burn black churches and mosques, and open fire on Latinx people.”
The Jewish left rejects the idea that anti-Zionism is equivalent to anti-Semitism, but even more than that, it rejects the idea that Israel is the guarantor of Jewish safety or the lodestar of Jewish identity. A central value of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, as well as for much of left-wing Jewish culture more broadly, is “doikayt,” a Yiddish term that means “hereness.”