Averting the gaze

I recently saw a facebook friend, who is Jewish, write that she and other Jews feel abandoned by the left. It’s a sentiment that isn’t unique to her, I’ve heard many of my fellow left-wing Jews express similar sentiments, as have I. We are not really wanted on the left anymore unless we swear a loyalty oath against Israel. Black and white versions of the world, loyalty oaths, boycotts, simplifying human beings and their complex relationships to their various cultural and religious identities, their homes and their families, etc., seems to me to work against what the left has always represented to me. But now I’m starting to wonder whether I ever was considered part of the camaraderie of ‘acceptance’, or whether that acceptance has always been conditional on being a ‘good Jew’, defined mainly by non-Jews.

I don’t think I need to explain why it’s not up to non-Jews to tell Jews what they should or should not feel about their religion, or culture, or even about Israel. Nor do I think I need to explain why non-Jews don’t have a right to place us into ‘good Jews’ and ‘bad Jews’ categories where they set the boundaries of acceptance and belonging and make them contingent on selective criteria. You don’t walk up to any minority and make them tokenistic emblems, or require loyalty oaths from them, or set conditions about their very own identity. But yet, this all seems to be acceptable practice in most left-wing events I’ve attended, and seems to be the status quo in the kind of behaviour I see on social media.

In my stupidity, I expected there to be a large response from my non-Jewish left-wing twitter feed or facebook friends about the recent anti-Semitic attack in Paris. But instead, the silence was deafening. It’s a pattern I should be used to by now – I usually only see my Jewish friends react or condemn when such events occur. Which is in stark contrast to my feed when any other minority group is targeted in a similar hateful and murderous way. I have raised this before with non-Jewish left-wing friends, trying to explain to them, on a really basic level, why we feel abandoned by the left. The response tends to be that not everyone has to react to every single injustice, that people can’t always react publicly to everything. There is truth in that – after all, I myself don’t always have the energy, the time, or even the knowledge to react to every single injustice – and sometimes I may condemn something without feeling the need to make it public all the time (after all, my principles and my ethics aren’t a public performance, so not everything is up for public consumption). But there is something else going on here.

This pattern is consistent for a reason. The left-wing gaze is consistently averting its eyes from contemporary anti-Semitism as if it doesn’t exist, or is simply not as relevant as other injustices. As if Jews don’t have a genuine reason to be afraid just like any other minority group that is under attack. If I want to actually be informed about what’s going on in worldwide and in particular, European, anti-Semitism, I have to actively seek it out in Jewish press.

I’m sure that for every line I’ve written here, there is an example that contradicts what I’ve said. God, I hope so, please prove me wrong. But at the same time, many of us left-wing Jews are saying similar things to what I’ve said above, and maybe it’s time people started believing us.

I have closed comments on this post for obvious reasons.