News & Politics

Is Bernie Causing a Breakdown in the Jewish Left?

Through his presidential race, Bernie Sanders may have unwittingly brought the fight between Labor Zionism (the stuff of Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir) and the new socialist guard (“anti-Occupation” and pro-boycott/divestment/sanctions (BDS) to the forefront of the American Left. It’s a fight that’s been brewing for decades thanks to a well-equipped Palestinian Liberation movement and a generation of college professors entrenched in cultural Marxism. Thanks to Bernie’s run, the debate is transcending the “good Jew/bad Jew” phase, promising to impact the Jewish American relationship with Israel for generations to come.

The Forward’s editor-at-large, J.J. Goldberg, got into a tussle this past week with Jesse Myerson at The Village Voice after the latter publication released an issue with a cover story claiming that Bernie Sanders’ socialism was anti-Zionism. According to “New Left” BDS supporter and self-proclaimed “voice of the millennials” Meyerson, Sanders’ supposed anti-Zionism is a very good thing: One cannot be both a socialist and a Zionist. Goldberg, representing the Labor Zionist “Old Left,” argues the opposite: Bernie is one of many in a long line of good socialist Zionists who worked to establish the State of Israel.

Full disclosure: My husband is also a Goldberg and a Habonim Dror kid to boot. During his time as a camper in the movement he witnessed the battle between Zionism and socialism rear its ugly head. A camp that was created to prepare young Jews to make aliyah and establish the nation of Israel was fast becoming a hotbed of radical “post-Zionist” socialist discourse. The new generation of campers, many in Myerson’s age bracket, couldn’t comprehend how socialism could support an ethnocentric movement. You could be a Zionist, or you could be a socialist. But you couldn’t be both. The result of this dialogue, within both Habonim and the Jewish Left at large, manifested in the millennial generation as Daniel Gordis describes:

… the rise of activists on the Jewish left who pride themselves on opposing or lobbying against the policies of Israeli governments as Jews, and who do so while loudly proclaiming their superior love for the Jewish people. Many voices of this kind can be heard on university campuses, hotbeds of political correctness and of today’s fashionable amalgamation of progressivism with anti-Israelism.

Habonim managed to weather the storm well enough to survive as a Jewish entity. They do, however, walk a very thin line among liberal Zionists, comprised of a minority of organizations whose only visible distinction from their more radical counterparts is their anti-BDS stance. This anomaly makes no sense to a new generation of Jewish Americans whose ethnicity is more politically than religiously defined. The Right continues to lump the old time Labor Zionists in with the BDS/J Street/Blumenthal pariahs. Meanwhile, the BDS Left regards their patriarchs as relics doomed for the dustbin.

Goldberg’s rebuff to Myerson is essential reading for Zionists of every political persuasion. Unfortunately, it is scholarly, nuanced and broad-based — three things the Myerson generation has been acculturated to do without. The rich history of Labor Zionism cannot be boiled down to an Instagram, Vine or emoji. Goldberg’s is the generation of words. Myerson’s will be the generation of images. The irony that an entire generation of Jews now favors hieroglyphs over text further supports the assertions of many Israeli Jews that Jewish Americans have disengaged from their Jewish identity in the most deep-seated of ways. This is one of the reasons why Myerson and the BDS crowd feel so free to reinterpret Judaism to suit their political purposes. It is the creed of Marx, not Herzl, let alone Moses that informs their agenda.

Dismissing Bernie’s supporters as youthful hotheads on the fringe would be unwise. Today’s Hillary-supporting liberals are yesterday’s radicals. Moreover, higher education, mainstream media and popular culture, three outlets that market heavily to millennial voters, are quick to jump on the bandwagon of any profitable political trend, consequences be damned. Sanders supporters also know how to use social media to their advantage. Shortly after the Goldberg-Myerson match, the Sanders campaign suspended their Jewish outreach coordinator, Simone Zimmerman. Millennial Jews who share Zimmerman’s anti-Occupation, BDS stance were quick to blame the “Jewish Right.” The accusation sounds absurd until you realize that the “Jewish Right” is anyone who is anti-BDS, including the Labor Zionist gang.

Have no doubt; Myerson targeted both Goldberg and the Forward intentionally. You don’t pick arguments with established leaders of Jewish political thought without seeking to replace their voice in the conversation. Meyerson’s attack was nothing short of a call for a purge within the party.