Saturday, February 25, 2017

Linda Sarsour, Progressive-Left Ideals, and Diaspora Jewry

Michael Lumish

{Also published at the Elder of ZiyonJews Down Under and The Jewish Press.}

Edward Moran - Unveiling The Statue of Liberty
Enlightening the World
, 1886
Two of the most significant political questions facing the West today are those of immigration policy and identity politics.

Women's March organizer, Linda Sarsour, stands at the crux of both and has successfully put pro-Israel diaspora Jewry between the horns of a political dilemma.

Sarsour just raised considerable funds for the restoration of a recently desecrated Jewish cemetery near St. Louis, Missouri. Thus, even as she despises Israel she goes out of her way to help American Jewry.

Meanwhile, as disappointed ideologues from left and right spit an endless stream of vitriol at U.S. President Donald Trump for everything from corruption to racism, the issues of immigration and identity politics garner the most rancor.

Concerns around both are vital and divisive because they cut a sharp line down the central contradictions agitating the progressive-left and the Democratic Party.

These central contradictions are those between the foundational ideological pillars of  universal human rights and the multicultural ideal, upon which the western-left stakes its moral authority.

Progressive-Left Ideals

The foundational thinking behind the ideals of universal human rights and multiculturalism is grounded in the history of western Christianity, imperialism, slavery, and war as interpreted through the lens of Enlightenment liberalism.

Concepts around universal human rights can easily be thought to bolster progressive-left immigration policies, while the multicultural ideal drives the kind of "identity politics" associated with groups like Black Lives Matter or activists like Sarsour.

The problem, however, is that these foundational ideological pillars are logically inconsistent and mutually exclusive. A person cannot simultaneously support universal human rights and the multicultural ideal if the former must defer to the latter's disinclination to make ethical judgments between cultures.

For example, a person cannot honestly claim to stand for universal human rights if that person fears speaking out for Yazidis buried alive under Islamist imperial aggression. A person cannot favor universal human rights if he or she does not really care about the desecration of Palmyra. Nor can a person honestly care about universal human rights if they aren't the least bothered by the genocide of the Christians throughout the Middle East under the boot of Arab-Muslim religious domination.

It is precisely for this reason that someone like Sarsour cannot support feminism while also embracing Sharia under the banner of multiculturalism. They are mutually exclusive concepts. Western feminism, at its most basic, is embedded within the ideal of universal human rights. The very foundation of western feminism is universal human rights. Multiculturalism as expressed in identity politics, however, insists upon holding individuals to prejudicial standards of behavior according to skin color or gendered orientation.

In this way, identity politics repudiates Martin Luther King, Jr., without his temerity to come out and honestly say so,

And this is part of the reason why the progressive-left claim to moral exemplarism, grounded in social justice, is deeply problematic and why identity politics actually promotes racism, not its diminishment.

The left only cares about social justice and human rights according to where one's "identity group" falls on the hierarchy of victimhood. In this way "identity politics" draws young people away from notions of individual freedom and equality in favor of a cultivated group victim status in competition with other ethnic or gendered minorities, including the Jewish minority.

This "cultural Marxist" way of viewing human social interactions encourages racial hatred, street violence, a manichean, black and white, Good versus Evil manner of living politics while potentially cultivating a white nationalist backlash in response.

Furthermore, it is the left-leaning, post-structural, anti-imperialist political viewpoint which frames the Arab-Muslim war against the Jews in the Middle East as actually an unjust war waged by racist, imperialist, Zionist Jews against an innocent, indigenous people "of color" who therefore have every right to fight back by any means necessary.

Diaspora Jewry

democratsThis increasingly-pressurized political dynamic puts progressive Jews - who represent the great majority of diaspora Jewry - in difficult social and political positions because increasingly they may either be pro-Israel or "progressive" but not both.

This is nothing new. The distrust and dislike between liberal pro-Israel Jewry and progressive-left, Democratic Party, anti-Zionism has been simmering for years.

The Washington Post tells us that today:

"While conservative Republicans favored Israel by a 44-point margin in 2001, the margin is now 70 points. And while liberal Democrats favored Israel by 30 points at the turn of the century, they now favor the Palestinians by 12 points."

This is the high wire that someone like, for example, Sarah Silverman must cross in an intensely public way. Silverman does not share this problem with Bernie Sanders because Sanders is not particularly pro-Israel to begin with.

Silverman honestly is pro-Israel and, if I judge her correctly, she is someone going through the process of sorting through and rearranging her political baggage.

{Shortly after the recent election Silverman interviewed Sanders and I put together a little audio something in response.}

But she is a stand-up and an actor, not a politician, so she gets the benefit of the doubt.

Nonetheless, Silverman represents stresses within the diaspora Jewish community between their allegiance to universal concepts of social justice and Tikkun Olam versus the well-being of the Jewish people as a distinct national group. Although diaspora Jews have shown a remarkable loyalty to social democratic ideals, the people who most strongly vouch for those ideals - i.e., the international Left and the Democratic Party - do not reciprocate the friendship as we see from the Pew Research Poll (above) published in the Washington Post from last month.

The reason for this is because western progressives increasingly see Palestinian-Arabs as innocent, indigenous "Davids" bravely facing-off against the malicious, invading Zionist "Goliath." They also - in a manner both racist and condescending - view the great Muslim people as without agency and, thus, without responsibility for the foreseeable outcome of their own behavior.

Like nineteenth-century western imperialists, progressive-left identitarians treat non-whites as small children in need of fatherly protection.

And it is for this reason that so many western liberal Jews favor either loose immigration policies or open borders. To do otherwise is conceived as a betrayal of essential Jewish values of kindness, fairness, justice, and compassion. It is also seen as a betrayal of the coastal, anti-Trump resistance which can easily cost people friendships and jobs.

In other words, unless western Jews favor the unvetted importation of millions of people from among a population that generally despises us... it makes us racist.

If we object to bringing these millions into our home countries without responsible vetting procedures - despite the fact that for thirteen hundred years we lived under Arab-Muslim imperial rule as second and third-class non-citizens - this makes us terrible people and Islamophobes. Even though much of the Arab religious leadership continues to screech for the genocide of the Jewish people to this very day, diaspora Jews are irredeemable, backwards xenophobes for merely desiring the exclusion of jihadis into our home countries.

{Why should western Jews care, after all, if their own kids get harassed by anti-Semitic anti-Zionists during their college years after forking over perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition?}

Nonetheless, I probably speak for something close to a majority of diaspora Jews when I say that we welcome immigrants from anywhere in the world into our home countries.

The only thing that we ask is that they pass through regular legal channels and not include jihadis among their number.

Given the history of the Jewish people under millennia of Christian and Muslim domination, this seems like a rather small and commonsensical request.


  1. Perhaps we need not look at it as a partisan issue. Either it's a Jewish issue a Jewish value or it is not. Helping or claiming to help fund raise to make a show of rehabilitating a desecrated Jewish cemetery while calling for the mass murder of Jews who happen to conveniently be Israelis is not a Jewish value. If it's not a Jewish value then we should not support it or wonder about it. There's little TO debate. Moreover, claiming the mantle of Tikkun isn't a Jewish value either, no more so than announcing rape and murder is bad. Those are civilizational norms not Jewish ones. And in the spirit of Tikkun, most, nearly EVERY SINGLE LIBERAL gets it wrong. It's not about charity, it's not about Habitat for Humanity or giving your sons and daughters to the local imam for conversion. It's not about erasing the nation or creating a $15/hr minimum wage. It's about embracing those Jewish values that necessarily lead to the people in the world being better people which then leads to Tikkun.

    1. Speaking of Habitat for Humanity I once got a fundraising letter from Jimmy Carter telling me what a good Christian I would be if I were to send him some money.

    2. One of my children did volunteer work for them. I don't fault them for what they do. But it's not a badge of honor to do what's fundamentally the right thing to do. That's always been the message I've imprinted on my children - don't take a bow for doing the right thing, you're SUPPOSED to do the right thing. In Judaism the highest form of charity is where the giver doesn't know who the help goes to and the receiver doesn't know who it came from. No one is supposed to take credit for that. Again, I have no truck with them on that score. But it's not a "Jewish" value, per se. It's not noble to ask for recognition. These are the Talmudic values we're supposed to live by. I often tell this story, but way back in before time, where we were living at the time, our home would get broken into a LOT. But they stole food and clothing not TV's or cameras or jewelry. So we reached a quiet agreement; we left out sacks of food and clothing on the front porch and they took it stopped breaking into our home. Their dignity was preserved and we didn't have to worry about someone breaking in. And be clear, the people breaking in may very well have been the same people we already had hired as staff in-house.

  2. screw Tikkum Olam; how about Tikkun Ourselves, in the tradition of AMERICA FIRST!

  3. "we welcome immigrants from anywhere in the world into our home countries".
    Cultures are products of human biology. Generally is a country has a f..d up culture, it's because of people living there. Now a country can have different groups, and minorities may not be responsible. However importing members of a dominant group from a failed state is a terrible idea. They will just turn the culture in your country into a replica of theirs. Even their "assimilated" children and grandchildren. It's in their genes.

    1. Historically the immigrant experience is that America made those immigrants more American than those immigrants changed America into something else. It's always been a balancing act. It's ok to live in Korea-town as long as you embrace American norms. That's still more or less the case but it's fading fast. Now we're supposed to celebrate permanent difference. We're supposed to elevate it above ourselves. We're supposed to erase OUR laws and mores in favor of theirs, whatever they are. Or as I'm constantly nagging at people in Synagogue "what is this any ism but Judaism?"

    2. Trudy has her finger on something important.

      Whatever anyone may make of her analysis, this represents a major left-right political fault-line in the West today.

      It was over this set of emerging questions around undemocratic globalism, and mass immigration without integration, that emerged Brexit and the rise of Trump to begin with.

      See, this is why we keep Trudy around this joint.

      Otherwise she would have been out on her ass long ago.

    3. Oh, sure, let them accuse me of sexism.

      I double dare 'em.

  4. Jews have no imperialist history to speak of. Arabs and Islam have a rather long, well-documented one. Progressives increasingly cannot be bothered even to examine the history of these peoples/cultures and how it has shaped their attitudes and outlook. Progressives are progressively hardening their positions based on the myths they feed themselves. Democrats now favor the "Palestinians" (for lack of an actual historic nationality or indigenous name for themselves) based on a decidedly anti-western fable casting Jews not as the long persecuted people they are, but as uber white, European imperialists out to screw the noble savage. Progressives get their knowledge of the West's historical interactions with Islam from a book by a non-expert, autobiographical fibber, and violent antisemite. They have boosted him to iconic status which includes a mural at SFSU.
    Everyone who has been paying attention knows what has been happening in Sweden for the past several years. Those who don't include major news gathering organizations such as CNN. Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

    1. I remain flabbergasted at the number of intelligent and engaged people that I know who are absolutely clueless about what the immigration crisis is doing to Sweden and Germany and, yet, who are opposed to serious vetting. The stupidity, indifference, and irresponsibility is both mind-numbing and dangerous. Furthermore, most of them have no idea what they are actually asking of diaspora Jewry, nor could they care less. Yet they see themselves as moral exemplars and their political opponents as either dumb or evil or both.

    2. SEEMINGLY, " intelligent and engaged people," Mike. If they were truly such they would be more like us and would have risen above ideology; not an easy task nowadays and dangerous to one's social standing.

      The amazing thing is that what Progressives have to say about themselves:

      ""At its core," John Halpin, senior advisor on the staff of the Center for American Progress writes, "progressivism is a non-ideological, pragmatic system of thought grounded in solving problems and maintaining strong values within society."

      I would argue that we have seen precious little of that in Progressive policies and actions.So if it ever was true then "Progressivism," has been infiltrated by some bad bad dudes and dudettes like Sarsour et al. And if they can't see that then how smart can they be?

  5. The clash between globalism and the nation-state overlaps these other issues.

    Progressives are Democrats. They are the globalists, not interested in external or internal self-determination. They seem ignorant of how states developed and the positive aspects of nations, but think governance and human development is a matter of science.

    In theory, a multicultural world based on relativistic values should work. In practice, people are not wired that way, and the progressive religion turns quite illiberal, even dangerous, as people like Sarsour, Rasmea Odeh, and the JVP amply illustrate with their hate and deception.

    Democrats have bought in to the progressive religion. No turning back. Hysteria and resistance will reign. We will see what prevails. The feeling persists that it will backfire, just as it did in the campaign, because the adherents are out of touch and most interested in destroying the enemy, even if it harms society and the benefits it has conferred.

  6. Then why are Progressives/Democrats so interested in Palestinian self-determination? What makes Palestinians so special that self-determination is essential to them but not to anyone else?

    1. Because it furthers to drive toward globalism. It's what used to be called solidarity and now is intersectionality. They don't really care about the Palestinians and pretend not to know the Palestinian past and continuing role in the conflict.

  7. "What must be done? Clearly, the first thing that open-minded liberal thinkers can do is to distance themselves from movements whose bias and intolerance is the antithesis of all liberal values.

    If hate and bias, built on propaganda and lies, is the platform of groups, organizations or associations that bar you from pursuing your values, or picks on one country and one country only to the exclusion of any other, these bodies should be outlawed, not pandered or supported."

    Or else you are no better than a Kapo, IMHO.

  8. This is a really good post that has led to a really good discussion. Thank you all.

    I think very little about the current leftist position has to do with substantive, considered issues (and I'm a life-long left-leaner myself). It's really, as a friend of mine put it, a version of consumerism: buy the brand, belong to the in-crowd.

    It is this hunger for group belonging that I think contributes hugely toward the popularity of Islam for supposed leftists – who would flip if anyone tried to read the New Testament to them, but are only too willing to bow in pseudo-Islamic prostration when someone chants something Arabic. (And I'm not anti-Islamic, just anti-supremacist – though this is unfortunately built into Islam itself and will require more "reform" than we can even imagine at this point, if it is ever to change.)

    Jews are, as Manfred Gerstenfeld reminded us in a recent article, an in-between people, and always have been. Today, that is precisely where no one wants to be or what position anyone can even bear to countenance – neither leftists nor rightists, neither atheists nor Christians nor Muslims. So Jews get attacked by all sides (sometimes for the same things and sometimes for different things). Meanwhile, the nations, united, have found in anti-Zionism a wonderful unifying force: the OIC can agree with the EU and with the Dems that Israel is just horrrrrrible (no matter, of course, what it does or doesn't do).

    When people are deeply alienated from each other, disturbed by the high degree of cognitive dissonance required to think about the world's political and religious conflicts, and aching for a sense of belonging and security, how handy the Jews and Israel are! It has always been so, but the very challenge of modernity/postmodernity, i.e., globalism itself, with its attendant and perhaps unresolvable challenges, raises the twin spectres of groupthink and scapegoating to previously unheard of degrees.

    The political right can unite (not without justification, of course) against the spread of Islam, the "Alt-Rechts" can add old-fashined Jew-hatred into the mix, the leftists can join the ranks of the Good People by spouting ill-considered faux-politics, and the Islamists have a holy book that promises them ultimate superiority. And the eternally in-between Jews, along with those who for whatever reason stand with them, are in the position (or forced to play the role) of "uniqueness".

    And of course the Jews have ALWAYS represented the "exception" that so threatens the pseudo-universalism of those who hate them, from the Romans to the Christians to the Enlightenment philosophers to the communists to the purveyors of seamless capitalism.

    There's nothing wrong with "globalism" or "universalism" per se. Jews are indeed called to be a light unto the nations - to ALL of the nations. But when conceived in their most simplistic and abstract sense, globalism and universalism do not have a place for the individual, the particular or the exceptional. Only a truly robust, realistic, HUMAN universalism that recognizes the utterly unique contribution of each irreplaceable person can comprehend the utterly unique contribution of Judaism. And this kind of universalism IS the very contribution of Judaism! Which I think is precisely what makes it so deeply feared and hated.

    1. Damn.

      I do not know that I agree with every syllable, but I wish I wrote this.

      Nicely done.

  9. Fair is Foul, Foul is Fair