New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss has become a star advocate for Israel, and at a recent appearance she made three important points.
1, The way to fight anti-Zionism on college campuses is for older Jews to stop giving money to prestige institutions like Harvard and Columbia and George Washington University because they employ “antisemitic” professors. 2, The young Jewishly-educated Jews of IfNotNow are worrisome because they are “being used” by anti-Zionists. 3, Jews are only safe walking around the West Village because Israel exists, and they’re “insane” if they don’t recognize this.
Speaking on December 5 at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, Weiss deplored the anti-Israel political culture on college campuses and recommended a “really radical” way of changing it, getting wealthy Jews to reassess how much “prestige” they get from giving money to those schools:
Look, Jewish organizations that have poured immense amount of money into fighting BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign aimed at Israel] love to pat themselves on the back and say “We have been so successful because no universities have adopted BDS.” Well that may be true– or maybe a few [universities have]– but they have failed so unbelievably in the cultural game. Meaning if you go to a university campus, most university campuses where I imagine a lot of people in this room have kids, and you go to the activities fair in the first week or two, you sign up for all these things. You sign up for, Raise the minimum wage to $15, and legalize marijuana, and better rights for cafeteria workers. Oh, and by the way, BDS. Like, it’s become a plank of political progressivism among young people. It just has. That’s the reality.
Do I think that most people that are signing up or going along with that are antisemites? Obviously not. They imagine because… maybe they’re lied to, or maybe they are not doing their homework. They believe that BDS or adjacent things [causes] are just about ending the occupation of the West Bank. When in fact.. BDS is about the elimination of any state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
I don’t know what the solution is to the campus problem. But the idea that it’s overwrought– I don’t think it’s wrought enough! Meaning, really open your eyes to what is happening. Look at– York University just banned a Zionist group on campus. Period. McGill wants one of its student senators, Jordyn Wright, to resign because she’s going on a Hillel trip to Israel…[that] by the way includes visits to the Palestinian territories with Palestinians… GW– you could read the amazing op-ed that we published in the Times by Blake Flayton.
I could go on and on and on. I talk to these students every single day and they are showing more clarity frankly and wisdom than a lot of people I would say in my parents’ generation and older who have put so much stock in the prestige of these places that I think it’s too painful for them to see where it actually is. I think we need a really, really radical rethink of our attitude toward these universities. And the idea that there are very wealthy Jews giving their money to places that actively employ antisemitic professors is astonishing to me. I say that as a graduate of Columbia. At the time I did not have the cojones to call it antisemitsm, by the way. I did not. Now that I look back at what those professors said, it’s astonishing to me actually. So I think we need to think about– What is more important? Is what is more important a Harvard degree, or what is more important, fighting back against this? I think we really need a reassessment.
Bari Weiss could begin this project by publishing her list of antisemitic professors.
Point 2. Weiss said that while in general, young Jews who have a “rich or deep Jewish identity” are sticking by Israel, some are not.
“The thing that gives me pause… is the phenomenon of IfNotNow and the groups that are increasingly cropping up of, I don’t know if they would call themselves anti-Zionist or post-Zionist Jews, who have Schechter and Ramah [Jewish school] backgrounds. They are a small group, but Jewishly educated and they’re very, very, very ourspoken and I fear are being used in ways– well, I’ll just leave it at that.”
IfNotNow calls itself non-Zionist and it demonstrates against the occupation, a cause that Weiss herself endorsed in this discussion. Weiss’s issue would seem to be that they are taking on Israel lobby organizations like AIPAC (where her father is a regular) and fracturing U.S. Jewish support for Israel.
Point 3. Jews are only safe in the United States because of the existence of Israel. And that anti-Zionist Jews who think they’re doing fine here are “insane” not to recognize this.
She began by describing Jews’ discomfort with the word Zionism.
I was at dinner a few nights ago with a lot of Jews. Some of whom were professional Jews, some of whom were not. And there were a few people, I was really surprised who were like, I wouldn’t call myself a Zionist, it’s too loaded a word. Do you hear that? My younger sister was there. She’s 24… She was like Yeah I hear that all the time among my friends. “It separates the boys from the men, I’m a Zionist.”
Atlantic editor Jeffrey Golderg injected, “That’s Diasporism actually… We’re going to fulfill ourselves here.”
Weiss explained that these Jews are only safe walking through Greenwich Village because the state of Israel exists.
The thing that is killing me about this whole Diasporism thing that I’m seeing on the far left is it relies on a vision of history that’s just completely revisionist. It imagines that there was a time where Jews were both powerless and protected… and happy. This is insane. The only reason they’re able to have the luxury of walking around the West Village and calling themselves post-Zionist is because of the state of Israel.
Goldberg injected, “In, to be fair, a unique Diaspora country.”
“Yes. For sure, yes,” Bari Weiss said.
Moderator Zachary Schaffer, head of the Council of Young Jewish Presidents, and a Zionist himself, asked, What about young Jews who say, this is our home, this is where we feel safe? And who say the idea that there could be a holocaust, and we’d have to flee to Israel “is laughable.”
“They literally have no idea what’s going on in the world,” Weiss responded.
How could they look at what’s going on in France and say that the state of Israel is not necessary? That’s it! How could they look at what’s going on in England. 47 percent of British Jews say that if Jeremy Corbyn is elected they will consider emigrating to Israel. I’m sorry, not just Israel, they will consider leaving the country and moving other places. How could people possibly say that? I just find that to be astonishingly parochial.
My main takeaway from the discussion between Weiss and Goldberg is that What liberal Zionists have always feared, that the conflict would become a religious conflict, has come to pass.
Here are two very mainstream American Zionists, stalwarts of Zionism truly, and Goldberg tells us he is on “the left;” and they discuss Israel in religious terms. Goldberg invokes biblical ideas about the “ancestral” home of the Jewish people and Jewish “spiritual” yearning for Jerusalem and the importance of long study of Hebrew; and Weiss seconds him, saying that “the Jewish yearning to return… to their indigenous place is an ancient thing… something that’s deep.”
Using religious justifications for social rights is anathema in American liberal political discussions; and yet liberal Jews have now been painted into that religious corner by Zionism itself. In large part because in Israel itself the secular liberal/left is shattered and marginalized, and mainstream political culture is deeply infused with religious ideas that it promotes here. You can say that the fault goes back to Ben-Gurion’s decisions and Herzl’s ideas — that they purposely mixed religion and politics. But in our generation this religiosity has become acceptable rhetoric among liberal Zionists, and– they should stop. Because such talk really precludes an understanding with people from other religions who live in that country and themselves now invoke religious bases for their rights.