Editor’s Note: At the suggestion of educator and Jewish Week columnist Erica Brown, a number of leading voices in the Jewish community were asked to write a letter reflecting their post-election thoughts. This is the third of three parts:
Dear Jewish Democrats,
Many mainstream American liberals feel disenfranchised by an acute struggle within the Democratic Party. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and more radical elements of the party are vigorously promoting Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison as Democratic National Committee head. Many American Jews fear this new leadership signals a change in Israel policy. In 2014, Ellison opposed Iron Dome funding for Israel. In Hebron last summer, he tweeted a placard accusing Israel of “apartheid.” Most recently, he was handpicked by Sanders, along with the Arab American Institute’s James Zogby and Cornel West, in an (unsuccessful) bid to upgrade Palestinian agendas in the Democratic Party platform. [The Anti-Defamation League withdrew its support for Ellison last week after a tape of a 2010 speech he gave suggested that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East was “governed” by Israeli interests.]
This DNC battle reflects nationwide ideological trends. On American college campuses, a group-versus-group dynamic has eroded confidence that education and the compassionate imagination can nurture empathy and understanding between groups.
I have observed the way popular concepts are used reductively in university environments to lump Jews worldwide — regardless of their actual life situations — into one undifferentiated and “privileged” group (with dark echoes of anti-Semitic stereotypes). In many academic venues Jews are no longer considered a minority, and little attention is devoted to the vulnerability and current suffering of Jews abroad. In contrast, in many classrooms the sufferings of African Americans and Palestinians are viewed as intersecting, while support for Israel as a sovereign Jewish state is discussed as a manifestation of white, colonialist oppression.
At least a century of Americans from a broad range of ethnoreligious and socioeconomic backgrounds, including the majority of American Jews, responded passionately to Democratic centrist liberalism. Middle-of-the-road Democrats reject the Trump campaign’s legacy of nativistic hate speech, misogyny and “America first” isolationism. For many Jews, active involvement in social justice political movements is a profound expression of Jewishness. But if the Democratic Party embraces a leftist, anti-Israel narrative, I, along with many American Jews may find ourselves without a viable political home.
Professor of Judaic studies at Brandeis University and co-director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute