The Left’s identity politics are becoming curiouser and curiouser for Jews.
On the one hand, prominent leftists like Marc Lamont Hill, Tamika Mallory, and Linda Sarsour have no problem blowing on anti-Jewish dog whistles. On the other hand, some of their hard left comrades, like Representative-elect Alexandra Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) and New York state Senator-elect Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) are going out of their way to embrace their Jewish roots — whether real or imagined.
How can we explain these seemingly opposed phenomena? After all, these activists share the belief at the core of identity politics that people are defined by what they are, as opposed to what they do. And all of them oppose the Jewish state because the identity politics commissars have determined that Israel is irredeemably deplorable, and the vast majority of Jews are also deplorable because they support Israel.
So how can they embrace hatred of Zionist Jews and Israel, and publicize their Jewishness at the same time? What gives?
The answer is that their embrace of their Jewishness and their rejection of Jews and Israel are two sides of the same anti-Jewish coin.
The antisemitism of the likes of Mallory and Sarsour and Hill and their colleagues isn’t hard to discern, even when they deny it.
Consider Hill. On November 29, Hill gave a speech at the UN where he effectively endorsed Palestinian terrorism against Israel and called for Israel to be annihilated.
To this end, Hill used two well understood euphemisms. He called for Israel’s annihilation by ending his speech by stating the Palestine Liberation Organization’s slogan for Israel’s destruction, “Free Palestine from the river to the sea.” That is, the establishment of Palestine on all the land Israel is located on – from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Hill endorsed Palestinian terrorism against Israelis when he said, “We must promote non-violence at every opportunity, but cannot endorse narrow politics that shames Palestinians for resisting.”
“Resistance” is the euphemism for terrorism, universally recognized and used among the Palestinians and their supporters.
When a public outcry among Jewish groups caused CNN to fire Hill from his job as a regular talking head, and demands were made for Temple University to fire him from his position as a media professor, Hill apologized for his remarks and insisted that he bears no ill will towards Jews and does not support the violent annihilation of Israelis or terrorism against them.
But his record tells a slightly more nuanced tale, to say the least.
Hill supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. He has lionized terrorists and called for them to be emulated. And he has publicly embraced Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, arguably the most powerful anti-Semite in the United States.
Of the last issue, Hill claims that he only met with Farrakhan to attack him for his anti-LGBT and anti-Jewish prejudices, although he didn’t seem at all uncomfortable posing with Farrakhan for a photo.As for Women’s March leaders Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour, a recent investigative report on the organization shows that Mallory and her fellow Women’s March chairs have been open about their hatred for the Jewish state and their opposition to permitting Jewish women to have a role in their group’s leadership from the outset of their operations.Mallory and her fellow Women’s March leaders openly embrace Farrakhan. They have repeatedly gone out of their way not to disavow their support for Farrakhan and his virulently anti-Jewish positions even as their support for him has come under repeated scrutiny from the media.
Sarsour has arguably played the greatest role in mainstreaming Jew hatred on the left in recent years. That hatred is most prominently expressed in the left’s willingness to reject the human rights of Israeli Jews, including their right not to be murdered by Palestinian terrorists. It is also expressed in the left’s embrace of the view that American Jews have no right to support openly Israel’s right to exist. Last month Sarsour implied that Jews on the left who support Israel cannot be real progressives because their true “allegiance” is to Israel.
In other words, the antisemitism that Sarsour has been instrumental in spreading — and which Mallory, Hill, Perez and many others express openly — is focused on the Jewish state and Jews who support it.
Which brings us to Ocasio-Cortez and Salazar. Like their comrades, both women have embraced harshly anti-Israel positions. But on the face of it, their claims to Jewish heritage seems to indicate that their positions do not stem from an underlying animus towards Jews or Judaism.
But they do. And to understand why they do, it is important to understand the nature of the left’s antisemitism.
This isn’t the antisemitism of the Nazis.
The closest historical precedent to the identity-politics-rooted Jew-hatred on today’s left is the Catholic Inquisition.
The Inquisition, which began in the 12th century and lasted until the early 20th century, was directed towards abolishing anti-Catholic “heresy” in all forms. In southern France, in Spain, and Portugal, the Inquisition was largely directed against the Jews. Under its edicts, Jewish practice and scholarship were officially curtailed and censored beginning in the mid-13th century. The Inquisition culminated in the execution, expulsion or forced conversion of the Jews of Spain and Portugal between 1371 and 1492.
While the vast majority of Jews suffered massively under the Church’s official persecution, there was one sort of “Jew” that prospered. The “good Jews” were former Jews who converted to Christianity and used their status as former Jews to lead the Church’s persecution of the Jews who refused to convert.
The most prominent of these “good Jews” was Pablo Cristiani. Born a Jew in the early 13th century, Cristiani converted to Catholicism. In 1263, Cristiani was a Dominican friar. Acting under the protection of Raymond de Penyafort, he first tried to forcibly convert the Jews of Provence. When he failed in his mission, he traveled to Spain. There he convinced King James I of Aragon to host a disputation, or debate between himself and the leading rabbi of Spain, Moses ben Nachman, better known as the Ramban or Nachmanides. The purpose of what became known as the Disputation of Barcelona was for the two men to debate whether or not the Jewish Talmud, or Oral law, endorsed Christianity as the true faith. Cristiani’s idea was that if the Ramban lost the disputation, he would convert to Christianity and the rest of the Jews of Spain would follow him either forcibly or voluntarily.
In the event, the Ramban did not convert, and King James recognized that the Ramban’s arguments were more convincing than Cristiani’s were. But the Ramban’s non-defeat brought no relief to the Jews of Spain. The King expelled the Ramban from Spain and required the Jews to host Cristiani in their communities and answer his attacks on the Talmud. They were also required to pay him.
When these efforts also failed to bring the Jews to Catholicism, Cristiani returned to France. He convinced Pope Clement IV that the problem with the Jews was rooted in the Talmud. Cristiani convinced the pope to censor the Talmud. His efforts caused European editions of the Talmud to be censored for the next 500 years.
And Cristiani wasn’t done sticking it to the Jews. In 1269, Cristiani convinced King Louis IX of France to force Jews to wear badges marking them as Jews.
Former Jews like Cristiani were important for the Church because they served as “Jewish” denouncers. As former Jews, who embraced the teachings of the Church, they legitimized the Church’s persecution of the remaining Jews. They were supposedly in a position to know – as former Jews – that the Church was right and their fellow Jews were wrong.
Which brings us to Ocasio-Cortez and Salazar. What possesses them to identify as Jews even as they denounce Israel?
With Ocasio-Cortez, it’s hard to know whether her actions stem from awareness of the significance of what she is doing, or whether she is simply repeating leftist catechisms. But what made her move suggestive of less-than-friendly intent towards the Jewish community writ large was the venue in which she chose to announce her Jewish heritage.
Ocasio-Cortez made her remarks at a Chanukah party hosted by the far-left Jews for Racial and Economic Equality (JFREJ). The group views itself as a Jewish member of the far-left and embraces identity politics. When the Black Lives Matter movement’s published its virulently antisemitic platform statement — which accuses Israel of committing “genocide” against the Palestinians, refers to Israel as an “apartheid state,” and endorses a full economic boycott of Israel — Jewish and Jewish groups across the political spectrum condemned the move. JFREJ defended it.
In his defense of the platform, JFERL leader Leo Ferguson accused “white Jews” of being insensitive to anti-black racism and effectively blamed them for Black Lives Matter’s official embrace of Jew-hatred.
Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to announce her claims to Jewish ancestry to an audience of Jews who are far outside of mainstream Jewish opinion in America signaled that her affinity with Jews was located in this outlier group.
But where Ocasio-Cortez’s move was merely suggestive of prejudice, Salazar’s use of Jewish identity was a clear example of it.
For years leading up to her run for the New York State Senate, Julia Salazar made her ”Judaism” the core of her political identity. But as Tablet magazine revealed last summer, Salazar’s Judaism is largely imagined. When Salazar began her undergraduate career at Columbia University in 2011 she was an evangelical Christian Zionist and pro-life activist. She underwent a transformation in late 2012.
At that time, Salazar moved from being an outspokenly Christian pro-Israel advocate and nominal founder of the Columbia chapter of Christians United for Israel, to being a radical anti-Israel activist who insisted that she was attacking Israel as a Jew.
After graduating from college, Salazar, now a self-identified progressive Jewish activist, worked for JFERL and other radical Jewish groups. She edited and wrote for Jewish anti-Israel websites – as a Jew.
After Tablet published its exposé of her self-styled Judaism, rather than own up to her dishonesty, Salazar attacked the messenger.
She tweeted, “I virtually never speak publicly about my religion [Judaism] unless media explicitly ask me about it. And that’s largely because I don’t enjoy subjecting myself to Tablet-esque race science, as a person from a mixed background.”
She also effectively denounced Jewish religious law and practice, which require a person to either have a Jewish mother or convert to Judaism in order to become a Jew, by saying derisively, “I’m not running for Chief Rabbi here.”
Other radical Jewish anti-Israel activists raced to support Salazar and her belittlement of Jewish law and practice. Writing at the far left Forward, Lianna Petruzzi, from the anti-Zionist IfNotNow group, attacked the Jewish community and Jewish religious practice and belief for daring to note that Salazar, whose parents are Catholic and who apparently never converted to Judaism, is not actually Jewish. Petruzzi’s organization agitates for the American Jewish community to abandon its support for Israel insisted that the Jews were persecuting Salazar because she doesn’t support Israel.
According to the Tablet report, Salazar’s last place of employment before entering politics was JFERL, where she worked as an organizer. It was during her time at JFERL that the group gave its prize to Sarsour.
This, then, brings us to the meeting point between Sarsour, Hill, Mallory, Ocasio-Cortez, and Salazar. Like their ideological predecessors in the Inquisition, they are united in their hostility towards “bad Jews” who maintain the convictions of the vast majority of the Jewish people.
In the Middle Ages, those convictions related to the Torah. Today, those convictions relate to support for the Jewish state. And like their predecessors in the Middle Ages, they see Jews who denounce Jews and the Jewish state as “good Jews.”
Reprinted with author’s permission from Caroline Glick