Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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    Support for Israel and progressive politics don’t have to clash

    As a proud Jew leading a progressive advocacy and education nonprofit, I often feel discouraged from openly discussing the nuance of the Israel-Palestine conflict and expressing my Zionist beliefs. Doing this, I worry, would jeopardize my organization’s and my own progressive credentials. It’s not easy to walk into a room with a kippah on my head and share a space with individuals who’ve espoused one-sided and sometimes inflammatory rhetoric about Israel and Jews.

    These feelings of angst came to the fore twice more last week. First, Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), among others, announced their intent to boycott Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to a joint session of Congress, despite President Herzog’s ceremonial role as head of state being insular from the Israeli government. Days later, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) insinuated that it is a progressive priority to label Israel as a “racist state,” a common canard used to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist.

    In situations like these, I’m often left with a difficult choice: Remain silent and accept the recurring anti-Israel rhetoric from the progressive wing, potentially enabling further abuse; or, call it out and endure potential backlash from many within the movement.

    Others have already written about why Rep. Jayapal was wrong, and the congresswoman’s office did issue an apology that said many of the right things. And while she later voted in favor of a resolution condemning antisemitism and reiterating support for the state of Israel, nine of her progressive colleagues voted against it.

    Yes, Jayapal’s comments sting. Yes, the boycott of President Herzog’s address is hypocritical. And yes, seeing some progressives vote against the resolution is disheartening. What makes it even more painful, though, is that it’s coming from those who champion many of the causes we advocate for at the Jewish Center for Justice, where I serve as executive director.

    Since our inception, JCJ has stood side by side with our partners in the progressive space to fight for LGBTQ+ equality, paid sick leave, climate justice and more. We have continued to do this in spite of — and throughout — ongoing attacks on Israel and Jewish people from our own flank.

    For example, after Rep. Tlaib said last year that one could not hold progressive views and support Israel’s “apartheid” government, Jews in my community continued to urge coalition building and advocate for police reform, criminal justice reform and the expansion of voting rights. Sadly, she doubled down on these comments in a speech on the House floor this week.

    In February 2019, Rep. Omar implied that lawmakers are bribed into supporting Israel, saying that “it’s all about the Benjamins.” During that time, we worked with progressive Jewish groups like HIAS and other prominent refugee resettlement organizations to vehemently oppose then-President Trump’s Islamophobic “Muslim ban.”

    The message from progressive Jews is that we will not sacrifice our seat at the table, nor will we back down from contributing to progressive causes, just because we reject unfair criticism of Israel. While the words and actions of these members do hurt — and must be condemned — the lesson for progressives should be to include individuals of all identities in coalitions that advance true progressive values, not those held by a fringe minority.

    Just this month, Partnership for Growth Los Angeles, a joint Black-Jewish enterprise created by JCJ and McCarty Memorial Church, announced the launch of a project to build 37 urban farms in South and West Los Angeles by 2026. Our goal is to fight food insecurity and eliminate food deserts in inner city communities. Further, this project will employ at-risk youth, formerly incarcerated individuals, and senior citizens.

    Projects like this and others demonstrate that Jews frequently show up for progressive causes, and we don’t plan to stop any time soon. In fact, chances are that if you’re someone who cares about an issue in your community, Jewish organizations are on the ground and ready to work alongside you. My question to fellow progressives is: Will you join us?

    Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds is the founding director of the Jewish Center for Justice, and president of Partnership for Growth Los Angeles.

    Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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