Troubling, but not surprising.
The National Council of Jewish Women is one of those organizations whose letterhead keeps showing up on left-wing causes having nothing to do with Jewish issues. Lately it claimed to be concerned about anti-Semitism. Just not the extent of breaking ranks with anti-Semites and refusing to participate in anti-Israel events and events with anti-Israel content.
In response to Linda Sarsour’s insistence that there was no room for Zionists in the “Feminist” camp, the NCJW’s response was disgusting and unsurprising.
Representatives from Jewish women’s organizations were more non-committal about how feminism’s recent embrace of Palestinian rights would affect their involvement moving forward.
Nancy Kaufman, chief executive office of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), said that “while I truly hope women leading change doesn’t turn into a cover for Israel bashing … everyone is entitled to freedom of speech.” In terms of future participation, NCJW will “navigate as we go along.”
“We will continue to have our voices be heard — we’re not going to tell anyone else that they can’t have their voices be heard,” she said.
Kaufman pointed out that while Sarsour’s participation in the Women’s March raised some discomfort among Jewish participants, the event maintained a tenor of inclusivity. She also pointed out that the Women’s Strike platform decries anti-Semitism in the same paragraph that it singles out Palestine.
“We understand that the organizers do not want Israel criticism to be associated with anti-Semitism,” she said.
Not only won’t Nancy Kaufman commit to breaking ranks with anti-Semites, she even goes so far as to provide them with ideological cover. But this is another reminder that the left is anti-Semitic and Jewish members of it are just there to provide cover for that anti-Semitism with dishonest statements like these.
JOFA is expressing discomfort, though it falls of a specific pledge.
The involvement of Odeh made the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism particularly difficult to navigate, said Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA).
“Linda Sarsour’s involvement pales in comparison to this,” she said, referring to Odeh’s involvement. “There is a spectrum, and we understand that not everyone is a lover of Israel. But when you have a convicted terrorist as part of the leadership, most are hard pressed to participate, no matter how much you support feminism.”
The decision to add the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the movement’s agenda is not only troubling, but also not strategic, added Weiss-Greenberg. “It hurts our case dramatically. We lost people who were on board with the feminist mission.”
Well JOFA will have to choose between participating in the left and being part of the Jewish community. The left in the US, as in the USSR, is making it clear that the two are not compatible.
Seffi Kogen, 25, a Conservative Jew and feminist “thought leader” among his peers, said Odeh is the “precisely wrong person to be leading the charge on these issues.” (Kogen is also the assistant director of campus affairs at the American Jewish Committee, though he was not speaking in that capacity.)
“There is no easier way for supporters of Donald Trump to raise concerns about refugees and get behind travel bans and restrictions than to simply point to an actual terrorist and say ‘this is who is representing the left,’” he said. Odeh emigrated to the United States in 1995 and lied about her criminal record (she denied having one). She repeated the same falsehoods when applying for U.S. citizenship in 2004 and was arrested in 2013 for lying to the federal government. She served 18 months in prison. She is currently free on bail and awaiting trial.
“It’s self-marginalization,” said Kogen. “Having a terrorist murderer as a face to this new feminist movement only adds ammo to those who already seek to marginalize feminists. This is bad for the progressive movement as a whole.”
Reisman said she felt the same disappointment when the Black Lives Matter movement released a platform in August 2016 which accuses Israel of perpetrating “genocide” against the Palestinian people and describes Israel as an “apartheid state.” The movement’s polarizing platform blindsided many enthusiastic Jewish supporters, and gave ammunition to the already skeptical right wing.
“I felt so strongly about the Black Lives Matter platform,” said Reisman, who described herself as an ally. She called the controversial platform a “bait-and-switch.” “I care deeply about racial equality in this country,” she said, “but there was no place in this movement left for me.”
This has been the process throughout the history of the left. Some Jews will stick with it no matter how anti-Semitic it becomes. Others wake up and do the right thing. It’s like Dorothy Parker’s going Nazi game. We saw this with Communism. Now we’re seeing it all over again with a resurgent radical left boiling with support for the massacre of Jews… while pretending to decry anti-Semitism.
And there are plenty of “We have to look at the big picture and not let the anti-Semitism distract us from our feminism” excuses.
Still, others refused to back away from the new energy of the feminist movement, despite the controversy.
“We can’t let others dictate whether or not we sit around the table,” said Rabbi Marla Feldman, executive director of Women of Reform Judaism. “We won’t let them push us out.”
While collaborating with those who have different beliefs is always “a dance,” Rabbi Feldman said agreeing to disagree is essential. “We’ll disagree where we must, agree where we can, and continue working towards the common good.”
Rabbi Iris Richman, a Conservative rabbi who runs a Facebook group for Jewish feminists, said that she intends to “stay involved at all levels.”
“We need to be well-represented so that we continue to be heard,” said Richman, who helped a cohort of Sabbath-observant participants travel to Washington, D.C., for the Women’s March. “If we have the opportunity to get involved, our default has to be to get involved.”
Focusing on the “big picture” is key, Richman said. “We need to accept allies who we don’t agree with on everything,” she said. “The focus needs to be on changing things and not wallowing in criticism of other groups. Effective organizing 101 is building alliances, something the Jewish community will need even more in years to come.”
This is what whitewashing and normalizing anti-Semitism looks like.