The recent release of the platform of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), which accused Israel of genocide and apartheid against the Palestinians (it has since been toned down slightly), gave rise to a spate of mostly predictable reactions: fury from Zionists, cheers from Palestinians, and a particularly emetic genre of “of course you are right that Israel is an oppressor, and I would never criticize a black person, but maybe you went too far, just saying” literature from guilt-ridden left-wing Jews.
Yotam Marom, 30, is a Jewish “political organizer, educator and writer” who was active in Occupy Wall Street and numerous other causes. He has lived in Israel and has a grandmother who survived the Holocaust. He was arrested in 2014 at the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations where he was protesting Israel’s operation in Gaza. The M4BL platform, which he called “brilliant and powerful” nevertheless made him think about the place of Jews in a Left that some say is more and more anti-Jewish.
Marom, who has totally devoted himself to The Movement, and who spends his days demonstrating for “Palestinians in Gaza, or the Black folks being shot down in the streets,” wrote a long confessional article about how he finally came to the realization that the Left that he is so much a part of, hates Jews:
But this march is alive — people weaving in and out of the police barricades, folks dancing and singing, banners waving in the Midtown wind tunnels. It’s led by young people, but I notice, to my surprise, that it is also full of families — mothers in hijabs pushing strollers, kids waving Palestinian flags, teenagers climbing trash cans on the way downtown. There is a palpable feeling of warmth and hope and resilience, even despite the heartbreak and mourning and fury. I’m glad I’m here, with these people.
Then I see a poster that shows the Jewish Star of David, with an equal sign next to a Nazi swastika. I see the Neturei Karta (an Orthodox Jewish sect) in their black coats and hats and beards, paraded at the front of the demonstrations — as if to say, look, even the Jews hate Israel — even though they are right wingers who are anti-Zionists merely because they believe the land of Israel should be settled only after the Messiah comes. Another sign says “Good job Israel, Hitler would be proud,” and a poster shows Israeli soldiers alongside black and white photos of the SS. No one says anything about it.
There’s more. He notes his comrades talking about how the Jews control the media and the banks. He hears about “Jew landlords,” and a friend who gives a talk about constitutional rights is called a “Jew lawyer.” He sees that his friends, so ready to accuse Israel of genocide against Palestinians, don’t seem to notice violent terrorism against Jews by Arabs or mass murder of Syrians by Syrians. He is upset to be told that Jews, even good leftist anti-Zionist ones like Yotam Marom, are responsible for the purportedly evil actions of the IDF. In a moment of profound and troubling insight, he realizes that his friends really are Jew-haters (I abhor Wilhelm Marr’s solecism “anti-Semites”).
What should come next is the understanding that he’s on the wrong side of the struggle. But it doesn’t. He does not understand that he has been toiling in the very belly of the beast all along. That would be too great a leap, too radical a destruction of his conceptual scheme. Of course his friends hate Jews, because the ruling class uses Jew-hatred to divide the oppressed. Of course they are right about Israel being a settler-colonial oppressor, but it is only doing the work of the “Anglo-European elites,” who created it in the first place. The truth, he sees now, is that Jews are oppressed too, by a white ruling class that uses them to keep even more oppressed people down.
For Marom, Jew-hatred is not a highly contagious cancer in human souls, it is an ephemeral side effect of the economic forces that drive history. It’s just another tactic of the ruling class. It can be dealt with rationally, and he intends to deal with it:
Yes, my friends are anti-Semitic. Now the challenge: To convince them that anti-Semitism even still exists, that it is hurting all of us, and that it can be undone.
Good luck, Yotam. You’ll find that it’s not so easy. The folks that are all too ready to abase and flagellate themselves because of their essential racism, sexism, patriarchy and cis-ism will find it harder to recognize and purge their Jew-hatred. In fact, you will find that they are only capable of displacing it from individual Jews to the Jew among nations, which they will hate even more passionately. Look, even you are taking this line:
And as we [Jews] become whole, we can play an even more grounded role as partners in the struggle for a free Palestine by refusing to allow Israel and the US to shed blood in our name.
But there is one great benefit from Jew-hatred for leftist Jews like Marom. In the history of the Jewish people, he finds and is cheered by examples of Jews fighting back, as an oppressed and rebellious people. Once he begins to see Jews as oppressed rather than oppressors, a great weight is lifted. He undergoes an epiphany of a sort and in an especially revealing statement, writes,
How strange, I think to myself, that in the fifteen years I’ve spent doing political work, I’ve always thought of myself as being in the movement despite my people — my people being white, class-privileged, straight men. I had always, it now occurs to me, thought of myself as a traitor, and even been proud of it. It is only now, as my mind scans the faces of the fighters and dreamers and martyrs and prophets behind me that I realize that it’s not in spite of my people that I am here, but because of them. We all, I remember now, choose our origin stories. It is the first time my back has felt straight and broad, my chest open and powerful.
So in the name of Jewish “fighters and dreamers and martyrs and prophets,” he will struggle for “a free Palestine,” or in other words, the end of Jewish self-determination. Well, no one said he had to be consistent.
I congratulate you, Yotam, on the success of your dialectical process. You have achieved that goal toward which many like you have struggled unsuccessfully. No longer do you need to feel inferior to your black, brown, female, gay, trans and Palestinian friends. You realize at last that you, too, are oppressed. You too are an enemy of the “white, class-privileged straight [male]” establishment. You too are a Person of Color.
You no longer have to bear the burden of white guilt. Now go, with your straight back, and try to explain this to your Jew-hating friends.