Opinion | Some progressive causes are leaving Jewish students behind. It doesn’t have to be that way. - World Jewish Congress

Opinion | Some progressive causes are leaving Jewish students behind. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Taylor Levy
Taylor Levy
Journalist, Jewish on Campus.
Opinion | Some progressive causes are leaving Jewish students behind. It doesn’t have to be that way.

If you do a quick scroll on Twitter or really any social media platform you will notice that there are numerous posts about social justice movements highlighting inequality, discrimination, and other forms of injustice. While important strides are being made for some of these causes, an equally important and sometimes uncomfortable question becomes apparent: Why are some people left at the door? And in some cases, why are some forms of discrimination or bigotry not strongly condemned?

Progressives, especially on college campuses, tend to see injustice through the lens of intersectionality — the belief that multiple, overlapping aspects of a person's identity must be considered in order to understand the multifaceted nature of the discrimination they face.

Unfortunately, this world view has left Jews behind, even though the Jewish experience is one of multiple identities (religious, ethnic, and cultural). Progressives often view Jews only through the prism of religion, ignoring their rich cultural heritage and also their long history of suffering. Jews also aren’t seen as the group most likely to experience hate crimes, but as white, wealthy and privileged.

But perhaps identifying as Zionists, a core identity for many Jews, is what leads some progressives to exclude them from various causes. Perhaps some progressive believe that being a Zionist negates one’s right to be passionate about or active in progressive causes, and is incompatible with the idea that its proponents can also be the victims of injustice, as the unique nature of antisemitism is downplayed as a form of racism and is not seen as a shapeshifting conspiracy. Consequently, the “good” Jews are viewed like any other privileged person; they are good if their politics are. In the case of the Jews, renouncing their support of the Jewish State is particularly important to proving themselves as progressives.

Take, for example, the Sunrise Movement’s DC chapter, an organization with no direct relationship to Israel, Zionism, or the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, which boycotted American Jewish organizations because of their “support of Zionism and the State of Israel.” In the chapter’s “apology,” the group claimed that it wasn’t boycotting Jewish groups, only Zionist ones, and it equated Zionism with “other forms of oppression.” Thus, the vast majority of Jews who value the State of Israel’s existence were pushed out of their so-called progressive space.

True progressive causes should not exclude Jews for supporting the Jewish state. Including Jews should not be a progressive ideal, but a progressive priority.  

If progressive movements want to be truly progressive, they must not only include Jews in their activism, but accept them with open arms. If they don’t, it calls into question their progressive identity.

In October 2021, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and Jewish on Campus (JOC) announced a joint partnership to amplify the voices and strengthen the actions of college students who identify antisemitic occurrences at their schools. The two organizations will provide support to Jewish student communities internationally, which expands the Jewish on Campus network as well as WJC’s relationships with Jewish student communities.