Arielle Angel: Hello, and welcome back to On The Nose, a Jewish Currents podcast. I’m your host, Arielle Angel. I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Jewish Currents. I am joined today by Ari Brostoff, our Culture Editor; Mari Cohen, our Assistant Editor; and Dylan Saba, our new Fellow—because we have a fellowship now. So you’ll be hearing from someone new today, which is exciting.
Today we’re gonna talk about something you’re probably already sick of talking about, if you, like us are stuck in the doldrums of Twitter, as they call it. Which is Sunrise DC, pulling out of a speaking slot at a voting rights rally due to the presence of explicitly Zionist orgs: the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. And yeah, I think that there was a lot of backlash right away to this move, and particularly backlash that we saw also from people who you would generally people who are maybe anti occupation or anti-Zionist. I think there was some like, unexpected backlash, I think from, from unexpected corners of the Jewish left. And so we’re going to talk about it. Of course, this initial statement was followed by some kind of distancing from the National Sunrise Movement, which we’ll talk about. And in fact, sort of culminated in Sunrise DC, posting a kind of an apology, and responding to critique that they singled out Jewish Zionist organizations as opposed to, for example, other organizations on in this enormous 230 organization coalition that may hold Zionist views or, or like have Zionist leadership or something like that. I want to kick it to everyone else.
Mari Cohen: I am sort of curious what everyone else feels... like how we feel about what happened and sort of what that means? I think at one point, we were talking as a staff about this sort of controversy, and then sort of comparing it to what happened with Sally Rooney, choosing to boycott an Israeli publishing house and not have them published the Hebrew translation of her newest book, which is also a recent event that we might talk about a little bit. But that we kind of felt in a lot of ways, like a win or a success for Palestinian solidarity movement. And there was some like initial backlash to it on Twitter, and obviously, among the Zionists, but it was pretty quickly kind of drowned out by a lot of celebration and sort of felt like this really strong stand. And then we were talking a little bit about how this Sunrise mess just felt a lot more, in a lot of ways...less, maybe less like a win, or it felt like something that had sort of become a mess... but we don’t really... I’m kind of interested in like why that might be and maybe, maybe people disagree. Now, I mean, they did come out with a statement that retract...their apology statement, retracted some of what happened, but didn’t necessarily they didn’t apologize for Palestinian solidarity or like retract that part of their platform. But I’m sort of curious what, what maybe went wrong... is the thing that just went wrong, the thing that always goes wrong, which is like backlash from right wing forces that’s so intense, that it sort of drowns out the initial stand—or is there something in the way that they approach this, either in terms of how they identified Jewish groups, or in other strategic concerns that are the reason that it went wrong? So I’m curious because I think that I’m feeling like, Okay, this was kind of a mess. And it didn’t turn out as well, as for example, as like Rooney’s action, which was amazing, but like, what, what made it a mess what was the problem? Or maybe it wasn’t a problem? Maybe we feel like, in some ways, this was a step forward, even if there was a lot of backlash.
AA: I mean, just to really quickly, narrative eyes, like some of the responses that I was seeing, like I feel like right away, when this statement came out, there was like, my first reaction was just like, this is going to be something that everybody has to talk about and has to like debate. This is like, my first reaction was this is a distraction. And the way that this is being done is going to cause a distraction, like is going to... draw the conversation into familiar contours that like liberal Zionists—in particular, liberal Zionists like when this kind of thing happens in this particular way, because it kind of like reinforces and re-centers them in the conversation. As, as people who are being excluded from the conversation, and I just felt like, it’s not wrong, it’s not antisemitic, but it’s not strategic to hand them this gift or something. Like it just... I think for people who are kind of like living in this discourse all the time, it just becomes clear, like what is a good narrative tool, particularly for the Jews that were trying to move or like trying to, if not move, then beat in this conversation, and what makes our jobs harder. And definitely, I felt like immediately this sense of like, oh, this makes our jobs harder, because this, these targets are not the best targets. They’re not targets. They clearly are like, these are Zionist groups who support funding the Israeli government. You know, the United States funding the Israeli government, they fight BDS, they fight conditioning of aid, then basically any policy proposals that I think Jewish Currents readers would agree with, and yet, they seem less clear cut or like they, there’s more ambiguity in a way that like means that we have to have an argument about it that is going to like, draw energy away from other kinds of conversations. I think my feelings have actually changed a little bit over the course of the week, as I’ve gotten like farther away from this, but I want to hear from other people just starting from that gut reaction place.
Ari Brostoff: Hi, this is Ari. I will say, I have found this extremely frustrating and predictable. And it may not have been worth the political capital, like expended on it. But my main feeling has been that what it actually kind of shows us is, is less specifically even about BDS politics, or some kind of like particular strategy associated with BDS, and more about a strategy that Sunrise is using more generally, which is to be part of this kind of nonprofits centered, like mass coalition type strategy to get things like the Green New Deal passed. And so you know, the thing that jumped out at me was the fact that there’s 230 faith based and secular groups that were part of this particular voting rights rally. That’s like, that’s a really particular model of how you hold a political rally, right? Like to have a kind of parade of small, often single issue organizations that are all present to throw their weight behind a different single issue that most of them actually deal with every day. And so I think that this kind of impasse is actually like inevitable in that kind of situation. Because you’re not really dealing with a mass movement, where questions like, “What are the politics of the people involved,” about other things...and the thing we’re talking about, might come up in more diffuse ways and might be contested, when that happens in more diffuse ways. And instead, it’s like these, like walls just get hit. So yeah, I think I did feel some frustration with Sunrise over it, but maybe less in terms of even their decision in this particular instance, and more in terms of like, well, yeah this is what happens when you when you do this kind of momentum style organizing that kind of conflates, like mass movement building and single-issue nonprofit type advocacy.
Dylan Saba: So this, this may reflect maybe my newness to this, maybe this corner of the internet or Twitter, but I was actually pretty surprised by the reaction to this. My initial take, when I saw this was like, what’s, what’s really the big deal here? You know, it seemed it seemed pretty clear to me that like this chapter of this organization had at some point, probably committed to anti-Zionist principles. And then as part of their evaluation, whether or not they’re going to participate in this rally from a coalition that they are not themselves a member of, but they’ve been invited to speak at that, they decided that they were going to screen... like basically do like an anti-normalization screening to like, make sure that they are not violating any commitment to anti normalization or, or what have you before they participate. And then as a part of that, like found out that there’s organizations in this coalition that have explicitly Zionist commitments. You know, it seems like there was a general backlash that then kind of consolidated around one line of argument, which is that this was antisemitic, because there were other coalition groups who have, like complete political commitments, that were not singled out in the statement. But like reading the statement, it doesn’t say these are the only Zionist organizations here. It says there are a number of Zionist organizations. And it names the ones that have explicit commitments to Zionism in, you know... on their websites, what have you. So, I mean, it may be the case that there are other organizations that have similar resolutions passed or what have you, but I haven’t seen any and, you know... One of a couple of the ones that were mentioned, were the AFT, which I think is interesting, because Randi Weingarten, who’s the president of the AFT, has made statements in support of Israel. You know, has like pretty open Zionist commitments. But that’s not reflective, necessarily of like institutional positions. And we know that in San Francisco teachers union, which is a part of the AFT, actually voted to endorse BDS. And there was a vote in the LA teachers union, that was, that was tabled, but it’s reflective of like, broad internal dissent within that organization. So, I mean, I don’t want to just suggest that all of the reaction of that tenor was in bad faith, but it definitely took me by surprise.
AA: I mean, look, the people who are in bad faith are in bad faith, I don’t think it was all in bad faith. I do think that like, we’ve talked in Jewish Currents about, for example, this zine, “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere” by April Rosenblum—which was sort of this like, kind of was like a guide for like Jews and left movements. And I think there was kind of a very, like foundational experience for Jews and left movements, kind of before there was like a consolidated group or a feeling of like, self-confidence and left movements about basically like litmus testing for Jews. Like even anti-Zionist Jews who would come in to do it to leftist spaces and be asked, sort of like are you a Zionist? Whereas like, that wasn’t the case for non-Jews. I think actually, like there are good reasons why this felt bad for those people and even like, felt, maybe antisemitic. Like holding Jews uniquely responsible or something in the United States or like that itself kind of pushed a conflation between Jews and Zionism that felt unfair or something. But that is like part of... kind of like the received wisdom of the Jewish left that we can’t be held to a kind of different standard. And so I think, like a lot of people who normally would, would be in defensive of like a left movement, doing something like this, sort of felt the echoes of that and felt like this was like the kind of institutional expression of that. And yet at the same time, I think, what you’re saying Dylan, is really important, which is that actually like the groups that are being held up as kind of like the non-Jewish Zionist counterparts, don’t really have explicit Zionist positionality, and actually do have dissent within their ranks. Whereas the Jewish groups that were singled out, and by the way, there were other Jewish groups that were not singled out, like Bend the Arc and Workman Circle are groups that do have very explicit statements. And in fact, the JCPA in particular, runs the Israel Action Network, which is sort of like a...you know, pro-Israel–I mean, the head of that program, for example, is like AIPAC affiliated very proudly. So we are talking about something actually very direct, and that doesn’t, in my mind have that same flavor. I do think that there’s a question about sort of dovetailing off of what Ari brings up, which is basically just like if you’re in a coalition with 230 groups, and I mean, I’m sure that like Zionism is not the only thing that Sunrise DC has a position on. You know there are probably a whole bunch of sort of even just environmental related, or like fossil fuel related or...or social welfare or whatever any of those kinds of issues. That you’re probably dealing with a whole bunch of groups with very spotty records coming together on this one very narrow issue. And I think like there is this other question of strategy, which is like in this model, which I think we could have an argument about this model as, as it is, but even putting that aside, if this is the model, like does it make sense to single out these organizations for this particular issue?
MC: My take on that is that, if you’re going to do it, you should be ready. And I think part of what happened here is that Sunrise DC wasn’t ready, which is kind of in terms of like, they weren’t quite ready for the backlash, and they had to retract and make this apology. And like briefly, they kind of locked their Twitter, which really...and it’s not fair. Like the fact that any people that these groups, when they’re doing Palestinian solidarity actions, have to be ready for like this kind of major backlash that often doesn’t necessarily come with other issues in the same way, or maybe does, but comes with these additional obviously, all types of left provocations caused backlash. But this comes with these additional accusations of antisemitism. Like that’s not fair. But it is the situation. And so I think part of what’s hard is watching them sort of run out of the gate and do this and then have to sort of backtrack, have to apologize, kind of be caught hamfisted a little bit. And whereas, I think, and I think often you do see this with certain BDS campaigns or groups that are better coordinated, where they’re able to kind of quickly respond to these accusations and be like, “No, that’s not true. We apply this standard to this group and not this one.”
You know, maybe they could come back with a really eloquent response for why they didn’t mention the AFT. Instead, they sort of, were caught off guard a little bit. And I don’t know, maybe that’s just my bias from being in this sort of pit of watching this discourse for so long, that I feel like this stuff is definitely going to be coming... Like Dylan, you say that you were kind of surprised by the way in which these complaints caught on. So I think maybe my vantage point is a little bit biased. But to me, I kind of feel like it sucks that there’s this sort of like, major backlash that’s going to often come from these actions. But part of being really strategic and coordinated is for these groups to be sort of ready for that to come. I feel like there’s often fakes, or sometimes things that devolve into the sort of [unintelligible] of whatever backlash and discourse and complaints. And you can sort of tell kind of when a politician or a group just sort of like threw out some statement or did something where they didn’t seem prepared for the backlash, or they like didn’t vet what they were doing. And it’s just obvious, and other times you can be like, okay, that person was ready. They know what they’re doing. They’re holding to it.
I mean, even for example, we published a piece about a congressional candidate in Florida, named Amari Hardy. It was just, there’s a great interview by Alex Kane, who sort of came out in support of Palestinian solidarity and BDS, even though that might cost him his election. But the way that he kind of articulates it and the way that he is, and he kind of changed his position on that as well after he was approached by I believe, like a Palestinian activist that sort of talked to him about it. But you can sort of tell that he’s so confident in it, and the way that he is prepared. He’s like this might cost me the election. But I’m going to stick to this and I’ve got my facts, right. And I know why I’m supporting BDS, and I know why I’m doing this and like, everything else be damned. And to me, that’s a model of somebody, taking a position, being ready to defend it and sort of, in a lot of ways, I think is a win in terms of a candidate being willing to do this, even though electorally it might not, it might cause problems for him and so that feels really different.
AA: Mari, you also brought up the Sally Rooney statement, like I think like having kind of like Jews meltdown over the Sally Rooney decision to participate in the cultural boycott for a whole day and then to have her statement be so clear—and basically really kind of reiterate her solidarity. And like, really make it completely impossible to attack her for example, like an antisemitic boycott of the Hebrew language, for example, like the way that she sort of, like put the attention right back on the Israeli government and complicity. And like the actual call to action for the BDS movement feels, again, like it felt like she was ready for that, and able to stand where she was. Whereas I think, what would have been great, for example, if Sunrise DC had done some of the research that we just took 30 minutes to do, and was able to say, “hey actually, there aren’t other organizations who have statements that are the same thing. And also we have these other kinds of commitments, and we are prepared to step out of coalition with other groups on this list or whatever.” You know, whatever it is that they needed to do, but it did feel like they were sort of like, “oh, shit!” And that made it seem that like... gave the appearance of guilt right away. And also almost justified the initial bad feelings in a certain way. But at the same time, it’s like, do we really want to blame them? I mean, they’re probably a bunch of, they’re probably kids who are like new to this and doing this work and learning as they go and trying to do the right thing.
AB: So I think that my initial assumption... actually had been that there were more organizations on the list that were like, more deeply or like commensurately with the groups that they named, engaged in kinds of scientists political work, just because that is such a like mainstay of American liberal political life. Like I would say, even like, specifically American liberal political life. And it was interesting to look at, like the list that Dylan put together of just sort of going through some of how these groups actually described themselves, that kind of like, might be understood that way. But are really not like, leading with it in the same way. And I think that that made me think a little bit differently about this apology statement that Sunrise DC ultimately released, which we had a conversation about it at work, where I think Arielle and I thought it was a good statement too... and a few other people thought it was a bad statement. And I now, I think I’m starting to come around to thinking that it was a disappointing statement, actually.
Because, I mean, what I thought was cool about it initially, is that it starts out with like since releasing our statement on Tuesday, we’ve been in constant conversation with our members and local community, we’ve taken time to learn, reflect and think carefully about what transpired. It’s very, like apology tour, like listening to our kind of kind of rhetoric. And then it says, a kind of ridiculous thing about how their decision to pull out of the coalition helped, “fuel antisemitism,” which doesn’t make any sense. But then the remainder of the statement is actually like a pretty strong, pretty matter of fact statement against Zionism, and for Palestine... and for the right of political organizations anywhere to throw their weight behind Palestinian solidarity. And I thought that was cool. But I, I will say that now kind of like thinking about it, with a slightly better understanding of where the rest of the groups in the coalition stood, and how there really might have been a distinction there, I feel a little like, oh, well maybe you should have just tried to articulate that. Just actually say... Like that is a difference... like this is... and I mean, as Dylan was saying before, to like, this is anti-normalization. And that is actually a little bit of a different metric than saying something like we have to be in total consonance on every issue with every member of the group, which of course is not the case.
DS: Yeah, I totally agree with that. I also want to like, just generally push back on the idea that we should ask of Sunrise or anyone acting in solidarity with, Palestine that they have strategic consistency across issues on the question of normalization. You know, there’s a reason why normalization comes up in Palestine with a way higher frequency than any other issues. And it’s because there’s no, there is no meaningful debate in the in the US on any kind of institutional level. Like the reason why you have strategies like BDS strategies , Palestinians going on 100-day hunger strikes, is because so many other avenues for advocacy have, have failed. And so often, I feel like, there’s this framework where cooperation, dialogue, is the ultimate horizon. That is, for Palestine advocacy, where the best thing that you could hope to achieve is to have someone listen to you.
And for the people, especially young activists, coming into this, they are coming in at the...decades and decades and decades of like, what is essentially a stagnant political situation where there are no threats to the status quo. There is no threat in the US to the status quo, there is no threat in Israel to the status quo in any kind of meaningful sense, like you, like you might have in on another political questions. So I think that there’s a reason why the conversations around normalization are so played out. And also the questions around BDS are so played out, and it’s because this is not necessarily the position that advocates will want to be in... to say, like we, you know...refuse to even participate in people who hold this position. But there are, there really are not successful avenues for, for like advancing pro Palestine. You know, basically advancing the movement, a discursive sense.
AA: I mean, I guess that’s kind of what Ari’s saying, in a sense. It’s just that like, this could have been an opportunity in the same way that that Sally Rooney’s example was an opportunity to educate around cultural boycott. Like, because like, suddenly, all of the art is so meaningful Sally Rooney’s piece is going to end the occupation or something. Like the way that sounded so hollow in the face of kind of her very clear explanation, I feel like there could have been an opportunity here to basically explain anti normalization in the same kind of way. That this is a last ditch effort to change a conversation on an issue that that nobody has any business or incentive to change. And instead, I think it does still do the thing where it just puts us back in the same cycle. And I think that’s where my frustration comes in, because I agree with you, Dylan. And yet, it just doesn’t seem like without more significant political education, which doesn’t seem to be happening in a meaningful way, especially because these groups are not speaking the language of the people who need to be educated politically. I don’t I see, like kind of an impasse or like, kind of like a vicious cycle that feels... I think that’s why this whole thing feels so dark.
AB: I guess what I wonder is like, from one perspective, the question of whether this was “strategic,” is just moot to begin with? Because you know, and this argument has certainly been made in defense of Sunrise DC’s original choice; that like, it doesn’t... like you have to do what’s right, not what’s strategic, right? And like, okay, I mean, I think there’s cases where you can certainly say that in a political context, and I don’t like disagree with that out of hand. But I, what I actually think is more interesting, might be the question of whether from specifically the point of view of an anti-normalization campaign, if this was precisely strategic? And like messily executed, for sure, to the extent that strategy means like, having a plan in advance, then like, it seems like probably no. But in a kind of broader political field, to the extent that this was just like one group, like one group of kids acting sort of like, in concert, presumably with what they felt they were being asked to do by the Palestine Solidarity movement. Then you can kind of see how it could be read as, like strategic. Ultimately, for the movement to have like, even weird little flare ups like this, because it does precisely get pro-Palestine language on the table... and anti-gay and anti-Zionist was on the table right? And like, and you know, it sharpens the contradictions between like, liberal and left groups which like, is exactly the thing that kind of massive coalition I’m trying to paper over. And so there is like a weird, maybe like, kind of like, small win or something inside of this.
MC: I think that’s interesting. And I will say that I was somebody who was kind of pushing off and making the argument that this felt on strategic when it happened. And I hate making that argument because it makes me feel kind of reactionary, or just kind of very liberal in a lot of ways. And I also think that, in many ways if we apply this sort of like, litmus test, that there’s this sense in which bringing up Palestine is often going to cause this backlash. And so we can’t say, oh, it’s not strategic to create backlash, because then it becomes this problem, where it’s never strategic to bring up Palestine. And that’s, that’s a problem, like our movements need to be bringing up Palestine. I think one thing that was coming up was the fact that this was a, it’s very interesting... actually, it was like a local Sunrise chapter doing this...during the same week, in which other Sunrisers were hunger striking, because Joe Manchin was holding up this major climate change package. Which is kind of the culmination of Sunrises work over the past few years.
And then Sunrise DC puts out this statement. And suddenly, we’re all talking about this. And I guess we’re now, we’re still talking about it. But there was this sense, I think there’s this complicated sense. And... to me, the sense isn’t that you shouldn’t talk about Palestine, or that Sunrise DC shouldn’t do this. I think part of it was like I was like it feels again, it feels wrong for me to be like, “Oh, they shouldn’t do it. Because it’s gonna detract from their other goals.” There’s something to me that feels sort of kind of conservative about that, and overly instrumental. But at the same time, there is this sense that it’s like, okay, we want to win we fucking need to do these certain things around climate change. And so not that Sunrise, you shouldn’t do this. But like, what would it mean to do it? I mean, maybe they couldn’t have waited a week, because the rally was going to happen that following Saturday, but at the same time, maybe they could have waited a week and put out maybe an even sharper statement about why they didn’t participate after the fact, I don’t know, I guess maybe they were concerned that if they communicated it internally, it would get out. And so they needed to put out their own statements. So I don’t know, maybe it’s not possible.
And I also, I think the important background, too, is that the Sunrise movement has come under fire in the past for being a very predominantly white, sort of young professional type of movement in a world in which environmental justice issues are really crucial, and often affects people who are not from that demographic...and specifically come down really heavily on black and brown communities. And also, they’ve been accused of sometimes there being racism within the organization, and the way that probably isn’t surprising for many of these organizations. So I think in some ways they are, they’ve really been trying to broaden their scope and do a lot of solidarity work, and not just be like certain single issue on certain types of climate issues. So it makes sense in that way that they’re doing it too. But there was this impulse in me where I was like, “Oh, my gosh, now we’re all talking about this. What if they had just waited a week or two?” And I don’t know, I’m curious if you guys what people think or like...you know, is that unfair?
DS: I think it’s totally fair to ask strategic questions about Sunrise and what they could have done differently. But I also think, like so many people got this wrong, got this got this story wrong, basically, from the jump. And so far as people were like, there’s, there’s something antisemitic here, we’re not going to look too much into it. But let’s have a conversation about it. I think that it’s, I think that we need to also be asking questions like, okay what do we do about the fact that anytime something pro Palestine comes up in any capacity an allegation of antisemitism surfaces, and then the entire conversation is spent litigating whether or not it’s a valid claim or not, it actually at the end of the day, it doesn’t even matter how who kind of wins that discourse. Because whose lost is the actual subject of oppression. The point is to draw attention to what’s happening in Palestine. And so, I mean, I don’t think it’s right for us to just take as a given this like, completely credible or like, credulous media ecosystem or like, I think we need to question you know, just that these allegations are going to be taken and...litigated without challenging like, the repeated practice of these allegations coming in. You know, basically every time, and just how it sucks up all of the attention and airspace.
AA: I think that that’s a really great point and I have a few things on that. I mean, one is like, we just want to recognize that this week, the Israeli government, essentially branded six—not essentially, they branded six civil society organizations that deal in issues from women’s rights to prisoners’ rights to agriculture. As...to children... working with children... as terrorist groups, there has been an expansion in settlements, there’s expanding settler violence, or like rising settler violence, which, of course, has been happening for a really long time, but is in fact worsening. And particularly in parts of Area C, where the water pipes are being disconnected. And I mean, this is sort of the status quo that continues, and is actually, doesn’t get the same kind of conversation in the Jewish world. When we are having these kinds of conversations, I think that that’s really clear.
I will say that even with what a mess, this Sunrise thing has been, there are some like weird improvements. And we can even discuss whether they are improvements. I mean, I think it’s like, pretty interesting that even an apology at this point does not mean a kind of, like easing off or backing off of, like support for the Palestinian cause. And like a centering of like, I mean, like the form of the entire debacle is still kind of like, centering kind of a Jewish narrative. But the statements themselves have indeed stayed consistent in terms of their support for Palestine, which I think is an improvement. I think in the past, if a group was going to like apologize, you would get like, an apology that also kind of like backtracked, or where they just were like, we can’t take this kind of pressure. And that’s it. I think what’s interesting is that like, there are I mean, like Sunrise, for example, is a momentum. Affiliate momentum is a kind of like, almost like a left single issue group incubator on a certain level that like, gives these groups sort of like a common model to work off of, and they support one another. And in fact, like one of the other groups in the group with Sunrises, if not now, I imagine, I don’t know anything about this background. And I wish I did but I don’t. I would imagine that there’s like contact between left Jewish activists and Sunrise DC after this issue. And they may have been like, “Yeah, this is being perceived this way.” And like, they might have said, “We don’t think it’s antisemitic, but there are people who think that it might be” or whatever. Like, I think that it’s interesting that the statement kind of reflects that there were left Jewish partners to talk to, to help them like figure out what kind of tact to take no.
I agree that like, having dug into the statements themselves, or like the groups themselves, and the statements themselves, that maybe they missed a teaching moment in terms of anti-normalization... and instead kind of went maybe too much in the direction of like, this could fuel antisemitism. I think like, that does seem like a suspect statement. But I think that like if you think about like the fallout from it, for example, the Dyke March or the Women’s March, which like really stretched on for like months and months, and which just got so ugly. Like, I think that they’re the things that even this represents a little bit of a shift in the way that this is playing out, particularly in progressive spaces, even if it’s not sort of like the perfect expression yet. It kind of like represents, like better relationships between some of these groups, even if like kind of an imperfect execution.
MC: I think that’s really interesting. And I think it’s also interesting to focus a little bit on the way in which Sunrise sort of did apologize for antisemitism, which is that they didn’t necessarily say that they had been antisemitic, but they said that they recognize that perhaps their actions could have fueled antisemitism. And they then kind of were referring to this antisemitism that kind of comes from the far right, and from white supremacists in US society. And I think all of us were a little bit, kind of perplexed by this phrasing, because we were sort of like how exactly does this fuel antisemitism? And I think maybe we should get into this a little bit more. But we kind of feel that it didn’t. But I think the fact that that is the language they were using, sort of like reflects this adoption of the Jewish left framework around antisemitism, which kind of focuses on it, specifically coming from the far right and from white supremacist interests in the United States, and then sort of puts things into that framework. And so it’s not about organizations like Sunrise, being antisemitic and what they do, it’s about whether they fuel this already existing threat that’s coming from the right.
Now, in this case, I don’t think that they feel that. I don’t think that this choice was particularly antisemitic, I think it is true that these organizations that they called out, do have stronger statements around Israel and Zionism than any of the other organizations, and they happen to be really visibly Jewish. I think what’s going on here, and why people tend jump to these accusations of antisemitism, even people that we might otherwise think are often quite reasonable or aren’t especially bad faith. Because obviously, the bad faith people will always do it; is that I mean, there, it’s like this sense of discomfort it’s like, this is kind of like an internal problem that we have to deal with, which is that in the Jewish community. Like even the more liberal organizations that we might otherwise associate with that otherwise, might work on stuff that were supportive of that otherwise, you might feel close to in certain ways. They are Zionist organizations.
And that comes out of a particular political trajectory in the Jewish community. And I think on the inside, you sort of get used to that in certain ways. And you’re like, okay, in some ways, you’re like, that’s better than these other organizations who are so right wing. And then so... then when they’re rejected, there’s this sense of like, “Oh, my God there’s this shame.” Or there’s the sense of like, “Oh, my God, all these Jewish organizations are being attacked” or something. But I think it’s like, there’s a sense that this complicated analysis that we have of the dynamics within the eternal Jewish community should be, should be legible to people outside of the community, who are just trying to try to work in solidarity. And I think that that’s kind of an unfair expectation. And that’s actually not everybody’s problem. But it sort of creates, I think, just like...the feelings around it sort of create this sense of like, internal shame and frustration. And then it’s like, it’s turned outwards into these accusations of antisemitism, even when there’s not actually a clear argument to be made, that there is antisemitism going on.
DS: And the counter side to that is that all of the people with the Palestine Solidarity Movement are in this double bind, where to the extent that you ever conflate Judaism and Zionism, you’re accused of antisemitism. And on the other side, to the extent that you are singling out or criticizing Israel especially if you’re Palestinian, just such a ridiculous accusation to say that you’re singling out the political entity that’s oppressing you. It’s just like, completely laughable. But anyways, so to the extent that you approach that end of the bind, you’re also criticized for antisemitism. So there’s a, I think, a very valid frustration within the movement and... I think an unwillingness to be super delicate about you know, the nuances of these you know, these kind of emotional questions of how does it feel to see XY and Z Zionist organization called out, singled out, targeted in a specific context. So, I think there’s there has to be a way to acknowledge that the nuances of these you know, questions are real. But also a real strategic commitment to setting aside you know, some of those some of those nuances and some of those feelings when people are really trying to organize towards achieving political ends. And I think from outside the community, it can come off as tone deaf to be dwelling on you know, the contours of whether a specific end action opened the door for antisemitism, or you know, you feel that from these people downstream right. There can be a frustration when that predominates you know, over like the core concerns, and you know the oppression of Palestinians as like the kind of root of the situation.
AA: I think where I always get caught here is basically what you do with these progressive Zionists? Like what is to be done with them, because I mean, that’s like a really, maybe, coarse way of putting it. But you know, at the end of the day, we have this running conversation on the staff that’s basically like, why organized Jews are like, why even have this conversation in an internal sense? And we do keep like, running up against a wall of the fact that like, on some level, they’re like Jews are a huge player, if not like the main player in the conversation in the United States around Palestine, and it’s like, it doesn’t...it seems like as long as especially particularly progressive Jews who like feel themselves to be progressive and are being “excluded”—as long as that narrative persists, that narrative is also like a huge fundraising narrative. That narrative itself is sort of like the object of entire Israeli ministries trying to like influence conversations on campus and beyond. And so it does I am sort of wondering like, what is the way to sort of break that cycle on a certain level? Like, how do how do you commit to uncompromising, like Palestine Solidarity politics, without fueling a vicious cycle? Essentially like, at what point do we actually like, what is the mechanism for bringing people who, theoretically, are almost primed to move on this issue because they are already considered themselves on the left, whether they are or not, they think of themselves as liberals or whatever. But like it’s a good starting point for moving farther left. You know, what are we doing with them? You know, besides just like saying, “Sorry,” and like waiting a couple of years until they like, get with the program or whatever.
AB: I think I don’t share that concern. Particularly, I think that concern is itself a little bit of a holdover from a time when the left in the US was virtually nonexistent, as opposed to merely out of power. And that really, what we’re talking about is Jewish liberals. Right? I mean, we’re progressives, I think it’s maybe just as could be an interchangeable word here. But non-leftist people that don’t think of radical change as being necessarily sort of, like across the board. And I think I think there’s a million ways in the last few years that we’ve seen again, like those, those contradictions, kind of sharpening, I think the one that’s jumping out at me is like the attacks, continually lobbed at the members of the squad and Congress, where when people attack Omar or they attack [unintelligible] but or, or even like, AOC who loves to kind of waffle on Israel Palestine. Like, the extent to which the mainstream of the Democratic Party that hates those people is acting at any given moment out of like whether, like the foundational thing in those attacks is fear of encroaching socialism, or fear of encroaching anti Zionism, or just racism or just sexism, or whatever.
Like, I mean, at a certain point, it all gets so interspersed, that you kind of have to throw up your hands and say well people of politics are largely incoherent, and like, different people who are attacking these Congresswomen at different moments that like, are presumably more motivated by like, some of those ideologies than others. But it’s not like there’s some kind of consistent like, I think it’s just a little bit of a red herring to like, imagine that there’s like a, kind of like, meaningful constituency, that’s like, man I would really be with these women if they only had the right line on Israel. And there’s definitely exceptions that prove the rule. And those exceptions I think, frequently come into, like our field of vision, right? Like this was just something that came up with Sarah Silverman, who said literally, exactly this, like she was like, God, like I just like love the squad members, like you go girls, but like I just cannot stand behind the fact that they like, won’t support Iron Dome funding. And, you know, our contributor Rebecca Pierce, wrote a piece about Silverman for us recently that touched on that for a second. And I think that like yeah, Sarah Silverman exists. Like people with that particular slice of you know, I guess what it is, or used to be called progressive except Palestine politics like exists, but I, it just seems to me like an increasingly just seems like a little bit vestigial.
AA: I don’t see it as vestigial at all. I see it as a dominant mode in the Jewish community. And I also, I also think that like your point about people having incoherent politics is true. But that’s true across the board on a lot of different issues. And I think that the point is, is that there’s room for people with incoherent politics to enter left movement spaces and kind of like, learn and grow and without and like, have those opportunities. But there may not be the same opportunities for people who have this incoherent politics on Zionism. And again do I think this is like the biggest issue? No, do I think this is antisemitism? No. But I think that the fact that there is that disconnect like that, we would basically...that we might say to someone who, I don’t know holds kind of weird politics in another way. Like, alright, work it out in coalition. You know that’s the shape of the thing that gives fuel to like another kind of right narrative. And again like I said, I really want to stress, I think that it’s the dominant political mode for young people and old people in the Jewish communities progressive, except Palestine.
AB: I mean, I mean, okay, but like, let’s grant for the moment that it was, right? Like, let’s just say, for sake of argument that it was like, I actually think that this goes back to the point I was making at the beginning of our conversation about coalition politics. Because there’s a difference between individual participants in a movement and organizations. And I think it’s very different. People show up with all of their baggage and all of their incoherencies to political actions all the time, right. And I think we would be having a really different conversation. If we were talking about a situation where Zionist Jews or liberal Zionist Jews were being hounded in a march when they were there, and the totally other guys, right? Like the times when that happens to individuals, it’s like, because they’re holding like a giant Israeli flag and trying to start a provocation. So I guess I just think like, I think that people, like individuals do go through that process around their Israel politics, just like people go through actually like moments of shame and confusion, that then like catalyze changes in their consciousness around like anything. When they are going in as individuals who are actually showing up because they want to, like support voting rights or going because they’re trying to make a point about how they are excluded.
AA: No, totally. And just to say, really quickly, to be completely clear, like a lot of these people exempt themselves from the beginning. They’re not like showing up and being pushed out. So I think it’s like I’ve totally know that.
MC: I just, I think that to the extent that we’re talking about people who are showing up to this in good faith, including I think some of the people that we might otherwise often work with, be in relationship with, who expressed that they felt some sort of discomfort about the fact that maybe this was antisemitic. And I think that those people are around. I think that the progressive, except Palestine, is around, I think that they do end up sometimes with great influence, even if they’re not a particularly large constituency, and are across the age board. As Arielle said, I think that there perhaps is some space for not to be corny, but like Jewish allies to kind of engage in some of that feelings management work. And I think in some ways, maybe this proves the utility of such groups, which is something that we’ve debated a lot on the staff and on this podcast, which is, is there any point in having like specific Jewish left solidarity groups? Or should we just be organizing under other banners? Like in what ways does it perhaps exceptionalize Jewish solidarity in ways that’s problematic? In what ways should we continue to even engage with some of these strain?
But I do think it makes a difference, perhaps for there to be space to kind of absorb some of these feelings and disentangle them and talk about them and help guide them. That’s... sorry, that makes it sound like I’m planning a reeducation project, but you know, whatever. Maybe I am. Like, to guide them in a way that is not... that does... that means that they don’t turn outward in these moments, because I think Dylan’s right, that it shouldn’t be the job of the Palestine Solidarity movement to have to deal with the nuances of this intra Jewish conversation. I mean, there’s already like a major burden just because of like, the inconvenient fact that the major oppressor in Israel is also this minority that has a history of antisemitism. And that creates all of these really complex burdens in a way that it wouldn’t if Israel were like the British Empire still, and it’s just it’s simply not a fair burden. And but I do think there’s room, but then those feelings are still going to happen. And I think there’s room for us to kind of be engaged in them and be talking to people and be making space to absorb the feelings in a way that doesn’t then create this kind of outward problematic pressure. And I think in some ways, that’s what If Not Now did really well—which was kind of...there are a lot of debates and critiques about how long it made sense to be organizing in that sort of Jewish focused mode, or whether it was to focus on Jewish feelings.
But I think even for me at a time in my life, when I was just like, feeling really like, probably confused about a lot of this stuff, there was this sense of comfort in joining If Not Now, and being able to be like, Okay, I can talk about this with other Jews for a while, and maybe other people don’t need that and are more strong and resolute and less navel gazing than I am. And that’s great, but I think I needed it for a little while to really talk through this with other people, and then sort of be like, Okay, I can kind of move on and not necessarily focused on my agony as a Jew, when this stuff happens, because of my shame. Or I do focus on it, but then I focused on it in private conversations with other people in the same situation, and not, in for example, like saying, “Oh, man, I feel really oppressed by Sunrise, DC.” So I think that maybe there is some, well, maybe what I’m taking away from it is that there is some value in trying to figure out how we can manage these sorts of feelings before they get directed into these campaigns, like kind of anti-Palestinian solidarity campaigns. And obviously, that’s presuming good faith, because there are some people who like, kind of use...weaponize the feelings no matter what we do, and we’re not going to be able to speak to them. But I think there’s a middle, there’s a middle space.
DS: Yeah, I mean, I think one thing that’s kind of implicit in this conversation is like contesting theories of change. And I think that one thing that the Palestine Solidarity movement seems to have settled on over the past several decades, is that Palestine won’t be liberated by the Palestine Solidarity Movement persuading a critical mass of American scientists to not be Zionist anymore. I think that’s where the politics of anti-normalization come from. I think that’s where BDS comes from. And basically we can critique it or not, but the movement has basically settled on this idea that it’s going to be isolation, and exclusion, and sanctions, and it’s not going to be persuasion—that’s a dead end. Now, that’s a separate question, though, then what should the Jewish left do? Or what how should the Jewish left in so far as that is a political entity...be you know, organizing, mobilizing, engaging with these institutions that are Zionist. And I think that it’s probably important to...you know, disentangle those separate currents, so that we are not from a vantage point of the Jewish left critiquing an entity that is really operating in the dominant mode of the Palestine Solidarity Movement more broadly.
AB: I would just say really quickly that I’ve just kept thinking throughout this conversation, that the original occasion for this whole Sunrise controversy was a rally, right? At a rally, like any kind of public civil disobedience or, or protest, when it’s done in a way that’s actually effective, is in some way disruptive. And so I think a lot of what we’ve been circling around here is the question of when disruption is effective or not effective politically. And I guess I think that, I think I’m starting to land on is that whenever we say or whatever we hear that an action is “distracting,” what if instead, we thought of it as being disrupting?
AA: Thank you all for joining us. This has been the latest episode of On the Nose. Subscribe to the podcast, rate it, share it with people. Subscribe to Jewish Currents and check out our website JewishCurrents.org. Thanks so much. See you next time.
End Credits: Can’t get enough Jewish Currents? Keep in touch with us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. And visit Jewishcurrent.org to subscribe and see our latest. A very special thanks to Nathan Salsburg for providing us with the music from his album “Landwerk No. 2” and to Santiago Helou Quintero for producing this segment. Thanks for listening. That’s all from us.