Essay: I don’t feel welcome in the progressive movement anymore

As a fellow Jew, I was proud to see Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., gain such a following among my peers and win a presidential primary election last year, the first Jewish person to do so. But I was baffled throughout the campaign when he didn’t incorporate this aspect of his identity into his efforts. His platforms on civil rights, LGBTQ rights and immigration policy reflect the long, intense history of the Jewish struggle for survival – a struggle reflected by Jewish doctrine in the Hebrew words “tzedakah,” which means justice, and “tikkun olam,” to repair the world.

My faith compels me to defend the persecuted and wronged through activism and political participation. Apparently, Sanders has felt this sense of duty for quite some time, considering that his views on equal pay, creating a livable wage and ensuring decent paying jobs reflect the active role he took in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Perhaps foolishly, this was why I expected Sanders to pay homage to the culture that, in part, influenced his decision to participate in politics. Sanders stresses the importance of political action and responsibility by understanding that it was political figures and climate that led to Adolf Hitler’s appointment as chancellor of Germany and the subsequent murder of up to 20 million people around the world, about six million of whom were Jewish.

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Unfortunately, this sentiment has not motivated politicians like Sanders to address the new strain of anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism – disagreement with an Israel state – which is prevalent in his liberal support base. Sanders was only the start of when I began to recognize that this was a problem. After the discomfort I felt during Sanders’ campaign, I was prompted to question what exactly my progressive friends meant when they claimed they were anti-Zionist. I learned very quickly that most were fine with the general idea of state-building, but rather, were against the right of the Jewish people to self-determine.

This was confirmed by the rallying anti-Israel cries accompanying the Women’s March and sanctuary city assemblies I attended in Cincinnati, Ohio as well as the looks of disappointment I’ve received when I inform progressives that I’m not one of the “exciting” Jews who does not support the state of Israel. Claiming the state of Israel does not have the right to exist isn’t anti-Zionist: it’s anti-Semitic. Although a far cry from the chants of “Jews will not replace us” echoed throughout the Charlottesville march, the anti-Semitism masked as anti-Zionism preached by many liberals is what terrifies me. A group I was once proud to be a part of has done little to address the rise of anti-Semitism sweeping America, making it clear that Jewish people like me are not welcome in the progressive movement.

Focusing on blatant anti-Semitic hate acts is necessary, but we need to draw more attention to the political left’s anti-Semitism. For me, one of the most evocative images of modern anti-Semitism are the pro-Palestinian booths at the fall organization fair on campus. Another is the student I overheard near my room in Thurston Hall asking if “she knew Jews controlled the world,” or the swastikas spray-painted on the sidewalk just 10 minutes from my house in Cincinnati. While the Charlottesville protesters were terrifying, I found myself more frightened when I sat in my high school chemistry class and saw swastikas pencilled on the lab tables, knowing one of my classmates drew them and no one had bothered to erase them. The community that once welcomed me is slowly revoking its hospitality.

The most distressing part of this anti-Semitic movement is its existence within the supposedly all-inclusive liberal community which I was proud to be a part of. Over the summer, I came across a New York Times opinions piece articulating the discomfort I struggled to put into words. The column praised the decision to kick out three Jewish women participating in Chicago’s Dyke March for wearing rainbow flags decorated with the Star of David, proving the author’s point of anti-Semitism within the left-wing movements. An organizer of the march justified the women’s removal by stating the flag design made other participants feel unsafe and alluded to Zionism, which the march wished to avoid. But this was not the Israeli flag. It was a rainbow flag with a Star of David, a symbol for Jewish people all over the world. For these women, it celebrated their heritage as Jewish, queer women. This is not the inclusive and intersectional community I have always been proud to support – a community that I felt, up until now, supported me.

Since high school, I have considered myself a part of the progressive segment of the Democratic party. The positions progressive leaders take on issues such as women’s rights, racial inequality, wealth distribution and global warming have always attracted me, appealing to my faith in tikkun olam and tzedakah. Now, however, it seems the only way I can remain welcome in the intersectional, accessible, progressive movement is by bashing Israel and condemning its sovereignty, something I should not be pressured to do. I cannot continue to support such a group that preaches empowerment, but only for members whose ideology lines up exactly with theirs. I’m not sure what I identify with now, but I know it is no longer the progressive movement.

Siena Greenwell, a freshman, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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