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A New Threat Arising Within Contemporary Progressive Discourse - Policy Paper – Version A

Lead Author: Daphna Kaufman 

Reut Team: Eran Shyshon; Adi Levy

1. Jewish communities worldwide are increasingly attuned in recent years to challenges posed by anti-Semitism that emanates from progressive movements.[1] In the past decade, the assault in Israel’s legitimacy from the left has attracted the lion’s share of attention, and mobilized in response a robust coordinated global effort, led by Jewish communities and the State of Israel, to combat delegitimization on every front, from international fora to university campuses.

2. The purpose of this paper is to offer a more accurate description of an increasingly prevalent and different strain of progressive anti-Semitism that has not been robustly named or defined, and which the abovementioned global coordinated effort does not directly address.

3. The concept of ‘erasive anti-Semitism[2] refers to a de-facto undermining of Jewish narrative self-determination. It negates the rights of Jews individually or collectively to define their own identify, experience, and vulnerability. It is largely an unintended consequence of contemporary progressive discourse.

4. ‘Erasive anti-Semitism’ stems from a conceptual mismatch: Dominant conceptual categories that form bases of progressive worldviews – expressed in, for example, prevalent terminology, symbols, values, patterns of behavior, and priorities – can fail to capture, or actively distort, the historic and lived Jewish experience. Jews are cast uniformly as powerful white oppressors.

5. Unlike ‘classic’ anti-Semitism, this ‘erasive’ form does not necessarily feed on hatred; rather, it is sustained by an acceptance of prevalent framing on the progressive left. Its main disseminators are not anti-Semites, despite engaging in acts of ‘erasive anti-Semitism.’ Contrary to common forms of discrimination, this strain does not rely on singling Jews out, ethnically or otherwise, as distinct categories. Rather, it indiscriminately lumps them within the dominant majorities it delineates. This effectively creates an erasure, diminishing the Jewish voice in defining Jewish identity.

6. At the same time, there is a marginal fringe that purposefully advances anti-Jewish and anti-Israel agendas utilizing its tenets, and continues to amass influence on the left. They are able to exploit contemporary progressive paradigms to challenge Jewish inclusion on the left and support for Jewish and pro-Israel agendas on the left.

7. Effects can be seen when Jewish identities and agendas are challenged within, and excluded from, progressive movements and discourse. Such events often surround Jewish identification with, or failure to renounce, Zionism. They are increasingly felt when Jewish claims to experienced anti-Semitism are delegitimized or minimized. They are prevalent in instances in which the exclusivity of the right of Jews to define their identify, vulnerability, and experience is undermined or usurped. They occur on individual and communal levels, and in aspersions cast on the mainstream Jewish organizations and institutions.

8. This form of discrimination, hostility, or prejudice manifests under the radar of society-at-large, and Jewish communities are largely unable to generate a cohesive and united front against it. Identity politics-based framing has met an American Jewish community struggling for internal and external clarity on its identity as it relates to contemporary contexts and dominant racial and class constructs. Thus, efforts to understand and contain the threat ‘erasive anti-Semitism’ poses to the positioning of pro-Israel and Jewish communities on the political left, to the cohesion and the political efficacy of the Jewish community, and thus also to Israel’s bi-partisan status, remain piecemeal and lack a coherent conceptual grounding.

9. Moreover, dividing Jews on the basis of progressive conceptual categories undermines Jewish self-perception as a collective and the notion of Jewish peoplehood. Doing so generates rancor within Jewish communities, exacerbates tensions around the role of race within Jewish communities, and threatens the basis of connection between world Jewry and Israel.

10. The challenge of the Jewish community is to reach a broadly consensual definition on what constitutes ‘erasive anti-Semitism.’ This is particularly critical in order to build a wide Jewish tent against it. Progressive Jewish communities on the front lines of this issue are natural leaders of such an effort.

[1] Context: Trajectory of progressive ascendance on the U.S. left – Broader decentralization, polarization, and growth of anti-establishment sentiment have contributed to a steady rise in the influence of progressive politics. This growth has been turbo-charged in the Trump era. Effects can be seen in the increasing presence and agenda-setting influence of progressive politicians, notable in Congress; and in a growing ecosystem of progressive start-up policy, activism, and advocacy groups generating an alternative information and knowledge infrastructure.

There is also potential for heightened progressive influence on Jewish and pro-Israel agendas – Foreign policy is a declining priority agenda item on the left; in parallel, Israel is a declining Jewish grassroots priority. Furthermore, an aging Democratic Party is transforming generationally; thus, increasingly initiating leadership that brings progressive concepts and priorities to the fore.

[2]  Jewish author Ben Freeman coined the concept of ‘erasive anti-Semitism’ to describe the erasure of Jewish identity and the erasure of Jews as victims of prejudice. This paper refers to the phenomenon as an undermining of Jewish narrative self-determination negating the rights of Jews individually or collectively to define their own identity, experience, and vulnerability.



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