Jewish leaders’ excommunication of Sanders aide over Israel will only alienate young Jews — Open Hillel

Last night the Sanders campaign suspended Simone Zimmerman as Jewish outreach director because she had written angry and scabrous messages about Benjamin Netanyahu on two occasions, when he slaughtered Palestinians in Gaza in 2014 and in 2015 when he tried to break up the Obama Iran deal in a speech to Congress. Zimmerman subsequently toned down her Facebook comments, to remove the F-bomb, but rightwingers had the screenshots and Abraham Foxman the former director of the Anti-Defamation League came out of retirement to blast Zimmerman for daring to criticize Netanyahu; and the Sanders campaign caved. What a shame. The Sanders campaign which has thrown no one under the bus throws a non-Zionist critic of Israel under a New York bus.

Here is a statement from Open Hillel, a movement that Zimmerman is a part of, lamenting the suspension and explaining the generational stakes.

“Open Hillel is saddened to hear that the Sanders campaign has bowed to pressure from organizations that suppress discourse on Israel and has suspended Simone Zimmerman from her position as Jewish Outreach Coordinator.

Simone is an accomplished and committed organizer — and longtime Open Hillel supporter — who has demonstrated her dedication to both the Jewish community and to social justice issues more broadly. The Sanders campaign clearly understood her to be highly qualified for this position; yet they caved to pressure from Abe Foxman, former head of the Anti-Defamation League; the World Jewish Congress; and relentless badgering from the right-wing press. These individuals’ and organizations’ efforts to discredit Simone mirror the sort of McCarthyism that “mainstream” American Jewish organizations consistently display in working to silence critics of Israeli policy and supporters of Palestinian human rights.

These Jewish leaders’ efforts to oust Simone will further alienate young American Jews, many of whom share Simone’s views on Israel/Palestine and many of whom deeply resent the idea that a small number of gatekeepers determine who is kosher within the Jewish community.

We call upon the individuals and organizations who claim to speak for the American Jewish community to recognize that our community contains a multiplicity of voices. And to engage with young American Jews rather than work to undermine us.


Speaking of further alienating young Jews, Daniel Gordis and Elliott Abrams have fantastic articles up at Mosaic saying that Israel’s problem is the religious benightedness of American Jews. I say fantastic because both these authors concede that young American Jews want little to do with Israel, and they’re freaked; but then they say the problem is the loss of Jewish communal life here. They want us Jews to be more religious, because religious Jews have no problem supporting Israel, generally, and in fact support for Israel is the new Jewish religion in their construction.

Gordis’s article is titled, “How American Jews Have Detached Themselves from Jewish Memory.” He says that Zionism is religiously-inscribed in Jews:

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other Jewish religious practices that kept the dream of Zion alive for generations of Jews who had never seen the land and knew they never would. That helps explain why, in 1896, Theodor Herzl’s Zionist vision, articulated in The Jewish State, fell on such receptive ears and was published in seven languages in that year alone: for many Jews, Herzl was simply giving political shape to a dream they had cultivated for centuries.

Today, the largest part of American Jewry has dispensed not only with “regularized ritual affirmations of the transcendent” (in Hoffman’s words) but also with the wellspring of communal memory and purpose that long defined and inspired those affirmations. The current abandonment of Israel is in many respects an inevitable outgrowth of the loss of these moorings…

So this is where we find ourselves today: widespread ignorance about the Jewish past and an abandonment of the modes of Jewish communal behavior that once instilled in Jews of all kinds a reflexive commitment to peoplehood, coupled to a discourse in which the fact that Israel is beset by enemies still sworn to its destruction is regarded as not worth mentioning by alleged lovers of Judaism and the Jews. Add to all this the shallow universalism and fundamentally anti-intellectual narcissism of the campus and media left and you have a perfect witches’ brew of indifference flavored with animosity.

Can matters be turned around? I am genuinely not certain. It may just be that Jews, who held on to their ethnic identity longer than most other American groups, are destined—like the Greeks, the Poles, and the Italians—to blend into the woodwork. Ironically, Israel is the only Jewish issue that can still get many American Jews exercised today.

He’s surely right. Empowered American Jews are not going to stop marrying Hillary Clinton’s offspring and become more religious and support a state that practices apartheid on an ethnic basis. But look at the ignorance in his comments. Are young Jews really contemptuous of Judaism or are they actually building their own religious ideas on universalist ideals, which Israel torches every other day.

Abrams is much angrier. He’s always been choleric; and agreeing that it is a religious issue, bashes the intermarried. And says the American Jewish abandonment of Israel is the American Jews’ problem, not Israel’s problem. Abrams:

Are we really to believe that someone who chooses not to engage with any part of the organized Jewish community, who does not belong to a synagogue and considers himself (in the Pew study’s terminology) a “Jew of no religion,” who has never visited Israel, who has married a non-Jew who did not convert and whose children are not being raised as Jews, feels less attached to Israel than his parents or grandparents because of settlements or “the occupation”? Or that such a person would become a strong supporter of and frequent visitor to Israel if only the Labor or Meretz party were to win an election?

Defending Israel and Israeli policies can be a task undertaken with gusto and commitment by American Jews. So can defending Israel while seeking to change or moderate certain policies or realities (like settlement policy, or the treatment of non-Orthodox Judaism); such is the practice in Israel itself of the Conservative and Reform movements, neither of which, despite the discriminatory treatment they receive there, has been led (in Waxman’s words) to “turn away from Israel in despair, or even disgust.” All too often, however, the default position of American Jews has been to see the defense of the Jewish state as a terrible burden that the ungrateful Israelis have placed on us and obstinately refused to lift.

Simone Zimmerman needs to call bullshit on Elliott Abrams and Daniel Gordis. Bull feathers anyway! Young American Jews, whoever they want to date and marry, are not going to be blackmailed by religious conservatives into supporting apartheid in the name of the Jews. This is clearly why J Street’s gala/conference this weekend is largely ceremonial, with big speakers such as the inevitable Stav Shaffir and Roger Cohen and Neera Tanden. Because if the rank and file were allowed to open their mouths, they would talk about Open Hillel and BDS and apartheid.

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