“Who hates the Jews more than the Jew?” Henry Miller had one of his characters ask, and one regrets to say that one sometimes wonders if there is any answer to that question.
What is not in question is that the Jews do have, one regrets to admit, a notable and extraordinary talent for infighting. This was notably on display this week, when the Israellycool website hosted no less than three blog posts bitterly lambasting the progressive women’s Zionist group Zioness.
Founded in the wake of the decision by several LGBT events to enact an antisemitic ban on Jewish symbols, Zioness’ stated mission is to fight for Israel and Zionism on the progressive left. It holds that Zionism is, in and of itself, a progressive value — the civil rights movement of the Jewish people, and that Jews and Zionists should not be asked to choose between progressivism and Zionism, nor should Zionism be read out of the progressive movement.
It’s purpose, in other words, is to challenge anti-Zionism and antisemitism on the left, and to promote both progressive and Zionist values without compromising on either one.
Given the rise of progressive antisemitism in the hands of the likes of Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, as well as the reactionary if also often pro-Israel policies of Donald Trump, Zioness has been forced to thread the needle very carefully indeed. They seek to fight antisemitism as if there were no Trump, and fight Trump as if there were no antisemitism. In this, it is fair to say, they have been largely successful.
In spite of this, however, there are those who see Zioness’ progressivism as in itself antithetical to Zionist values, which they identify wholly with the political right, and find their opposition to Trump offensive given his pro-Israel policies.
Such divisions are inevitable, but for David Lange, known to his intimates online as “Aussie Dave,” this is not so much a controversy as an obsession. In three lengthy blog posts, he expels thousands of notably bitter words at Zioness’ supposed betrayal of Zionism, Israel, and the Jews themselves.
In particular, Aussie is outraged by Zioness’ ingratitude toward Donald Trump. He muses, “Zioness seems to have become a go-to place for parroting everything the radical left is saying, minus their antisemitism. This includes the unbridled and vulgar bashing of President Donald Trump.”
Zioness, of course, being a progressive organization, can hardly be expected to be anything other than anti-Trump, and rather stridently so. In addition, that they are one with the radical left “minus their antisemitism” is not the small thing Aussie seems to think it is. Considering the rise of antisemitism on the left, it is an enormous thing — the essential thing.
Aussie objects to this because, it appears, Zionists ought to think in lockstep on the question of the God Emperor. Zioness is outspoken against Trump, he says, “Yet when he did something Zionists should agree was good, like moving the US embassy to Jerusalem or recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, the silence was deafening.”
Precisely what Aussie is implying is unclear, but he appears to be preparing a case that Zioness is not really Zionist, or at least, counterproductive for the Zionist cause, because of their attitude toward the God Emperor.
There are in fact two far more obvious explanations for Zioness’ stance on Trump.
The first is somewhat cynical, but nonetheless important: Trump is so hated, loathed, and despised on the left and center-left — not only by progressives, it must be noted — that Zioness cannot be anything other than stridently anti-Trump without being completely ostracized from the progressive movement and forfeiting whatever credibility it may have as a left-wing organization — credibility that is consistently and violently challenged by antisemites and anti-Zionists on the left.
The second is more idealistic, and probably closer to the truth: Zioness genuinely despises Trump. Indeed, in a tweet that Aussie reproduces with disdain, the group explicitly states, “Trump and @IfNotNowOrg using the same playbook: exploit Jews (and Palestinians), politicize Israel. Divide and destroy. … We can love Israel, vehemently disagree with certain reps, and despise you, all at the same time.”
He is equally worked up over another tweet that stated, after Omar and Tlaib were banned from Israel, “To all the Zionesses in our midst: You are not alone, you are not crazy. Our community is being manipulated and exploited as a political wedge, and we must resist that with all our heart and might.”
Aussie works himself into high dudgeon over Zioness comparing Trump to IfNotNow and accusing Trump of manipulating and exploiting Jews, and appears to consider even hinting at such a comparison to be near-blasphemous.
The truth is, however, that as I and David Myers have written elsewhere, Trump has unquestionably politicized or is at least trying to politicize Israel, and has openly employed Jews and antisemitism as a wedge issue to attack his political enemies — and these enemies are not merely antisemites like Omar and Tlaib, but the entire Democratic party.
Trump then accused Jews who do not vote for Republicans of being disloyal. One can argue Trump’s Israel policies, but that he exploits and politicizes Jews and Israel is unquestionable. And that he is turning Israel into a wedge issue, with dangerous consequences for American Jews, equally so. For Aussie, however, such impure thoughts about the God Emperor cannot be tolerated.
Indeed, in certain cases, Aussie simply willfully misreads — or, to be less charitable, lies about — Zioness’ supposed lack of genuine Zionism. In one case, he quotes Zioness saying, “And yet, instead of learning from our compatriots in the British Labour Party and standing against prejudice of any kind, American Jews are being scapegoated and then tarred for daring to stand up.”
“That’s the British Labour party lead by antisemite Jeremy Corbyn!” Aussie wails, as if he has somehow proved Zioness is actually an antisemitic organization.
In fact, it is quite obvious who Zioness is talking about: Those within the UK Labour Party who oppose the party’s descent into antisemitism under Corbyn’s leadership. That Aussie refuses to grant Zioness the slightest benefit of the doubt in this regard, to the point of simply slandering Zioness as potential collaborators with antisemitism, makes his method perfectly clear — he has none. He simply finds what he wants to find, whether it is there or not.
What he wants to find is, one regrets to say, fairly simple: Zioness is not really a Zionist or anti-antisemitism organization. In fact, it is a secret collaborator.
He points, for example, to Zioness’ praise for two unquestionably unsavory characters: Stacey Abrams and Wajahait Ali, both of whom have at least tangential ties to Omar and Linda Sarsour, and have said indefensible things about Israel.
Here, one must admit Aussie has a point: Zioness shouldn’t have done this. It is a minor point, however, and simply part of a larger point Aussie appears to be making, as he grants Zioness not the slightest benefit of the doubt. Rather than poor judgment or ignorance — the most likely explanation — Aussie appears to see these missteps as part of a larger, overarching conspiracy on Zioness’ part to appear Zionist but in fact enable and legitimize anti-Zionists and antisemites on the left.
“What is the difference between groups like Zioness and J Street?” he asks. “I’m now not so sure.”
The answer is really quite simple: J Street is a pro-Palestinian lobby specifically designed to force Israel into making concessions to the Palestinian Authority and evacuate the West Bank in order to reach a peace agreement, whether Israel wishes to or not. It was also consciously designed to be a means of shattering the pro-Israel consensus in Washington and to give then-president Obama the ability to impose terms on the Israeli government.
Zioness, on the other hand, mostly takes no stand on Israeli government policies, and seeks instead to defend Zionism and Israel in principle. And it does so in a noticeably hostile environment, in which the group’s members are constantly threatened with being attacked, ostracized, and discredited. Another writer might find this vaguely courageous, or at least worthy of encouragement.
Precisely why Aussie does not is never made entirely clear. Some of this is aesthetic: He is not a good writer, and his claims are sometimes difficult to untangle. Nonetheless, he appears to say it somewhat clearly when he writes, “Aside from the political litmus test it requires of its members, Zioness is attempting to impose a litmus test on Zionism. Since the organization defines ‘calling out Trump’ as an integral part of being a Zioness, it is excluding Jews who refuse to constantly bash him.”
It is uncomfortable but nonetheless necessary to point out that, if this is Aussie’s ultimate point, then it is quite barking mad. Zioness, so far as I know, has not criticized any form of Zionism or Zionist, even of the extreme right variety.
This, in the end, is what make’s Aussie’s final claim so utterly inexplicable: “At a time when our enemies are attempting to divide us, it is incredibly important that we prevent Zionism, which belongs to all Jews, from being co-opted by the radical Left.”
It is difficult to know where to begin with a statement so hopelessly tangled up in itself, but suffice it to say that, put simply, there is absolutely zero chance of Zionism being co-opted by the radical left. In fact, if this were so, Zioness would not have to exist, since the entire point of the organization is to stop the radical left from being co-opted by anti-Zionism, which is, unfortunately, precisely what is happening. On the radical left, the wind is at the backs of the anti-Zionists, and this is precisely the problem Zioness was founded to counteract.
Why, if Zionism does indeed belong to all Jews, Aussie should find this so reprehensible is frankly impossible to comprehend. What is quite comprehensible, however, is how uselessly self-destructive his attacks are.
Israel and Zionism are desperate for a voice on the radical left and in the progressive movement. Zioness is, for the most part, alone in its efforts to provide that.
If Zionism belongs to all Jews, then this is something all Jews should support, even if it involves daring to criticize Trump, for as Aussie ought to be man enough to admit, sometimes even the God Emperor wears no clothes.
Benjamin Kerstein is the Israel correspondent for The Algemeiner.