The Right Kind of Progressives, the Wrong Kind of Silence

I count among my friends, and I don’t apologize if one of them is reading this, many progressives. They’re the first to be the right kind of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. When tragedy strikes, they will rapidly adjust their social media profiles to put up the appropriate supportive overlay.  They put “hate has no home here” signs in their yards.  They vote for all the right candidates, all the time.  They’ll show up for rallies attended primarily by other right kind of progressives.

They do it for Black Lives Matter, they do it for Asian lives, they did it for Charlie Hebdo (but not the Jewish supermarket), and most importantly, they put up the Pittsburgh Jewish overlay after the Tree of Life shooting.

I notice how conspicuously silent they have been as Jews retreat to bunkers in Israel, as Jews in Diaspora are attacked in the streets of London, Los Angeles, and New York, or they have joined the chorus of anti-Zionists. If they’re not silent, they’re using words like “colonialist settlers” or “white supremacy”, or armchair quarterbacking proportionality, obscenely contrasting Palestinian deaths (verifiably often at the hands of Hamas misfires) to Israeli deaths.

The Islamic Center of Maine tonight held a rally in downtown Bangor for Palestinian civilians. In their notices about the event, they explicitly said, “no anti-Semitism or anti-Judaic sentiments will be allowed.” These are wonderful people with whom we have partnered on any number of issues. We have been there for each other before and we will be there for each other after. Justice, after all, we are commanded to pursue. While I think it’s absurd to obviate the trauma inflicted upon Israelis by the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror machine, I also can appreciate why they don’t approach it.  Admittedly, many of my fellow Zionists tend to gloss over the indignities heaped upon Palestinians.  It’s harmful, but it’s forgivable.  To me, the fact that they wanted us to understand their intent, as flawed as it is, means so much.

My liberal or progressive friends, however, don’t have that excuse. For the last several years, the only time we can count on the contingent of the right kind of progressive is if they can specifically pin violence against Jews on the right. It’s tiki torch Nazis, or nothing at all. If Jews are being physically assaulted by black neighbors in New York City, even if categorized and tracked as hate crimes, they have not been widely reported outside of Jewish news circles. And now, as Jews are being assaulted by pro-Palestinian hoodlums in Diaspora communities, our white progressive friends are still silent.

“It’s so complicated.”

It’s not, really.

I am an ardent Zionist, but I am an American citizen. I served in the American military for most of my adult life. I pay my taxes, perhaps more even than them. I support social justice causes. Does my mere support for a Jewish state mean that I deserve to live in fear of assault from people with an axe to grind against said state?

Of course not, they’d say.

But their silence kind of says it is okay.

They chew on sophistic, universalized “lessons” from the Holocaust, ones they feel Israel may not have appropriately learned. As Howard Jacobson said a decade ago, “By this logic the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn’t.”

But here’s the thing – we learned the lessons of Shoah.  The right kind of progressive did not.  The lesson of the Shoah—in fact, the lessons of the last 2000 years—have consistently been that Jewish life is cheap.  We were exiled from Judea, tortured and evicted from Spain, murdered in Europe from passion plays to pogroms, finally culminating in the Holocaust.

And it didn’t end there, right kind of progressive.  We negotiated creation of a state, and were immediately attacked in 1948.  We were attacked again in 1967.  We watched the pride of our state murdered in Munich in 1972.  We were attacked again on our holiest day of the year, in 1973, by an Arab coalition bent on our destruction.  Jews today have been driven out of most Arab lands, places like Iraq or Morocco where they lived for centuries.  We still see it happening now, as Ethiopian Jews, caught in the midst of war and sectarian unrest, seek to escape to Israel.  Who are they the targets of?

While they grew up the right kind of progressive, watching The Love Boat, people like me watched Leon Klinghoffer be tossed from the deck of the Achille Lauro, and realized that to be a Jew is never to be truly safe anywhere.

Anywhere, that is, except for a Jewish state.

If you doubt this, wear a yarmulke and tzitzit everywhere, as I do.  While I don’t have to necessarily fear the police as our POC friends do, I can count on harassment and occasional violence at some point.  I can count on my children being harassed at school, and yet not being invited to participate in equity efforts.  I can count on my synagogue being vandalized in Bangor, only to see no invitation to participate in the city’s anti-racism endeavors.

There is not a generation of Jew alive today, especially Israelis, that have known peace in their lifetime.  Yes, there’s miles of rapprochement in store for Palestinian and Jew.  But the disproportionate focus on Israel, the accountability these morally lazy sots can’t even spend on their own government’s actions are a greater problem.

You cannot decontextualize the lived experience of generations of Jews when looking at this situation.  That lesson of the Holocaust and everything before and after it—that only Jews will ever meaningfully care about Jewish lives—informs everything.  We made peace with Arab neighbors like Egypt and Jordan.  Even with the Palestinians, my sense is this conflict will find some semblance of closure.

The constant we have always lived with and always will is the right kind of progressive and their wrong kind of silence.  I am not angry.  I am resigned.  I will listen patiently while they find their voice again and express their outrage for some other injustice.  I will try not to sneer two days after the ceasefire, when they abandon their tepid protests that play at the sides and infantilize Palestinian agency, and have moved on to the next big outrage.  I will not expect them to speak out on our concerns, particularly if the injustices we face are not sufficient shibboleth to warrant their concern.

There are so many of them, and so few of us.  They even have a good number of us, to confirm for them in error that our take, our context, and our sense of up and down are broken.  No, I have no expectation that they’ll see their own moral inconsistency.

I just hope they have no expectation that we will ever take them seriously.


Writer, President of Bangor's Congregation Beth Israel, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Maine with three ladies and a dog.

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About Brian

Brian Kresge

Brian Kresge

Writer, President of Bangor's Congregation Beth Israel, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Maine with three ladies and a dog.

About Leah

Leah Kresge

Leah Kresge

Director of Education for Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, Maine, special educator and former school board member, mother to Amelia and Nezzie.

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