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How Jewish Is Occupy Wall Street?

Commenting on ‘Commentary’

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A union-led protest in Zuccotti Park on December 15.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Jonathan Neumann has a long, considered essay in the January Commentary about Occupy Wall Street. In one sense, that fact—and its prominent placement on the neoconservative journal’s Website—is victory enough for OWS: it has forced itself into just about every imaginable conversation at this point, and even Commentary has to reckon with it. Of course, that doesn’t mean Commentary has to agree with it, and, of course, it doesn’t.

Neumann makes the following arguments:

• That despite the efforts of supporters to “downplay” it, “anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hostility … was more prevalent than their initial denials suggested or their belated statements of concern conceded.”

• “Certainly, the Occupiers were more hostile toward Jews than toward any other ethnic or religious group. And certainly they were more hostile toward Israel than toward any other foreign state and more preoccupied with Israel than with any other foreign policy issue.”

• That Jews and Occupy Judaism were the most prominent religious groups affiliated with the protests, and in fact that, with Occupy Judaism’s building of a sukkah, it proved crucial to the movement’s evolution—after the Zuccotti Park sukkah was built, the police began to allow tents and other structures.

• That those Jews who opposed bringing Israel into OWS were motivated not by principle but by making the OWS tent as large as possible.

My first instinct is to be disappointed that Commentary has chosen to embrace only one strand of Judaism—the side obsessed with laws and authority (which very much exists)—while ignoring Judaism’s other, dialectical half: that of dissent and heresy. An honest reckoning with the outsize Jewish involvement in Occupy Wall Street (and Neumann sure is right about that) leaves Jews with much to feel proud of whether or not they support the movement. But the larger problem is Neumann’s failure to honestly consider what even he acknowledges are the movement’s core demands, which were economic.

There’s only so much re-hashing that can be done concerning the prevalence of anti-Semitism. The most notorious offensive sign-holder was a local crank. On the other hand, the OWS’ Boston iteration did indeed march on the Israeli consulate in solidarity with this year’s Gaza-bound flotilla, something which should have troubled all supporters of Israel (as it did me). Adbusters, the magazine that originally called for the occupation, is obsessed with Israel- and Jewish-centric conspiracy theories; but Adbusters did little other than originally call for the occupation—it had no presence or relevance on the ground.

As for those of us who didn’t want Israel to play a role in OWS because we wanted OWS to appeal to as many people as possible—and I say “those of us” because I am quoted as being such a person—I have to apologize for giving the impression that I was motivated primarily by realpolitik. The main reason I did not enjoy seeing certain OWS protests adopting an anti-Zionist agenda is because I saw neither the relevance nor the connection between anti-Zionism and OWS’s “1 percent message,” and I didn’t see the connection because I am in fact a Zionist who also supports OWS’s economic message. The two things, in other words, are not incompatible, as Neumann seems to suggest.

Were the occupiers “more hostile toward Jews than toward any other ethnic or religious group?” I’m not sure what Neumann is basing that on, especially since at the same time he points out (accurately) that Jews played a huge role in the movement (when New York reported on who the leaders of the ostensibly leaderless movement were, one couldn’t help but notice the cavalcade of Jewish names). Was it a cardboard cut-out of Lloyd Blankfein’s head on a pike? Yes. Is Lloyd Blankfein Jewish? Of course. Was Blankfein’s head on a pike because he is Jewish? No, it was there because he is the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Was Goldman chosen because it is the historically Jewish firm? No, it was chosen because it most successfully fleeced ordinary Americans while maintaining gigantic bonuses for its own employees during the run-up to and aftermath of the 2008 crash. Was Goldman uniquely “good” because it’s the historically Jewish firm? Well, maybe, and that’s where this gets more complicated.

Perhaps the sentence of Neumann’s that most tripped me up came early on. “To begin with,” he wrote, “any conspiracy theory that connects a tiny portion (in this case 1 percent) of the population with exploitative banking practices is susceptible to taking on anti-Semitic undertones.” I suppose that’s technically true, but in fact, a cursory and honest look at the news of the past few years reveals radical and radically increasing income inequality, fueled in large measure by exploitative banking practices enabled by Washington and gleefully utilized by Wall Street. And a cursory and honest look at Jewish history reveals that the same traits that inevitably put Jews at the forefront of protest movements like Occupy Wall Street also put them in positions high atop the government and financial system.

Neumann looks at the important role of the sukkah in advancing the movement and sees perfidy. I see the Jews, yet again, serving as the vanguard of an honorable movement for social justice. This gets tricky: Neumann is asking us to focus on the indelible Jewishness of the bankers and to ignore the indelible Jewishness (or at least its positive aspects) of the protesters; I am asking you to focus on the indelible Jewishness of the protesters—the organizational acumen, the passion for social justice, the activist genius—and ignore the indelible Jewishness of Blankfein and Bernanke (or, even worse, implying they are shandas or some such). And suddenly this comparably small dispute over whose OWS narrative best reflects reality has become an argument over what Jewishness is.

So let’s stick to facts. I’m a supporter of Occupy Wall Street who has acknowledged and condemned (and also gone out of my way to report on) the relatively marginal elements that have tried to turn it into an anti-Zionist thing. Neumann, by contrast, is magnifying the marginal elements at the expense of what even he admits is the movement’s main thrust: calling attention to debilitating wealth inequality in the United States. Commentary and Neumann owe us a fuller explanation of how they feel about this inequality. Do they deny it exists? Assuming they don’t (and how could they?), do they believe that it’s okay—that it’s simply the free market sorting out the winners and losers—or do they think it should be addressed by people in power?

And, sure: do they think there is something fundamentally un-Jewish about it? Neumann begins his article with Occupy Judaism’s Kol Nidrei service and its call for a “fast from your capitalist lifestyle.” But he fails to print the actual quotation that was read that night, not just across the street from Zuccotti Park but in thousands of synagogues around the world: “Is such the fast I desire,” the Lord asks in Isaiah,

A day for men to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrush and lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast, a day when the Lord is favorable? No, this is the fast I desire: To unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke. To let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin.

You simply can’t seriously argue that a message of social justice was bizarrely shoehorned in to Judaism’s holiest night. It’s right there.

Occupy Wall Street and the Jews [Commentary]
Related: Busted [Tablet Magazine]
2012=1968? [NY Mag]
Earlier: Is Occupy Wall Street Anti-Semitic?
The Problem With OWS’ Palestine Affiliation
Busting the ‘Adbusters’ OWS Story
The Pro-Palestinian OWS Offshoot
Atonement in Lower Manhattan

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This apology is most point for point well if not lengthily appreciated and expressed. I am a Jew who is not a Zionist and does not support the enabling of Israel to act irresponsibly as it feels it is entitled and neither do I condemn nor take exception at the occupy protest at the Israeli consulate in Boston. I do perceive and I think correctly that blind economic support of some of Israel’s worst policies is not in the Jewish nor American interest and I find and feel that Zionism is fast becoming a morally bankrupt and intellectually cult. Best regards, Jules

Bill Pearlman says:

Your about has Jewish has Mengele

Grow up Bill. And get out a little more. It’ll do you some good.

From my understanding, the Occupy protesters wanted the U.S. *government* to take action to address inequality. They have every right to their beliefs, but they shouldn’t cloak them in “Jewish values,” values that were intended to be for a specifically Jewish polity or for Jews as individuals. There is absolutely a social justice component to Judaism, but in a secular state, that component should be relegated to private interactions.

How are those who quote Isaiah in support of redistributive taxes any different from those who oppose gay marriage (and want gov’t. legislation to that effect) by quoting Leviticus? Let’s all beware of slippery slopes.

Funny–the same guy who characterized Republican criticisms of anti-Zionism within the Democratic Party as a scurrilous attempt to divide Jews along political lines, now attempts to identify Judaism itself with a (generally secular, openly anti-Zionist and sporadically anti-Semitic) left-wing political campaign against rich people. Your partisan hypocrisy is showing, Marc…

Jules, not being a Zionist is one thing – but opposition to the existence of Israel, using double-standards to judge Israel versus how one judges the actions of other nations (in this case how you, particularly, evaluate or justify Palestinian actions), and demonizing Israel over and against other nations and groups, are, sadly, a basis for a finding of anti-Semitism, despite your claim of being Jewish.

Indeed, there are many anti-Semites on the political left who have a Jewish heritage.

Publis says:

Dan, you haven’t substantiated a single clam you’ve made about the Occupy movement being anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic.

You haven’t because you can’t.

Take your hotzaat shem ra elsewhere, it isn’t welcome here and I won’t sin through silence about it.

regina winters says:

Occupy Wall Street is a petulant, narcisistic, infantile, unfocused mob that claims to represent 99% of the population, and actually represents maybe .5%. Jews have been the preferred whipping boys of Western Civilization since forever, and in the past two centuries self-hating Jews have chosen to flagelate Jews, Judaism and Zion as a sign of their “emancipation” and “intergration”.
It is sad indeed that no matter what Leftist hooplah goes on, a bunch of kooks will find a reason to berate Israel, and “blame” Jews for whatever bugs them..

Wonder why Commentary wasted so much of its breath…

Regina Winters I think maybe it’s time for a Regina Spring. Your tedious harangue is as hollow as it is vacuous and deeply vain. In a summation your petty projections are nether clever nor do they take a personal stock or a wider societal one. You are obviously wrapped in yourself and nothing else.

http://www.thenational.ae/lifestyle/winter-occupy-wall-street-protesters-driven-and-directionless?pageCount=2

Same old, same old–if Jews have money,
it’s terrible; if Jews are murdered, it
deserves sympathy. Why is it that all
thru history, the resentment of Jewish
success always rears its ugly head. I’m
only a middle-class, retired federal
employee, but I congratulate those of my
ethnic group (and others also) who have
succeeded to make a buck the old-fashioned
way–they worked hard. But, the anti-
semites always have an explanation for
their success–the same pack of lies we
have heard for centuries. What troubles me
is the anti-Jewish Jews who are brain-washed into believing that they should
join the anti-semites. Let me remind
them that “Hitler made no special provisions for Jews for hated other Jews.”
Long-live America and Israel–in that
order or in reverse order. Gil (yes,
I oppose OWS for their usual far-left
bigotry!!!)

OWS is not targeted at Jews it is targeted at and aimed at the rotten relationship corporations enjoy in crooked concert with government which is a rotten one to the core, and one that compromises, nay indeed nullifies completely true representational democracy in the United States of America.

Publis, well put. There is no pervasive wave of toxic Anti-Semitism within the occupy movements and neither can one be credibly established or substantiated. This baiting people who want actually legislative change in American politics is very petty and demonstrates a dim backward mentality.

David B. says:

In the spirit of Jules the truly ugly socialist,
I recommend Robert S, Wistrich’s edited book, The Left against Zion. Great read, puts may things in perspective.

And now we finally get to the truth about Tracy and why he won’t admit OWS is antisemitic. He supports OWS and so that has compromised his objectivity. He wants to believe in OWS, so he keeps saying the antisemitic element is a fringe.

Clearly that’s not the case. Adbusters is still providing support and advice to OWS. A number of those involved in OWS leadership, and there is a leadership, have spent time with anti-Israel groups.

Tablet needs to find somebody not so invested in OWS to write about it. Tracy clearly won’t report the truth.

I visited OWS twice, and saw no anti-Jewish sentiment. I didn’t even see anti-Israel sentiment. And I walked all around the encampment, with my daughters.
OWS had and still has a lot of very valid criticisms to make about our society. I cannot fathom why so many people, and so many Jews, who are not ultra-wealthy, have such great antagonism for this movement.
And the Jewish holiday activities that took place there were meaningful.

David, wash behind your ears okay?

You look so cute when your face flushes full fascist fire red…love you too.

You must worship at the almighty alter of Big Bill always wrong Kristol David. Idolatry is an offense at god but not for foaming mad fascists like you. Always a delight to have a discussion with you which consists consistently of you hurling hysterical accusations and insults.

Good day David.

ahad ha'amoratsim says:

Any one who can seriously opine “Judaism’s other, dialectical half: that of dissent and heresy” is not qualified to write about what is and is not Jewish. Judaism is heretical only as opposed to alien theologies — including Marxism. And the prophetic dissent was not a complaint that Jews were “obsessed with laws and authority” but rather that Jews were not following the laws and were following misguided authorities who told them what they wanted to hear instead of teaching them the laws.

By the way, Marc, are you aware that the most prominent American to use the term social justice was a fellow named Coughlin, yemach shmo? He had his complaints against the rich too, especially if they were Jewish.

Judaism certainly demands compassion for the poor, business ethics and honsety. And it expects governments to set up fair courts to resolve those issues. That’s part of the very obsession with laws and authority that you disparage. But your distortion of Judaism to glorify theft, government redistribution of income, disregard for private property and general social pathology is baseless and transparent to anyone who has taken the time to study Judaism instead of cherry picking the convenient bits.

ahad ha’amoratasim, I waded through your belabored balderdash and arrived at the conclusion that it was well, just that – balderdash. OWS is not a Marxist movement. You cling tenaciously to your crazed craven fears like a witless, wizened, half mad old mother.

The 21st century has arrived, have you?

Publis, read the Commentary article Marc links to. Marc never even tried to refute its evidence of the Occupy movement’s anti-Zionism, only mentioning in passing that he believed it confined to “marginal elements”. (The article refutes that claim.) The article’s evidence of anti-Semitism was indeed much more tenuous, apart from a few incidents that may well have been isolated–hence my use of the term, “sporadically”.

Finally, I note that neither you nor Marc have addressed my main point: that Marc considers support for Israel to be a divisive, controversial issue for American Jews–and yet also considers support for a far-left populist/anarchist campaign against the rich to be so fundamentally and uncontroversially Jewish as to be in itself an expression of Judaism.

Dan–
I think you qualify for the straw horse award.

@RZS -

Interesting point. I’ll take a stab at it…

The difference between Jews motivated by our tradition to join OWS and far-right Christians is that the latter want direct enforcement of what they see as religious law. Jews in OWS, on the other hand, are merely using the moral and social connections they have developed to inform their decisions about whether and how to support OWS.

I think your understanding that OWS demonstrators want the government to take action is flawed. (Some do, some don’t. And a credible case could be made that the heart and soul of OWS is extra-governmental.) But even if we grant your point, advocating for the government to intercede on behalf of the poor is a secular position. That it has been informed by Jewish values (informed, not “cloaked”) seems beside the point if your issue is church/state separation.

Perhaps another way of approaching the same point would be to ask, “how does any given citizen make decisions about how his secular government should behave?” Presumably, the answer would be “based on his own values and understanding of what is best for the country.” It seems indisputable that many Americans derive at least some of their values from religion. Does this mean that all of them have voted or advocated inappropriately?

Dan, I think the “anarchist” thing is the Republican primaries which are truly anarchy in action.

So much vitriol in these comments. Dismissive ad hominem attacks do not substitute for substance. Here is my problem with OWS – responsibility. There is a undercurrent in the rhetoric that I have heard from those involved that blames the “other” (here, bankers) for the predicament they are in. Where does individuals’ responsibility for their own actions – e.g., to take on mortgages or debt they cannot afford – fit in? I am a huge fan of compassion and support for those who have fallen on hard times, but that does not mean I have to blame those who have been successful.

Also, the author suggests that the same qualities that propel Jews to be involved in OWS also propelled them to the top of Wall Street. That is nonsense. I agree that Jews who are involved in OWS may be drawing on values inherent in the Jewish tradition. I do not agree that the same is true of those who have found their fortune on Wall Street, and suggesting that it is provides the basis for the anti-semitic canard that there is some necessary connection between Judaism, banking and wealth.

Lou Adams says:

Another planted story to misrepresent the focus of the OWS foundations and goals and to excuse the anti Semitism that is alive in it as well as the far left.
OWS is funded and organized by the same groups that gave us BHO and the progressive agenda. They have promoted it’s story line and trained and paid it’s lower level managers.
When the economy is still on life support the only thing that could possible help re elect a president who has failed miserably to improve the economy, as well as everything else, is to divert attention away from his failures.
I would hope the transparency of this action is recognized by our so called smart community, it’s not about religious Jews or Christians for that matter. Look at where the money has come to fund OWS and the people behind it and then check out their views on Israel, it’s not a pretty sight.

THE TRUTH IS DICK TRACY THAT NOBODY KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE. ZIONIST, JEW, OR OTHER. YOU MENTION THE FLOTILLA. WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THAT. WOULD YOU HAVE PREFERRED THAT ISRAEL SHOUD HAVE ALLOW IT TO PASS WITHOUT CONFRONTATION.
ONE THING I KNOW ABOUT YOU AND TABLET. I QUIT TABLET AND ALTHOUGH THEY HAD DESCENDED TO WAY BELOW THEIR HIGH AT BIRTH, I MIGHT HAVE STAYED ON BUT YOU PROVIDED THE FINISHING TOUCH. THE TRUTH IS THAT YOU ENJOY REBELLING AGAINST AUTHORITY. THIS IS YOUR LIFETIME PROBLEM AND HAVE FOUND A HOME AT TABLET WHERE YOU CAN GO ON WITH YOUR TERRIBLE IDEAS AND BAD WRITING.
THERE HAVE BEEN MANY OTHERS WHO QUIT AND EVEN MORE WHO WILL.

Max – Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’ll take your word for it re: some of the protesters’ desire for government intervention, so my argument only applies to those who do in fact want to address inequality through some sort of policy change.

I suppose I found the protesters’ use of Jewish themes/values/etc. somewhat disingenuous. If it was Jewish values informing their politics and not their already-existing politics informing what Jewish values they found meaningful, then these same protesters would stone their gay friends and settle the East Bank. Yes, I’m being facetious here, but the point still stands.

The Jewish tradition does have a serious social justice component, but, as I wrote before, it is intended to be applied to private interactions between Jews or within a Jewish polity (a religious one, so I’m not – yet – counting Israel). If the Jewish Occupy protesters were giving tzedakah to those suffering as a result of the financial crisis, then no one would criticize them in the least.

The worldwide financial crisis mushroomed in all of its abject destitute awfulness in 2008, if one has not fathomed that things have gone terribly wrong perhaps one has arrived a little late.

Paul Brandon says:

George–
A good part of the mortgage debacle was misrepresentation: people were told by other people who appeared to be more knowledgeable about finances that they could afford mortgages that in fact were too much of a risk for them.
And then there are the cases where people were fraudulently sold mortgages that were more expensive than the best ones that they qualified for.
Blaming the victim is easy if you ignore the facts.

Yes, some people bought into the ‘American Dream’ and purchased homes that they knew they couldn’t afford on the assumption (which did not come out of nowhere) that they could continue ‘kiting’ mortgages; refinancing as the value of their property increased to pay of an earlier mortgage.

People who achieve success through fraud are certainly blameworthy.

zaydesvox says:

Jews are a very independant people. I’m sure there were Jews who work in wall street and are opposed to the “Occupiers” who also have Jews in their midsts. As for the ever present Jew Haters..thats been for 4000 years ever since Abraham told the guys down at the dry goods store that He found the ONe True God! The world has seen forever the slogan..”blame the Jews for everything” club!

David Rabinovitz says:

Anti-semitism, and its fraternal twin,anti-Zionism are a far greater and more tenacious threat to the Jews, and to America than accelerating income disparities . The Zucottiniks were therefore,literally,”sleeping with the enemy”.

David Rabinovitz says:

Jewish presence in movements for social change doesn’t cleanse protestors of anti-Semitism,and its fraternal twin anti-Zionism. The Zucottiniks were literally”sleeping with the enemy”.

George says:

Paul – I confess that I don’t have the statistics, but I would like to see how many of the mortgages were based on true fraud as opposed to wishful thinking. No question that those who engage in true fraud are blameworthy. My guess would be that true fraud represents a relatively small percentage. And it is not that difficult to figure out what you can or cannot afford when it comes to financing a home through a mortgage.

Moreover, OWS is about a lot more than the mortgage debacle. My point is that there seem to be am awful lot of people blaming Goldman and other banks for virtually every ill we suffer as a society. I have always had much more success getting through my problems when I look in the mirror for my part in them, and get to the truly difficult work of taking responsibility.

philip mann says:

Jules , in every election ,we are faced with a poor choice of alternatives,and most of us hold our nose and vote for somebody. If we abstain,the we have no right to complain.

Israel is the same-they may not do everything perfectly,as the leftist mob wants,but they get a lot of things right. The only time we get most people on our side is…I don`t know if such a thing exists. Somebody posted here a while ago saying that Hitler had the right idea. So, I`ll give what I can to Israel,visit when I can, because nobody else will. I don`t have to live with the consequences of my cheap advice,and you don`t either.

The OWS movement ? Crashes happen all the time. If it ain`t one damn cause, it`s another. Short of confiscation of money,and massive intervention in peopel`s affairs, what exactly do these guys propose ?

goodgrief says:

those passages in isaiah are not read at night in thousands of synagogues around the world, but rather by day. a mistake that speaks volumes about the level of knowledge and engagement with judaism with which you back up your analysis…

goodgrief says:

“How are those who quote Isaiah in support of redistributive taxes any different from those who oppose gay marriage (and want gov’t. legislation to that effect) by quoting Leviticus? Let’s all beware of slippery slopes.”

they’re different in that leviticus in fact opposes gay marriage whereas isaiah is not advocating political programs.

then again, the thesis of this article is that heresy is as central to the jewish religion , why it’s half the dialectic! this is based on the BIBLE?????????????? if you base your judaism on the “other dialectical half, that of dissent and heresy” you may as well ignore isaiah as leviticus….so not to worry, there is not a politics driven by biblical teachings that he wishes to impose, rather the politics is imposed on the bible and judaism, and the fit is rather poor.

JAHMAN says:

I encourage all to read Public Law 97-280.

After reading Public Law 97-280, hopefuly this post will make better sense.

Leviticus 25:10.

‘Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.’ (JUBILEE)

The significance of this scripture in American History is second to none — For many reasons.

1. Its role in Willliam Penns ‘Holy Experiment’, our Constitution, and how it gave birth to the spirit of the American Creed ‘that all men are created equal’
—becoming the cornerstone to democracy

2. Its role in ending slavery in America. In fact it was during the abolitionist movement that the Liberty Bell gained its iconic name.
–this passage taught all slaves
were to be set free during the Jubilee

THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN CHANGING AMERICA LAW — 13th AMENDMENT

3. Its role in the Women’s Suffrage movement. THE WOMEN’S LIBERTY BELL

AGAIN: THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN CHANGING AMERICA LAW — 19th AMENDMENT

Since people are uniting in solidarity against financial inequality —environmental injustice — and corruption in politics —

I suggest everyone to search the substance of the satutes and ordinances associated with the Jubilee (The Liberty Bell) — And how it still offers framework that WILL re-shape global environmental awarenesss and initatives, redefine agriculture and financial relationships; both domestic and foreign, that are in the best interest of all.

My hope and prayer is this — that we will soon see the truth within the message on the Liberty Bell — as many before us have.

IF we do this is, WE WILL see the days inscribed on the Isaiah Wall — “…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

If we have financial and agriculture equality — these things are possible— A BETTER WORLD IS POSSIBLE.

UNITED IN TIME
JAH5740

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How Jewish Is Occupy Wall Street?

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