Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images
Dear fellow Jews of the left,
In the wake of the most savage butchery meted out upon our people since the Holocaust, you’re glued to social media. You may not be able to sleep or enjoy anything. Our deepest wounds were ripped open last Shabbat, and you’ve been learning how few degrees of separation there are between you and the 1,400 innocent Jews who were bound, burned alive, shot, beheaded, and dismembered by Hamas terrorists on October 7th.
And yet somehow that’s not what feels the worst.
What feels the worst is that rather than reacting with unanimous horror, people and institutions around the world reveled in the slaughter. In Sydney, hundreds of demonstrators yelled “gas the Jews”; in New York City, demonstrators cheered the “glorious victory of the resistance” and a swastika surfaced among a sea of pro-Hamas protesters; Stars of David were spray-painted on Jewish homes in Berlin. And some of your friends either minimized or utterly dismissed your anguish to your face.
It’s terrifying to feel the coldness of one’s friends. You feel the walls closing in, the floor dropping from beneath you. Every psychological handhold you lean on (“America is safe,” “Israel is safe,” “the Nazis are dead”) turns to sand, and you fall down.
I know, because I went through this two years ago. During the last major round of fighting between Israel and Hamas—a minor skirmish compared to what’s unfolding now—I posted about the alarming spike in anti-Jewish hate crimes in the U.S. I’ll never forget the sickening mixture of silence and derision from my left-wing peers. I was accused of trying to distract from Palestinian suffering—of “crying antisemitism,” as they say.
And I fell apart. For a few days, I felt like the country was sliding inexorably toward the unthinkable fate of 1940s Germany. After all, I thought, if people will shrug off beatings and swastikas, they’ll shrug off stabbings and shootings. And then they’ll shrug off pogroms—at least if the perpetrators claim to be freeing Palestine. I finally wrote an open letter calling out this blind spot. It went viral, but mostly just among other Jews.
I was waking up to the apathy of the same left which claims to care about marginalized groups and claims to “uplift” their voices; validate their truths; dismantle the systems that oppress them. And now we are waking up to an even starker truth: that millions of people love dead Jews and can’t stand living ones. That many of the sympathetic check-ins we received after the 2018 Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh came not because innocent Jews had been murdered, but because they were murdered by the wrong kind of person, and for the wrong reasons.
That’s when I realized: Jews are in an abusive relationship with our progressive friends. It’s terrifying to realize this. You’ll cry. You’ll tremble. Your mind will race. And you’ll react in one of several ways:
Go silent. You avoid discussing the situation at all. You pretend the massacre and the mob praising it will spare you if you play spiritually dead.
Rationalize. You blame your own people for the massacre. You loudly condemn Israel, hoping the forces of hatred will claim only Jews with the audacity to declare their right to live.
Minimize. You tell yourself that the friends justifying the slaughter of your 1,400 cousins are motivated by misplaced principles, that they just don’t understand, that they just need to learn a bit more history.
These are all understandable responses. They’re survival strategies that many of us have tried to use for centuries. Ultimately, they never work.
But there’s one other option: confronting the abuse directly. Refusing to be gaslit into thinking that an organization openly founded on the principle of killing Jews somehow doesn’t really hate Jews, or that their apologists—some of whom you go to school or work with—aren’t tragically complicit in that hatred.
The idea of speaking out may terrify you. Your body and soul will contract, anticipating not only the jeering of your peers but also the shattering of your self-image. I’m not like my ultra-Zionist uncle. I’m not a Republican. I’m a peace-lover, a secularist, a progressive liberal.
The one thing you indisputably are, though, is a Jew. It’s not up to you. You can reject your Jewishness and it won’t matter. Even after Spain forcibly converted many Jews in 1391, it established an Inquisition to torment the converts (or “conversos”) it suspected of practicing Judaism secretly.
Why did Spain do this? Were the Jews of Spain misbehaving somehow? No. Abuse is not a reflection of the victim’s behavior, but the abuser’s. Jews were targeted because, in a time of political ferment, kings and preachers needed a scapegoat.
Today, your progressive friends need a scapegoat. For imperialism, for colonialism, for white supremacy. For the indelible sins etched into their own histories. Will they leave their own “settler-colonies”? Will they stick out their own necks to be cut by the “oppressed”? No. They’ll outsource that to Jews, in keeping with a tradition based on a Jew who was tortured to death to absolve us of all sin. A Jew whose death may have been tragic, but was also necessary to redeem the world.
Why don’t we see more efforts to dismantle antisemitism? Well, for one thing, Jews make up only 0.2% of the global population. We’re outnumbered more than 110:1 by Muslims and Christians—each. So if the onus is on Jews to start the conversation—which it shouldn’t be—then we’re spread laughably thin.
Non-Jews seem to have no interest in the subject; societies are loath to name the bigotries they’re founded on, much less challenge them. The American South was built on hideous racism, but do you think antebellum Southerners went around saying, “Hi there, fellow racist! Another wonderful day for racism”? Of course not.
That society couldn’t begin to change on its own. It had to be confronted.
After thousands of years of grinding persecution, culminating in the Holocaust, Zionism and Israel represent Jewish resistance—the stubborn assertion of our right to live and the legacy of those who refused to tiptoe, rationalize, or minimize any longer.
You can assert this too. When you do, you’ll be surprised by how much of the weight lifts. You’ll walk taller. You’ll begin seeing the scorn and sanctimoniousness of friends for what it is. You’ll attract respect from surprising quarters. You’ll learn who your friends are. And, in the face of howling, vast hatred, you’ll feel unexpected peace.
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Boaz Munro is a writer, web designer, and educator. He studied Hebrew, Arabic, and modern Middle East history at Brown University and The George Washington University. A grandson of Holocaust survivors from Poland with family in Israel, he’s originally from Pittsburgh, where he grew up two blocks from the Tree of Life synagogue. He lives in the Bay Area with his wife and daughter.