Understanding Alt-Right Antisemitism

UNDERSTANDING ALT-RIGHT ANTISEMITISM: what the new white supremacy means for American Jews, and why it matters

(Note- This article references many alt-right/white supremacist websites. All hyperlinks to these web pages go to ‘cached’ replicas of the pages, not the website itself.)

For the American Jewish community, these are strange and frightening times. With a wave of bomb threats to Jewish community centers*, attacks on Jewish cemeteries, and antisemitic graffiti on college campuses, American Jews face the largest grassroots surge of antisemitism in living memory. Yet, while over 75% of American Jews did not vote for Trump, the state of Israel has rushed to his side. Stranger still, the white supremacist alt-right movement seems to simultaneously hate Jews, and love Israel. Steve Bannon, Trump campaign mastermind and former architect of the antisemitic and white nationalist Breitbart News, shows firm support for the Jewish state, while neo-Nazi hipster Richard Spencer compares himself to Theodore Herzl, and calls his movement ‘white Zionism’.

This confusing reality has scrambled the coordinates of the American Jewish community, whose leaders have spent decades painting criticism of Israel, and more recently the BDS movement, as ‘the new antisemitism’. Even though it is well-known that the same forces of white supremacy put all our communities in danger, many Jews and non-Jews still struggle to understand exactly how this new anti-Semitism fits in with other forms of bigotry in the far-right, such as Islamophobia, anti-Arab racism, anti-blackness, and anti-immigrant racism.  

This article examines the ideology of antisemitism on the alt-right, and its intersection with alt-right Zionism, in comparison with anti-Jewish ideologies of the 20th century. By unearthing the inner logic of fascist mentality, we do not seek to grant legitimacy to their beliefs, or pretend they can be defeated through reasoned debate alone; rather, by situating these anti-Jewish ideologies in their historical context, past and present, we hope to orient ourselves in our current political moment, in order to understand how to transform it.



For years, the online white nationalist movement has been obsessed with the ‘Jewish Question’, or ‘JQ’. Dredging through the swamps of the alt-right internet, on sites like the Daily Stormer, forums like 4chan and podcasts like the Daily Shoah, it is common knowledge that, alongside all sorts of racist and sexist drivel, one is inundated with raw, in-your-face neo-Nazi memes, slurs and clickbait recycling the crude anti-Jewish tropes of the last century.

Rather than attempt to glean a coherent ideology from Pepe-the-frog memes or angry white dude trolls, it is more worthwhile to turn to the ‘suit-and-tie’ white supremacists, who wrap their hate in a pseudo-intellectual veneer. In online publications, like Alternative Right, CounterCurrents, Radix Journal, and the Occidental Observer, that appear, at first glance, more like academic journals than hate sites, the alt-right attempts to develop a coherent American white nationalist ideology, grounded in 20th-century anti-modern, anti-liberal thought and situated alongside other far-right movements across Europe. Epitomized by clean-cut, upper-middle-class ‘hipster intellectual’ fascists like Richard Spencer, this new movement seeks, in the words of one anti-fascist blogger, to make neo-fascism “just as much of a philosophic project as Marxism and anarchism…using jargon and rhetoric that feels more like the Frankfurt School than like the [neo-Nazi group] National Alliance.”

Most attempts, on the alt-right, to ‘theorize’ antisemitism rely heavily on the work of Kevin MacDonald, a retired evolutionary psychology professor who still collects a pension from California State University, Long Beach. Dubbed ‘the neo-Nazi movement’s favorite academic’ by Southern Poverty Law Center and ‘the Marx of the anti-Semites’ by conservative writer John Derbyshire, MacDonald began his academic forays into the ‘Jewish Question’ in the late 90s, by claiming, in books like ‘A People That Shall Dwell Alone’, that Judaism represents a ‘group evolutionary strategy’, developed and perfected over two millennia of Jewish adaptation in the diaspora, whereby a tight-knit Jewish ‘ingroup’ embeds itself, like a virus, within the pores of its host nation, siphoning off resources, rising to the elite and disarming all defenses against their invasion. Once the formal legal structures separating Jews and gentiles were dissolved in the 18th-century European Enlightenment, MacDonald argues, liberal ‘emancipated’ Jewish activists “construct[ed] highly focused ethnic networks in politics, the arts, the media, and the social sciences—all the critical centers of power in the modern world”, building progressive movements for multiculturalism and universalism within Gentile society while, hypocritically, maintaining covert ‘hyperethnocentric’ networks of support among fellow Jewish activists.

The alt-right turns to MacDonald’s later books, particularly The Culture of Critique, to understand the ‘Jewish problem’ underlying basically all progressive legal, political and cultural forces of modern American history. Throughout the 20th century, claims MacDonald, American Jewish political figures, lobbyists, lawyers, journalists, activists, and other ‘opinion makers’ spearheaded, from behind the scenes, both the civil rights movement and the movement for relaxed immigration policies. It was Jewish political and social capital, ultimately, that opened the gates of the USA to millions of non-European immigrants, integrated our schools, cities and neighborhoods, and worked behind the scenes, in various ways, to engineer “the racial reconstruction of America”.

During the same time period, MacDonald insists, a liberal Jewish elite engineered the hegemonic takeover of the humanities and social sciences, using the disciplines of Boasian anthropology, Freudian psychoanalysis, and the Frankfurt School to propagate cultural relativism, sexual liberation, and the deconstruction of all ideologies deemed ‘authoritarian’, respectively. Through movements like the New Left, finally, Jews brought the ‘culture war’ to the streets of America. Today, therefore, Jews have successfully transformed American sensibilities, mainstreaming white guilt, moral relativism, multiculturalism, feminism, LGBTQ rights, political correctness, ‘cultural Marxism’, and the thousand other evils of liberalism.

Another common alt-right trope portrays Jews as the ‘globalist elite’, the secretive cabal that controls global institutions, like the IMF and the EU, to impose an exploitative neoliberal agenda of austerity, deregulation and debt servitude upon the nation-states of Europe. The much-villianized progressive Jewish philanthropist George Soros embodies, for the alt-right, the conviction that the ‘globalist elite’ is ‘socially liberal and fiscally conservative’, or, put differently, that the same ‘Jewish power’ underlies both the economic agenda of the 1% and the social-cultural agenda of the 99%.

All things considered, for the alt-right, “the organized Jewish community,” writes Greg Johnson, editor-in-chief at Counter-Currents, is the principal enemy — not the sole enemy, but the principal enemy — of every attempt to halt and reverse white extinction.” While other hated ethnic and religious groups, such as blacks, Latinos, Arabs and Muslims, represent external threats, Jews, they claim, destabilize White European-American society from within, through the gradual, imperceptible institutionalization of creeping white genocide. The Jews are the master puppeteers, the hidden architects of white dispossession- in the words of neo-Nazi leader Victor Gerhard, “to rail against blacks and Hispanics without mentioning Jews is like complaining about the symptoms and not the disease.”

The Jewish question, accordingly, is the esoteric secret of the alt-right cult, a meta-narrative reserved only for the initiated, those who, through a leap of reason, learn to see beyond appearances to the essence of white dispossession. “I think it is easy to understand black crime, illegal immigrants, that’s in your face,” said Richard Spencer in an interview with the Forward. “But the Jewish question is extremely complicated.” Or as Kevin MacDonald says, “my general impression in talking to Alt Righters is that many begin with an awareness of White decline, race differences in traits like IQ, and minority hostility, and then progress toward an understanding of Jewish influence as they read more widely.”

Only by uprooting the Jews from America, according to the alt-right, can whites successfully reverse-engineer the social, cultural and political processes of their own dispossession, ensure their survival, and chart the course of their future. From this perspective, bomb threats and cemetery desecrations represent the sickening attempt of American white supremacy, not only to chase away what today will corrode the foundations of the white ethnostate of the future, but also to uproot, from the soil itself, all that corroded the white ethnostate in the past.  

Before we move on, let’s be clear- Jews did not covertly orchestrate the racial and social justice movements of the 20th century! This argument, while grossly antisemitic (more on that soon), is demeaning to the communities of color, LGBTQ folk, working people and others who fought, and still fight, for their own liberation. Moreover, this narrative erases the existence of Jews of color and non-European Jews, monolithically portraying all Jews as ‘white-passing’ descendants of European Ashkenazim (even while it strenuously denies, obviously, that these Jews are in fact white Europeans).



For years, many white nationalists demonized Israel’s oppression of Palestinians as the manifestation of a uniquely Jewish power, Jewish evil or Jewish influence. ‘Old-school’ white supremacists like David Duke still depict Israeli leaders as Satanic baby-killers, thirsting for Palestinian blood, and still claim that Israel controls media, banks and ‘Zionist occupied governments’ the world over. These motifs are remakes of the ‘blood libel’ myths of the Middle Ages, and the ‘Jewish world conspiracy’ myths of the 20th century, respectively. Clearly, they are far removed from the principled anti-Zionism of the Left, which views Israel’s oppression of Palestinians not as a ‘Jewish problem’ but through the structural lens of settler-colonialism, apartheid and white supremacy.

Recently, however, the alt-right has changed its tone. Many now call for a pragmatic acceptance of the existence of Israel, arguing that the only way to end the parasitic, destabilizing force that diaspora Jews exert upon Western nations is to relocate those Jews to Israel. “As ethnonationalists, we believe in the “Ein Volk, ein Reich” principle,”  explains Greg Johnson, in ‘White Nationalism and Jewish Nationalism’- “one people, one state…[an] ethnic self-determination of all peoples…a kind of classical liberalism for all nations, in which each people has a place of its own”. Israel, for Johnson, is not the symbol of the wicked ’eternal Jew’, but the sign, rather, of its overcoming. “I do not oppose the existence of Israel,” explains Johnson in a chilling passage. “I oppose the Jewish diaspora in the United States and other white societies. I would like to see the white peoples of the world break the power of the Jewish diaspora and send the Jews to Israel, where they will have to learn how to be a normal nation.”

Johnson is hardly the first antisemite to reason that pesky, subversive diaspora Jews have no business in the European nation-state, and need some blood-and-soil nationalism of their own. A hundred years ago, in the heyday of European state-building, it was common for white Europeans and Americans to believe that, as Henry Ford’s early-1920s pamphlet ‘The International Jew’ put it, “in a world of completely organized territorial sovereignties, he [the Jew] has only two possible cities of refuge: he must either pull down the pillars of the whole national state system or he must create a territorial sovereignty of his own.” Early Jewish Zionists shared this view. In fact Theodore Herzl, in a diary entry, articulated a vision that, disturbingly enough, could today make him Greg Johnson’s business partner- the Zionist movement, he proposed, could work with ‘respectable anti-Semites’ willing to liquidate Jewish property in the diaspora, reimbursing these folks for their assistance in the colonization of Palestine. In the completion of this task, Herzl reasoned, “the anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies”.

Perhaps to the delight of Herzl, other alt-right theorists view Zionism as an ethnonationalist project worth emulating in itself. Richard Spencer, who once referred to his movement as ‘a sort of white Zionism’, dreams of an ‘ingathering of the exiles’ of white Europeans into a new white ethnostate built in North America. Striking a Herzlian pose, he explained in a 2013 speech that “our project would be a new kind of political and social order. It would be a state for the 21st century—or 22nd…a home for Germans, Latins, and Slavs from around the world…a reconstitution of the Roman Empire…the Ethno-State would be, to borrow the title of a novel by Theodor Herzl (one of the founding fathers of Zionism), an Altneuland—an old, new country.”

While the alt-right may see Zionism as an ethnonationalism much like their own, this does not mean that they see Israel as a sign that, finally, the Jews are becoming ‘a nation like all other nations’. A key motif of alt-right antisemitism holds that in the modern era, Jews act duplicitously by, as MacDonald puts it, championing “the idea that Western countries have no ethnic core…while supporting Israel as a Jewish ethnostate”. Using the specter of the Holocaust, Jews in the post-World War II era, according to the alt-right, demand that Israel remain a ‘Jewish state’ while pathologizing as ‘fascist’ or ‘racist’ any attempts by whites to champion ethnonationalism in Europe and America. Thus, echoing old antisemitic motifs of the ‘deceitful Jew’, the alt-right sees the liberal Zionist Jew, progressive on all issues except Palestine, as no different than the Jewish reformer of post-Enlightenment 1800s Europe, who preached universalism by day and practiced ethnocentrism by night, or the Jewish anti-war activist of the 1960s, who preached universal brotherhood while covertly maintaining belief in Jewish superiority (a phenomenon MacDonald claims to have encountered firsthand, during his hippie years).  

The alt-right watches in rage while, as one writer expressed in classic Freudian formation, the Jew fulfills, for himself, the white race’s desire for ethnocentrism, while castrating the white race with “the double standards of political correctness that condemn whites for even daring to think about the subject [of ethnonationalism], but freely allow Jews not only to express their desires for, but to actually have, their own ethnostate.” And the same fetishistic glance which Spencer casts upon Herzl, is cast by Kevin MacDonald, of all people, upon the very diaspora Jews he despises. “I have at times been accused of being an anti-Semite,” MacDonald grants in a 2004 speech entitled ‘Can the Jewish Model Help The West Survive?’, “but the reality is that I greatly admire Jews as a group that has pursued its interests over thousands of years, while retaining its ethnic coherence and intensity of group commitment…Taking seriously the idea of Judaism as a model for [white] ethnic activism is a tall order indeed.”

On one point alone, the Left agrees with Richard Spencer- Zionism is a form of ethnonationalism, racism and white supremacy. Just as Bibi and Trump, on the diplomatic stage, look like they were born for each other, Herzl and Richard Spencer do indeed strike a parallel pose in history. While we also hold liberal Zionism as hypocritical for condemning racism in America but overlooking it in Palestine, we see this, not as some mythical ‘Jewish deceitfulness’, but as a fairly typical blind spot held by liberal non-Jews and Jews alike. Perhaps liberal advocates of the two-state solution would be embarrassed to find that white supremacists like Greg Johnson support their policy proposal, albeit through the overt, rather than covert, logic of racial separatism.“I do not favor the destruction of Israel,” he says, “because I want the Jews to live there, not among my people. I favor a Palestinian state, because I want the Palestinians to live there, not among my people.”



When fascism last appeared on the stage of history, the economic, cultural and political institutions of the world were, like today, in deep crisis. After the Great Depression hit a Europe still emerging from the ravages of the First World War, millions of people faced poverty, dislocation and a world of shifting borders, unstable identities and an uncertain future. Meanwhile, rapid changes in technology, media communications, and industry were revolutionizing the scope and texture of human society, and the competing world-systems of capitalism and communism proposed very different models for the human future.

Over and against what Corey Robin has called, in a different context, “the social vertigo induced by modern industrial society”, fascism articulated a vision of populist ethnonationalism centered around the certainty of blood, the constancy of soil, the honor of the nation, the valor of war and the heroism of the leader. To the modern citizen searching for rootedness in an age of abstractions, fascism offered the tribe, the people, the Volk as a concrete counterpoint to the shallow individualism of liberalism, the hedonistic consumerism of capitalism, and the bureaucratic heathenism of Stalinism. These, fascism asserted, were the only true realities, stable enough to weather the storm of modernity and propel its people into the future.

To the titans of industry, fascism promised, not only the destruction of unions and left-wing movements and, therefore, an end to worker militancy and class conflict, but also massive profits through rearmament and the permanent war economy. To the petty bourgeoisie hit hard by inflation and unemployment, angry at the exorbitant wealth of those above them and eager to avoid the desperate poverty of those below them, fascism offered the myth of belonging, not to a vanishing class, but to a master race. To the working class, too, fascism substituted, as an antidote to Communism, the allure of nationalism and the comfort of a scapegoat.

According to Nazi ideology, the Jew was at once the ruthless profiteer of capitalism, and its opposite, the fiery radical of communism. It was the Jew-as-banker, argued Hitler and Henry Ford, who sought to starve nation-states of their natural resources, industry and manpower through the rootless, parasitic networks of global finance capital. It was also the Jew-as-communist, moreover, who taught the workers and peasants of the West to occupy their factories, march through their city streets and seize the landed estates of their countryside, demanding reform and revolution. It was the Jew-as-modernist, finally, who dominated new media like film, television and radio, and introduced new art-forms like Surrealist painting and jazz music, to corrode the traditional, family values of white Christian Europe with the transgressive sensibilities of the modern world.

In his essay ’Anti-Semitism and National Socialism’, Moishe Postone, a Marxist political theorist, argued that in the ‘international Jew’, the Nazis found a way to concentrate, into a single image, the entirety of the destabilizing forces of a modern world in tumult and transition. More complex than the Othering typical of most racism, the worldview of antisemitism offered, for those enthralled by Nazism, the illusion of a total revolution against these immense, ungraspable forces, a ‘foreshortened anticapitalist movement’, where “the abstract domination of capital, which—particularly with rapid industrialization—caught people up in a web of dynamic forces they could not understand, became perceived as the domination of International Jewry.” The image of the ‘international Jew’- at once the greedy financier suffocating the globe in a parasitic grasp, the sneaky agitator lighting fires of rebellion in the streets, the arch-media mogul clogging the airwaves with emptiness and filth, the master puppeteer dictating the motions of heads of state- all this, and more, framed in grotesque caricature the very historical processes that the new ultranationalism needed to set into reverse, in order to will itself into existence.

“What characterizes the power imputed to the Jews in modern anti-Semitism”, writes Postone,

     “is that it is mysteriously intangible, abstract, and universal. It is considered to be a form of power that does not manifest itself directly, but must find another mode of expression. It seeks a concrete carrier, whether political, social, or cultural, through which it can work… It is considered to stand behind phenomena, but not to be identical with them. Its source is therefore deemed hidden—conspiratorial. The Jews represent an immensely powerful, intangible, international conspiracy…centered in the “asphalt jungles” of the newly emergent urban megalopoli…behind “vulgar, materialist, modern culture” and, in general, all forces contributing to the decline of traditional social groupings, values, and institutions. The Jews represent a foreign, dangerous, destructive force undermining the social “health” of the nation.”

It is not hard to see the parallels between the ‘international Jew’ of 20th-century fascism and the ‘diaspora Jew’ of the contemporary alt-right. What are we to make of these unsettling parallels? Why has this modern antisemitism re-emerged today, at the burning core of a right-populist movement that, in a little over the year, rose from the slimy pits of 4chan and stormed the White House?



Our present historical moment, in which the ideology of the alt-right takes its root, bears more than a passing resemblance to the world-crisis of the 1930s. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the prophets of neoliberalism promised that the ‘end of history’ was upon us, that the twin systems of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism would render national borders increasingly irrelevant, and bring rising incomes, falling inequality, and liberal tolerance to an interconnected planet. Perched atop institutions like the IMF, the World Bank and the Treasury Department, ruling elites of liberal and conservative persuasions alike promoted a ‘Washington Consensus’ of multinational trade deals like NAFTA, and pan-European institutions like the EU, that bolstered the profits of large corporations and the super-rich while hurting workers, gutting public services, and destroying communities around the world.

Like the 1930s, neoliberal capitalism has today triggered a worldwide financial crisis, throwing millions into poverty and dislocation. In countries across Europe, welfare protections have been scaled back, unemployment is high, unions have been undermined and millions are desperate for change. In America and across Europe, the centrist parties of neoliberalism are collapsing, while millions of refugees- the greatest number of stateless people since World War II- knock desperately at the gates of a West gripped by xenophobia and panic, the very West whose endless ‘war on terror’ has created the refugee crisis.

The eyes of the world watch transfixed as, from Brexit in Britain to Trump in America, Wilders in Denmark to Le Pen in France, a new wave of right-populist leaders emerges to offer a way forward for the frightened and fed-up peoples of Europe and America. Framed as a revolution against the ‘globalist agenda’ of neoliberalism, today’s neo-fascist leaders promise to re-establish strong, sovereign nation-states, rooted in blood and soil, cleansed of ‘foreign infiltrators’, driven by the conviction, as Steve Bannon said recently of the United States, that “we are not just an economy in some global marketplace with open borders, but a nation with a culture and a reason for being”. While liberals feel smothered by the paralyzing sense that history has careened off course, these ultranationalists feel, to quote Le Pen, that “what seemed impossible is now possible”, and that now is the time to declare, in the words of right-populist Russian intellectual Alexandr Dugin, “the 21st century has finally begun…swamp-drainers of the world, unite!”

But today, as in the 1930s, this ‘revolution from the right’ is no revolution at all. Economic nationalists like Trump and Bannon offer a hearty critique of ‘the globalist elite’ in theory, while building an administration that, in practice, plunges the country deeper into the ‘globalist agenda’ of privatization, tax cuts for the rich, Wall Street mega-speculation, and community disinvestment. For all his fiery populism, Bannon is a self-professed ‘hard-nosed capitalist’, a former Goldman Sachs executive who, as Jacobin puts it, “like every rich, right-wing asshole…plays GI Joe in public- or Julius Streicher, if the mood is right- before settling in with a nice bottle of Amarone in a climate-controlled beachfront property”. While Bannon blames the ‘globalists’ for the 2008 economic crisis that threw millions into poverty, he envisions, not a world free from the system of capitalism that ultimately caused the crisis, but a return to the 1980s, which he sees as  a long-lost golden age when ‘enlightened capitalism’ reigned free from government regulation, ruled by men with ‘Judeo-Christian values’ of family, faith and tradition.

Indeed, the ideology of antisemitism appealed so strongly to 20th-century ultra-capitalists like Henry Ford because, in the image of the Jew-as-banker, it singled out one aspect of capitalism- the system of international finance- for condemnation, while portraying other strongholds of exploitation- like large landowners, and the titans of big industry- as patriotic defenders of the national interest. As Postone explains, modern antisemitism- which, four decades before Hitler took power, was already called ‘the socialism of fools’ by worker’s movements in Europe- was a “particularly pernicious fetish form” because it tricked people into believing that, by uprooting the Jews from Europe, they were actually liberating themselves from capitalist exploitation. The “power and danger” of such meta-scapegoating, in any era of ultranationalism triggered by rapacious capitalism, is that it offers the mirage of a ““comprehensive worldview which explains and gives form to certain modes of anticapitalist discontent in a manner that leaves capitalism intact, by attacking the personifications of that social form.”

Like their fascist forebears, Bannon & co offer a ‘revolution from the right’ that repackages the emancipatory spirit of the left in diluted form, wrapping in the flag of family, faith, blood and soil what is, essentially, a colossal power grab by rich, white men. Just as Hitler’s ‘international Jew’ functioned, in fascist mythology, as a catch-all symbol of the million symptoms of modernity, so the ‘diaspora Jew’ of today’s alt-right condenses within itself all the symptoms of a postmodern, post-neoliberal world in tumult and transition- with a hint of anti-capitalism thrown in to sweeten the deal.

“Every rise of fascism,” wrote Walter Benjamin, “bears witness to a failed revolution”. The alt-right, bearing witness to the failed promises of neoliberalism, is able to strike two poses in history- the sneering hipster-cynicism of Milo Yiannoupolis, and the mythic hipster-fascism of Richard Spencer. Neither pose is actually emancipatory, by any stretch of the imagination. Yet unless the Left can articulate a truly emancipatory vision for a future beyond neoliberalism- and can build a movement that gets us there- the continued rise of neofascism, and the horrific forms it will take, will bear witness to our ‘failed revolution’, too.  



In this brief analysis, much has been left out, including the complex relationship between antisemitism and Islamophobia on the alt-right. Indeed, many anti-Muslim tropes today- such as the myth of a global Muslim conspiracy that has covertly infiltrated American society- are taken straight from the playbook of modern antisemitism. It also should not be forgotten that, although American Jews experience a new sense of vulnerability in Trump’s America, white Jews still enjoy a safety, privilege and comfort that most other minority groups in the crosshairs of the alt-right do not. Indeed, the white American Jewish community has been deeply complicit in the race and class privilege, the oppression of black and brown people, and the institutionalized Islamophobia that plagues this country.

These times are made even more strange and frightening, for the American Jewish community, by the fact that the state of Israel, far from serving as a progressive ‘light unto the nations’ or protecting Jews against antisemitism, stands in full support of Donald Trump and, increasingly, the forces of right-populism sweeping the world. Israel lends to the new fascism a valuable public relations tool, allowing leaders like Trump to deny charges of antisemitism, on the one hand, and to lend a ‘kosher’ stamp of approval to the ‘Judeo-Christian’ war against Islam, on the other. And while the institutional leaders of American Jewry lay awake at night, worrying about the latest campus plot to delegitimize Israel, the fastest-growing white supremacist movement America has seen in decades sets its sights, not on Israel, but squarely on American Jewry itself.

American Jews must take to the streets, alongside other marginalized groups, against the rising fascist menace in our country. Rather than seek the protection of kings, we must show up for all who are under attack, and trust that they will show up for us as well. In the long run, only this solidarity can save us. To our institutions that dwell close to positions of privilege and comfort, and remain complicit in white supremacy, we must say what the proud Mordecai, in the recent holiday of Purim, said to Queen Esther as she waited nervously in that same palace, unsure whether to use what influence she had over King Ahasuerus to try to protect the marginalized in his kingdom- “Do not think that you will escape [the fate of] all the Jews by being in the king’s palace. For if you will remain silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source, and you and the house of your father will be lost. And who knows if it is not for just such a time that you reached this royal position!”

Seven decades ago, in conditions not terribly different from our own, my great-grandfather was making his home (thank g-d) in America, while in Europe, his parents and siblings, along with millions of other Jews, were labeled as Other, stripped of their rights, and murdered because some fascist managed to convince enough people that these strangers in their midst- this motley crew of impoverished peddlers, small craftsmen and traders, rabbis, factory workers, and a few intellectuals and businessmen- were somehow orchestrating a grand conspiracy to destroy their nation from within. Let us all do everything in our power to prevent this from happening again to any people.

*- Since the time of writing, it has become clear that many of the recent bomb threats to American Jewish community centers were not perpetrated by white supremacists. Still, I do not believe that this lets Trumpism off the hook, or that we can conclude with certainty, as Peter Beinart claims, that ‘Anti-Semitism isn’t central to this spasm of American nativism in the way it was a century ago.’  While we should not imagine that American Jews, as Jews, are the primary targets right now- and certainly, the white American Jewish community needs to show up, without exception, for Muslims, immigrants, and communities of color who are the primary targets (including within the Jewish community)- we should also recognize that in the long term, the future is uncertain. Anti-semitic ideas percolated for decades in Europe before Hitler seized upon them as an organizing principle, and the reappearance of these ideas as prominent features of a new and fast-growing ethnonationalist, populist movement in America should be taken seriously.


For American Jews, The Era of Trump Marks the End of the Zionist Dream

Originally published at +972Mag

For most American Jews, the regime of Donald Trump has ushered in the most profound and destabilizing existential crisis since the Holocaust. We watch in horror as President Trump launches a full-frontal assault on the institutions, and the very principles, of the liberal democracy upon which we have built our lives for generations. We stand aghast as his administration tramples the civil liberties of our Muslim, immigrant and refugee neighbors, and we brace ourselves as a potent anti-Semitism simmers at the edges of the alt-right movement that helped propel him to power.

American Jewish establishment and legacy institutions, which already possessed little relevance for many of us, seem ill-equipped to guide us through this new reality. And the state of Israel, far from standing with us against this fascist menace, appears to be egging it on. As we all weather the short-term shocks Trump inflicts upon the political and civic institutions of American life, the full reverberations of this longer-term shock have yet to be felt by American Jewry. In the future, the era of Trump will be remembered as the end of the Zionist dream.

The internal crisis the mainstream Jewish American community faces is far more profound than we are willing to admit. For almost a century, the tradition of democratic liberalism in America has provided the bulk of white Jews in the US with safety, prosperity, and a stable modern identity. Across the country, we have built a vibrant network of communal institutions, and poured our energies into strengthening the fabric of American civic, cultural and political life. After the Holocaust, the democratic values of religious and political freedom, and civic equality, were central to our orientation in a changing world. Today, though a growing portion of our community has moved to the right on political and social issues, a sizeable and disproportionate majority of American Jews retains liberal and progressive values.

Now, seemingly overnight, Trump’s attacks on the press, judicial institutions, human rights groups, and other organs of democracy threaten to erode the foundations of the world that has been comfortable for many of us. And our well-established, amply-resourced communal and legacy institutions, like the Jewish Federations, have raised barely a tepid voice of protest against this onslaught. They were unable to anticipate, comprehend, or combat the startling surge of far-right populism and neo-fascism in this country, and the unprecedented resurgence of anti-semitism brewing in its wake. Though they appear calm, our leaders, like most others in the country’s establishment political and civic landscape, tremble behind their doors.

And where is Israel to protect the Jews of America? Trump’s words and actions on International Holocaust Remembrance Day were a double affront to American Jewry. Not only did his administration’s statement fail to name the Jewish identity of the Holocaust’s primary victims, or the ideology of anti-Semitism that fueled their annihilation- on the very same day, he signed into law a Muslim ban chillingly reminiscent of America’s rejection of Jewish refugees that, in the 1930s, helped seal the fate of so many European Jews. Not only did Prime Minister Netanyahu fail to speak out against any of this- the next day, he praised Trump’s decision to build a border wall, with a bombastic Tweet meant to emulate the swagger of Trump himself.

After the Holocaust, Israel came to be seen by many Jews the world over as an insurance policy, sworn to defend us forevermore against the reappearance of fascism in world history. But seventy years later, the world is divided anew into ultra-nationalist statesmen and stateless refugees, into powerful tyrants and defiant rebels. While a few American Jews back Trump, most of us strive to stand against this tyrant of our time. But what the US Jewish community still has to confront is the reality that the government of Israel, along with a majority of its Jewish citizens, actively supports the Trump administration, which seems poised to legitimize Israel’s fever dreams of settlement expansion and annexation, and to crush any remaining hope of Palestinian statehood.

A few notable exceptions notwithstanding, most American Jewish Zionists, since the days of liberal leaders like Louis Brandeis and Stephen Wise, would place their Zionism squarely in the same tradition of American liberalism that has structured the rest of their lives. For years, these progressive Zionists have watched nervously as anti-democratic, illiberal forces have consumed the center of Israeli politics. Regardless of whether this idea of a progressive Zionism actually reflects the reality unfolding in Israel/Palestine- I would argue that it never has- the point is that, in order to remain morally consistent, American Jews must see their Israel as not only a Jewish state, but a democratic state as well. In the mainstream American Jewish imaginary, Zionism is akin to the civil rights movement of the Jewish people. It must offer the world, in the shape of Jewish liberation, a testament to the promise of universal human emancipation as well.

That’s why, as democratic norms have steadily eroded in Israel, American Jews have inwardly wrestled with an impossible contradiction. Over the years, more of us have chosen to speak out against Israel’s brutal occupation in the West Bank, its relentless bombardment of Palestinians in Gaza, its discriminatory two-tiered legal structure within its borders, and its denial of refugee rights. But the bulk of us have remained silent, because we were taught to trust that, somehow, Israel’s troubling actions were necessary to protect the safety of Jews around the world.

But when Israel backs a regime, here in America, that threatens our liberty as humans and our safety as Jews, the claim that Zionism protects Jews no longer holds. An Israel that cheers on Goliath, as it raises its hand against the Davids of our world, is an Israel that has become startlingly unrecognizable to us. While mainstream American Jewry could choose to ignore the spread of ultra-nationalism and xenophobia in the far-off ‘Jewish homeland’, when these same forces wash now upon our own shores, the familial resemblance, and active collaboration, between Trump and Netanyahu becomes impossible to ignore. We enter the new fascist era with communal institutions that are unable to speak truth to power, and with a Jewish state that stands among the forces arrayed against us, one whose attacks on political dissent and denial of basic rights to Palestinians serve as a disturbing roadmap to where the US may be headed. Though the bulk of liberal American Jewry has, up till now, remained silent, in the era of Trump, there grows in their gut a dizzying disorientation.

By the time the Trump nightmare finally crashes into flames- as all such nightmares eventually do- and these liberal American Jews get up, rub their eyes and look around, their gaze will turn in despondence towards Jerusalem. Where once stood their progressive Israel- their ‘light unto the nations’, symbol of the holy values of democracy and human freedom, spiritual rock of resistance against all tyranny and oppression- they will now face a state that, from their vantage point, looks no different than the monster they just helped chase out of their American homeland. The realization that, two generations after the Holocaust, the state of Israel allied itself with the forces of global fascism will be too much for liberal Zionism to bear.

As more and more American Jews face this reality, their sense of betrayal will be immense. As a community, our process of collective mourning and teshuvah (repentance) will be difficult. Our identity as American Jews, supported so long by the foundation-stone of liberal Zionism, will be in crisis. It will take some of our elders awhile to admit it- some never will- but in our hearts, we will know that a state that cheered on the tyrant that raised his hand against us can no longer be our Jewish state, indeed, can no longer be Jewish at all. With the Zionist dream dead, what Jewish vision will guide us into the future? How will we rebuild?

Over the next few years, the twin barbarisms of the Trump and Netanyahu regimes will continue to dovetail, and the rift between Israel and the bulk of American Jewry will continue to widen. While a few American Jews will cast their lot with Trump, Netanyahu and the rising global forces of fascism, hundreds of thousands more will overcome the inertia of our mainstream institutions, and take to the streets to defend our lives and communities against tyranny. Through this experience of struggle, American Jews will reconnect to the social movements from which, for too long, too many of us have been estranged. We will re-learn the muscles of tzedek (justice) and tikkun olam (healing the world) which, for too long, too many of us had failed to put to use.

The old dream of a liberal Zionism will not survive to carry us through the 21st century. But out of the fire of our reborn commitment to our principles, a new diaspora Jewish identity can be formed, founded on prophetic values of social justice, solidarity and love. We will again bear witness to ‘mi-melech malche ha-melachim’, to a ‘king who rules over kings’, a force of divine righteousness greater than earthly power. Let us cleave to this vision, and this work, without fear, with a clear head and a strong moral compass. It is our only hope.



New Jewish Agenda(s): An Interview with Rabbi Arthur Waskow

(published in Tikkun Magazine’s ‘Tikkun Daily’ blog, http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2012/08/27/new-jewish-agendas-an-interview-with-rabbi-arthur-waskow/ )


When I sat down to speak with radical civil rights activist Rabbi Arthur Waskow at the Shalom Center in Philadelphia this July, I wanted to talk about the hopes and promises of twenty-first century Jewish activism, Occupy Judaism, and the American Jewish progressive movement. But most of all, I wanted to discuss Ezra Berkley Nepon’s recently published book ‘Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue: A History of New Jewish Agenda.’ This book represents the first serious attempt to comprehensively document the 1980s progressive organization New Jewish Agenda (NJA).

Book cover: Nepon, Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue

Book cover: Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue

Considering itself “a Jewish voice among progressives and a progressive voice among Jews,” NJA was a national, multi-issue membership organization that worked throughout the 1980s and early 1990s to advocate for Middle East peace, worldwide nuclear disarmament, rights for LGBTQ Jews, economic and social justice, peace in Latin America, Jewish feminism, and a variety of other issues in a climate of increasing Reagan-era neoliberalism and Cold War conservatism. Today, twenty years after the group’s dissolution, the book seeks to draw inspiration from NJA’s dedication “to participatory (grassroots) democracy and civil rights for all people, especially those marginalized within the mainstream Jewish community,” at a time when the progressive American Jewish movement is seeking a new voice.

As we reflected on the contemporary legacy of Jewish radicalism in America, we found that we could not talk about the New Jewish Agenda of the past without talking about the new(er) Jewish agenda(s) of the present. We could not talk about progressive Jewish identity and spirituality without also talking about “the heart of the matter- the prophetic vision embodied in Judaism, ancient and modern.” We could not talk about Occupy Wall Street without also talking about “the heart of the Freedom Seder…[the] debate between violence and non-violence.” We could not talk about the diversity of contemporary progressive Jewish activism without also talking about the issue of Zionism, an issue that “becomes legitimate when the society around it discovers it has to live with a spectrum of organizations, people, etc. raising the issue.” We found that to speak of a movement as multi-faceted as New Jewish Agenda, one must also give voice the complexities of the present moment.

We also discussed the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research’s recent conference, entitled ‘Jews and the Left.’ There, voices of lamentation repeated the well-worn mantra that, as Ezra Mendelsohn said, “the Left in general is in eclipse, and the Jewish left is dead in the U.S., an expired product of a past historical epoch … a good chapter in our history, but one which is gone.”

When I repeated this quote to Arthur Waskow, he interrupted me with a bemused look of incredulity…


New Jewish Agenda march: Jews for Peace

New Jewish Agenda: Jews for Peace march.

Arthur Waskow: Did they invite anybody who was a Jew on the left?

Ben Lorber: One of the criticisms voiced by many was that the conference was mainly an affair of historians and academics, devoid of past or present Jewish activists.

AW: Well, there’s Tikkun, there’s the Shalom Center, and a bunch of different organizations!

BL: Throughout ‘Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue,’ Nepon celebrates that NJA upheld itself for over a decade as a multi-issue organization, tackling problems of sexism, racism, and classism both inside and outside the Jewish community, along with a critique of Israel, and presenting a united front of Jewish opposition to the mainstream. Today, progressive American Jewish organizations exist across the left spectrum as single-issue advocacy groups, often competing with one another for funds, attention and a seat at the table, and struggling to try to influence the mainstream. Do you see this multiplicity of organizations as a weakness of the contemporary Jewish American left?

AW: There are two images we use about ourselves: one is a tugboat that moves the big ocean liner. The big ocean liner can barely change direction, and to change direction at all it needs a tugboat that can change direction, nudging, nudging, pushing up against it. I think we accomplished that metaphor with the Reform movement during the Iraq war. The Iraq war was historically a total disaster, but it also took some nudging for people to get off their habit of total deference towards any President of the United States, and we did help the Reform movement do that. And the other metaphor we use is the seedbed. We can drop tiny seeds that are very small and don’t require much money, and some of them grow big. We see ourselves that way too.

BL: And in many ways NJA throughout the 1980s and early 1990s conceived of itself as a tugboat and a seedbed, steering the tone of mainstream American Jewish discourse towards the left and sowing seeds of dissent on many critical issues well ahead of their time. Today, the seeds that NJA helped plant–the movement of Jewish feminism, and the movement of Jewish-Palestinian solidarity, to name two examples–have blossomed into the decisive political debates of our community.

AW: The difference is that NJA wanted to be a mass organization. We tried, and we succeeded briefly. We were enormously helped by Ronald Reagan’s election. Our first convention was held in the fall after November 1980, after the election, which Reagan won, and thousands more people showed up then we expected. Part of the reason for that was that people were shocked and horrified by Reagan’s victory in the election.

BL: Has the progressive Jewish movement experienced a similar revitalization since the early 2000s, with the rise of Bush and the American neoconservative movement?

AW: Not the same way in the American Jewish community. I think maybe Occupy is the first stage of re-energizing the American and Jewish progressive movement.

BL: But today, two decades after the dissolution of NJA, do you see a hole or a void in the community of progressive Jewish organizations that NJA used to fill? Across the diverse spectrum of groups, is there a lack of a unifying thread, an absence of a ‘We?’

AW: There are some interesting things beginning to happen. There’s the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable and Green Havurah. There’s a serious attempt to create the beginnings, but the one thing it ain’t is a mass movement. It deliberately is an amalgam of organizations, not of people, so that puts limits on it.

BL: An especially powerful legacy of NJA, to me, is its structural emphasis on democratic, horizontal, non-hierarchical decision-making, and organization. These dynamics, with all their pluses and minuses, have re-emerged today most vigorously in the Occupy movement. What does NJA have to teach the present-day Jewish American progressive community in this regard?

AW: I hope, but I’m not convinced, that the Green Havurah model is the most interesting model. It’s kind of a version of NJA’s decentralization, though NJA’s decentralization was geographic, and Green Havurah’s model isn’t geographic as much as it is functional. I don’t know if it makes vigorous action possible. But
it is a different version to preserve a kind of united national body, and to encourage participation and debate.

BL: One of the inspiring things for me about the Jewish Occupy events, such as Occupy Kol Nidre, is this tradition of performing Jewish ritual in public as political action. NJA explored this too–as Nepon relates in ‘Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue,’ during Tisha B’av in 1981, which fell on the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki by the U.S. during WWII, NJA held a public ceremony near the White House and the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., calling for nuclear disarmament.

AW: And we addressed universal issues, not only Jewish issues. Interestingly, two summers ago we did Tisha B’Av on the steps of the capital again, but this time it was to focus on the oil spill that had just happened in the Gulf. We asked, “What is the temple today?” Today the temple is the whole Earth. Every culture and every species has the sacred temple of Earth itself, and the Pharaohs of the human race, like the emperors who destroyed the First and Second Temples, are in the process of destroying our temple. And we did this with about 300 people, maybe half of them Jewish, a whole bunch of secular people, and some Christians and Muslims. It was amazing! We chanted, mainly in English, a new version of Lamentations to the melody of Eicha, of Lamentations.

There was a crucial discussion in Green Havurah a few days ago: what does it mean to take inspiration from theology and challenge people into acting? A bunch of us going off and making Shabbot by ourselves has no impact on society. What if we sat down on Shabbot and somehow interfered with work? I haven’t yet been struck with a spark of how to do that. Martin Buber said, “Life is not really in the I, life is not really in the Thou. Life is in the hyphen.’ Between me and Daniel Sieradski (American Jewish writer and activist), life was in the hyphen! I called him up and asked: “What do you think about doing Kol Nidre at Zuccotti Park?’ He said “Arthur, Kol Nidre! We did Erev Shabbot there last week! But Kol Nidre? I gotta think about it.” And he calls me up the next day and says, “Well, I put it on Twitter and there are 500 people that wanna come!” I couldn’t do it alone, and he couldn’t do it alone.

Occupy Kol Nidre protest, November 2011.

Occupy Kol Nidre, November 2011. Credit: Damon Dahlen/AOL.

BL: As NJA sought to be “a Jewish voice among progressives and a progressive voice among Jews,” Occupy Judaism’s motto today is “bringing the Jews to Occupy Wall Street and bringing Occupy Wall Street to the Jews.” What are the parallels between the two? Is it inspiring to you today that in the midst of the rising of a broad-based American social movement, this tradition of Jewish ritual as public protest has re-emerged?

AW: Absolutely inspiring to me, totally! NJA taught us that you can interweave prophetic religious folk and leftist secular folk. I try not to use the ‘left’ label for myself because it has come to mean almost entirely a secular, sometimes even anti-religious outlook on the world. So I use ‘prophetic’ because for me it embodies both a profound religious sense of contact with God–not at all necessarily according to the structures or the strictures of the prayer book,–and vigorous and radical political action.

During most of its history, NJA was able to weave those strands of thought and action together. I think one of the reasons it collapsed was that some mostly secularist folks thought they couldn’t bear working with people who used ‘God’ language. There was a lot of anger and contempt aimed at religious folk, which ended up in the dismantling of the office and the organization. This did not come from any grassroots decision-making; it was made by people in the steering committee. I think that if there had been a consultation of the national membership, people would’ve opposed abolishing the organization. I thought the closure was a serious ethical and political mistake- none of which I think is in the book.

BL: A few years after NJA was founded, Michael Lerner founded Tikkun, and there was a return to spirituality in the American Jewish progressive movement that was, in many ways, a continuation of the Fabrangen and radical Havurah movements begun a decade earlier. Do you think this schism between secular and spiritual currents within NJA reflected the larger tensions between a secular humanist Jewish movement and a Jewish renewal movement?

AW: Yes, I think that’s right. And both trends have survived. The heart of the matter for me is the prophetic vision embodied in Judaism, ancient and modern, all the way to Buber and Heschel and Judith Plaskow. So that strand for me is the point, and acting on that strand for me is not bringing Occupy Wall Street to the Jews, it is bringing Isaiah and Heschel and Lerner and Waskow to the Jews. Here’s an example of the problem and the gift. Occupy Wall Street breaks through in American consciousness to get the notion of the 99% and the 1% across. Brilliant! Terrific! Now, for twenty years the Shalom Center has been talking about the pharaohs of our generation, which I think is the 1% in Jewish clothes (and I don’t mean only governments, but corporations as well). So it’s true that Occupy broke through in a way that, inside the Jewish community, the Freedom Seder did break through- in an unexpected way. [The Freedom Seder] told everyone that we can all create our own liberating seders! And that changed the attitude of lots of Jews towards the existing liturgy.

BL: Reading the Freedom Seder today, I was drawn to the debate between violence and non-violence as a tactic for social change. Pacifist quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. are back-to-back with celebrations of the race riot, and quotes by Malcolm X advocating change ‘by any means necessary.’ This seems to be especially pertinent today, as popular unrest in America and worldwide straddles the border between non-violent and violent resistance.

AW: And when I said that the race riots were about the confrontation between the Israelites in the streets and Pharaoh in the army, sure! The heart of the Freedom Seder should be a debate between violence and non-violence. I have since become convinced that King-ian, Gandhian non-violence is far better. I’m not an absolute pacifist, but I think it’s far better except in a very few situations, where there is such a tyrannical thing that the only way to resist is physically. But at the time of the Freedom Seder I was saying: “Let’s have the argument, because we can only gain wisdom from the argument.”

BL: The issue of Zionism has obviously had a huge and polarizing influence of the progressive Jewish Left since the 1960s. How has the discourse on Palestine changed from the 1970s to today on the Jewish Left?

AW: There’s more of a spectrum now. Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) can exist alongside J Street, and both of them can exist. I think there is a big majority for at the J Street outlook, but it’s interesting- organizations don’t like to confront even small minorities, especially organizations that are feeling that they are barely treated as legitimate anyway. There are two ways to behave if you think you are being treated by the big boys as barely legitimate. One is to say ‘fuck you!’ and do whatever really bold and trouble making stuff you wanna do. The other one is to be very careful not to annoy people. JVP has done the first, and I sort of feel attracted to its tone and method, but I see a problem with its unwillingness to affirm the right of the Israeli people to make their decision about having an Israeli state, and therefore to reaffirm that we can only go beyond a two-state solut
ion if each of the two people says they’re ready to go beyond it. As of now, Israeli society is not willing to go beyond a two-state solution. For me, JVP doesn’t have to say: “We support a two state solution,” but it does have to say: “We support a solution in which the existing state of Israel and its people agree.” And they don’t quite do that. So that’s one of my problems with it, and I think it’s probably a problem with a lot of people who would otherwise feel attracted to JVP. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who do feel attracted to JVP, because they say ‘fuck you’ to the Federation world and all that.

So, the very fact of a more diverse spectrum means that the repression has not been able to succeed as much. In a way, an issue becomes legitimate when the society around it discovers it has to live with a spectrum of organizations, people, etc. raising the issue. It’s easy to polarize and expel, to excommunicate so long as there is a clear separation between viewpoints. But most Americans from Peace Now and J Street bridge the gap enough that it’s clearly impossible now to wipe out that kind of energy, and the greater spectrum means that there are enough Jews who are connected with official Judaism.

I’m not so happy with J Street either, by the way. J Street established this metaphor of itself that it was going to watch Obama’s back. And I ask, “What about his front? What about confronting him when he doesn’t do what makes sense?” Their whole description of their role was that whenever people were beating up on Obama for being too pro-peace or of Israel, J Street would hold his back and argue that he’s okay. But when he insisted on vetoing Abbas’ bid for recognition at the U.N., for instance, J Street was not prepared to say, “Oh, that was a bad mistake.” So I didn’t go to the last convention. If I could wave my wand and there would be an organization that carried out BDS on the products created in the West Bank, period, I would do it. Peter Beinart (an influential American Jewish journalist), Lerner and I are not just liberal Zionists; we’re something more than that. Lerner does try to organize around it and has done more to unite the two than most anybody, including the Shalom Center.

BL: In 2009, you cited five American ‘pro-Israel, pro-Peace’ Jewish organizations that were worth supporting in a context of increasing polarization within the American Jewish community: Meretz USA, Americans for Peace Now, Rabbis for Human Rights, J Street, and Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace (Brit Tzedek v’Shalom). Daniel Lang/Levitsky stated that since 2009, “U.S. Zionist ‘peace’-oriented groups like Brit Tzedek-v-Shalom, J Street, and the Tikkun Community have continued to decline in influence, visibility, and effectiveness, while non- and anti-Zionist projects from JVP to Jews Say No to the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAZN) have steadily grown in both size and strength.” Do you see this trend? Why?

AW: Yes, because people are getting more and more fed up with the ever more disgusting behavior of the Israeli government. The worse it gets, the more people that say I’m not even interested in J Street. So J Street tries to walk this very difficult line, but I don’t think the line has to be as wishy-washy as they make it.

BL: What, to sum up, can Jewish occupiers, and the entire Occupy movement, draw from prophetic Judaism? What can the prophetic Jewish heritage teach us about this imperative to resist, to speak the truth to power?

AW: I know I sort of got imprinted on the Pharaoh model by the Freedom Seder, and you might say I’ve just been reworking that metaphor for forty some years, and in some ways that’s true. And my most recent book with Phyllis Berman, my wife, is about the Exodus and the wilderness at a far deeper level than the Freedom Seder. But I think that’s the master Jewish story, whether its fiction or history. We begin that book, Freedom Journeys, with these three lines: “If the Pharaoh fell in the Red Sea and nobody told the story, did it happen? No. If no Pharaoh fell in the Red Sea but we told the story for three thousand years, did it happen? Yes. Is it still happening? Yes.”

BL: I love Sieradski’s quote, in an article for the Forward in November 2011, where he asserts the direct identity between the values of Judaism and those of Occupy- “In retelling our story (“We are the 99%”), recounting our values (“social and economic justice for all”) and carrying forth our tradition unto the four corners of the Earth (“Occupy Everywhere”) we are empowered to bring the spirit of the occupation into every facet of our lives.”

AW: Exactly!