THE AMERICAN PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT’S BLIND SPOT REGARDING ISRAELIS AND JEWS

Kelley Kidd May 28, 2021 I believe that large segments of the American Progressive movement have abandoned principle for misguided opposition regarding Israelis and Jews.

In 1971 I moved from Washington D.C. to take a job as a teacher at small educational program of Antioch College, a school founded by Horace Mann. By ant estimation Mann had been a pillar of the American progressive movement in education and in politics. The college had been establishing “satellite” campuses and programs outside its base in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The Baltimore program was one which focused on providing credit for life experience and tutorial training in a variety of fields, including music. That music education work was headed up by a young man who let me know quickly that he was as progressive as any Antioch teacher might be suspected of being and that he was also anti-Jewish, As the part owner of a bar near campus, he could and did introduce me to an assortment of usually white customers who shared his views on various subjects–including his general dislike for things Jewish

Fifty years ago I was stunned by negative attitudes towards Jews, especially those that came from self-proclaimed liberals or progressives or leftists. My upbringing in the deep South Bible belt had always leaned towards seeing negative images of Jews as either communists and unfashionable ultra-liberals or as greedy financiers and narrow minded legalists. My evangelical roots in those days had made me familiar with the tendency of some Christians to adopt a certain casual linking of Jewish identity with a legalistic and hypocritical sort of religiosity—ala the Pharisees as the Gospel of Matthew portrays them. My experience had also exposed me to many conservative Southern whites who saw Jews as representatives of Marxism in politics and Freudian in social/psychological orientation. And many of the same conservatives on social issues viewed Jews as the architects and principal beneficiaries of ruthless business and financial practices and power. Finally I had often heard complaints that Jews were the source of unwanted progressive media and movie characters and actors and themes. The presence of Jews in civil rights activities in the ’60s often provoked anti-Jewish remarks among outspoken segregationists and white supremacy advocates. Despite these early negative portraits of Jews, and perhaps because of them, I had always assumed that liberals would be at least tolerant of Jewish religious and ethnic identity, Adolph Hitler’s hatred of Jews and communists seemed to me to forecast liberal anti-authoritarian openness to all things Jewish. So I was not prepared for what I found instead–the widely shared view among liberals that Judaism was an absurdity and Zionism a form of ethnic and religious bigotry. My musical and bar owning friend turned out to be only one among many anti-Jewish “liberals” or “progressives” on other issues.

In the last half century I have converted to Judaism and continued to be the progressive that came North to Antioch College 50 years ago. I have watched with concern the growing tendency of progressives to strongly favor religious tolerance as an idea, and to disparage Judaism as a way of life, and to appreciate the need for strong democratic nations unless the nation is Israel.

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