There is a growing community of Jews in this country who understand that nobody is free until everybody’s free. Simone Zimmerman embodies this emerging vision. But the fist of the Jewish establishment is clenched too tightly to allow for this direction to a viable, just, and dignified Jewish future.
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The Bernie Sanders campaign made a visionary choice earlier this week by hiring Zimmerman to be its Jewish Outreach Coordinator. But perhaps Sanders should have known that the Jewish community is one place that’s not ready for a political revolution.
Zimmerman represents a new generation of Jewish leaders and a new Jewish politics - deeply committed to the Jewish community and equally committed to justice: white Jews and Jews of color, Mizrahim, Sephardim, and Ashkenazim, working for a just future for all.
This new generation extends beyond narrow identities and takes action in service of racial justice and economic justice that extend beyond borders. Yet the Jewish establishment, deeply informed and driven by a politic of fear, is trying its best to choke this growing vision.
The vicious offensive against Zimmerman by the Jewish Right combined with the lack of support from the Jewish mainstream – leading to her suspension from her job on Thursday – is not isolated, new, or even surprising. Jews, Palestinians, and others who speak out against the Israeli occupation and for the humanity of Palestinians have reported being fired, intimidated, monitored, threatened, censored and attacked for many years.
As an example, Zimmerman reports that she edited the 2015 Facebook post she is being so demonized for within 10 hours of her posting it. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to conjecture that Zimmerman has been monitored by the Right for some time now, for just such a moment as this. Indeed, none of the young Jews I’ve spoken with are surprised at the Jewish Right’s swift and successful campaign to intimidate and silence a courageous young Jewish voice that opposes theirs. It is the reality they know. The message to the tens of thousands of young Jews who believe in Palestinian rights is clear: get in line or you’ll be out of a job, or out of the community altogether.
Through decades of tactics such as this, the Jewish Right has attempted to suffocate a movement of Jews and others who speak out against their power that has been slowly consolidated over the last century. Many in the Jewish community’s leadership have demonstrated they are more bent on single minded and false security than our own humanity, not to mention the freedom and dignity of Palestinians. But they have not been able to silence this growing majority committed to a just future. Groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, and JStreet U are growing in numbers and strength as thousands of Jews decide to recommit to the Jewish community and fight for justice and equity, in the United States, in Israel and Palestine, and throughout the world.
And this what the Right and much of the mainstream doesn’t understand about these Jews fighting against the Israeli occupation: they desperately, painfully love the Jewish people and cannot bear to see the extremist path our community is going down. There is plenty of opportunity for young Jews to simply leave the community and slam the door behind them. Yet young people like Zimmerman aren’t going anywhere; they are committing their lives to the Jewish people and working in service of some semblance of hope for a just and dignified future.
This moment is not just about one Jewish woman being suspended for her outcry against the Israeli government. It’s about our community being at a crossroads. Will the Jewish leadership listen to the voices of tens of thousands of Jews acting in love of our community and love of justice, and against the politics of fear? Will Jewish leaders loosen their clenched fist enough to recognize the grounded vision of safety and freedom that the next generation of Jews is fighting for? Will the American Jewish establishment heed the call of our domestic and global Jewish social justice movement that increasingly connects the dots between racial and economic justice here at home and a just peace in Israel and Palestine?
Whatever happens in this primary election, our politicians and our community leaders must embrace the politics of justice over the politics of fear. Thankfully, we can look to the next generation for this pathway forward.
M. Dove Kent is the Executive Director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) in New York. She has over a decade of experience in issue-based, identity-based, and neighborhood-based community organising, and teaches widely on the intersections of anti-Semitism and racism. Follow her on Twitter: @dove_kent