Actress Mayim Bialik arrives at the 21st Annual Critics' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California January 17, 2016. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Blinded by Trumpaphobia, conditioned by habitual Jewish cringing, some radical Jews are allying with pro-boycott Israel-bashers. The fight has been most intense among feminists, some of whom inserted irrelevant, divisive calls to “decolonize” Palestine – meaning destroy Israel – into the International Women’s Strike against US President Donald Trump. Fortunately, an unlikely hero, Mayim Bialik, the celebrity actress with a PhD in neuroscience who plays neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler on TV, proclaimed with a Big Bang: “I am a feminist Zionist.” Bialik charges that “forcing out...liberal Jews from our own political identification as liberals is the most divisive, un-American, un-feminist, disturbing turn of events in my life as a liberal Zionist.”
This debate is not new. In 1975, Betty Friedan protested when the International Woman’s Year World Conference libeled Zionism as racism. When “virulent anti-Israel and antisemitic” thuggery marred the 1980 conference, Letty Cottin Pogrebin responded, bravely exposing the “Anti-Semitism in the Women’s Movement” in Ms. in 1982. Thirty-five years later, bigoted radical feminists still ignore Palestinian sexism and negate Zionism’s legitimacy.
With a scientific precision, Bialik provides moral leadership.
“Zionism is the belief in the right of the Jewish people to have an autonomous state in Israel,” she blogged on GrokNation. “I am a Zionist. Feminism is the belief that a woman-driven movement can bring about race, class and gender equality and that women deserve all of the rights and privileges afforded to men. I am a feminist.... Zionism and feminism are not in conflict with each other.”
She added on Facebook: “The singling out of Israel for human rights violations reveals a heinous bigotry.... What I said had to be said, and the conversation surrounding Zionism finally went too far for me to keep my big mouth shut.”
Watching the backlash against her, seeing other Hollywood Jews avoid the “Z-word,” I sent my first celebrity fan letter, asking Dr. Bialik via email “ma nishtana”: “what makes you different, willing to stand up and stand out for Zionism?” Surprisingly, she responded. Sounding like Sheldon’s “friend that’s a girl,” she exclaimed: “What makes all of us different is our DNA!” She believes the “combination of my mother’s boldness and rebelliousness and her softness as well and my father’s (z”l) penchant for playing devil’s advocate and his sense of injustice with inequality created in me a Jewish fighter.”
Too many Israel advocates start by being attacked, suggesting, as Jean Paul Sartre believed, “the anti-Semite makes the Jew.” Bialik is a Jew who made the Jew – turning toward her people not against them at university. She reports: “My rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA Hillel, taught me to fight for my Jewishness with all of my heart, soul and might. I draw my strength from a sense of purpose from God to repair the world.”
While Bialik has been “dismayed at the pushing out of liberal Jews from the ‘left’ for years,” the 2016 “campaign made me sick.” She resented those Jews who said “I wasn’t a ‘good’ Jew or Zionist (God forbid) because I didn’t support Trump; he stood against all of my Jewish ethics.... I love the State of Israel and that is my homeland, but I do not understand how voting for Trump is the only way to love Israel.” Nevertheless, “the arrogance with which certain liberals – be they feminist or otherwise – have marginalized Jews made my blood boil.... I could not tolerate being accused of being ‘the enemy’ like this; especially in the face of the international community consistently singling out Israel above and beyond all of the other (mostly Muslim!) countries with horrendous human rights violations, systematic abuse of women and children, systematic records with minorities, and refusal to even acknowledge Israel’s existence.”
Most Jewish celebrities remained silent. Just as Jewish professors whisper to me when I support Israel, “I’m behind you” – when they should be by my side – Bialik reports that a “few” celebs have “been incredibly supportive” – quietly. She elegantly refuses to criticize, “because I wish more would speak up.”
Still, she admits her advocacy makes her feel “lonely a lot. But I don’t care; you stand up for what’s right even if you are lonely about it!” She adds: “the best things I have fought for have been complicated.... Our collective heritage provides us a model for transforming the world; my collective Jewish history inspires me and it is one of the reasons I am most grateful I am a baal teshuvah [lit. ‘master of return,’ meaning someone who returns to religious observance].”
This week, 18,000 Jews and non-Jews who support Israel united at AIPAC’s Policy Conference. They, like Mayim Bialik, are doing what’s right, even if it’s unpopular. They, like Bialik, are more motivated by love of Jewish, Zionist, American and democratic values than by hatred of our enemies. America’s new ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, channeling her great predecessor Daniel Patrick Moynihan, repudiated the UN’s “Israel bashing” and said: “leading isn’t saying and doing things when it’s comfortable. Leading is saying and doing things when it’s not comfortable.”
How lucky we are to have heroes like Bialik and Haley.
These two women, one Jewish, one non-Jewish, one liberal, one conservative, remind Americans to unite on some moral issues like supporting Israel, even while dividing on other issues.
May their examples be infectious, teaching cowardly Jewish enablers to stand up for themselves, inspiring Jewish shirkers to take responsibility, while thanking those non-Jews who understand that supporting Israel is good for the Jews, for America, for the West and for their souls.The author, a Distinguished Scholar in North American History at McGill University and a Visiting Professor at the Ruderman Program at Haifa University, is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, published by St. Martin’s Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.
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