Jewish extremism, left and right

We can wonder if anger or pity should be our response to an item that has gone viral. It shows a young Jewish woman who reached a top place in Bernie Sanders' campaign--his Jewish outreach director--expressing a hatred that goes over the boundaries of pathological.

In a Facebook screed, Simone Zimmerman wrote,

“Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative asshole . . . Fuck you, Bibi … you sanctioned the murder of over 2,000 people this summer.”

Sanders has suspended Zimmerman, but it'll take some convincing to believe that he was innocent of her attitude before making her his "Jewish outreach director." He continues to say that Israel's activity in Gaza has been excessive, and not proportional to the threat.

One may not quarrel with Zimmerman's assertion that Netanyahu is "arrogant, deceptive, cynical, (and) manipulative." Those adjectives may apply to anyone who reaches the top of government, including a long list of US Presidents. Some of her other words have become standard in politics and media, while they were reasons for mother to wash my young mouth with soap. 

Most distressing, and indeed pathological, is her description of Israel's military operation as "murder," when it was meant to deal with more than 15,000 rockets that had been fired toward Israeli civilians in several waves since 2001.

How would Zimmerman describe the actions of George W. Bush in Iraq and Barack Obama in Libya? Both destroyed regimes that were not a direct threats to American civilians, without replacing them with anything effective, and have led to more than a million deaths and many more refugees.

That Zimmerman could be close to a Jewish candidate for President defines the outer edge of a political chasm among Jews.

Dispute is in our blood, and it's part of our strength. However, Zimmerman reminds us of Jews who curried favor with hateful Christians in the Middle Ages by helping them to find reasons for campaigns of death and plunder.

Our crazies appear not only on the left.

We can argue if Zimmerman's madness and the actions of other Jews enthusiastic about BDS are more dangerous or offensive to common sense than the messianic rabbi and the Jewish couple whose marriage he celebrated on the Temple Mount. 

So far the dangers of both BDS and Rabbi Chaim Richman's "Temple Institute . . .  dedicated to the rebuilding of the Holy Temple" are more symbolic than real. 

Crowds march and chant in support of BDS, while western governmental authorities have, for the most part, acted against proposals to implement boycotts. 

Richman and his supporters have so far made more noise than action in support of their aspiration to build a Temple on what Muslims feel intensely to be their sacred ground, and then to foul our air and water with the bi-products of animal sacrifices.

Leaving aside the argument of who should have priority on what Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims the Nobel Sanctuary, the prospect of furthering religious war requires that reasonable Jews restrain our fanatics.

Once again we are seeing that Jews are stuck with Jews, as well as not a few non-Jews who see us not only as a source of evil, but the one that must be attacked more directly than others. And we're also stuck with crazy Jews who see extremism in faith or politics as the way to achieve what we should have.

Thank God, or perhaps more appropriately our own wisdom and that of others, we are not without defense against the nuttiness from left and right.

Academics brawl on their campuses to either condemn or defend Israel. Labor unions divide on their support of one camp or the other. National legislatures, US State governments, and various other governmental forums in North America and Europe enact legislation or endorse resolutions against boycotts of Israeli products, even while some endorse the labeling of products from the West Bank. A recent article in Ha'aretz details the Jewish organizations that raise money--and those that criticize the money raisers-- left and right, in behalf of BDS, or in behalf of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Important countries of the Far East, and mostly outside the reach of monotheistic claims of priorities--Japan, China, and South Korea--show little enthusiasm for one or the other claimant in the Holy Land, and deal with both.

Israeli judges and government officials express their support of Jewish religious rights, but subordinate them to the avoidance of religious war.

Caught in this maelstrom of what Josephus might have labeled "Jewish wars" we should look around and assess our success.

Israelis are worrying about a recent report that shows the country scoring high among the wealthy for the incidence of poverty. The report is feeding the activity of those who say that the Israeli government must do more to provide for the needs of Holocaust survivors and other unfortunates, especially on the eve of Passover when all should be able to enjoy a festive meal.

What such activists overlook is that Israel is down toward the end of the list of wealthy countries, and that much of its poverty reflects the voluntary actions of the ultra-Orthodox to avoid work for the sake of study.

Further afield, our most outspoken enemies are working hard to kill one another. The Islamic State is losing ground and access to resources in Syria and Iraq, even while it seems well entrenched in Libya and capable of doing great harm to non-Jews in other parts of Africa. Among the opponents of the Islamic State and other radicals are the governments and armies of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both of them cooperating with Israel while avoiding warm and public embraces.

With respect to the near future, the American presidential race looks like a crap shoot, without any attractive candidate.. Yet whoever wins will have to deal with a Congress of mixed loyalties, as well as Jewish and other activists with wildly different views about Israel and related matters.

It's not a time to relax, but that has never been a prominent feature of the Jewish personality.

Comments welcome


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
[email protected]