A controversial video that sparked backlash after blaming “woke ideology” for a rise in antisemitism will not be going back online in its current form, said the CEO of the group that produced it.
The video, created by a coalition called the Combat Antisemitism Movement, first went online in early June and drew broader attention in recent days after a reporter for the Forward, Arno Rosenfeld, began asking questions about its content. The video claims that “wokeism, an ideology which purportedly calls for diversity, equity and inclusion, fan[s] the flames of antisemitism” and says that progressive ideas about race and class fuel bigotry against Jews.
Two major Jewish groups left the coalition, which presents itself as broad-based and nonpartisan, over the video. The Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella for Jewish communal federations nationwide, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that it rescinded its partnership on Friday after Combat Antisemitism did not immediately remove the video and would not rejoin unless the video were permanently removed.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a national liberal public policy group, likewise ended its partnership in the movement. The group’s CEO, Amy Spitalnick, told the Forward that the video was “deeply disturbing and concerning.”
Combat Antisemitism wrote in a statement on Twitter on Sunday that “we have decided to temporarily suspend the distribution of the video entitled ‘What is Woke Antisemitism?’,” with the goal of “fostering a broad consensus.” Now, Sacha Roytman Dratwa, the CEO of Combat Antisemitism, has confirmed to JTA that the video will not be going back up.
“The final decision was taken a few days ago,” he said. “We are reviewing the content to make something that will appeal to a broader audience.”
He added, “I don’t know if it’s another version of the video, but we will continue dealing with every form of antisemitism — far-left, far right and radical Islam, and other forms.”
Upon being notified of Dratwa’s comments, both of the two groups that dropped their partnership said they were not yet prepared to rejoin the coalition.
“We were proud to partner with the Combat Antisemitism Movement in the past on events such as as the Mayors Conference, and hope to collaborate again in the future,” a JFNA spokesperson said in a statement, referencing a recent gathering of mayors who committed to fighting antisemitism. “In the meantime, we are consulting with the Federations and [Jewish Community Relations Councils] in our system as well as the leadership of CAM to find a way forward.”
Spitalnick told JTA, “Before we consider that, we’ll need to discuss and better understand the broader questions surfaced by this video issue. The video didn’t come out of nowhere, and I’d like to understand what CAM will be doing moving forward.”
Combat Antisemitism, which was founded in 2019, is one of several new groups aiming to fight anti-Jewish bigotry, and was launched with the backing of Adam Beren, a Jewish philanthropist who was donated to Republican candidates. Dratwa emphasized that the group aims to be nonpartisan.
“We have been listening to our partners and working with them as a coalition,” he said. “When they have concerns on content we listen to them and obviously do our best to appeal to as many partners as possible.”
Combat Antisemitism says on its website that it has more than 700 partners. Dratwa told JTA that the movement does not obligate its partners to make a financial contribution but does ask them to collaborate on programs and activities, as well as to see the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism “as the only definition to monitor and combat antisemitism.”
That document, popularly referred to as the IHRA definition, has been adopted by national and local governments worldwide, as well as universities and corporations. But it has stirred controversy because it defines some criticisms of Israel as antisemitic, including calling the country a “racist endeavor,” and critics have offered other definitions.
A JFNA spokesperson told JTA, “We do endorse the IHRA definition and advocate for its use.” Spitalnick pointed to a 2020 resolution by her group that adopted the definition as a non-legally binding document and called for Jewish community relations organizations to use the definition “as a tool when engaging and educating policymakers, law enforcement, educators, and community leaders, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish community partners.”Jewish
Groups leave Combat Antisemitism Movement after video
Two major US Jewish groups have at least temporarily exited a coalition called the Combat Antisemitism Movement after it published a video blaming the recent rise in antisemitism on “woke ideology.”
Combat Antisemitism, which presents itself as a broad-based, nonpartisan coalition fighting bigotry, removed the video from its website this week, as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a national liberal public policy group, and Jewish Federations of North America both criticized it.
Those groups’ criticism followed questions by Arno Rosenfeld, a journalist at the Forward who has reported on the Combat Antisemitism Movement’s origins and funding and first reported the groups’ exit from the movement. On Friday, Rosenfeld called attention to the video, which was first published in early June, pointing out on Twitter that it condemns not only anti-Israel activity but also progressive ideas about race and class as fueling antisemitism.
“How does woke-ism, an ideology which purportedly calls for diversity, equity and inclusion, fan the flames of antisemitism?” asks the video, a copy of which the Forward has posted. “It’s not complicated once you truly understand the foundations of woke-ism.”
It then embarks on an explanation, arguing that proponents of “woke-ism” separate society into the oppressed and oppressors, putting Jews in the latter category and rendering them as legitimate targets.
“It was deeply disturbing and concerning,” Amy Spitalnick, the JCPA CEO, told the Forward on Tuesday. “The video suggested progressivism, and certain progressive communities, are inherently antisemitic.”
JFNA temporarily removed its name from a list of partners on Friday after Combat Antisemitism did not immediately pull the video, a spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The episode reflects the politicization of efforts to fight antisemitism even among those who say they are nonpartisan
Ideological operatives and their supporters have tended in recent years to highlight antisemitism from their political opponents and have argued over which political camp is the more fertile breeding ground for antisemitism as well as when or whether anti-Zionism constitutes anti-Jewish bigotry. In this case, Combat Antisemitism, which is funded by a Republican donor, blamed recent reported increases in antisemitic incidents on a left-wing ideology and even attributed some instances of far-right antisemitism to the left.
A third group that is listed on the group’s website as a partner, the American Jewish Committee, was critical of the video but did not quit.
“AJC has long urged society’s leaders to be swivel-headed when it comes to combating antisemitism and to guard against any efforts to politicize the fight against antisemitism,” the group told the Forward. “This video fell far short of this call.”
The video’s focus on “woke-ism” reflects a hobbyhorse for some conservatives, including a handful of Jewish leaders. The term “woke” was originated by Black Americans to describe awareness of racial inequity but now more often functions as shorthand for conservative criticism of progressive values.
The video offered multiple examples of “left-wing” antisemitism that actually reflect far-right activity, such as the display of a banner by members of the Goyim Defense League, a white supremacist group.
Combat Antisemitism told the Forward that it would pull the video temporarily. The group said it was moved by “concerns raised by some of our partners, and with the aim of fostering a broad consensus.”
It added: “We continue to acknowledge that far-left ideology has played a substantial role in the propagation of antisemitism in our society.”
“We can see there is a clear connection between the rise of woke-ism and the increase of antisemitism,” the video says, against a backdrop of a graph that has no data or labels backing up the claim.
Combat Antisemitism was founded in 2019 with the backing of Adam Beren, a Kansas businessman who has donated to Republican political candidates. Its activity has included holding conferences where mayors have declared their opposition to antisemitism, calling attention to antisemitic incidents reported in the news and championing Jewish American Heritage Month and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.
The group claims 700 partners on its website, including a number of local Jewish federations, Hillels and Jewish community relations councils, as well as national groups like B’nai Brith International, the AEPi fraternity, Hadassah, the Orthodox Union and Yeshiva University.
Also featured are the Jewish Agency for Israel and Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. (The current Diaspora minister, Amichai Chikli, has decried “woke” ideology and connected it to threats to Jewish students on college campuses.)
JFNA says it will not make a decision about whether to rejoin the coalition until after Combat Antisemitism decides whether to permanently retract the video.