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“Occupy Judaism’s” Reality Moment

In the weeks since grabbing headlines (and, it must unfortunately be said, hundreds of participants), organizers of the kol nidre service in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests have tried to maintain momentum by organizing events around the other bounty of holidays on the Jewish calendar that follow in the weeks after Yom Kippur. From the beginning, they have tried to cast their efforts as “Occupy Judaism,” and the one thing that nonsensical neologism tells us is that whatever this thing is, it is clearly an attempt to tie the Jewish tradition to radical contemporary politics.

These Jews may have found themselves experiencing a passing moment of regret late last week when a stray tweet from the main Occupy Wall Street Twitter feed expressed its own “solidarity” with the latest “flotilla” attempt to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The tweet was quickly deleted, and the resulting tiff brought out the kind of condemnations from their erstwhile comrades that thrust them into the role of defending Israel (and themselves) online.

All the Occupy Judaism crowd wanted, after all, was that the Arab-Israeli conflict not be a subject of concern for the Occupy Wall Street set, whose grievances were presumably all “economic.” No matter. Saying this was sufficient to get one accused of being “in favor of genocide.” Despite being “vocally anti-occupation and against the Gaza blockade,” an Occupier of Judaism may just find oneself explaining that “taking a position against the occupation can be problematic because for some it means ending Israeli statehood.” (The less said about the pathetic sight of an American Jew in the 21st century tweeting pictures of himself holding signs calling for Israeli-Palestinian peace in order to prove his leftist bona fides, the better.)

The question of whether or not Occupy Wall Street is “anti-Semitic” has been unhelpful from the start, because if you want to make that kind of claim in today’s climate, you have to prove there is something at least vaguely Nazi about what it has to say, whether it’s something about Jews and money, Jewish government control, or what have you. It’s fairly said that people who think this way are likely no more than a fringe of this fringe.

What is probably not fringe, however, is the movement’s anti-Israelism, by which we mean the denial of Jewish collective identity and the right therefore of the Jewish people to a state of their own. That’s why it’s no surprise to see a group called “Existence is Resistance” (and, of course, “resistance is not terrorism”), as well as the views behind it, well represented in the “Occupy” movement from downtown Manhattan to Oakland, California. Indeed, the Judaism Occupiers have even written that “renouncing the state of Israel’s existence” may be a requirement for membership.

This is all particularly sad because unlike, say, Solomon Mikhoels, Jews today benefit from knowing about Mikhoels’ fate, as well as all the other Jews who cast their lot with the villainizers of capitalism only to find themselves ultimately cast as the villains.

All of this should be so well-understood by now that it doesn’t require repetition. Unfortunately, many Jews still seem driven by the conviction that radical politics will somehow, this time, provide them and the world the salvation it always promises but never delivers. It’s no small thing then that we ask they at least do us the favor of not wearing their kippot like badges of honor as they walk once again down that ruinous path.