A Jewish Youth Group Proves It Has No Love for Israel
As the millennial cohort swings left, a group of young Jewish activists calling themselves IfNotNow (INN) is appealing to a wide swath of Jewry with proclamations of social justice and progressive ideals. But this seemingly open and inclusive stance is a soft veneer for Israel-bashing rhetoric. Worse, INN’s public agitations at times fuel antisemitic sentiments.
The group seeks to influence public institutional change in Jewish organizations that support the State of Israel. The most recent target of the group’s efforts was the National Ramah Commission, responsible for providing over 11,000 children — including myself some years ago — with a fun, Jewish summer experience that instills a love for Israeli culture and Jewish traditions.
During my days at the camp, I recall the “promotion” of Zionism manifested through eating Israeli food, singing Israeli songs, and immersing in Israeli cultural life. INN must take umbrage at this, because they recently attempted unsuccessfully to politicize the camp experience by imploring Ramah leadership to teach about Israel’s “occupation” policies and practices.
Wouldn’t an inclusive stance encourage a measured analysis of complex Israeli politics and a love for the Jewish homeland instead of absolute condemnation?
A good window into the motives of an organization involves looking at its leadership. The founder of INN, Simone Zimmerman, served a brief stint as the coordinator of Jewish outreach for Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid, but was let go after her vitriolic and unwaveringly anti-Israel Facebook posts were exposed. Zimmerman was too left-wing and anti-Zionist for Bernie Sanders’ liking — something extremely telling about the founding principles and doctrines of INN.
Moreover, the co-founder of INN, Max Berger, regularly makes egregious assertions via Twitter. “The GOP is a white nationalist party,” Berger tweeted on June 12, later stating that Trump’s cabinet is “full of the dumbest Nazis” on June 15.
As INN gains an increasing base of followers, it undermines the loyalty of American Jews towards Israel with skewed information and damaging rhetoric. Its efforts to pressure Ramah, along with countless other reputable Conservative and Reform Jewish organizations, proves how INN has permeated into the mainstream of American Jewry. Per their website, INN’s indoctrination has reached members of key Jewish youth organizations in America: Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue Youth, Solomon Schechter (my alma mater), Ramah, BBYO, North American Federation of Temple Youth, and more.
INN has created a “Liberation Syllabus” (#LiberationSyllabus) — a compilation of learning materials, much of which unjustly slanders Israel. The syllabus features Michael Chabon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, and many other people and organizations that maintain a harsh and aggressive stance toward the Jewish state. Chabon, a known anti-Israel activist, gained notoriety and apparent clout among IfNotNow followers for his commencement address at the Hebrew Union College in California, where he condemned Jewish endogamy and professed his distaste for religion.
Also prominent was B’Tselem, an ostensible human rights organization that offers pro-Palestinian advocacy without acknowledgement of Israeli concerns and perspectives. Like INN, B’Tselem is an ardently partisan organization that is pushing an inherently flawed agenda.
It’s very troubling that IfNotNow (INN) has gained traction and credibility among American Jews, especially millennials. INN is virtually silent on the ills of the region surrounding Israel — including civil war and chemical warfare in Syria — but focuses exclusively on Israel’s continued control of land outside the pre-1967 borders, with no acknowledgement of why or how. No democracy is immune from criticism, including Israel, but INN does nothing to advance or deepen understanding of multiple perspectives in this complex region of the world.
Noah Phillips is a young writer with a particular interest in Jewish/Israeli affairs. He writes a column for Elder of Ziyon and is the founder of The Jewish Post, an online Jewish political magazine. Follow Noah on Twitter @noahaphilli.