bad Jew, good Jew: case study

THE TROPE

Antisemitism is a 3000-year-old bigotry, oftentimes nicknamed “the world’s oldest hatred.” For as long as antisemitism has existed, antisemites have imposed a good vs bad Jew dichotomy on us.

Who is a “good Jew”? A “good Jew” is a Jew whose viewpoints validate those of non-Jewish folks. This, of course, is a form of antisemitic tokenization. A “bad Jew,” on the other hand, is a Jew whose views challenge those of non-Jews. Antisemites treat “bad Jews” as disposable, because they do not validate their views. In other words, if we cannot serve you, you consider us bad.

Sadly, historically, many, many Jews have (quite literally) bent over backwards to meet the antisemite’s expectation of a “good Jew.” Over 2000 years ago, Hellenized Jews, or Jews who’d assimilated into Greek culture, went through great lengths to gain the acceptance of the Greek rulers of Judea, so much so that some even reversed their circumcisions to be allowed to participate in the ancient Olympic Games.

Ultimately, antisemites hurt all Jews, whether they consider us “good” or “bad.” This post will explore the “good Jew/bad Jew” trope in history using a couple of case studies: (1) Charles Lindbergh, and (2) Joseph Stalin. Additionally, I want to explore the outcome for “good Jews” using a couple of examples: (1) the Yevsetskiya, and (2) the Association of German National Jews. 

 

CHARLES LINDBERGH

In the lead up to America’s involvement in World War II, public opinion was deeply, deeply hostile to Jews. Polls in 1938-1939 indicated the following: (1) 69% of Americans opposed the absorption of Jewish refugees, (2) 53% of Americans considered Jews inherently “different” from others, (3) 32% of Americans wanted to restrict Jewish businesses to “prevent Jews from getting too much power,” and (4) 10% of Americans wanted to deport American Jews.

Charles Lindbergh, the renowned aviator, was among the antisemitic, isolationist agitators. He was the spokesperson for the fascist, antisemitic America First Committee, and for months, he had insinuated that American Jews were trying to drive the United States into war with Germany for their own sinister purposes. In reality, of course, American Jews were simply desperately appealing to their government to help European Jewry.

In September of 1941, Lindbergh delivered a virulently antisemitic speech in Des Moines, Iowa, stating the following: “Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences…A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not…I am saying that the leaders of…the Jewish races…wish to involve us in the war.”

Lindbergh quite literally highlighted “a few far-sighted Jewish people” — that is, the few isolationist Jews who did not desire to intervene on behalf of their Jewish siblings in Europe — as the “good Jews.” All other Jews — the vast majority of Jews — he accused of being warmongers. This bears eerie resemblance to the manner in which the left tokenizes the small anti-Zionist Jewish minority, calling the rest of us genocidal colonizers.

 

JOSEPH STALIN

In the early 1950s, Joseph Stalin prepared a plan for the mass arrest, forced deportation (i.e. ethnic cleansing), and possible genocide of Soviet Jewry. The first stage of this plan was an antisemitic campaign known as the Doctors’ Plot, during which Stalin alleged that Jewish doctors from Moscow had conspired to assassinate Soviet political leaders.

In response to this so-called plot, Jewish doctors were dismissed from their jobs, arrested, and even tortured. A massive propaganda campaign warning of the “dangers of Zionism” was enacted throughout the Soviet state. People with Jewish last names were condemned and ostracised from society. Much of the language used by leftist anti-Zionists today borrows directly from Stalin’s propaganda.

Under extreme torture, Jewish prisoners “admitted” that there was a plot to assassinate Soviet leaders. Stalin ordered the media to to issue anti-Zionist propaganda, possibly to prepare for a series of show trials. As part of the propaganda campaign, Stalin intended to publish a letter signed by anti-Zionist Jews condemning the “killer doctors,” as he wanted to differentiate between “loyal [to the Soviet state] anti-Zionists” and “disloyal Zionists.” In other words, Stalin’s “good Jews” would legitimize his antisemitic policies.

Ultimately, however, Stalin planned to deport all Jews, Zionist or not, to a network of Gulags in Siberia. Thankfully, because of Stalin’s sudden death, the plan never came to fruition.

 

YEVSEKTSIYA

In 1918, the Soviet Communist Party established a “Jewish branch,” with the consent of Vladimir Lenin. It was named “Yevsetskiya,” meaning “Jewish Sections of the Communist Party.”

The mission of the Yevsetskiya was, quite literally, the “destruction of traditional Jewish life, the Zionist movement, and Hebrew culture.”

From the outset, the Yevsetskiya began harassing Zionist Jews. Initially, the Yevsetskiya legally abolished the “kehillas,” the traditional Jewish community organisations. Sometimes, they even burned their offices down. They shut down everything from Jewish political groups to theatres to sports clubs. They raided all Ukrainian “Zionist” offices and arrested every single one of their leaders.

Until their dissolution in 1929, they imprisoned, tortured, and murdered thousands of Jews.

According to historian of Soviet history Richard Pipes, “In time, every Jewish cultural and social organisation came under assault.”

The Soviet government dissolved the Yevsetskiya in 1929, claiming that it was no longer needed. During Stalin’s Great Purge in the 1930s, virtually all its members were arrested and executed. Some were shot by bullet, some were tortured, and others were sentenced to hard labor in Siberia. A former member even died when the prison he was in refused to supply him with the insulin that he so desperately needed.

 

ASSOCIATION OF GERMAN NATIONAL JEWS

In the earliest days of Hitler’s rule, there was a small group of Jews that supported Hitler. In 1921, a Jewish man named Max Naumann founded a group known as the “Association of German National Jews.” In 1934, the Association issued a statement of support for Hitler.

The Association of German National Jews was especially hostile to the less assimilated Jews from Eastern Europe, who they considered backwards and “racially and spiritually inferior.” They were also hostile to Zionists, as they believed that they were a threat to Jewish integration into wider society.

The main goal of the Association of German National Jews was the self-eradication of Jewish identity.

After Hitler’s appointment as German Chancellor in 1933, Jews worldwide protested, boycotting German goods. Instead of supporting the protest, the Association came out against the boycott and issued a manifesto that the Jews in Germany were being “fairly treated.”

In 1935, the Nazis declared the Association of German National Jews illegal and dissolved it. Naumann was arrested by the Gestapo the same day.

 

ASSIMILATION & ANTISEMITISM

For as long as antisemitism has existed, so have Jews tried to find solutions for antisemitism. This all came to a head in the 19th century, particularly in Europe, during the Haskalah, also known as the Jewish Enlightenment. Though most Jewish thinkers during the Haskalah sought to preserve Jews as a distinct people, one of the main goals of the Haskalah was the maximum integration of Jews into non-Jewish societies.

Let’s back up a little bit. For hundreds of years, Jews in Europe lived under unequal laws. For example, they were forbidden from working certain jobs, forced to wear specific outfits to make them easily distinguishable as Jews, and were confined to living in ghettos, among other things. It wasn’t until the period of the French Revolution (1789-1799) that the Jews of France were emancipated. 

In the decades that followed, Jews living under the reign of Napoleon were finally officially granted freedom and security to live as Jews — so long as they reduced their Jewish identity to a religious one, as opposed to a cultural and/or ethnic one. After centuries of subjugation and inequality, Jews responded favorably to Napoleon’s policies of assimilation. This set the groundwork for the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) and the establishment of “religious” Jewish movements, such as the Reform and Conservative movements.

The success of these assimilationist policies, however, proved futile in the end. Between 1894-1906, the infamous Dreyfus Affair, in which a French military officer of Jewish descent was falsely accused and convicted of treason in a major coverup, showed Jews that, try as they might to assimilate, antisemitism was not going anywhere. 

The decades that followed solidified this reality. At the turn of the 20th century, thousands of Jews were massacred in pogroms (anti-Jewish riots) in Eastern Europe. During the Russian Civil War (1917-1923), between 50,000-200,000 Jews were massacred in what historians call a pre-Holocaust genocide. Then came the Holocaust, when 2/3s of Europe’s Jewish population was murdered in the short span of six years.

 

TODAY

Unfortunately, antisemites today continue to uplift fringe Jewish groups to deflect from accusations of antisemitism. We see this all the time with groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, and even the virulently antisemitic, homophobic, and sexist Neturei Karta. For example, AOC has met with the Neturei Karta, while continuously refusing to meet with the overwhelming majority of New York Jewish community leaders, simply because she and the Neturei Karta (supposedly) share the same views on the issue of Palestine.

It’s interesting that while many of the group members are certainly Jewish, oftentimes, non-Jews seem to be deeply involved in the higher ranks of these organizations. For instance, one of the administrators of the official Jewish Voice for Peace Facebook group is located in Lebanon. Only about 29 Jews remain in Lebanon — the rest were ethnically cleansed — and they are all elderly. It’s highly unlikely that any of them are running the Facebook group. Many Jewish Voice for Peace chapters have been started by non-Jewish members. Jewish Voice for Peace also lacks transparency regarding who exactly works for the organization, utilizing only first names or even a single initial (such as “D”) when listing their staff.

One of the co-founding directors of IfNotNow, Seth Woody, is openly an Episcopalian Christian who oftentimes Tweets about Christianity and Jesus. It’s certainly suspect that he is heading a supposedly Jewish organization.

Like the Yevsetskiya before them, these groups continuously distort what it means to be Jewish. From holding Havdalah ceremonies in the middle of the day (which inherently excludes observant Jews from participating) to “releasing all attachment to the Temple” during Tisha B’Av, the saddest day on the Hebrew calendar, these groups use the Jewish name but misrepresent and exploit Jewishness, Jewish traditions, Jewish history, and more.


 

THOUGHTS

History is a great teacher. If we want to understand antisemitism today, we can look back at the antisemitism of the past and unfortunately find some very terrifying parallels. History teaches us that antisemitism rarely presents openly. Instead it moves through euphemisms, conspiracies, and oftentimes, through the tokenization of fringe Jewish voices that are not representative of the community as a whole.

Historically, antisemites have often created, supported, or invested in “Jewish” organizations or groups that will vouch for them. This gives antisemites legitimacy. It’s a way to deflect criticism or accusations of antisemitism. “If so and so Jewish group supports me, how could I possibly be antisemitic?” To use the Yevsetskiya as an example: the fact that the Yevsetskiya was “Jewish” was central to its purpose. After all, the Soviet regime couldn’t be accused of antisemitism when those shutting down all Jewish cultural and spiritual life were Jews themselves.

So if you’re Jewish, what does this mean for you? You, of course, are always entitled to your own opinion, and you’re entitled to disagree with 99% of the Jewish community on whatever issue, if that is what you think. But speak only for yourself, not for Jews as a whole. And please do not exploit your Jewishness to sell a point. Certainly don’t exploit your Jewishness to prove to people that you’re one of the “good” ones. There is no such thing as a “good Jew” or a “bad Jew” to begin with; if that is what you think, you’re falling for an antisemitic trope as old as time. Finally: if you disagree with the majority of the community, I would consider listening to the rest of us to learn from our perspective.

If you’re not Jewish, what does this mean for you? First things first: no Jew — not a single one — deserves antisemitism. Antisemitism is not a valid punishment for bad behavior; it’s an ancient, senseless form of hatred that has gotten innocent people murdered for thousands of years. If you genuinely care about antisemitism, and if you genuinely care about Jews, don’t just listen to the Jewish voices that agree with you. That’s not allyship; that’s tokenization. Listen to *all* of us. And don’t ever, ever point to a Jewish group or a Jewish person to deflect accusations of antisemitism. If someone is accusing you of antisemitism, there’s usually a good reason. Listen.

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