let's talk about the Good Jew/Bad Jew antisemitic trope

[SLIDE ONE]

Before we proceed with this conversation, a couple of important notes: 

(1) A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. 

Whether I agree or disagree with a Jew has little bearing on their Jewishness. For better or for worse, there is no such thing as excommunication in Judaism.* According to DNA and the Halakha (Jewish legal tradition), a Jew cannot stop being a Jew. Even if they convert. Even if they are bigoted. Even if their rhetoric is dangerous and harmful. 

(2) the issue here is not necessarily with assimilation. 

Historically, Jews have assimilated for a plethora of different reasons — by force, for perceived safety, due to intergenerational trauma — and I am not here to judge. 

The problem is when so-called Good Jews weaponize their assimilation to justify antisemitism or to put less privileged Jews in danger. 

But what is truly inexcusable is when non-Jews weaponize the Good Jews’ assimilation to absolve themselves from their antisemitism or to hurt the Bad Jews. 

*in Judaism, there is a concept called “cherem,” which is frequently interpreted as “excommunication.” However, cherem is excommunication from a specific Jewish community; it doesn’t mean the person stops being a Jew. 

 

[SLIDE TWO]

To put it in colloquial terms, the Good Jew/Bad Jew trope is the "I have Black friends" of antisemitism. 

Who is a Good Jew (in the non Jews' eyes)?

A Good Jew is only Jewish enough so as not to disturb the non-Jews. A Good Jew believes that assimilation is the solution to antisemitism. A Good Jew thinks that assimilation will bring forth acceptance. A Good Jew will shed parts or all of their Jewish identity in the search for validation from non-Jews. 

A Good Jew will accept, excuse, or encourage antisemitism as a means to acceptance. 

In the current climate, Good Jews are generally Western, white-presenting, Ashkenazi, have never experienced persecution, and have lived their lives through the lens of white privilege. 

Who is a Bad Jew (in the non-Jews' eyes)?

A Bad Jew is the opposite of a Good Jew. A Bad Jew will not forego parts of their identity for non-Jews. A Bad Jew does not excuse antisemitism, no matter who it comes from. A Bad Jew stands up for their people.

 

[SLIDE THREE]

How does the Good Jew/Bad Jew trope manifest today?

In short, a Good Jew is an anti-Zionist (3-5% of the Jewish population). A Bad Jew is a Zionist (95-97% of the Jewish population). 

[As a refresher, Zionism is a movement that has been a central part of Jewish identity for 2000 years. Zionism means the support for self-determination in our ancestral and indigenous land. Self-determination is a basic tenet of international law. Zionists exist on all ends of the political spectrum, from far right to far left. The overwhelming majority of Zionists support Palestinian self-determination (83% of Zionist Jews in the US, as of 2018).]

How do non-Jews exploit the Good Jew/Bad Jew trope?

In short, non-Jews hold litmus tests for Jews before agreeing to care about their oppression. Non-Jews will justify their antisemitism by pointing to the Good Jews, who excuse it. 

 

[SLIDE FOUR]

Three recent examples: 

(1) Linda Sarsour recently held a rally in support of Black lives but banned all cops and Zionists (the Bad Jews, who are 95% of the Jewish population) from attending. Essentially, only Good Jews were allowed at her event. It's important to note that Black Jews exist, and, like the majority of Jews, identify as Zionist. 

Because the Good Jews excuse Sarsour's antisemitism, Sarsour points to their support as a way to prove that she is not an antisemite. 

(2) the Democratic Socialists of New York were recently exposed for asking applicants to agree to never visit Israel. Out of all the countries in the world with a plethora of human rights violations, they only singled out the one majority Jewish country in the world. This is blatantly antisemitic, but the Good Jews came to their defense, thus alienating 95% of American Jews (the Bad Jews), many of whom have relatives in Israel or choose to visit for religious reasons. 

Believe it or not, the Democratic Socialists of New York then had the gall to excuse their antisemitism by stating, "We have thousands of Jewish members."

(3) recently, various progressive organizations went on a smear campaign of the Anti-Defamation League, the oldest civil rights organization gathering important statistics on antisemitism in the United States. This endangers Jews, because statistics are vital in implementing strategies and legislature to combat antisemitism. 

Some "Good Jew" organizations put their stamp of approval on this smear campaign, and thus the non-Jews excused their antisemitism away. 

 

[SLIDE FIVE]

Where does the Good Jew/Bad Jew trope come from?

While its exact origins are unclear, the Good Jew/Bad Jew trope has echoes of Medieval Europe, when Jews had to make the choice between conversion to Christianity (a Good Jew) or death (a Bad Jew).

Similarly, during the Arabization of the Middle East and North Africa, Jews were forced to convert to Islam (a Good Jew) or die by the sword (a Bad Jew).

Following the French Revolution (1789-1799), when the Jews of France were finally emancipated after nearly two millennia of oppression, tensions grew within the Jewish community over whether to assimilate into the dominant society or preserve their Jewish traditions and culture. Those in favor of assimilation believed that doing so was the best solution to antisemitism. 

This, however, proved to be incorrect, and it all came to a head during the Dreyfus Affair, when a Jewish French military captain was convicted of treason and espionage, a crime for which the authorities knew he was not guilty. 

During the Age of Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries), this debate over assimilation for safety v. preserving Jewish traditions spread throughout all of Europe. 

Karl Marx, known as the Father of Communism, who was an ethnic Jew himself, believed that Jews should give up their traditions and distinct identity. 

During the Russian Revolution (1917-1923), many Jews chose to assimilate and join the Bolsheviks. This, however, ended unfavorably for them, as Jews, assimilated or not, continued to be slaughtered all throughout Russia and the rest of what was to become the Soviet Union. 

 

[SLIDE SIX]

Historically, more privileged Good Jews have endangered less privileged Bad Jews.

Two examples:

(1) the Association of German National Jews

First, some background information: prior to the rise of Hitler, Jews in Germany experienced much higher rates of acceptance and assimilation into the dominant society than did the Jews in Eastern Europe.

The Association of German National Jews was an organization formed in 1921. Bizarrely, in 1934, the organization put out a statement in support of Hitler, pledging allegiance to Germany above all else (i.e. the Jewish People). The Association of German National Jews insisted that Jews in Nazi Germany were being treated fairly and excused Hitler's disdain for Jews in Eastern Europe, who, as mentioned above, up to that point experienced much less privilege than their counterparts in Eastern Europe. 

Unsurprisingly, the Association of German National Jews also detested Zionists. 

In the end, their efforts were futile. By the end of the Holocaust in 1945, the Jewish population in Germany had decreased by 93%.

 

[SLIDE SEVEN]

(2) the American Jewish Committee

In the early to late 1940s, a massive ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population of the Middle East and North Africa was taking place. 

Additionally, following the end of WWII, Holocaust survivors in Europe were left stuck in Displaced Persons camps. Obtaining visas to the United States and other countries was nearly impossible, and so many sought to immigrate to British Palestine.

the American Jewish Committee, a group of American assimilationist Jews who experienced neither the Holocaust nor the ethnic cleansing in the Middle East and North Africa, lobbied against Holocaust survivors immigrating to British Palestine/Israel -- even though they had nowhere else that would take them.

 

[SLIDE EIGHT]

An example from recent weeks: 

Currently, there is an ethnic cleansing and genocide of the last few remaining Jews in Yemen (around 50). Jews have lived in Yemen for over 2000 years. In 1948, Yemen had a vibrant community of around 63,000 Jews. 

Recently, Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced that they had reached a peace agreement. The UAE is only the third Arab country to have such an agreement with Israel. Please note that Jews have been ethnically cleaned from all Arab countries for the past 80 or so years. 

The peace agreement between Israel and the UAE turned out to be life-saving for the remaining Jews in Yemen, as they will now be able to leave Yemen for the UAE. 

However, a couple of "Good Jew" organizations -- IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace -- have joined numerous antisemites in vehemently opposing this peace deal. It's worth noting that both those organizations are comprised primarily of white-functioning, relatively privileged, American Jews who have never experienced close to the level of persecution that Yemenite Jews have faced for the past several centuries.