Deconstructing IfNotNow: Making Israel Bashing Mainstream in America
Illustration (Image Credit: IfNotNow Protests AIPAC Conference by IfNotNow - IfNotNow Movement [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia)
[Ed. note: IfNotNow members recently disrupted an all-expenses-paid Taglit Birthright trip by leaving the tour on its final day to join one led by Breaking The Silence, a group which claims to be an NGO comprised of former IDF soldiers who "have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories."
The INN agitators claimed that Birthright did not tell "the truth about the occupation." According to the Taglit Birthright website, the vision of the group is "to ensure the future of the Jewish people by strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish communities, and connection with Israel." The group does so by providing a 10-day free trip to Israel which covers airfare, hotels, transportation, meals and other land costs.
The article that follows exposes the activities and mission of the group in the U.S. with particular attention to its targeting of youth organizations.]
Riding leftist millennial currents, a group of young Jewish activists, IfNotNow (INN), is appealing to a wide swath of Jewry with proclamations of social justice and progressive ideals. But the seemingly open and inclusive stance is a soft veneer for Israel bashing rhetoric.
What is worse, INN’s public agitations often fuel anti-Semitic sentiments.
The group seeks to influence public institutional change in Jewish organizations that support the State of Israel, but in doing so fractures the American Jewish community. The most recent target of the group’s efforts was the National Ramah Commission, responsible for providing over 11,000 kids—including myself some years ago—with a fun, Jewish summer experience and instilling a love for Israeli culture and Jewish traditions.
During my days at the camp, I recall the “promotion” of Zionism that manifested in eating Israeli food, singing Israeli songs, and immersing in Israeli cultural life. INN appears to take umbrage at these aspects of camp life for young American Jews, given that they recently made an unsuccessful attempt to politicize the camp experience by imploring Ramah leadership to instruct about Israel’s “occupation” policies and practices. Wouldn’t an inclusive and tolerant stance, such as the one ostensibly espoused by INN, 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. INN founder Simone Zimmerman served a brief stint as coordinator of Jewish outreach for the Bernie Sanders presidential bid, but was let go after her vitriolic and unwavering anti-Israel Facebook posts were exposed. Zimmerman was too left wing and anti-Zionist for Senator Bernie Sanders’ liking—a telling sign about the founding principles and doctrine of the INN movement.
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. On June 9, Berger retweeted comedian Sarah Silverman, who compared ICE U.S. immigration officers to Nazis, and on June 7, retweeted Linda Sarsour, a controversial anti-Israeli Muslim Arab who maintains that feminists cannot be Zionists. These Tweets took place in the span of a week and are prime examples of the biased beliefs of an INN co-founder—and by extension, of the partisan organization.
As INN gains an increasing base of followers, it undermines the loyalty of American Jews towards Israel with skewed information and damaging rhetoric. Ramah’s interactions, along with those of countless other reputable Conservative and Reform Jewish organizations, prove how INN has permeated into the mainstream of American Jews, and brought with them a lopsided, anti-Israel agenda.
Per their website, INN’s indoctrination has reached members of key Jewish youth organizations in America, including: Union for Reform Judaism and North American Federation of Temple Youth; United Synagogue Youth, Solomon Schechter Day School, Camp Ramah; BBYO, and more.
INN has created a “Liberation Syllabus” (#LiberationSyllabus), a compilation of learning materials, many of which unjustly slander Israel. The syllabus features Michael Chabon, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, along with a number of other figures and organizations that maintain a harsh and aggressive stance against Israel. Chabon, a known anti-Israel activist gained notoriety—or apparent clout among IfNotNow followers—during his commencement address at the Hebrew Union College in California, in which he condemned Jewish in-marriage and professed his distaste for religion.
Also prominent in the syllabus is B’Tselem, an organization that specializes in pro-Palestinian advocacy without acknowledgement of Israeli concerns and perspectives. Like INN, B’Tselem is an ardently partisan organization pushing an inherently flawed agenda.
INN does “not take a unified stance on… Zionism or the question of statehood,” yet purportedly supports a two-state solution. With this intentionally ambiguous verbiage, INN reserves the right for the institution to allege support for the State of Israel, while accommodating the sizable sect of their supporters who denounce Israel’s existence altogether.
It should be very troubling that INN has gained traction and credibility among American Jews, especially millennials. The movement is virtually silent on the ills surrounding Israel—including civil war and chemical warfare in Syria—focusing exclusively on Gaza and Israel’s continued military control in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), with no acknowledgement of why or how this status came to be. No democracy is immune from criticism, certainly including Israel, but INN does nothing to advance or deepen understanding of multiple perspectives in this complex region of the world.
Noah Phillips writes with an especial interest in Jewish and Israeli affairs. He is the founder of The Jewish Examiner, an online Jewish news source. Noah writes a weekly column entitled "Rising Up," which is syndicated to various international publications. Noah is also a contributor to various prominent news outlets, including the Algemeiner, The Forward, and more. This piece appeared previously on the writer’s blog. Follow Noah on Twitter @noahaphilli