Tzarich Iyun > “Seder Sheni”: Reflections > Conservatism / Progressivism > A Response to the New Antisemitism: Independence of Thought

A Response to the New Antisemitism: Independence of Thought

The new antisemitism, which has become so prominent since October 7th, hails from the Left. While the nationalist form of antisemitism triggered the establishment of Israel as an independent Jewish space, its new form inspires us to imagine a different kind of independence: independence of thought.

Iyyar 5784 / May 2024

The new antisemitism, the type that has become so dominant in the months since the October 7th massacre, belongs to the left wing of the political map. “Who is the Zionist God?” asked Vicky Kirby, a former local candidate in the British Labor Party, and even replied: “I am starting to think it may be Hitler. We invented Israel when saving them from Hitler, who now seems to be their teacher.” Under Corbyn, who led the Labor Party between 2015 and 2020, the left-wing party was saturated with open antisemitism. Unfortunately, it is far from being an isolated example.

In France, “yellow vest” protests routinely include antisemitic symbols, and antisemitic rhetoric is frequently on the lips of left-wing politicians (such as Jean-Luc Melenchon). The same is true in Spain, Germany, and other European countries. Even the USA, especially in more extreme elements of the Democratic Party, is riddled with the new antisemitism.

“It’s all about the Benjamins, baby,” tweeted Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, thus explaining loyalty to Israel in American politics. The pressure exerted by Omar and her friends in the Democratic Party was enough to make President Biden add an asterisk to his condemnation of the antisemitism latent in student protests against Israel: “I condemn antisemitic protests,” he said, but immediately added: “I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.” Molly Hemingway, editor-in-chief of The Federalist, quickly noted how “President Biden came out and said there are good people on both sides of October 7.”

Like the antisemitism that ignited the vision of the Jewish state in the Herzlian imagination, so today’s antisemitism calls us to recalculate our course

Some will argue that none of this matters too much. “It is known,” the Talmudic Sages taught, “that Esau hates Jacob” (Sifri, cited in Rashi, Bereishis 33:4). Sometimes it hails from one wing, sometimes from another. Yet, there is a uniqueness about today’s circumstances that we ought to consider. Like the antisemitism that ignited the vision of the Jewish state in the Herzlian imagination, today’s antisemitism calls us to recalculate our course. It is another aspect of the sequence of events since October 7th that stops us in our tracks and forces us to reconsider long-held positions.

In the present article, I will outline the shift in antisemitism and suggest that much like its predecessor on the Right, it denies the Jews the space in which to live. Yet, unlike the nationalist version that denied us our physical space, progressive antisemitism denies us our ideological space and urges us to new shores of independence.


Progressive Antisemitism

Aside from being a famous author, J. K. Rowling is also known for her social activism for women’s rights and, more specifically, against progressives who undermine female spaces by advocating for the complete severance of the distinction between sex and gender.

Recently, the Scottish government passed a law against hate crimes, including all hate speech that reasonable people would find offensive. The protected groups include age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The punishment for breaking the law: up to seven years in prison. Naturally, the legislation caused an uproar among certain types of reasonable people, with Rowling as one of its most prominent opponents:

The new legislation is wide open to abuse by activists who wish to silence those of us speaking out about the dangers of eliminating women’s and girls’ single-sex spaces […] and the reality and immutability of biological sex. Freedom of speech and belief are at an end in Scotland if the accurate description of biological sex is deemed criminal.

“I’m currently out of the country,” Rowland concluded, “but if what I’ve written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment.”

Why should these matters interest the Jewish people, the more so those living in Israel, far from the northern shores of Scotland? Because for some reason, it isn’t hard to guess where the opposing sides will fall when it comes to the Israel-Gaza conflict. We would bet money that supporters of the law, such as the (Muslim) Prime Minister of Scotland Hamza Yosef, will be Hamas supporters. In contrast, figures like Rowling, the (relatively) conservative opponents of the law, will support Israel. Rowling, indeed, has supported Israel for many years; on a particularly contemporary note, the villain in one of her books (“Lethal White”) is a left-wing activist whose obsessive anti-Zionism transitions into distinct antisemitism.

The main point for our purposes is that hatred of Jews (veiled as hatred of Israel) seems to have become an integral part of a package deal of progressive values, such that a person’s opinion on a wide-ranging spectrum of moral-value questions can predict, at close to 100% accuracy (certainly on the pro-Palestinian side), his opinion regarding the Jews.

For this reason, no one was surprised when climate activist Greta Thunberg wrapped herself in a kafia and demanded the destruction of Zionism, shrilly declaring that “there cannot be climate justice on occupied land!” Last week, during the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Thunberg was among protesters chanting “Sinwar, we will not let you die” and calling for the deportation of Jews back to Europe. On a similar note, the Green Party representative in Leeds, England, who won in recent local elections, explained that it was a victory for Gaza. Unfortunately, he is only one of several left-wing Labor representatives who won on a ticket of Hamas support.

Palestine is every single issue in one issue. It’s reproductive justice. It’s social justice. It’s climate crisis. […] It’s not just one issue; it’s all the issues in one

Furthermore, the obsession surrounding the Israel-Hamas war has become more than “just another issue” promoted by the social justice warriors. It is the issue, uniting around it all other social ails that progressives seek to mend. “Palestine is every single issue in one issue,” posted singer-songwriter (and justice warrior) Scarlett Rabe in a February tweet. “It’s reproductive justice. It’s social justice. It’s climate crisis. […] It’s not just one issue; it’s all the issues in one.”

Only as “issue number one” can we understand the religious fervor with which so-called progressives support such blatant evils as Hamas. James Chambers, for instance, a communist who invests his inherited fortune in promoting far-left movements, described the Hamas massacre as “a moment of hope and inspiration.” In December 2023, he converted to Islam and currently continues his anti-Israeli activities from Tunisia. Another horrific example is Malcolm Harris, a Jewish journalist who found a message of encouragement in a synagogue that was vandalized with a swastika. The act, he insinuated, had somehow redeemed the evil of the symbol, reversing its meaning “from a Nazi threat to a condemnation of genocide.”

The anti-Israel religious passion goes far beyond individual expressions. Playing off Harris, a recent opinion piece by Ryan Zickgraf in the Telegraph was aptly entitled, “Meet the new Left, who think Hamas are good and Swastikas are woke.”[1]

The subtitle explains how progressives have gone down “a dark path.” Dark indeed, to the point of the sinister accusation, not dissimilar to traditional blood libels, that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. Gaza, it’s worth remembering, is a region whose population has doubled by 600% since the Israeli occupation in 1967, and Israel is fighting a defensive war against an enemy employing its citizens as human shields. Genocide?

Supporting as cruel a terrorist organization as Hamas even after October 7th, placing blind faith in its ongoing reporting on the war, and calling for a global Intifada (bus bombings and all?)—all this is very much the stuff of religious fanaticism. For Hamas, the religion is Islam. And for its supporters?

The Talmud (Makkot 24a) teaches that faith encapsulates all of the other Torah commandments: “Habakkuk came and established them upon one, as it is stated: ‘The righteous person shall live by his faith’ (Chavakuk 2:4).” Today’s righteous progressive, it seems, lives by his antisemitism.


A New Appointment of the Old Scapegoat

The prominence of Israel-Hatred as a central issue of today’s political Left brings us to a new chapter in Jewish history. Of course, there is nothing new about antisemitism. Over thousands of years of exile, we experienced it everywhere we went, and it has been prevalent on the Right and Left of the political spectrum. Yet, its central focus has not been static.

In the past, antisemitism was a religious issue: clinging to their original monotheistic faith and rejecting Jesus and Mohammad, Jews were hated by both Christians and Muslims. Later, in the modern era, Christian antisemitism took on a European-nationalist flavor. The Jew was characterized as the ultimate “other,” and European nation-states expelled him from their midst. Following the extermination of the Jews in the Shoa and the establishment of a national Jewish homeland in Israel, the presence of Jews became less threatening, and the traditional Right gradually shifted its attention to the Muslim “other.” Centuries of hatred are not so quickly undone, and right-wing Christian antisemitism continues to linger. Yet, the global engine of antisemitism seems to have switched sides. Rather than Christian-European nationalism, the new hatred is being spewed by an unusual combination of Islamics and progressives.

In today’s progressive or woke ideologies, the left-wing commitment to universalism over nationalism and universal justice and national power has given way to a wholesale rejection of justice in favor of a focus on inequalities of power. Justice, Foucault taught, is irrelevant. “The proletariat doesn’t wage war against the ruling class because it considers such a war to be just,” he claimed. “The proletariat makes war with the ruling class because, for the first time in history, it wants to take power.”[2] Justice is racist; human reason is racist; even math is racist. In an article discussing the recent betrayal of Israel women, Batya Ungar-Sargon summed it up succinctly:

Whether you want to call it critical race theory, social justice or wokeness, this is a worldview that doesn’t distinguish between right and wrong. Instead, it says the world is built on the binary of powerful vs powerless. The woke ascribe inherent virtue to those they see as powerless and evil to those they see as powerful. On what side of the binary you fall depends on your race, gender, sexuality, national origin or religion—rendering, for example, all people of colour powerless and oppressed, and thus virtuous, and all white people powerful oppressors who are inherently compromised.[3]

In a world that cares only about power inequality, the Jew loses all status. Abraham was chosen by God for his dedication to justice; he cannot live in a justice-free space. Moreover, when seen through the binary progressive lens of oppressor and oppressed, the Jew represents the quintessential evil: he becomes the epitome of whiteness, colonialism, imperialism, and patriarchism; he is oppression incarnate, and the oppressed Arab (or Palestinian) is goodness personified. Like Pharaoh in Egypt who turned his back on Joseph, the very same left-wing club founded and maintained by Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries—consider Marx, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Fromm, Blum, Deutscher, and countless others—has turned its back on the Jews. It has become openly antisemitic, thinly disguised by a slender veil artificially separating anti-Israelism from simple Jew-hatred.

Like Pharaoh in Egypt who turned his back on Joseph, the very same left-wing club founded and maintained by Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries has turned its back on the Jews.

The result is the ability to justify and (in extreme cases) even celebrate the massacre of October 7th. “Decolonization,” shouted an oversized sign at a Canadian pro-Palestinian demonstration in October 2023, “is not just a theory!” Indeed, it requires actions both courageous and violent. A pogrom, perhaps, but a justified one. Hamas supporter Maggie Chapman, also a member of the Green Party (this time in Scotland) and a well-known human rights activist, clarified her position: “The oppressed are fighting back for their rights. […] Don’t let the Western media fool you into thinking it’s terrorism, this is decolonization.”[4] Human rights for everyone, just not for Jews. Sounds familiar?

Even the staunchest women’s rights activists, those who fight tirelessly for each workplace harassment victim, could thus demonstratively ignore the shocking sexual violence of the Hamas attack. Facing unambiguous evidence, the international feminist community, including the determined activists of the #MeToo movement, just kept quiet. Asked about the anomalous silence of progressive women concerning the sexual violence of October 7th, Democratic congresswoman (and head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus) Pramila Jayapal answered:

I think that rape is horrific. Sexual assault is horrific. I think that it happens in war situations. Terrorist organisations like Hamas obviously are using these as tools. However, I think we have to be balanced about bringing in the outrages against Palestinians. Fifteen-thousand Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes, three-quarters of whom are women and children.[5]

Oppressors do not deserve pity. As Claudine Gay, former president of Harvard University, testified, calls for genocide of Jews are not necessarily harassment and a violation of campus rules. “It depends on context.” Nationalist antisemites loved themselves and hated the “other,” the Jew. Today’s Western antisemites hate the modern West—its morality, its justice, its borders—and despise the Jews who personify everything they most loathe. “Zionists,” declared a prominent leader of the Columbia student protest encampment, “don’t deserve to live.”

Simply put, the Jews have returned to their default scapegoat statue, this time by the new appointment of the progressive Left, which leaves us wondering: what does this mean for us?


Creating a New Jewish Space

Christian-nationalist antisemitism condemned the Jews to the loss of physical space. The only plausible solution to the Jewish problem, which reached its zenith in the horror of the Shoa, was establishing a purpose-made Jewish space. Absent our own space, we simply had nowhere to go. The birth of the State of Israel was an almost inevitable miracle.

Yet, a second, parallel solution was also available. As noted above, European nationalism (among other factors) pushed the Jews to the ideological left, where they were welcomed as intellectual leaders. Many became leading proponents of human rights, fighting at the front line in the universal struggle for justice and rights for individuals and disadvantaged groups. In the US, after Jewish quotas were dropped in the 1930s and 40s, Jews became beacons of liberal light in institutions of higher education. By 1970, they made up some 20% of faculty at elite colleges and an even larger percentage of the student body.[6]

Jews became avid Democrats. They marched shoulder-to-shoulder with equity-seeking minoriites, lending their talent, energy, and resources to the latest liberal causes and movements. The fact that some of these movements, such as Black Lives Matter, had openly attacked Israel—well before October 7th, BLM had declared Israel an “apartheid state,” claimed it perpetrates genocide against the Palestinian people, and endorsed anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign—did not deter Jewish support. In 2020, over 600 Jewish organizations signed a letter in support of the movement and posted it in a full-page ad in the New York Times.

Rather than the physical space Israel provided, liberalism supplied a parallel and different kind of space in which Jews could continue to live and thrive: a universal thought space. In the US, it seemed for decades the most prominent threat to this type of Judaism was intermarriage, to which a partial solution was found in the embrace by non-Orthodox streams of intermarried couples. Coupled with intermarriage, low birthrates cast a shadow over the future of liberal Judaism, but its flourishing present did not seem threatened. And then came October 7th.

“I feel homeless,” a liberal American colleague told me tearfully last December after her non-Jewish friends had betrayed her in the wake of October 7th. “I have nowhere to go.”

“The Golden Age of American Jews is Ending,” claimed Franklin Foer’s panic-inducing recent piece,[7] reminding us of the “grim cycle of Jewish history, in which golden ages are moments of dramatic irony, the naive complacency just before the onset of doom.” Decades ago, European nation-states ejected the Jews from the physical space of 20th-century Europe. Today, the progressive left is cleansing its intellectual space of Jews, though it makes exceptions for those ready to denounce themselves and side with their enemies. “I feel homeless,” a liberal American colleague told me tearfully last December after her non-Jewish friends had betrayed her in the wake of October 7th. “I have nowhere to go.”

What ought to be the reaction of diaspora Jews to the new intellectual homelessness? I do not feel qualified to answer this question. Certainly, continuing to send Jewish youth to colleges rife with antisemitism, where they are subject to an ideological indoctrination that breeds hatred of Israel and Jews, seems disingenuous. As Prof. Stuart Kamenetsky recently found out, dissident voices are not tolerated.[8] Beyond this, however, responses will depend on local factors and can include heightened Aliyah, greater migration to red states and concentrations, and increasing Haredi-style isolationism.

Writing from Israel, however, and writing as I am on Yom Haatzmaut, the core idea I wish to convey is a message of independence. Right-wing antisemitism drove us, decades ago, to physical independence in the Jewish State. Today, left-wing antisemitism inspires us to build on our spatial freedom and achieve a type of independence we have yet to develop and cultivate: intellectual independence.

In a recently published article,[9] Prof. Benjamin Brown of Hebrew University highlighted the uniformity of thought prevalent in the humanities and social sciences of academia today. Research methodologies, subjects deemed worthy of research, accepted theoretical models, “permitted” and “forbidden” ideological assumptions, citation policies, style and language preferences, and so on, alongside the need to pass academic committees and peer reviews, all serve to police and homogenize our thinking. “Academic constructs are endlessly discussed in addressing demands for diversity in academia, but between calls for diversity of gender, race, and religion, one small diversity is left aside: diversity of thought.”

As Brown succinctly notes (and he’s not the first to point this out[10]), notwithstanding academic pretensions to free and open thought, the capacity for independent and individual thinking in departments of philosophy and political science has been constrained to a narrow box (containing just two core values: liberty and equality) whose boundaries are guarded by tenure committees and peer reviews. This has led to a philosophical drought on the Right. Given that universities have a virtual monopoly on philosophy, and since departments are controlled by the Left, the capacity for developing new and creative right-wing paradigms and effectively responding to the endless critical theories is significantly curtailed.

Facing the antisemitism being spewed by universities before undergoing translation by the media, the culture, and the law and adopted, in slogan form, by the angry mob, our only option today is independence of thought.

It would be wrong to think that the issue is limited to the ivory towers of academia. Critical theories—neo-Marxist, post-structural, postmodern, feminist, deconstructive, post-colonial, critical race theories, queer theories, new historicism, fat studies(!), and the list goes on—serve as the ideological engine for social activism inside and outside of college campuses. Their influence on culture, the media, the law, and politics is immense. To cite Brown:

The theories identify ever more loci of oppression, especially in democratic societies, whose deposition is necessary for achieving “social justice” and democracy. In practice, they demand that the revolution continue on and on, a Western parallel to Trotsky’s perpetual revolution, thus cleansing more and more centers of oppression. […] Academia thus serves as the political engine of the contemporary Left and its struggle against the rising Right.

We should not be surprised that the academic engine producing theories of oppression has identified one oppressor that binds them all together, like Sauron’s One Ring that “brings them all, and in the darkness binds them.” Marx identified the Jew as the essence of capitalism, through whom “money has become a world power” (On the Jewish Question). The Jew is the historic oppressor of humanity because “money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist.” Marx was albeit far from today’s wokeism, yet neo-Marxist critical theories have led, perhaps inevitably, to a similar conclusion. It’s the Jews.

Facing the antisemitism being spewed by universities before undergoing translation by the media, the culture, and the law and adopted, in slogan form, by the angry mob, our only option today is independence of thought. Liberal democracies are ailing, their social contracts breached, and nobody dares say it. It seems that it’s up to us, the Jews, to break this orthodoxy of thought. The place to do it is Jerusalem. Israel.


A Jewish Counterculture

Another sentence in Brown’s article caught my eye. After explaining how academic institutions have never been a countercultural force (as they sometimes like to present themselves) but rather a radical affirmation of prevalent cultural expressions, Brown adds parenthetically that true counterculture is found in religious movements:

True counterculture has been and remains the religious reactionary movements of Western religions, and for us—the Haredim; in other words, those who wished to stand in opposition to the wave of modernism, including critique of the values of liberty and equality.

Academic conformism has become a religion in itself. Ironically, it might take a religious movement to fight it.

Notwithstanding its political independence, Israel has not made concerted efforts to cultivate a parallel thought space free from the shackles of academic uniformity. On the contrary, core institutions have copied the liberal ideas that 20th-century Jews had become so enamored with. In its early years, socialism was a dominant force in Israel’s economy and social models. Though socialism has declined and the kibbutzim mainly privatized, Israel’s universities, popular media, state institutions, and significant elements within branches of government (in particular the legal system) continue to reflect the same left-progressive principles that are breeding antisemitism worldwide. We’re not where America is, but it’s too close for comfort.

The Torah teaches that being holy unto God involves being distinct from the nations. […] Current antisemitism urges us to be distinct not only in our physical space but even in our ideologies and thought. It is the call of the moment

My belief and hope is that the solution lies in Judaism. The Torah teaches that being holy unto God involves being distinct from the nations—”You shall be holy to me because I, Hashem, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (Vayikra 20:26). Current antisemitism urges us to be distinct not only in our physical space but even in our ideologies and thought. It is the call of the moment.

Over many centuries, the main arena of Jewish intellectual thriving has been halacha: the intricacies of personal Jewish law. Indeed, the Talmud notes that since the destruction of the Temple, “the Holy One, blessed is He, has nothing in His world, except for the four cubits of halacha” (Berachot 8a). Bereft of national sovereignty and dependent on the grace of host nations, the great study halls of the Jewish people made the narrow space of halacha into entire libraries filled with volumes on Talmudic-halachic discourse.

Today, in an age of Jewish sovereignty and a period of unprecedented crisis, we must ensure that these study halls, Haredi and otherwise, devote significant energies to the great questions of human living that contemporary academia answers with critical theories. Israel must become the countercultural reaction against the antisemitism-breeding academic orthodoxy. This needs to happen within universities sympathetic to the cause, if such institutions can be found. I believe there are Jewish Thought and Law departments that can be restructured with a broader mission and higher calling. Yet, it must also include non-academic institutions that can and should be part of the conversation. Religious study halls, which possess parallel cultures and traditions to academic institutions, must step up to this new responsibility. This might seem distant and remote, but personal acquaintance with not a few Talmudic scholars who also take a keen interest in the great questions of human living convinces me that it’s possible.

Following the October 7th massacre, author and journalist Omer Barak posted that “as part of my reckoning and beliefs I once held and today think differently, two words come to mind that I had previously refused to say: ani yehudi!—I am a Jew.” Hanin Majadli, a regular contributor to Haaretz, wrote in November 2023 that due to several factors, Israelis have been awakened “to change their position, to see reality with a new clarity, and to understand they are Jewish, first and foremost, and there is thus no choice but to move rightwards.”[11] I hope she is right, not necessarily in a shift to the Right but principally in internalizing that they are Jews, first and foremost. This must define not just our national belonging but also how we think.

And a word concerning Haredi integration into broader Israel. Much has been said and written, including in this journal, about Haredi participation in Israel’s army, economy, and other national institutions and infrastructures; there remains much more to be said, and certainly far more to do. But who knows? Perhaps the project of constituting a Jewish thought space, one that rivals academic institutions and their profound failings, could be Haredi society’s deepest calling. “For out of Zion shall Torah come forth, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Yeshayahu 2:3).

Im tirzu, ein zo aggadah.


[2] Human Nature: Justice Versus Power, 1971, p. 26.


[4] For this and similar quotes, see Jonathon Von Maren, “Decolonization is not a Metaphor” (

[5] See Bret Stephens, “Silence Is Violence – but Not When It Comes to Israeli Rape Victims” (




[9] Benjamin Brown, “It Serves Them Right: The Crisis of the Humanities in Today’s West” Keshet 6 (2023) [Hebrew]; all citations from the article are my own translations (Y.P.).

[10] For further reading on this matter, see Tamar and Oz Almog’s Academia: All the Lies: What Went Wrong in the University Model and What Will Come in its Place (2020).

[11] [Hebrew].

4 thoughts on “A Response to the New Antisemitism: Independence of Thought

  • The whole radical socialist/communist movement from its inception was about replacing G-d with the State in every possible place and situation. Thus, woke Jews in that movement have converted to a hostile religion (or their previous generations did) and think like our enemies because they are among our enemies.

    With the general wussification of the West, we Torah Jews, most prominently in Israel, are the main group left standing to defend true values. The demonic opposition we face is for that reason, and because of ancient antisemitism embedded in competing religions such as Christianity and Islam.

    The continued ability of atheists to hold key power positions in Israel causes a lack of national focus that needs to be corrected.

  • Yasher Koach on setting forth the issues and how the Charedi , and indeed the Modern Orthodox world can and should respond to the radical left and its assault on Israel and Western values.

  • Thank you for this well documented article. Certainly, there are bright people in the Kollelim that could cleverly express Torah answers to “the big questions” , like Climate change, nationalism, gender identity , etc.. But for this to happen, the Rashei Kollel, must open the curriculum, so that they can spend some time learning what those questions are, and learning how to “speak the langage of the Nations”. That will take some time….

  • Nice review of the Left and its hatred of Jews but “to break this orthodoxy of thought. The place to do it is Jerusalem.” shows that the article’s author does not understand what he is talking about. The new “independent “ thought can’t be limited by space, especially space which already has all answers to all questions. Our response should be critique of the hypocrisy, lies, and the hatred of the truth which is the foundation of the racialized islamofaschism of our enemies.

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