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Gay, liberal, Jewish activist should feel right at home on left-wing college campus. But he says backing Israel makes him an enemy of the left.


'This intolerance affects huge numbers of young American Jews. I am one of them.'

Photo by Gavriil Grigorov\TASS via Getty Images

Blake Flayton is a sophomore at George Washington University, and by all appearances possesses a pedigree and sociopolitical stance that one would think should serve him well among left-wing students on the left-wing campus.

"As a gay abortion rights advocate and environmentalist, my place in such circles has always been welcomed and accepted," Flayton said in his Thursday op-ed for the New York Times.

'Pushed to the fringes of a movement'

But times have indeed changed — and he wrote that he now finds himself "pushed to the fringes of a movement I thought I was at the heart of, marginalized as someone suspicious at best and oppressive at worst. This is because I am a Zionist. It is because I, like 95 percent of American Jews, support Israel."

And backing Israel at most institutions of higher learning is a no-no.

More from Flayton's piece:

Before I arrived on campus, I could proudly say that I was both a strong progressive and a Zionist. I didn't think there was a conflict between those two ideas. In fact, I understood them as being in sync, given that progressives have long championed the liberation movements of downtrodden minorities. I viewed — and still view — the establishment of the state of Israel as a fundamentally just cause: the most persecuted people in human history finally gaining the right of self-determination after centuries of displacement, intimidation, violence and genocide. For me, this remains true even as I oppose the occupation of the West Bank. It is my Zionism that informs my view that the Palestinian people also have the right to their own state.

But my view is not at all shared by the progressive activist crowd I encountered on campus. They have made it abundantly clear to me and other Jews on campus that any form of Zionism — even my own liberal variant, which criticizes various policies of Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and seeks a just two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — is a political nonstarter. For this group at my school, and similar groups on campuses and cities around the country, Zionism itself is, to parrot the Soviet propaganda of several decades ago, racist. And anybody who so dares to utter the words “right to exist" is undeniably a proponent of racism.

"Given that almost all American Jews identify as 'pro-Israel,' even as the majority of us are also critical of Israeli government policy, this intolerance affects huge numbers of young American Jews," he added to his op-ed. "I am one of them."

What happens when he speaks up?

Flayton noted in his piece that a political club meeting he attended featured a description of Zionism as a “transnational project" — which he said is "an anti-Semitic trope that characterizes the desire for a Jewish state as a bid for global domination by the Jewish people" — and a declaration that Zionism shouldn't be “normalized."

When he said more Jewish voices should be part of the organization's leadership to add more nuance, Flayton recalled that he was "assured that anti-Zionist Jews were already a part of the club and thus my concerns of anti-Semitism were baseless."

More from his piece:

I expected this loophole, as it is all too common across progressive spaces: groups protect themselves against accusations of anti-Semitism by trotting out their anti-Zionist Jewish supporters, despite the fact that such Jews are a tiny fringe of the Jewish community. Such tokenism is seen as unacceptable — and rightfully so — in any other space where a marginalized community feels threatened.

All of this puts progressive Jews like myself in an extraordinarily difficult position. We often refrain from calling out anti-Semitism on our side for fear of our political bona fides being questioned or, worse, losing friends or being smeared as the things we most revile: racist, white supremacist, colonialist and so on. And that is exactly what happens when we do speak up.

Following Israel's April election, he said he tried to explain to classmates that many Israels didn't vote for Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party — that same way many Americans oppose President Donald Trump.

Boy, his progressive counterparts didn't like that one bit.

Flayton said in response they called him an "apartheid-enabler," a "baby killer" and a "colonial apologist."

'This is our new normal'

"This is our new normal," he wrote in his op-ed. "On college campuses and in progressive circles across the country, it does not matter if you strongly oppose the right-wing leadership in Israel; if you are a Zionist, you are seen as the enemy. It does not matter if you think President Trump is a monster for smearing Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib; I have been branded 'irredeemably problematic on G.W.'s campus because of my unwillingness to unconditionally support their politics. It does not matter if you believe in the right of self determination for all people, including Palestinians; if you still feel a connection to the State of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people, you are on the wrong side of history."

More from his piece:

This is the reality of being a politically active Jew on many American college campuses. If you call yourself a Zionist because your family fled to Israel from a Middle Eastern country as a means of survival, you are complicit in ethnic cleansing. If you call yourself a Zionist because your family fled Germany to escape a concentration camp, you are a colonialist. If you call yourself a Zionist because your family made aliyah to Israel because of their religious or spiritual beliefs, you are complicit in apartheid.

Progressives believe that words matter, and that words can soften the ground for violence. We also believe that any politics that excludes, ignores or dehumanizes the voices of minorities is a politics that is dangerous for all of us. Do these activists, who have increasing sway beyond the quad, believe that those same considerations should be granted to Jews? I fear the answer to that question.

You can read Flayton's entire op-ed here.

(H/T: Hot Air)

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