Leftist Jews and their friends to take on anti-Semitism

Concerned with what she considers a prevalence of unchallenged anti-Semitism on the left, a local activist is doing something about it.

After years of working on a doctoral dissertation on the same subject, Judy Andreas has now organized “Facing a Challenge Within: A Progressive Scholars’ and Activists’ Conference on Anti-Semitism and the Left,” a three-day conference Aug. 21-23 in Oakland.

Andreas, a Richmond resident who is not Jewish, said that when she has tried to address anti-Semitism in progressive communities, she has often received angry responses.

“I’m simply applying the same principles of caring toward an oppressed community,” she said, adding that it was as if having compassion for Jews in the same way one would for other minority groups was forbidden.

“I had chosen my dissertation topic a few years ago, and I was working toward starting it, and then 9/11 happened,” she said.

Andreas was gratified to see so many attempts to reach out to the Muslim and Arab communities after the terrorist attacks, but she saw no such efforts extended toward Jews, even though she knew that “there was an increase of threats on Jews and Jewish institutions both here and in Europe.”

She wanted to do something more immediate than writing a dissertation that maybe a handful of people would eventually read.

“I wanted to do something to create change right now,” she said.

The conference, slated for the Oakland Marriott, will feature speakers from both from the Jewish and non-Jewish progressive communities, and Andreas expects up to 300 people to attend. Non-Jewish workshop leaders include people of African-American, Arab Muslim, Latino and East Asian descent. There will also be a panel of Jews from Arab countries.

Much of the conference will be based upon “unlearning racism,” as developed by Ricky Sherover-Marcuse, a Berkeley Jewish activist who died in 1988.

The theory behind Sherover-Marcuse’s workshops was that “there are deep-seated historical prejudices against groups that are passed on subconsciously from generation to generation, and it’s our responsibility to deal with how they have become embedded in ourselves,” said Andreas.

Andreas said that many activists feel frustrated in that one can either be a progressive activist or care about Jewish concerns, but not both, or that one cannot care about Jews — specifically Israeli Jews — if one supports the Palestinian cause.

“People are looking for a place where they don’t have to pick, where they can have compassion and caring toward everyone,” she said.

Plus some recognize that everyone is strengthened by including Jews in coalition-building, she added.

While Andreas has sought out support from the more mainstream Jewish organizations — and has received it, she said — she deliberately did not ask for their leaders to give workshops.

“People on the left see them as part of the polarization, and the conference is designed to stay in a more neutral place,” she explained.

However, one workshop will attempt to address the divide between Jewish activists and mainstream Jewish organizations.

Many of the workshops are designed specifically for Jews or non-Jews, such as “Anti-Semitism and Jewish Shame and Defensiveness” for Jews only, and “How to be an Ally to Jews” for non-Jews. Others are broader in their scope, such as “The Neo-Conservative Phenomenon,” and “Secular Christian Cultural Dominance.”

Andreas emphasized that while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will certainly play a major role in the conference, no solutions or statements will be made regarding it.

To register for the conference, or for more information, visit www.facingachallenge.com, or call Andreas at (510) 595-4634.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."