A screenshot from a video on "woke-ism" distributed by Combat Antisemitism. (Screenshot/JTA-YouTube)
A screenshot from a video on "woke-ism" distributed by Combat Antisemitism. (Screenshot/JTA-YouTube)

Major Jewish groups leave Combat Antisemitism Movement after video blaming ‘woke-ism’ for antisemitism

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(JTA) — Two major U.S. Jewish groups have at least temporarily exited a coalition called the Combat Antisemitism Movement after it published a video blaming the recent rise in antisemitism on “woke ideology.”

Combat Antisemitism, which presents itself as a broad-based, nonpartisan coalition fighting bigotry, removed the video from its website this week, as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a national liberal public policy group, and Jewish Federations of North America both criticized it.

Those groups’ criticism followed questions by Arno Rosenfeld, a journalist at the Forward who has reported on the Combat Antisemitism Movement’s origins and funding and first reported the groups’ exit from the movement. On Friday, Rosenfeld called attention to the video, which was first published in early June, pointing out on Twitter that it condemns not only anti-Israel activity but also progressive ideas about race and class as fueling antisemitism.

“How does woke-ism, an ideology which purportedly calls for diversity, equity and inclusion, fan the flames of antisemitism?” asks the video, a copy of which the Forward has posted. “It’s not complicated once you truly understand the foundations of woke-ism.”

It then embarks on an explanation, arguing that proponents of “woke-ism” separate society into the oppressed and oppressors, putting Jews in the latter category and rendering them as legitimate targets.

“It was deeply disturbing and concerning,” Amy Spitalnick, the JCPA CEO, told the Forward on Tuesday. “The video suggested progressivism, and certain progressive communities, are inherently antisemitic.”

JFNA temporarily removed its name from a list of partners on Friday after Combat Antisemitism did not immediately pull the video, a spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The episode reflects the politicization of efforts to fight antisemitism even among those who say they are nonpartisan. Ideological operatives and their supporters have tended in recent years to highlight antisemitism from their political opponents and have argued over which political camp is the more fertile breeding ground for antisemitism as well as when or whether anti-Zionism constitutes anti-Jewish bigotry. In this case, Combat Antisemitism, which is funded by a Republican donor, blamed recent reported increases in antisemitic incidents on a left-wing ideology and even attributed some instances of far-right antisemitism to the left.

A third group that is listed on the group’s website as a partner, the American Jewish Committee, was critical of the video but did not quit.

“AJC has long urged society’s leaders to be swivel-headed when it comes to combating antisemitism and to guard against any efforts to politicize the fight against antisemitism,” the group told the Forward. “This video fell far short of this call.”

The video’s focus on “woke-ism” reflects a hobbyhorse for some conservatives, including a handful of Jewish leaders. The term “woke” was originated by Black Americans to describe awareness of racial inequity but now more often functions as shorthand for conservative criticism of progressive values.

The video offered multiple examples of “left-wing” antisemitism that actually reflect far-right activity, such as the display of a banner by members of the Goyim Defense League, a white supremacist group with roots in Petaluma.

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Combat Antisemitism told the Forward that it would pull the video temporarily. The group said it was moved by “concerns raised by some of our partners, and with the aim of fostering a broad consensus.”

It added: “We continue to acknowledge that far-left ideology has played a substantial role in the propagation of antisemitism in our society.”

“We can see there is a clear connection between the rise of woke-ism and the increase of antisemitism,” the video says, against a backdrop of a graph that has no data or labels backing up the claim.

Combat Antisemitism was founded in 2019 with the backing of Adam Beren, a Kansas businessman who has donated to Republican political candidates. Its activity has included holding conferences where mayors have declared their opposition to antisemitism, calling attention to antisemitic incidents reported in the news and championing Jewish American Heritage Month and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.

The group claims 700 partners on its website, including a number of local Jewish federations, Hillels and Jewish community relations councils, as well as national groups like B’nai Brith International, the AEPi fraternity, Hadassah, the Orthodox Union and Yeshiva University.

Also featured are the Jewish Agency for Israel and Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. (The current Diaspora minister, Amichai Chikli, has decried “woke” ideology and connected it to threats to Jewish students on college campuses.)

JFNA says it will not make a decision about whether to rejoin the coalition until after Combat Antisemitism decides whether to permanently retract the video.

Ron Kampeas

Ron Kampeas is the D.C. bureau chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.