Ready for a Fight

A Jewish Leftist Reflects on the Illinois Governor’s Race

For some, the storm has blown over. Daniel Biss dropped Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, and replaced him with Litesa Wallace. During the six days that Ramirez-Rosa was Biss’s running mate, red-baiting and claims of antisemitism were volleyed between local political figures. At the time, more important things demanded my attention. I joined thousands marching in downtown Chicago in support of striking low wage workers on Labor Day, and the next day, I hit the streets again to protest the decision to repeal DACA. Both times I protested in the company of other Jewish people and Leftists. In passing, I discussed the controversy around Biss’s running mate, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, and two days later, he was no longer on the ticket.

Ramirez-Rosa is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which this past August voted, among many other things, to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to pressure the state of Israel to end its mistreatment of Palestinians. When Ramirez-Rosa was announced as Biss’s running mate, some rescinded their support, others made odious claims that antisemitism had entered the governor’s race. It became clear that Ramirez-Rosa and Biss had different opinions on BDS, which is often brought up in mainstream political spaces only to be condemned.

I spoke with Ramirez-Rosa during the labor day protest, and met Daniel Biss. As a Jewish leftist, and a DSA member, I felt a familiar erasure in comments made by congressman Brad Schneider. I interact with many socialists who support BDS and other platforms for Palestinian rights, and have not experienced antisemitism. Yet while this real-life flame war was happening, Steve Bannon was invited to speak at the Zionist Organization of America’s gala, and Sebastian Gorka was at a conference in Israel. The very fact that Zionist organizations and the ‘pro-Israel’ camp will break bread with these antisemites is proof that defending Israel is not the same as defending the safety of the Jewish people.

The conflation of Jewish interests with defense of Israel is a muck I have waded through my entire life. Too many times my own community’s establishment has used this narrow view of Jewish interests to malign progressive movements and candidates.

This is where things stop being about Daniel Biss, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, and the Illinois governor’s race. My point is not that Biss is a traitor to the progressive values he espouses or that Ramirez-Rosa is a hero of socialism. I am simply tired of an out of touch Jewish establishment that endangers me with its tendency to punch left, and its conflation of Jewish interests with the state of Israel.

If “Jewish interests” are used to malign DSA, it is not just left-leaning Jews, or Jewish people who should be outraged. Such sentiments, regardless of where they come from, fortify a false narrative that Jewish people stand to lose when movements left of center gain traction. We also see this when pro-police or anti-Black Lives Matter critiques are posited in defense of an imaginary world where Jewish people are protected by our current social order. Jewish people do not have anything to lose from movements which fight bigotry and inequality. Unemployment, nationalism and racism are a recipe for antisemitism. Every Jewish person must align themselves with progressive and radical movements, people, and ideals, for it is only through fighting for a better world for everyone — not just for some — that we will guarantee our safety.

To pit Jewish people against progressive movements, through false claims of antisemitism, which confuses criticism of Israel with prejudice against Jewish people, in reality endangers Jewish people.

In Illinois, and everywhere else, there is a need for a meaningful transformation of the existing order beyond the possibilities of the ballot box.

The leadership of the elite has entrenched millions in poverty and violence after decades of war, bailouts, and privatization. As people argue against the BDS movement, the occupation of Palestine continues. When the supposed opposition to the white supremacist and fascist leadership of this country also enforces the interests of the neoliberal elite, no meaningful alternative has a chance of gaining power.

As a leftist, and a Jew, I am ready for a fight. I am ready to fight within my community to thaw an otherwise frozen narrative around BDS and Palestinian rights, and to push for medicare for all, a $15 dollar minimum wage, a graduated income tax, and so much more. These campaigns will continue, but it will not be the work of miracles; they will be taken up by young people who know that all struggles are linked. We have to fight to change the narrative, and must build power from the bottom, with a politics that is relevant to people’s needs, not party lines. Let the recent events in the Illinois governor’s race be a reminder that we cannot wait for a savior. As always, we must be committed to solidarity.

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