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Major Jewish groups leave coalition after video slams ‘woke antisemitism’

The Jewish Federations of North America and Jewish Council for Public Affairs departed the Combat Antisemitism Movement’s sprawling coalition after the group released a video decrying progressive politics

Two of the most prominent members of a growing coalition focused on fighting antisemitism left the partnership over the weekend after it released a video condemning what it described as “woke antisemitism.”

The video from the Combat Antisemitism Movement, which it has since at least temporarily removed, argued that antisemitism on the political left was the result of “the emergence and dominion of what many call woke ideology.”

“It’s not complicated once you truly understand the foundations of wokeism,” the narrator states. “Successful groups are considered oppressors and less successful groups as oppressed victims — unfortunately this labeling has led to unfair vilification of successful groups, including Jews.”

The three-minute video was originally posted on YouTube in early June but did not gain widespread attention until the group promoted it in a newsletter Friday, June 16. My Twitter thread that day analyzing the video and putting it in historical context got nearly 100,000 views.

While many mainstream Jewish organizations classify anti-Zionism as a form of antisemitism, it is unusual to see condemnations of a progressive worldview — including a focus on systemic forms of discrimination in society — as a major cause of antisemitism.

“It was deeply disturbing and concerning,” said Amy Spitalnick, the new chief of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “The video suggested progressivism, and certain progressive communities, are inherently antisemitic.”

In addition to its aggressive stance on progressive politics, the video included at least three images of stunts by far-right extremists that it presented as examples of “woke” antisemitism.

Spitalnick asked the Combat Antisemitism Movement to remove JCPA, which has historically represented dozens of Jewish communities across the country, from its list of partners. 

The Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella group for local federations and one of the most powerful foundations in the country, said in an email that the organization was alarmed by the video’s “divisive approach” and had asked to be temporarily removed from the coalition over the weekend. He added that the network would decide whether to participate in the coalition going forward once Combat Antisemitism announced whether it was permanently removing the video from circulation. Last year, Combat Antisemitism asked local federations for help getting mayors to its conference.

“We believe there are productive and balanced ways to address antisemitism, whether on the left, the right, or altogether outside that framework,” the spokesperson said.

Combat Antisemitism removes ‘woke antisemitism’ video

Combat Antisemitism said Sunday that it had decided to “temporarily suspend the distribution of the video” based on “concerns raised by some of our partners, and with the aim of fostering a broad consensus.” The group added in its statement: “We continue to acknowledge that far-left ideology has played a substantial role in the propagation of antisemitism in our society.”

Protesters rally in Detroit last January. A video on “woke antisemitism” by the Combat Antisemitism Movement depicted “wokeness,” including an emphasis on systemic injustices, as a danger to Jews. Photo by Getty Images

David Bernstein, founder of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, and a senior adviser to Combat Antisemitism, said he reviewed an initial script for the video but did not see the final version before it was released. He said in an email that “it could have been stronger and more nuanced.”

But Bernstein, whose organization is critical of contemporary progressive politics, said some mainstream Jewish organizations were unwilling to address “the issue of ideological antisemitism on the left” and often shut down efforts to do so.

“Jewish leaders often quietly acknowledge the problem of ideological antisemitism on the left but duck controversy and division in their own ranks,” Bernstein said in an email. “Educating the Jewish community on the connection between left-wing ideology and antisemitism remains a crucial undertaking and I have no doubt that CAM, which to its credit has not shrunk from the problem, remains devoted to addressing antisemitism in all its forms.”

Group behind coalition has checkered history

The organization was founded in 2019 with support from Adam Beren, a Jewish philanthropist from Kansas and a prolific donor to Republican candidates. It began with an emphasis on encouraging individuals and organizations to sign a pledge to end antisemitism, and amassed a coalition of hundreds of organizations that included both mainstream Jewish groups and a handful of far-right organizations.

The American Jewish Committee remains a member of the coalition but said they also encouraged the organization take down the “woke antisemitism” video.

“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 said in an emailed statement. “This video fell far short of this call.”

Kostas Bakoyannis, the mayor of Athens, hosted a mayoral summit in Greece last year that was organized by the Combat Antisemitism Movement, which was hit by critics after it released a video this month on “woke antisemitism.” Photo by Getty Images

The video’s inclusion of white supremacist stunts as examples of far-left antisemitism also irked some observers. It showed white supremacists associated with the Goyim Defense League holding a banner reading “Kanye is right,” and an image of a far-right group called the Groypers sitting at a table at a Florida university with a sign that said “Ye is right.” It also featured a leaflet that stated “Ending white privilege starts with ending Jewish privilege,” which the Anti-Defamation League has tied to a white supremacist group and said had the effect of “driving a wedge between Jews and Black Americans.”

Combat Antisemitism did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, although the organization asked Youtube to take down a copy of the video that I uploaded and embedded in the original version of this article.

Combat Antisemitism has shrouded some of its activities from public view. Beren did not acknowledge his involvement until recently, following a Forward article that connected him to its creation. Likewise, its mayoral summit last fall in Greece was not publicized until days before the event took place.

A focus on “woke antisemitism” is not brand new for Combat Antisemitism. The Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, which Bernstein created after stepping down as chief of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, received early support from the same foundation that runs Combat Antisemitism.

Combat Antisemitism has featured Bernstein, who wrote a book last fall titled Woke Antisemitism: How a Progressive Ideology Harms Jews, in a January video on the subject. That video has also been taken down by the organization.

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