“Globalist” is a term with an anti-Semitic history, and it’s often understood as code for “Jews,” so this language is activating and traumatizing for a lot of Jews. Especially in the wake of a bomb attack at the home of George Soros, a prominent Jewish philanthropist who is often slammed with the “globalist” label. Much of Soros’ recent’ work centers around promoting the idea of an “open society,” an idea borrowed from Karl Popper’s book The Open Society & Its Enemies. As this piece by Kate Maltby argues, open societies are open to ideas, people and markets, while closed societies are not. Maltby also argues — I think quite persuasively — that attacks on Soros and his philosophy are dangerous not only to Soros himself but to freedom of expression across Europe.
The connection between globalists and Jews is, in part, the old anti-Semitic smear that Jews are not truly loyal citizens of any nation. Hitler described Jews as “international elements” that “conduct their business everywhere,” thus harming and undermining good people who are “bound to their soil, to the Fatherland.” Use of globalist as a negative term can be a dog whistle for the far right: those who recognize its roots in Hitler’s philosophy recognize that it’s an encoded way of denigrating Jews.
Some people speak interchangeably of globalism and cosmopolitanism. I absolutely identify as a cosmopolitan — someone who aspires to be a citizen of the wide world, with an awareness that in an interconnected community, we have ethical obligations even to people who live differently than we do. I learned that from the work of Ghanaian-American philosopher Kwame Appiah. I also recommend my ex-husband Ethan Zuckerman’s excellent book Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection. So does that mean I’m a globalist, too?
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “globalist” as “someone who believes that economic and foreign policy should be planned in an international way, rather than according to what is best for one particular country.” In other words, a globalist is someone who looks at the world through a global lens. By extension, a globalist is someone who rejects the zero-sum thinking that posits a perennial “us” and “them” and presumes that the only way for us to prosper is to ensure that they don’t.
In a broader sense, I would say that a globalist is someone who sees themselves as part of the global human community, rejecting the triumphalist stance of nationalism and who wants to see the global human community flourish together. The president uses the word as an insult. Having explored its definition, it’s a title I claim with pride. I’m a globalist because I aspire to be a citizen of the world, not just a citizen of my nation. I seek to be connected with and informed about people who are different from me, and places that are distant from here. I’m lucky: I’ve had opportunities to visit other countries. I wish everyone could have that experience. Every time I travel, I am enriched by having learned more about different customs, cultures, cuisines, perspectives, and ways of walking in the world. The world is big and beautiful and full of surprises. I can’t imagine only wanting to know about this one place on earth where I happen to live; How limiting and parochial that would be. And I can’t imagine only caring about this one place on earth where I happen to live, either.
I’m a globalist because regardless of nationality or ethnic origin or religion, every human being is part of a greater whole — a whole which my religious tradition teaches is itself the very image of God. Judaism teaches that all human beings are made in the divine image and likeness: not just the people who look like me or talk like me or pray like me or carry the same passport I do. Torah demands that I see the totality of human creation as a multifaceted reflection of divinity. My nation isn’t “more” in the image of God than any other, and that’s true whether I’m using nation in the spiritual sense (e.g. Am Yisrael, the Jewish people) or in the contemporary geo-political sense.
I’m a globalist because I don’t accept the zero-sum thinking that says that in order for “us” to prosper, “they” have to be diminished. And that’s true whether the “us” is my town, or my state, or my nation, or my religious community. We’re all interconnected: geographically, emotionally, spiritually, environmentally. In the words of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, we “inter-are.” What happens here (wherever “here” is) impacts what happens there. I wouldn’t want my town to benefit by taking resources away from the next town over, and it would be ridiculous for my town to make decisions as though we weren’t next to a bunch of other towns who are impacted by our choices and vice versa. What’s true for my town is also true for my nation.
I’m a globalist because post-triumphalism is a core teaching of Jewish renewal. Rabbi Zalman of blessed memory taught that humanity must evolve beyond imagining that only one religion can be right and therefore all of the others are wrong. Instead, he urged us to see ourselves, religiously, like organs in the body of humanity. We need each organ to be what it is — if the heart tried to do the liver’s job, the body would be in trouble! — and we also need each organ to be in communication with the others, because if the heart stopped speaking to the liver the body would also be in trouble. As Reb Zalman wrote in Jewish With Feeling, “If we think of the world as an organism, then triumphalism is a cancerous attitude.” We’re all part of a greater whole. This fundamental spiritual truth shapes my sense of globalism as an ethical and spiritual imperative.
Rabbi Zalman also used to talk about how once humanity had seen the earth from space, we became capable of understanding our borders as the near-irrelevancies that they are. Borders are fundamentally both constructed and changeable. What’s not changeable (at least, until humanity develops the capacity to really take to the stars) is that we all inhabit the same dazzling green-blue ball surrounded by the infinite vastness of space. From that vantage, it’s obvious that what happens in one part of the globe impacts what happens in other parts of the globe — pollution knows no borders. From that vantage, it’s obvious that we are all interconnected. “All of Israel is responsible for one another,” says the Talmud (Shavuot 39a). In today’s world, I would expand that teaching to say that all human beings are responsible for one another.
To Rabbi Zalman, the spiritual truth of our interconnectedness was obvious. Today’s news cycle makes clear that not everyone shares his view. Even given a vision of earth from space, it’s possible to fantasize that humanity can live in a way that’s disconnected. Or that what happens in your state or your nation won’t impact mine. Or that pollution in one place doesn’t damage other places. Or that the presence or absence of human rights and safety in one place won’t impact others. It’s possible to imagine that the earth and the human family and the human spirit aren’t harmed when any one group of people acts as though they are more entitled to resources or rights than everyone else.
It’s possible to imagine those things. But I believe that kind of thinking is a sickness that harms humanity as a whole.
That the president is ranting about globalists and rejecting a global perspective on the world is both chilling and horrifying. I’m choosing to respond by embracing the identity he seeks to denigrate. I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of the wide, beautiful, diverse, international, interconnected world. I want the whole world to flourish. I want every human being on the face of the earth to live with safety and security, with human rights and dignity, with nourishment and health and hope.
As a rabbi, as a Jew, and as a human being, I can’t imagine wanting otherwise.