Bethany Mandel is co-author, with Karol Markowicz, of Stolen Youth: How Radicals Are Erasing Innocence and Indoctrinating a Generation. Opinions differ on whether it constitutes a bestseller, but it is certainly making the rounds. If you have heard of it, and are not in its target audience, namely a parent concerned that radicals are indoctrinating your children, this is likely because Mandel recently went viral for stumbling over interviewer Briahna Joy Gray’s request that she define the term “woke.”
Was it a momentary lapse, or a sign that the entire concept of “wokeness” is a right-wing invention? Mainstream news and opinion outlets (hello, Ross Douthat)—as well as countless individual social media posters—weighed in, Mandel’s gaffe their prompt for semantic opining.
What I’m offering here is not my own attempt at defining “wokeness,” nor at sorting out whether left-wing extremists are brainwashing my children. (If they are, they’re being very subtle about it.) No, what interests me is the emergence of Mandel, Markowicz, and others in their general orbit. By this I mean Jewish women active in post-Trump-era right-wing punditry and politics.
The popular image of a politically active Jewish woman is that of a woman like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late U.S. Supreme Court justice. Politically on the left, or centre-left. The sort of woman whose image might decorate a mug, and this will be a mug whose presence in one’s house one would not need to justify.
A longer list of names comes to mind: Betty Friedan, Andrea Dworkin, Bella Abzug, Dianne Feinstein… One can keep on adding names without the overall impression much shifting. That’s not to say politically conservative Jewish women with major mainstream profiles are a new phenomenon—let us not forget Gertrude Himmelfarb!—but on the whole, our ranks ran from moderate to progressive. Jewish women abound in Conservative Judaism, but that is, of course, something else.
Fast-forward to 2023 and the landscape is a bit different. Prominent Jewish women with right-wing or centre-right or otherwise not-left politics abound. Here in Canada, there’s Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman, and commentator Barbara Kay. Israel of course has Jewish women across the political spectrum, and I know that at least one is on the political right because she’s my cousin. The U.S. has, among others, Bari Weiss, Batya Ungar-Sargon, Abigail “Classically Abby” Shapiro, and, yes, Mandel and Markowicz. Jewish women both, Mandel and Markowicz are, at least per their book promotion, embracing a family-values conservatism largely indistinguishable from that of their Christian counterparts.
This movement—is it a movement?—is more than incidentally Jewish. (That is, I did not need to go and Google right-of-centre pundits to find out if they’re Jewish in order to write this post.) Weiss is the author of How to Fight Antisemitism, while Ungar-Sargon is a former opinion editor of the Forward.
What does it all mean? I suppose it means the U.S. Democratic Party, and the centre-left more broadly, cannot take Jewish support for granted. It also means that the Jewish world empowers women to speak out politically, in all sorts of ways, which I am happy for us about.
What I’m less sure about is whether it indicates just how integrated North American Jews have become, that our political home is no longer necessarily among other marginalized minority groups, or rather whether a greater Jewish presence on the right suggests a greater perceived danger, to Jews specifically, from the left.