By Rabbi Aryeh Spero
During the last two years, the media have been reporting about a rise in anti-Semitism. When the media write and speak about it, their focus is almost exclusively on “right-wing” anti-Semitism. Most of the establishment Jewish organizations, well known for their political liberalism and identification with the Democrat Party, similarly focus on anti-Semitism from the right and give only rare lip service when anti-Semitic writings and attacks come from the political left. (The Ilhan Omar case is a mild exception, though not generating anywhere near the determination and demonization if she had been from the political right). As each day goes by, guided by their own left-wing outlook as well as the hit-lists coming from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the category “right-wing” has expanded to include almost anything conservative or nationalistic, so that even expressed love of many aspects of America’s historic culture can confer on one the status of “white supremacist,” i.e., anti-Semite.
Indeed, I and many of my associates were appalled and worried by the silence of the media and major liberal Jewish organizations in the face of vicious attacks and rhetoric against Jews and Israel which transpired ever so frequently during the Obama years. There was silence because the attacks against Jews were coming from groups or members of groups that embody the left/liberal coalition. Even Jewish groups were unwilling to cite and seriously challenge these groups if by so doing they weakened the halo liberalism conferred on these groups and their leftist causes. And that is because, even today, most large Jewish organizations cannot sever their strong emotional bond to liberalism and the Democrat Party that has been their lifeblood and which has constituted the personal identity of many individual Jews since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.
From the very start of the Trump administration, the media, no doubt spurred on by statements coming from liberal Jewish organizations, were quick to point to the “Trump atmosphere” as being behind anti-Jewish threats. They had a vested interest in promoting such a thesis. Both the media and the establishment Jewish organizations have been vociferously anti-Trump, and both have been in the forefront in trying to bring him down. Painting him and his followers as anti-Semitic was a strategic step in making Trump and his backers illegitimate.
Even after everything President Trump has sincerely done for Israel, and despite Mr. Trump’s repeated efforts to denounce anti-Semitism (as he has done in two State of the Union addresses), and ignoring the Orthodox Jewish identity of parts of his family, Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s current director and former Obama aide, continues to charge the president with being indifferent to and inciting anti-Semitism … and being a racist.
In fact, President Trump has been far more pointed in condemning anti-Semitism specifically as anti-Semitism than was President Obama, who ensconced it mostly under the broader and hazier term “intolerance” and often used anti-Jewish attacks as a springboard in service to other minorities. The truth is, acknowledging the anti-Semitism emanating from the Left and certain minority groups does not fit the template the media and establishment liberal Jewish organizations wish to promote. They’d much prefer not changing the historic rules of the game, blaming only the right-wing variant that fits neatly into their worldview and which has been the source of much of their funding and social status.
When the JCCs in Michigan, Dallas, New York City, and elsewhere received bomb threats, the secular and Jewish media immediately pointed to right-wingers as the likely culprits. This surety went on for a week until it was discovered that the perpetrator was a left-wing black journalist angry at his girlfriend. Other threats against Jewish organizations occurred in Georgia, Nashville, and Florida and for consecutive days were blamed, again, on right-wingers. Actually, though, the threats were made by a Jewish teenager from Israel.
There was vandalism in a Jewish cemetery, of course, blamed on Trump’s “climate of hate;” but it was not found to have been perpetrated by right-wingers. In the end, none of the almost 100 threats during those early weeks of 2017 were made by right-wingers. But the impression was made. There were no attempts to walk back the false accusations, no apologies, no remorse, and no re-examination of pre-disposed biases. The demonization had been cemented in the nation’s consciousness. The media believed that right-wingers and Trump supporters were behind the threats because this is what they wanted to believe.
Beyond doubt, there is anti-Semitism in all segments of society, and among extreme right-wingers, it remains latent from decades and centuries previous. It is real. But many of these groups, be they the Klan or neo-Nazis, have been thankfully marginalized and are exceedingly sparse in number. The most important thing to remember is that no reputable organization gives them a place of honor, a position of power, or even respect.
Most Americans revile them and as movements, they do not pose an existential threat to American Jewry. Our law enforcement already list them as hate groups, have them under their radar, and the powerful civil rights establishment has no interest in coming to their vigorous defense, nor would the sociologists excuse their behavior as that of victims or blame society for their manifestations of hate. This time, unlike in Germany, the neo-Nazis will not be the cause of American Jewry’s hypothetical dislocation and devastation.
What happened late October 2018 at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue was the most horrific and large-scale killing of Jews in American history. The shooter was not a Trump supporter and was critical of him, but he was from the extreme right. He was a lone wolf. We Jews must be ever on-guard for lone wolves, and since that mass shooting our synagogues have instituted degrees of self-protection. But a lone wolf does not have the power behind him as does a vast, accepted movement. Lone wolves can take away our obliviousness and innocence, our “care-freeness,” but they cannot endanger the entire Jewish community — not politically, not legally, and not even physically. I am concerned about lone wolves, but I am not in constant, deep fear regarding them.
What many of us fear are widespread, organized, and well-funded movements that attack Jews and are given a pass and, worse, considered worthwhile. An example of those being targeted and victimized by widespread and accepted movements are Jewish students on campuses across America who are bullied, shoved, sometimes spat upon, routinely yelled at and mocked because of their support of Israel, because they wear yarmulkes, and sometimes simply because they are Jewish and assumed to be pro-Israel.
This is coming from the hands of Islamic groups called Students for Justice in Palestine and the Islamic Society of North America. There is no other group in America today as under attack as Jewish students on college campuses. So as to remain safe, some Jewish students are hiding their Jewishness and silencing their support for Israel. This is happening in America!
This belligerency is overlooked because it’s done in the name of “social justice,” by those identified as on the left. School administrators are, out of fear, afraid to stop it and hide behind “freedom of speech” when we all know that if whites or Jews were harassing and pushing Muslims or blacks it would, correctly, never be allowed on campus.
It is allowed because under the movement of “intersectionality,” all left-wing “social justice” groups are granted victim status and given a free pass, even when verbally and physically accosting Jews on behalf of their cause. Deaf to our pleadings, for eight years the left-leaning Obama administration and Department of Justice took no legal or bully pulpit action to stop the harassment and infringement of the civil rights of these Jewish students. On Thursday, March 21, President Trump signed something akin to an Executive Order safeguarding free speech (conservative, pro-Israel), doing so through the force of funding grants from the Department of Education and Health and Human Services.
The BDS movement, calling for the boycott of, disinvestment from, and sanctions against Israel, is continually brought up by Muslim and left-wing groups on campus. Jewish students who resist are labeled unworthy and treated as pariahs, and often forced out of positions they earned and won on student boards. This would not be allowed to happen to any other group or minority. BDS groups are dangerous because much of academia, Hollywood, and the media are rooting for them, honoring them, and providing them clout and legitimacy.
Power and influence are bequeathed to groups by those who already have the power and influence to grant it. In the West today, that power resides in and is handed off by the media, academia, and popular culture. It is they who create the perception of what is right vs. what is wrong, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, or even what is moral. That is why many of us fear the vicious anti-Semitism of the Left over that of the neo-Nazis and their fringe comrades. We know that which comes from the fringe right will be stopped; but we aren’t sure the media, academia, and popular culture will stop the anti-Semitism coming from the left, even the normative left.
Those claiming that the BDS movement and harassment of Jews on campus is not anti-Semitism, rather only anti-Israel, are deceiving us. Anti-Israelism always ends up in anti-Jewishness. Those calling for the displacement, the removal, and the singular ostracism of Israel are necessarily anti-Jewish. If one were heard saying he wished France would be wiped away, would we say that he is against France but not against Frenchmen? If one were to say he hates Britain, would we say he loves British people, just not the state of Britain? A country, a nation, is its people: when you advocate wiping away a country, the message is you want its people destroyed.
It is the left-wing outlook that causes distaste and attacks against Israel. Socialists and left-wingers do not favor the concept of nationality, or specific cultures and strong identities, nor demarcated, solid borders. They are universalists, embarrassed by strong national identities and nationhood. They don’t want to preserve historic and unique civilizations, but to smother them in favor of one-size-fits-all universalism, an ideology of sameness. Israel lies in stark contrast to that vision of “utopia,” since Israel is specifically a Jewish state, rooted in an ancient nationhood and civilization. It is distinct, as is America with its Judeo-Christian ethos, its one-of-a-kind Constitution, and its outlook from the colonists and Founding Fathers: a distinctive and uniquely American perspective.
It is not a coincidence that the political party most threatening to Jews today is England’s politically left Labor Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn. As it has turned more leftward, it has become more anti-Israel and accepting of anti-Jewish rhetoric within its ranks. Nor is it a coincidence that here in the Democrat Party, the socialist wing of Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are vociferously anti-Israel as is the older socialist, Bernie Sanders. (Sanders is a living demonstration of how the pull of socialism overrides just about every normal loyalty). Even more worrisome, anti-Israelism is being mainstreamed among the polite left, and the unwillingness to specify, for example, Ilhan Omar, or to exclusively condemn anti-Jewish utterances unless under the broader category of “hate,” speaks volumes of the direction of American liberalism.
Unfortunately, many heavily-funded Jewish groups who we historically depended upon to protect Jews — and certainly Jewish youngsters — have not wholeheartedly tried to put an end to this campus terror, something they surely would be doing if the object of such harassment and derision were young people from a minority group outside the Jewish community. Because the establishment Jewish community sees itself as a political partner with other minorities, it is reluctant to focus on the misdeeds of other minorities, resulting, ironically, in a boosterism and paternal-like protection of other minorities over the Jewish youngsters they should be prioritizing.
The ADL has even gone so far as trying to thwart legislation in states that propose outlawing the discriminatory practice of BDS. The ADL also supports Black Lives Matter, an anti-Israel and somewhat anti-Semitic organization. This is not your father’s ADL.
The truth is that many very liberal Jews (e.g. Paul Krugman), view the white working class and conservatives as monolithically racist and anti-Semitic and far more dangerous than any specific attacks coming from minorities, who in their view are doing so for sociological reasons and are but exceptions. They also naively believe all minorities recipient of liberal sympathy are themselves liberal in spirit. Their fear is in what they term “majority-ism.” By virtue of their “powerlessness,” minorities pose no real, long-lasting danger to the Jewish community according to most liberals. That is small comfort to the many who have been victimized by this “powerlessness.”
Also, a host of large, liberal Jewish organizations don’t want to be accused of being “Jewish-centric.” Such was the case during the 1991 Crown Heights pogroms by blacks against the Chasidic community. These organizations stood by and, like New York Mayor David Dinkins, did nothing while the terror reigned. Only many years later did the ADL admit that hypersensitivity toward the feelings of other minorities was the reason the ADL and others were so passive during the days of attacks on Jewish residents.
The upshot: While everyone seems ready to expose right-wing anti-Semitism, they are reluctant to do so when emanating from left-wing groups, too readily finding reasons to justify, understand, and excuse these anti-Semitic acts. And, therein lays the greatest danger to the Jewish people today.
When the media refuses to expose left-wing or Islamic anti-Semitism and thus no one talks about it, it continues to grow. How many are aware that in the past few months, physical attacks on Jewish-garbed individuals in the Boro Park, Crown Heights, and Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn have been perpetrated by Muslims, blacks, and Hispanics? Very few outside the Orthodox community know this, and that’s because the media, and too many Jewish groups, were unwilling to make it newsworthy out of concern for harming the reputation of those particular minority groups.
The anti-Semitism of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is another example. She still remains in Congress, still sits on the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the House was not even willing to condemn her or anti-Semitism in and of itself. Because she is considered part of the “liberal” left, she has been excused and rationalized to a degree never possible if she were saying these things from the right. We need to ask: At what point do Jewish life and physical safety stop taking a back seat in the liberal agenda, which seems to prioritize the sensitivities of certain non-Jewish minorities even over the actual lives and safety of Jews?
In Europe, rabbis, Jewish youngsters, and old Jewish women have been beaten, terribly beaten, hurled out of apartment windows … and killed. Jewish schools have been raided and children murdered by those yelling “Allahu Akbar.” This has happened literally dozens of times. France, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and England are the soil where Jews have been preyed upon by those attacking in the name of Islam.
European synagogues are guarded like prisons because of anti-Semitic threats coming from members of the Islamic community. Imams are preaching death to the Jews and Israel: two sides of the same coin. Yet, most European officials and opinion shapers are reluctant to identify and call the threat by its name: militant Islam.
The anti-Jewish attacks coming from the Islamic component of France’s “yellow vest” movement are ignored and parlayed by the media and French officials onto “right-wingers.” Left-wing and socialist groups are corralled by President Emmanuel Macron’s government against the anti-Semitism of the right and “yellow vests” when these left-wing groups are themselves the source of anti-Israel and significant anti-Jewish pronouncements, leftists conspicuously unconcerned and unfazed by the Islamists within the yellow vest movement who are attacking Jewish individuals and professionals.
While anti-Jewishness has not been completely snuffed out within the hearts of many in Europe, the actual physical acts of violence, murder, and terrorism against Jews began about 15 years ago with the expanded and speeded up immigration of Muslims into the European continent. But because most of Europe’s leaders, those on the left, favor Islamic immigration, very few are willing to pinpoint the perpetrators, leaving many to assume that today’s anti-Semitism is the same right-wing anti-Semitism that afflicted Europe for centuries.
However, according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 51 percent of attacks against Jews in Europe come from Muslim and left-wing sources while only 13 percent come from right-wing circles, a lopsided 4-to-1 ratio. It stands to reason that the source behind most of the sudden uprise in knifings, rapes, and physical attacks against the general population of Europe is the same source behind the attacks against Jews on the Continent during these last fifteen years.
Though European right-wing anti-Semitism has indeed resurfaced, the physical attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions are coming mostly from Islamists schooled in Jew hatred. Indeed, it is this centuries-old Jew hatred which has been the cause behind Islamic rejection of Israel from the very beginning, something European elites will never acknowledge since they wish to continue blaming Israel for the turmoil in the Middle East.
Ironically, it is Europe’s more right-wing political parties that today support Israel and are trying to reach out to Jews in Europe. Unfortunately for the conservative leaders and parties, except in England, the Jewish establishment continually chastises these parties because they equate their desire to halt Islamic immigration with the same mindset that motivates anti-Semitism. Instead of looking at how these conservative immigration policies could benefit Jews by staving off future attacks, the establishment Jewish community reverts back to its centuries-old generalization, its comfort zone that lumps all right-wing attitudes as necessarily hostile to all minorities and Jews.
Beyond doubt, it is the arrival of radical Islam into Europe over fifteen years ago that began the vociferous and unashamed denial of the Holocaust, public demonization, and brazen mocking of Jews. But because no one wanted to scold and challenge the Muslim community for injecting such anti-Jewish speech into European society, it eventually became commonplace and acceptable, and the old anti-Semites began feeling free to utter aloud what had been forbidden since the end of the World War ll.
Many of us are thankful to those outside the Jewish community wanting to eradicate the scourge of anti-Semitism. They are noble people engaged in a noble cause. But until we are honest and acknowledge the role political leftism and radical Islam is playing, we Jews remain in danger, for one cannot stop anti-Semitism if one is reluctant to name its source and thereby confront and defeat it.
Rabbi Aryeh Spero is author of Push Back: Reclaiming our American Judeo-Christian Spirit, spokesman for the National Conference on Jewish Affairs, and president of Caucus for America.