For American Jewry, there’s no ignoring anti-Semitism anymore. Since the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting — the worst instance of anti-Semitic violence in U.S. history — the persistence of extremist right-wing hate must be addressed. Yet the troubling growth of the BDS movement that promotes anti-Zionist positions that are indistinguishable from anti-Semitism has also been in the news.
Yet for many of us, the only kind of hate we’re interested in is the sort that can be linked to our political foes. While angry about anti-Semitism, a lot of Jews tend to be indifferent or inclined to minimize examples that don’t serve their partisan interests.
For many conservatives, concerns about far right hate were forgotten as they concentrated their energies against the likes of the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan and his apologists as well as left-wing Israel-haters who cloak their contempt for Jews and Israel under a pose of advocacy for human rights.
At the same time, those who identify as liberals have often ignored or rationalized left-wing hostility to Israel even when it goes beyond legitimate criticism of its government to attacks on its right to exist and support for those seeking its destruction. They are solely concerned with right-wing hate and worry about whether extremists like the Pittsburgh shooter or the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville in August 2017 are being encouraged by President Trump or others on the right.
The trouble is that too much Jewish energy is being expended on arguments about which sort of anti-Semitism is a greater threat when it’s obvious that we should worry about both kinds.
After Pittsburgh, it’s impossible to pretend that right-wing anti-Semitism isn’t a serious problem. The numbers of those who affiliate with neo-Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan may be small but the Internet has inflated their importance. Even just one well-armed evildoer can inflict more pain and suffering than a host of even the nastiest Twitter trolls.
There’s no evidence that Trump is an anti-Semite. But his equivocal statements about hate — such as a willingness to conflate opposition to the removal of Confederate statues to support for a neo-Nazi march — has encouraged the notion that he is dog whistling to anti-Semites even if other aspects of his record toward Jews are very good.
Yet many conservatives are tone deaf to the damage that Trump’s coarsening of the national discourse does to the country that heightens the fears of all minority groups including Jews. His failure to issue consistent statements on hate can’t be excused.
On the other hand, the failure of liberals to respond adequately to the challenge of left-wing anti-Semitism is equally discouraging.
Their willingness to wink at or minimize the connections between the Women’s March and Farrakhan and other anti-Zionists legitimizes the stances of its leaders who are now credibly accused of spreading his conspiracy theories about Jews.
Just as bad is the willingness of many on the left to rationalize those who promote anti-Zionist propaganda and to falsely argue that such positions shouldn’t be confused with anti-Semitism.
If you’re willing to defend someone like former CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill when he supports the idea of a “Palestine from the river to the sea,” and the “right of return,” you’re saying you’re okay with singling out the one Jewish state in the world for elimination. Similarly, if you agreed when New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg claimed there’s nothing wrong with those who wish to practice this kind of bias against Jews, you’re in no position to complain about those who apologize for Trump’s Charlottesville gaffe.
What can we do about this? I have two suggestions.
One is to remember that we are smart enough to walk and chew gum at the same time. Being outraged about right-wing hate is no reason to be silent about leftwing anti-Semitism or to claim anti-Zionism isn’t a noxious variant of the same virus. The reverse is also true.
The other is to police your own side.
If you’re on the right, you must be willing to criticize Trump when necessary or to speak out against Republicans when they don’t stand up against hate.
And for the far more numerous Jews who identify as liberals that means having the fortitude to call out allies in the anti-Trump resistance when they defend the BDS movement and anti-Zionist efforts to delegitimize Israel.
The best thing we can do for both the Jews and the country is to stop politicizing the fight against anti-Semitism.