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Inconvenient Anti-Semitism Is Still Anti-Semitism

Liberals must oppose leftwing anti-Semitism as stridently as rightwing anti-Semitism.
May 25, 2021
Inconvenient Anti-Semitism Is Still Anti-Semitism
Marchers hold an Israeli flag as they walk across the Brooklyn Bridge with the arch behind them. This was part of the effort to support the No Hate No Fear Solidarity March which started in Foley Square in the Manhattan borough of New York and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to raise awareness of no tolerance for violence or anti-Semitism against Jewish people. The March was held on January 01, 2020, USA. (Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)

Every Jewish American remembers the evening of August 11th, 2017. During the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, we found ourselves glued to the images of tiki torches, hands outstretched to Heil Hitler, and the infamous “Jews Will Not Replace Us” chant. If one silver lining came from this grotesque display of blood-and-soil Nazism, it was a profound and overdue acknowledgment of our Jewish history, and of our fragile contemporary footing. We realized that America, our so-called “perfect Diaspora,” was not as immune to the disease that had followed us throughout the centuries as we had hoped. America remains vulnerable to anti-Semitism.

Up until that point, hatred against Jews existed mainly on the fringes of our body politic, confined to the corners of 4chan, the ideology of Louis Farrakhan, and the conspiracy theories of Mel Gibson. But in the last few years, the alt right flexed their anti-Jewish muscles more explicitly, not only in marches but in acts of violence, such as the murder of eleven Jews at a Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. In the Trump era, American liberals coalesced in their condemnation of right-wing anti-Semitism, recognizing the evil it posed to their neighbors and friends. It was heartening to see such solidarity in the face of terror.

But recently, an anti-Semitism has slithered from the fringe that does not carry a tiki torch. Instead of using the language of Klansmen, it employs the language of justice, equality, and human rights. This week, American Jews were reminded that this mutation of Jew-hate, the one that calls itself “anti-Zionism,” is indeed a threat to our safety akin to the Hiterlism on display during that fateful night in Virginia. As Jews are physically attacked in major American cities and in Western Europe, while anti-Israel demonstrators chant in Arabic for the death of Jews, one thing is certain:

Liberal voters—from moderate to progressive, from small-l classical liberals to the core of the Democratic Party—must speak out about anti-Semitism. Even when it comes from a place that makes us feel uncomfortable, even when we can’t use it as a weapon against our political opponents, we must speak out against anti-Semitism. Failure to do so could mean catastrophe for the American Jewish community. And so far, amist a 500 percent increase in antisemitic incidents over the past week, we are all on course to fail.

Campaigns against the Jews in modern times are more successful if the radical anti-Semites are able to convince forward-thinking masses that the Jews deserved their hatred. It’s frightening how easy this can be.

Anti-Semitism is, and always has been, political. Excusing vitriol against Jews because you don’t agree with Israel’s military actions is a reflection of how atrocities against my people have frequently begun: associating the Jews with something detestful, in this case genocide, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and then punishing them as you see fit. There is no difference between a man accosting a Jew on the streets of New York in 2021 under the guise of “anti-Zionism” and a man accosting a Jew on the streets of Berlin in 1931 for “anti-Bolshevism.” The anti-Semites in both circumstances believed they were speaking truth to power. An air of justification is consistently applied to anti-Semitism, a pernicious narrative that attacking the Jews is “punching up,” rather than “punching down.”

Such is the reason why so many of us are terrified. The Democrats aren’t confronting Members of Congress when they spew lies about Israel. How can Representative Ilhan Omar accuse Israel of committing “acts of terrorism,” and why is this comment not challenged by House leadership? Those so quick to (rightly) condemn Marjorie Taylor Greene for her theory about the Rothschilds’ secret space lasers can’t seem to concern themselves with throngs of “Pro-Palestinian” demonstrators in Los Angeles attacking Jewish men on the street simply for being Jewish. They’re not speaking up when marchers for Palestinian liberation attribute Israel to Nazi Germany and call for its destruction. They’re not speaking up when Jews are assaulted in Times Square for holding an Israeli flag, or when a firecracker is thrown in The Diamond District at visibly Jewish people.

There are those who argue that criticism of Israel is not the same as anti-Semitism, and that’s true—to a point. But we’re seeing the limits of this claim tested now. So-called “criticism of Israel,” can, and has, encouraged the vilification and targeting of Jews.

Soviet-Jewish activist Natan Sharansky points to The “3d Test” as a resource for ascertaining when hostility toward Israel trespasses into anti-Semitic territory. The test asserts that when anti-Israel rhetoric demonizes, delegitimizes, or applies double standards to the Jewish state, it is incumbent upon liberals to cry foul and speak out against it.

“Demonization” entails portraying Israel as an all-encompassing cosmic power, hellbent on killing children and manipulating media, governments, and Jews around the world to do its maniacal bidding. Comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, or claiming Israel is responsible for police brutality in the U.S., are particularly egregious modern examples of anti-Semitism.

“Delegitimization” means denying Israel the right to exist—refusing the Jewish people the right to live in their own state, with their own army, in the most anti-Semitic region of the world. “Anti-Zionism” is simply the idea that out of all the world’s peoples, only one has no valid claim to self determination.

“Double standards” are at play when Israel is singled out as the lone violator of human rights among the world’s nations. By obsessively fixating on Israel, and by ignoring the wars, genocides, ethnic cleansings, and systemic oppressions operating in nearly all corners of the globe, you are designating the Jewish people as a unique target.

If liberals acknowledge how anti-Israel rhetoric and behavior can mutate relatively easily into anti-Jewish politics, the American Jewish community will be significantly less anxious than it is today. It’s worth noting, of course, that Israel should be criticized, and often, but also that none of these measures concern actual criticism of Israeli policy. They are not contradictory to the fight for Palestinian human rights. In reality, they strengthen the Palestinain cause, for pro-Palestinianism coupled with anti-Semitism undermines the fight for a two-state solution and an end to the conflict.

But if liberals decline to address anti-Semitism when it is not attributable to a political nemesis, the American Jewish community is doomed. The Jew haters will succeed in mainstreaming their prejudice, something already coming to fruition in the halls of academia and in far-left circles.

We Jews carry a history of running from nations that suddenly turned their backs on us. In our history classes, we learn that we ran from Russian mobs and Nazi gas chambers. Less discussed is our exodus from the Soviet Union, from communist Eastern Europe, or how 40 percent of British Jews reported “strongly considering” leaving the United Kingdom should the left-wing Labour Party have been elected to 10 Downing Street in 2019. A new form of left-wing anti-Semitism is tearing at the fabric of liberal multiculturalism, and America must prepare itself.

I beseech you to be brave. I beg of you to fight anti-Semitism, not in confrontation with your liberalism, but in the truest spirit of it.

Blake Flayton

Blake Flayton is a senior at George Washington University and a writer on antisemitism, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and Zionism.  He has previously written for The New York TimesTablet, and Ha'aretz.