At what point does a rise in anti-Semitism stop being viewed merely as a series of isolated, troubling occurrences and start being treated like an emergency? When mass- media programs mainstream hatemongers who target and seek to delegitimize Jews? When elite academic institutions behave as though it’s acceptable conduct? When Jews are attacked in the streets?
The ongoing epidemic of violence against Jews in New York City is mostly ignored, both by the media and much of the organized Jewish world. This is not only because the victims are Orthodox Jews who are easy to pick out. They’re also not the sort of people with whom opinion leaders, and even most American Jews, identify or associate.
But the mainstreaming of anti-Semitic attitudes on major campuses around the United States is harder to dismiss. Even more difficult to ignore are the widely disseminated programs that embrace open anti-Semites as legitimate voices worth considering.
Indeed, what is unfolding, inch by inch, is the normalization of anti-Semitism in the U.S. in a manner unprecedented in the post-Holocaust era. Nor is it confined to a specific segment of society or particular end of the political spectrum.
Indeed, as the events of the past week illustrate, Jew-hatred is thriving on both the left and the right. Individually, each of these instances—the legitimization of the BDS movement and targeting of Jewish institutions at Boston’s Wellesley College; the establishment of a Jew-free zone by student organizations at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law; the appearance of BDS advocate Roger Waters on the Joe Rogan podcast; and the featuring of the rapper formerly known as Kanye West on the Fox News Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight”—can be unpacked, denounced or rationalized and then forgotten, before the public’s attention is diverted to new controversies.
Taken together, they represent a trend that ought to set off alarms about the way insidious ideas that normalize hatred for Jews and Israel are gaining a foothold in mainstream forums. More than that, the growing tolerance for them and lack of consequences for those responsible bode ill not just for Jews, but for the future of civil society.
Anti-Semitism in academia
The goings-on at Wellesley and Berkely are hardly surprising, given the way institutions of higher learning embrace such concepts as critical race theory, which grant a permission slip for anti-Semitism. Still, when a college newspaper like Wellesley’s endorses the so-called “Mapping Project”—which seeks to target a wide array of Jewish institutions, including schools and synagogues, for protest—the line that separates the expression of radical opinions from advocacy for systematic harassment of Jews has been crossed. The same applies to the way an alliance of student groups at Berkeley have agreed to exclude Jews who will not renounce support for Israel.
In each case, university officials spoke out against the source of the controversy. And the Wellesley student paper walked back its stand, while falsely claiming that it could support the elimination of Israel without being anti-Semitic. Yet the main reaction from the academy was either indifference or an attempt to minimize the importance of the phenomenon.
Even those of us who worry about these cases should be wary of calling for the silencing of anyone’s point of view. But we all know that if students at either school were to endorse racist views or target minority groups, let alone support actions that excluded or involved harassment of them, the consequences would be severe.
This illustrates the way in which woke politics has enabled a movement whose aim is the destruction of the one Jewish state on the planet and the silencing and marginalizing of Jews. It’s a movement that’s tolerated among the left-wing activist base of the Democratic Party and in the professional classes that are educated in elite schools.
Support for CRT-based anti-Semitism began in academia and then migrated to the public square. Advocacy for the “mapping project” and Jew-free zones is just the next step in a natural progression that can be expected to spread to non-academic forums.
However, while anti-Semitism on the left is being mainstreamed, the incidents involving Rogan and Carlson show that the same thing can happen on the right. And just as liberals find it easy to condemn hate on the right but not on the left, the same thing happens when conservative champions themselves dabble in the mainstreaming of Jew-hatred.
Joe Rogan embraces BDS hate
Rogan’s decision to grant a platform to Pink Floyd front man and anti-Israel zealot Roger Waters is defended as just one more instance of the country’s leading podcast pushing the envelope when it comes to controversial speakers.
Despite the fact that he has never been a political conservative, Rogan became a piñata for many on the left due to his willingness to engage in dialogue with figures like social critic Jordan Peterson and skeptics of the government’s COVID-19 policies. Indeed, many leading artists sought to get him de-platformed from Spotify for his unwillingness to suppress dissent from liberal orthodoxy on important issues. That effort rightly failed; Rogan’s podcast continues to thrive, with an average of some 11 million listeners per episode.
But having already “cried wolf” about him, liberals have little credibility when they criticize Rogan for a show in which notorious anti-Semite Waters was able to spout hatred for Israel—as well as myths about its measures of self-defense in the face of the Palestinian war to destroy it—without being challenged or contradicted.
Waters didn’t merely engage in criticism of Israel. He floated conspiracy theories about it that justify Palestinian terrorism and promulgate the lie that it’s an “apartheid state.”
Throughout the interview, Rogan agreed with Waters that Israel’s existence is an exercise in segregation and racism, and allowed him to claim that none of this was anti-Semitic.
Tucker Carlson gives Kanye West a platform
The same week, Carlson hosted West, who now calls himself “Ye,” and gave him the opportunity to speak for the entire hour of his highly rated show.
Carlson became something of a tribune for conservatives for his forthright condemnations of the Black Lives Matter riots in 2020 and willingness to speak out on other issues dear to the hearts of those on the political right. That made him a target for the left, with groups like the Anti-Defamation League seeking to de-platform him for his discussions of so-called “replacement theory” about immigration. This said more about the ADL’s partisanship than Carlson, since the idea that demographic change will alter American politics is one that originated with and continues to be advocated for by Democrats.
Here again, the fact that liberal groups have already “cried wolf’” about Carlson makes it easier for him to dismiss criticisms when he actually does something to mainstream hatred. This is what happened in the wake of the West interview.
Carlson embraced West because some of what he says is in line with conservative views about race-baiting (his endorsement of a “White Lives Matter” shirt) and opposition to abortion. On the program, the rapper/fashion mogul was allowed to claim that Jared Kushner pursued the Abraham Accords for financial profit rather than to advance peace.
Carlson is unique among leading conservative media figures in that he is not a supporter of Israel. He is careful, however, to stay away from discussions about the Jewish state, lest he run afoul of mainstream conservative opinion, which is overwhelmingly Zionist.
The word “Israel,” thus, is a word almost never heard from 8-9 p.m. on Fox News. And it is not surprising that Carlson would allow one of the Trump administration’s greatest triumphs to be denigrated in this particular manner.
While Carlson trumpeted the interview as proof that West was not, as many claim, a disturbed individual or a hatemonger, what was left out of the broadcast was as interesting as what was left in. In outtakes that have subsequently been published, West made numerous allusions to hateful Jewish stereotypes.
He even echoed assertions of the Black Israelite sect that African-Americans were the real Jews—effectually denying the existence of a Jewish people. That Carlson would leave this out of his show demonstrates that he was attempting to hide West’s anti-Semitism.
Days later, West dropped the veil. In a series of tweets, he announced that he was going to “def con 3 against the Jewish people.” Yet conservative talk-show host Candace Owens defended him, in essence instructing Jews on what does or does not constitute anti-Semitism.
Like liberals circling the wagons around left-wing haters of Israel and the Jews, Carlson and Owens are doing the same for West and for the same reason. In each case, legitimizing anti-Semitism is considered justified if it defends a political ally, regardless of the consequences.
What happens at Wellesley and Berkeley or what is said on Rogan’s, Carlson’s or Owens’s talk shows do not by themselves mean that all of the guardrails against anti-Semitism in American society have been removed. But, taken together, they demonstrate how anti-Semitic attitudes and statements are increasingly legitimized in mainstream discourse.
After last week, it’s no good pretending that Jew-hatred is only a problem on one or the other side of the political aisle. And it’s the obligation of decent people—no matter where their political loyalties lie—to condemn all expressions of anti-Semitism unambiguously.
That too many otherwise decent people are either ignoring these incidents or downplaying them, because speaking out might entail offending political allies, isn’t simply a disgrace. It explains why anti-Semitism is coming back into fashion in quarters where we thought it had become extinct.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.