Giving ‘progressive’ antisemites the benefit of the doubt

Both mainstream Jewish groups and their allies in the Biden administration are determined to avoid taking on left-wing Jew-haters and the ideas that drive them.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier and Deborah Lipstadt attend an “Efforts on Combating Antisemitism” briefing at United Nations Headquarters in New York City on June 15, 2022. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier and Deborah Lipstadt attend an “Efforts on Combating Antisemitism” briefing at United Nations Headquarters in New York City on June 15, 2022. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Can you oppose antisemitism while at the same time make common cause with Jew-haters, their organizations and the ideas that propel them forward? The answer from the Biden administration and their allies that control the legacy organizations that purport to speak for American Jewry is “yes.”

That is a point that has been repeatedly clear in recent weeks as once again, the political left has shown itself incapable of responding to the growing problem of antisemitism without seeking to give a pass to their ideological allies. The same forces unfairly seek to connect the dots between mainstream conservatives and marginal extremists on the far right that are antisemitic and to which they have no ties or affinity. But they are guilty of doing the same thing themselves.

One of the best examples of this came from the person who holds the federal position that is actually tasked with fighting antisemitism: Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. Lipstadt has been spending a lot of time lately defending the Biden administration’s recent “National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism.” That document was lauded by most of the organized Jewish world because, at least in principle, it represented a commitment to fighting all forms of Jewish hatred, no matter the origins.

But when asked about why the administration included the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in the document—allowing a group that is itself helping to spread Jew-hatred in the Muslim community—Lipstadt responded with a figurative shrug of the shoulders.

Ignoring the reality of CAIR’s contemporary behavior as well as downplaying its past record, the historian-turned-Biden administration apologist said that Jews were obligated to give even those rabid Jew-haters a second chance. Jews come from “a tradition that believes in forgiveness. Our holiest days of the year are about change. So, if they’re really willing to change, if they’re really willing to say, ‘Hey, we now see this is a serious problem, then they are welcome.”

Lipstadt, who shredded her credibility but earned the nomination to her prestigious post by supporting the outrageous claim by Democrats that the Trump administration and Republicans were analogous to the Nazis, left an important element out of her lame rationalization for CAIR’s inclusion. The administration sees the radical group as politically aligned with the Democrats and fits in with their intersectional mindset, in which so-called victims groups can do no wrong even if they are open Jew-haters.

Of course, Lipstadt’s rationalization and the White House’s largely meaningless strategy paper are small potatoes compared to the Biden administration’s decision to rejoin UNESCO, the U.N. cultural organization. Like the rest of the world body’s many agencies, UNESCO is an important source of antisemitism, using its prestige and influence to deny Jewish history and slander Israel, such as its outrageous claim that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is an endangered Muslim site.

The government is compelled by U.S. law to defund UNESCO because of its recognition of “Palestine” as a member state, an attempt to make an end run around the peace process whose goal is to delegitimize Israel. But a Biden administration that is besotted with the United Nations has been itching to rejoin UNESCO, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken claiming that it’s necessary in order for the United States to compete there with its global rival China.

That’s pretty rich considering that Blinken made that statement during the course of a visit to Beijing in which he allowed himself to be repeatedly insulted and then kowtowed to the Communist regime’s ambition to conquer Taiwan. But while Americans have come to expect that sort of behavior from Blinken, the UNESCO decision could have been a moment for Lipstadt to demonstrate her independence by publicly protesting or resigning. Yet having already sacrificed so much for the privilege of being called “ambassador” for the rest of her days, she clearly saw no reason to make a stand that might upset or undermine her political masters.

And so, it’s difficult to blame the Biden administration for its refusal to stand up to left-wing antisemites when the official Jewish community is doing the same thing.

That was demonstrated this past week when both the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) pulled out of the Combat Antisemitism coalition over that organization’s video that directly linked “woke-ism” and the hard left’s ideologies like intersectionality and critical race theory (CRT) to Jew-hatred.

Unlike most of the legacy Jewish groups, Combat Antisemitism is a genuinely nonpartisan group that seeks to unite Jews from all ends of the political spectrum in the fight against hate. It has done exemplary work standing up to the BDS movement and pushed hard for the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism despite pushback from the anti-Israel left, which seeks to leave the war against Israel and Zionism out of the struggle.

The video in question sought to highlight a basic fact of contemporary American life. The progressive left’s adherence to the ideas behind the woke catechism of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) are, despite their anodyne-sounding words, a permission slip for antisemitism. Equity is a demand not for the equality of opportunity that has enabled American Jewry to thrive, but for equality of outcomes. That means quotas and the enshrinement of racial discrimination in perpetuity. The goal of the woke movement is not so much to claim that a color-blind society is unattainable, but that it is undesirable.

Steeped as it is in toxic theories about “white privilege,” advocates for DEI—who have conquered academia, the corporate world and now the Biden administration—label both Jews and Israel as “white.” In their worldview, individuals are divided into two groups: oppressors and “people of color” who are oppressed, with Jews on the wrong side of the line. In this way, both CRT and DEI legitimize the myth that the Palestinian war on Zionism is analogous to the struggle for civil rights in the United States.

Far from being an academic argument, this progressive belief has enabled antisemitic attacks on Israel’s existence and Jewish rights not merely to thrive but to be mainstreamed in American political discourse. While right-wing antisemites are confined to the fever swamps of political life, left-wing Jew-haters are no longer marginalized. Instead, they are granted a hearing on the op-ed pages of publications like The New York Times and, as the careers of Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and other “Squad” members have illustrated, become a rising force within the Democratic Party.

Yet for both the federations represented by JFNA and the community relations councils fronted by JCPA, admitting this is a bridge too far. They’re willing to mouth sentiments about opposing all forms of antisemitism, but when it comes to calling out their political allies on the left, especially in minority communities and the antisemitic Black Lives Matter movement, they want no part of it. As a result, they’ve ditched the Combat Antisemitism coalition, depriving it of exactly the kind of mainstream liberal support that made it so effective.

This decision is disgraceful but was inevitable given the drift to the left in these groups that was epitomized by the selection of Amy Spitalnick, a veteran left-wing political hack, as head of the JCPA. Spitalnick’s elevation seemed to indicate that her group would fight hard to advance the partisan progressive agenda of the left and deprioritize the best interests of the Jewish people, and now this proves that such predictions were prescient.

This is but one more example of the failure of the Jewish establishment in this country. While federations still do essential work in local communities and community relations councils have an important job to do, the umbrella groups representing them have shown themselves—and not for the first time—to be more comfortable in the role of auxiliary Democratic Party front groups than in standing up for the interests of the Jewish people in the United States or in Israel.

The majority of American Jews who are politically liberal and loyal Democratic voters are uncomfortable with confronting the truth about both these Jewish groups and President Joe Biden. Still, whether they like it or not, an administration that has embraced DEI, included CAIR in its antisemitism document and rejoined UNESCO has shown that far from fighting the antisemites, it is allied with them. The same is now sadly true of JFNA and JCPA. As much as most Jews would prefer to ignore these truths and avoid drawing conclusions from these dismal developments that explain why antisemitism is both growing and being mainstreamed by the political left, they can’t pretend they haven’t been warned.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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