columnIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Liberals can’t be silent as the left incites anti-Semitism

It’s time to connect the dots between a surge of Jew-hatred and progressives demonizing Israel. Equally important, Jewish liberals must stop treating “The Squad” as allies.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaking on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, May 13, 2021. Source: Screenshot/C-SPAN.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaking on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, May 13, 2021. Source: Screenshot/C-SPAN.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

In recent days, there has been a surge of incidents in which supporters of the Palestinians and Hamas terrorists have engaged in hate crimes against Jews in cities across the nation. In New York and Los Angeles, London and Germany, Jews have been singled out for verbal and physical abuse. But unlike cases of extremist right-wing Jew-hatred, it’s not clear yet whether these attacks will generate much alarm in a community that is usually ready to sound the alarm about anti-Semitism at the drop of a hat. Nor has there been an effort on the part of those who are nominally tasked with defending the American Jews, such as the Anti-Defamation League, to ponder who or what is fomenting this sort of hatred.

That’s disappointing because the identity of those encouraging the demonization of the Jewish state and legitimizing the hate being directed at American Jews is not exactly a secret.

Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and the newest member of “The Squad,” Cori Bush (D-Miss.), all took to the floor of Congress last week to falsely accuse Israel of “war crimes” and being an “apartheid state.” Their diatribes there and elsewhere, including on social media, have helped create an atmosphere where hatred for Israel has become not merely fashionable, but obligatory for many on the left.

Of course, they and their fellow travelers on the left and in the media deny being anti-Semites, although Omar and Tlaib are supporters of the anti-Israel BDS movement and have promoted memes of Jew-hatred.

But their effort not so much to criticize Israel, but to treat Jewish rights with contempt, and the job of defending Jewish families hunkering down in bomb shelters against terrorist rockets as the work of child-murdering criminals can no longer be viewed as the acts of outliers without influence.

Is it unfair to link the leftist “Squad,” whose numbers have grown in the current Congress from the original quartet, to anti-Semitic attacks?

There’s little doubt that their liberal Democratic allies think so. Some Jews defended Omar and Tlaib against credible charges of anti-Semitism when they were first called to account for claiming that congressional support for Israel was being bought by American Jews (“It’s all about the Benjamins”). A Democratic Party intimidated by its left-wing base refused to censure them. They were treated as heroines and victims of unfair abuse by former President Donald Trump and his supporters, fawned over by late-night comedians (some of whom now repeat their lies about Israel) and put on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. The notion of left-wing anti-Semitism was itself treated as a Republican talking point rather than a stark reality.

Others told us not to pay too much attention to them because they were merely backbench members of Congress, and said the focus on their statements was just media hype or rooted in racism. Any attempt to connect the dots between their anti-Zionist incitement and acts of anti-Semitism was considered gutter politics.

That’s in marked contrast to the way much of organized American Jewry worked hard trying to connect Trump to anti-Semitic extremists on the far-right during his time in office. Though Trump was the greatest friend Israel had ever had in the White House, had many Jews among his inner circle of advisers and appointees, as well as having a Jewish son-in-law, daughter and grandchildren, liberal Jews treated accusations of anti-Semitism lodged against Trump as not so much a point for discussion as a proven fact. That was seen in his response to the 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va., which was taken out of context and then treated as proof-positive that he had incited tragedies like the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif.

Even normally responsible voices on anti-Semitism were prepared to say that there was nothing wrong with calling Trump a Nazi. But when it comes to figures on the left who are amplifying anti-Semitic memes and promoting talking points about Israel right out of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s widely accepted working definition of anti-Semitism, all we hear from liberal thought leaders and organizations is crickets.

The reasons are not hard to figure out.

The first is that many of those who have been targeted by anti-Semites are easily identified as Jews because they are visibly Orthodox. When a spate of anti-Semitic attacks occurred on Orthodox Jews in the Greater New York area by African-American assailants in 2019, their plight didn’t interest many in the non-Orthodox community who either felt immune from such threats or were hesitant to say anything about attitudes in the black population that led to these incidents. Ever since the renewed focus on racism after the death of George Floyd last year, it’s likely that reluctance is even greater among those who themselves feel vulnerable to charges of “white privilege.”

The other is that many left-wing Jews are more ready to blame Israel for defending itself against terrorism—as thousands of missiles and rockets were launched from Gaza at Israeli civilians—than they are to focus on the lies being told about it being an apartheid state or an oppressor of innocent Palestinians. The acceptance by so many liberals of the illiberal ideas behind intersectionality, critical race theory and talk of “white privilege” associated with the Black Lives Matter movement has been readily applied to Israel.

So pervasive is the success of the calumnies hurled at Israel that many Jews are either willing to go along with them or are unwilling to connect the dots to those promoting these lies for political or ideological reasons. For many progressives, the rights of Jews to their ancient homeland—and even their right to defend themselves against terrorism and groups like Hamas dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state and the slaughter of its people—are readily erased in the name of solidarity with intersectional allies.

But when prominent figures in minority communities and much-admired politicians signal that Israel and its Jewish supporters are responsible for human-rights abuses and have commandeered American taxpayer dollars in order to finance such alleged crimes, what do you think will happen? How can anyone be surprised when some of those who listen to them are willing to act out their hatred for Jews?

That is why it is long past time for Jewish Democrats to not merely register polite disagreement with the left-wing activist base of their party and its standard-bearers—if they’re even prepared to do even that—but to call them out for their legitimization of anti-Semitism. They need to recognize that the ideologies underpinning the Black Lives Matter movement have given a permission slip not merely to theoretical anti-Semitic attitudes, but to real-life anti-Semitic violence. They need to realize that treating these radicals as allies is no longer acceptable. They must cut ties with them, just as they demand that conservatives have nothing to do with right-wing extremists. What’s more, they need to understand that if the lies of these Israel-haters are not merely answered but properly labeled as Jew-hatred, then we may well see an even greater surge in incidents that can no longer be ignored or minimized.

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

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