(March 19, 2018 / JNS) Are American Jews shy about standing up against anti-Semitism?
That’s the conceit of an astonishing “analysis” of the issue that appeared in The New York Times on Sunday. Written by Jonathan Weisman, one of the paper’s editors in its Washington bureau, the piece paints a dark picture of—as the title of the book from which the essay was excerpted—“Being Jewish in the Age of Trump.”
According to Weisman, a rising tide of right-wing anti-Semitism encouraged by President Donald Trump is threatening American Jewry while the organized Jewish world is remaining relatively silent. He claims that while everyone else is keeping quiet about “the brewing storm” because they are too obsessed with “the debate over Israel,” the Anti-Defamation League is being attacked for calling attention to the problem.
But what’s extraordinary about this piece is that it was published during a month in which the Jewish world was very much focused on anti-Semitism, though not the kind that interests Weisman. In recent weeks, the revelation that leaders of the Women’s March movement—the primary organizer of street protests for the anti-Trump “resistance”—are supporters of Louis Farrakhan caused great consternation and embarrassment on the left. But the actions of the March’s Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour don’t get a mention in Weisman’s harangue about Jew-hatred. Neither does Farrakhan.
As the nation learned last August from the protests in Charlottesville, hate from the far right is real. Yet as troubling as those events were, the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis who marched were small groups. The megaphone of the Internet inflates their voices, but their numbers are miniscule.
By contrast, Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam continue to command the interest of a mass following of African-Americans. Just as troubling is the fact that prominent African-Americans, including several members of Congress, treat him as a respected leader of their community, rather than as someone who promotes hatred of Jews and other groups. For all of the disgust that decent citizens feel about people like former Klan leader David Duke, the neo-Nazis and alt-right trolls, those figures are few and far between compared with those who cheer for Farrakhan. No mainstream politician on the right will have anything to do with extremists. That’s something that can’t be said about Farrakhan.
Yet neither Farrakhan—nor his more mainstream enablers in Congress and the “resistance”—merit a mention in Weisman’s jeremiad.
Just as curious is the fact that while he deprecates the Jewish world’s focus on Israel, Weisman ignores the fact that one of the major sources of anti-Semitism in America is the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel. The Obama State Department condemned what it called a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism sweeping across the globe that was rooted in hate for Israel. Still, that didn’t penetrate into Weisman’s consciousness. What are we to make of an article that treats left-wing anti-Semitism as insignificant or unworthy of notice?
Just as misleading is Weisman’s employment of the numbers from the recently published ADL audit of anti-Semitism in America. As I wrote last month, the headlines that proclaimed a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents sounded scary. As with the ADL, Weisman didn’t choose to mention that this figure included the numerous bomb scares at Jewish Community Centers nationwide in early 2017. The ADL didn’t hesitate at the time to blame them on right-wingers. The only problem is that the culprit turned out to be a disturbed Israeli teenager, not someone inspired by Trump.
Including the bomb scares inflated the ADL numbers. Yet the talk of the percentages obscured the fact that the raw totals remain relatively small. While even one such occurrence is one too many, the grand total of every conceivable incident that occurred in the United States in 2017 that can be attributed to anti-Semitism added up to only about 1,800. Considering that very few involved violence (a number that actually decreased in 2017), that is not exactly a description of a “brewing storm” or the onset of pogroms in a nation of 326 million people. Nor should we accept Weisman’s attempt to portray the Southern Poverty Law Center—an extreme left-wing group that has been discredited because of its targeting of legitimate conservatives—as an authority on the matter.
It’s simply wrong to jump to conclusions about anti-Semitism being fomented by Trump—a man who has, for all of his faults, demonstrated no proclivity for such instigation and is on the path to becoming the most pro-Israel president in recent memory. But the ADL continues to trumpet attacks on Trump every chance it gets since doing so is good politics among liberal Jews. Nor has it been subject to much pushback, as evidenced by the fact that the only example Weisman can cite took place last summer. If anyone is attacking the ADL these days, it is left-wingers, like the leaders of the Women’s March, or those who are hypercritical of Israel, like the IfNotNow protest group. They are offended because the ADL has been critical of Farrakhan’s fellow travelers who seek to disguise their anti-Semitism behind a thin veneer of anti-Zionism.
Vigilance against right-wing anti-Semitism is justified. The use of terms like “globalist” or “America First” by some on the right is troubling since they were once part of the normative language of anti-Semitism. But even those most concerned about the issue understand that the context is different today, and hysteria over such words is unwarranted.
However, to discuss anti-Semitism in America today while ignoring the fact that the left has become a welcoming place for a form of Jew-hatred that calls itself anti-Zionism is more than irresponsible. It is dishonest, and it undermines efforts to defend the Jewish community.
Those like Weisman and the Times, who are only alarmed about anti-Semitism when it can be attributed to the influence of Trump, are hijacking Jewish fears to further a partisan agenda. That’s something fair-minded people of all political stripes should reject.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — the Jewish News Syndicate.