The timing was fortuitous, even if the news was depressing. A week after an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience featured an antisemitic exchange between the host and fellow podcaster Krystal Ball, the American Jewish Committee released a new poll documenting the fact that most Americans—Jewish and non-Jewish—think that Jew-hatred is growing.
The survey, titled “The State of Antisemitism in America 2022,” contains some sobering results about a perception that hatred for Jews has increased, even if most of it is hardly surprising. What’s more, that opinion is shared by non-Jews as well as Jews, though there are some differences in the data. But it also shows us that many Jewish respondents are often as clueless about what constitutes antisemitism as their non-Jewish neighbors.
Yet given the fact of a consensus about something this serious, what is most dismaying about this problem is that those Jewish groups tasked with dealing with it aren’t focused on the most dangerous aspects of the challenge. Even worse, too many of those stating their concerns are directing their energies towards responses that are either of little use or actually counterproductive.
This isn’t the first time that Rogan has produced a podcast that validated antisemitic arguments. Back in the fall, he hosted Pink Floyd frontman and anti-Israel zealot Roger Waters, giving him an unchallenged platform to advocate for the antisemitic BDS movement, as well as hateful myths about Israel and conspiracy theories that justify Palestinian terrorism.
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This time, he and Ball rose in defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) to justify her antisemitic smears that claimed Jews were buying congressional support for Israel, which led the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives to boot her off the Foreign Relations Committee—something the Democratic leadership would not do.
Referencing her use of the standard theme about Jews and money, in which she said support for the Jewish state “was all about the Benjamins,” he said the following: “That’s not an antisemitic statement. Benjamins are money. The idea that Jewish people are not into money is ridiculous. That’s like saying Italians aren’t into pizza.”
The idea that Jews are “into” money any more than any other group is a stereotype, not a fact and certainly not a serious argument. As many of Rogan’s critics pointed out, Italians haven’t faced genocide because of their connection to pizza. The issue is not a stupid analogy. It’s the fact that the person who hosts the most popular podcast on the Internet with an estimated 11 million listeners for each episode is not only willing to defend an antisemite, he is attempting to mainstream slanders of Jews and Israel.
The question to ask about this is not what should be done about Rogan. Those who might try to cancel or silence him over this will have the same lack of success that others had when he previously offended mainstream liberal orthodoxy by hosting people who contradicted popular, but often mistaken, beliefs about the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines. Much like the focus of groups like the Anti-Defamation League, who are primarily interested in dealing with online hate by censoring conservatives, that is a tactic that won’t work.
More importantly, as long as every Democrat in the House of Representatives is ready to vote against the GOP’s efforts to do no more than slap Omar on the wrist, the ability of such an antisemite to maintain their mainstream status can’t be blamed on Rogan, even if his influence shouldn’t be discounted.
The aftermath of Kanye (“Ye”) West’s public attacks on Jews was similarly instructive about the futility of concentrating fire on celebrities who say bad things. The willingness of former President Donald Trump to host West at a Mar-a-Lago dinner with other Jew-baiters like Nick Fuentes was justifiably condemned. Yet when others, like comedian Dave Chappelle via his appearance as host of “SNL,” reinforced some of the same antisemitic tropes as West and tried to distract attention from African-American violence against Jews, even as he mocked the rapper/fashion mogul, it also illustrated just how difficult it is to isolate and condemn sources of hate.
Nor should we fail to make the connection between the way fashionable liberal opinion has embraced ideas like intersectionality and critical race theory, and the problem of growing antisemitism. These concepts, which deem Jews and Israel to be examples of “white privilege” who oppress people of color, grant a permission slip for antisemitism in academia, the media and in politics.
All of this makes it little wonder that the AJC poll shows that Jews as well as non-Jews think antisemitism has not only increased but isn’t being taken as seriously as other forms of hate and bigotry.
One can take some solace from the fact that the number of Jews who say they have personally encountered antisemitism either online or in person is small. However, the mainstreaming of antisemitic discourse explains why an ominously significant minority of Jews—23%, almost one-quarter of an entire people—say they sometimes seek to conceal their Jewish identity.
Yet for all that, we know that Jewish legacy organizations have, like so many other elements in our society, become so thoroughly politicized that they are more interested in partisan attacks on opponents than condemning Jew-hatred across the board. And their efforts at education against hate, particularly with respect to the Holocaust, focus on anodyne messages about kindness and all bigotry, rather than seek to anathematize contemporary antisemitism in all of its primary manifestations on the right, the left, and among African-American and Muslim communities.
This also contributes to the confusion that some Jews have about what constitutes antisemitism.
For example, both Jews and non-Jews overwhelmingly believe that saying “Israel has no right to exist is antisemitic.” Yet while that statement is backed by 87% of Jews and 90% of non-Jews, less than 40% of both groups are willing to label the BDS movement as antisemitic, as opposed to just having some antisemitic supporters.
That’s partly a product of the ignorance the poll demonstrates about the way anti-Zionism is merely a thinly disguised version of antisemitism. But it’s also a function of a political atmosphere in which the intersectional left, which has embraced the BDS movement, gets a pass because they are politically aligned with Democrats or spout opinions that have become commonplace in leading media outlets like The New York Times.
So long as that is true—and so long as those who purport to speak for the Jews, either in the Jewish world or in politics—aren’t willing to draw a line in the sand and declare that people like Omar and other BDS supporters are beyond the pale in the same way that West is now treated, don’t expect the situation to improve.
Blame Joe Rogan all you like, but the real problem about contemporary antisemitism isn’t what’s heard on a podcast. It’s the ability of some Jew-haters and the popular ideologies they promote to be treated as acceptable discourse. That’s the real reason for troubling poll results that don’t tell us any more than what we already know about 2023 America.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.