Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that so many corporate media outlets were eager to accuse a gathering of conservative thinkers as enabling antisemitism the same week that the liberal press treated the annual “Jerusalem Day” flag march in Jerusalem as a mass exercise in intolerant nationalist fervor. Though these controversies are very different, they have something in common: a discomfort with the open and joyful expression of national identity. That this is done in the name of a universal ethic that purports to be a force for good but which, more often than not, is just the opposite, is also telling.
The NatCon UK gathering in London seemed to set off alarms among liberals, especially the leaders of the British Jewish community, who seemed eager to denounce any commentary aimed at opposing the leftist assault on Western civilization. As Melanie Phillips ably noted, the attempt to depict conservative intellectual and author Douglas Murray as denigrating the importance of the Holocaust was utterly disingenuous. The same applies to the spurious claim from a spokesperson for a local Jewish group that the use of the term “cultural Marxism” was antisemitic. That’s also true about the comments from the Board of Deputies of British Jews that a conservative historian’s opposition to efforts to use the history of the transatlantic slave trade as a way to marginalize the memory of the Holocaust was somehow harmful to the Jewish community.
It was much like the all-out effort by the Anti-Defamation League to defend leftist billionaire George Soros from even satiric criticism such as Elon Musk’s comparison of him to a comic-book supervillain. When people on the right push back against the left, liberals—especially liberal Jews—seem to take it as a personal threat, and are quick to smear such criticisms as antisemitic even when they know very well that the discussion has nothing to do with fomenting Jew-hatred.
In doing so, they grant the tiny minority on the far right and associated neo-Nazis the power to own language. So just because a few crackpot extremists use antisemitic slurs against Soros, that means that no one may speak ill of him in any but the most restrained terms without themselves being accused of antisemitism. In that way, supposedly authoritative voices who purport to speak for Jewish interests—like the ADL or, in one case, a bureaucrat at the Israeli Foreign Ministry who was quickly overruled by the responsible authority—are eager to join the campaign to demonize conservatives.
At the heart of this discussion is not just a disingenuous defense of Soros—whose Jewish origins and Holocaust-survivor past should not render him immune to criticism about the fact that he is not only seeking to harm Israel, but also arguably doing more harm to the United States with his pro-crime prosecutor campaign than any other individual—or the particular effort to delegitimize national conservative thinkers. At its core is the lack of comfort with the idea of nationalism or pride in one’s country and people.
As Murray somewhat inelegantly noted, the association of nationalism with the Nazis discredits the concept in the eyes of many people, though it is interesting that this didn’t apply to the other half of the German acronym for Adolf Hitler’s genocidal antisemitic party: “National Socialists.”
History shows us that nationalism is as, if not more, likely to be a positive life-affirming idea as it is a negative one. Those in the West, like British leader Winston Churchill, who fought to defend civilization against the Nazis, were nationalists who loved their own countries and cultures, and justly celebrated them. Moreover, the efforts of transnational global movements, like communism, to snuff out the identities of individual populations continue today with the genocide that China’s government is committing against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
It is just as true that contemporary leftists who seek to impose their woke beliefs on society—and who unfairly trash the West and its past as irredeemably racist and evil—are also seeking to quash our faith in our national identities.
And that is what brings us to the almost uniformly negative coverage of the march in Jerusalem on the anniversary of the city’s unification in 1967.
The spectacle of the parade of flag-waving Jews of all ages marching through Jerusalem—in particular, through the Old City—is too much to bear for the sensibilities of liberal onlookers near and far. They find the willingness of Jews to assert their identity and their rights to their people’s ancient capital and its holy places to be distasteful and politicized. At worst, they regard it as a shameful neo-fascist display because of the alleged insensitivity of the marchers towards Arab residents who, it should be remembered, regard the Jewish presence—let alone their sovereignty in Jerusalem—as an intolerable insult.
Indeed, this is more an article of faith for the Jewish left than even those secular outlets that specialize in Israel-bashing. The New York Times emphasized the negative in its coverage of the event with an article headlined “Israelis March Through Jerusalem, Raising Tensions in a Divided City.” But that was nothing compared to the headline that appeared on the homepage of The Times of Israel that proclaimed: “Triumphalism and ethno-nationalism take center stage at Jerusalem Day events.”
As with most coverage of the news in Israel or, for that matter, in the United States, the media’s bias is obvious. While any evidence of extremism, hate speech or even violent behavior at demonstrations opposing the Netanyahu government’s judicial reform legislation is ignored or rationalized, the opposite is true of “Jerusalem Day” celebrations. Most people who oppose judicial reform are peaceful and patriotic, and the same is true for all but a tiny minority of those who wave blue-and-white flags while streaming through Jerusalem. But any bad behavior is always emphasized as emblematic of the true spirit of the nationalist right while depicted as unrepresentative of the political left.
The same is true of events in the United States, which is why mainstream outlets could refer to the Black Lives Matter riots that took place in the summer of 2020 as “mostly peaceful,” even though they led to deaths, thousands of injured police officers and billions of dollars in damage done to public and private property. Meanwhile, any right-wing protest is always defined by its most extreme participants.
As insufferable as such media bias can seem, it is the contempt for nationalism and a willingness to treat any critique of globalism and cultural Marxism as akin to antisemitism that is the real problem in all of these discussions.
Lost amid all the huffing and puffing about supposedly antisemitic memes used by conservatives or about the bad taste of Jews who exercise their right to joyfully proclaim their sovereignty over their ancient city is something vitally important.
Those who would defend the assault on Western civilization and the culture of individual rights that is best defended by nationalism are doing more to harm the rights of Jews than to defend them. In that same way, the denigration of the right of Jews to national self-determination in their homeland is not something that will lead to mutual understanding with those who seek to erase the Jewish presence in Israel. To the contrary, such universalist arguments that demand that Jews retreat, concede and forebear from exercising their rights only encourage those who wish to deny them the most basic right to live and defend themselves.
The best way to defend Jewish rights in the Diaspora is by standing up against the universalist and Marxist war against the traditions of the West. And the best way to defend Jewish lives in Israel is to make it clear that those who wish to return to a situation when Jews were a despised, oppressed and powerless people must be reminded that they are on the wrong side of history. A liberalism that opposes nationalism is both a toxic ideology and fundamentally illiberal. The nationalism of the West and of Zionism is not just worth defending but something that should be actively and openly proclaimed, even if it makes some people uncomfortable.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.