First published in The Federalist
Although the fight against anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry must be nonpartisan, my recent attempt to draw attention to left-wing anti-Semitism triggered a depressingly partisan response. I was labeled a “liberal” by self-avowed anti-Semites and an “anti-Semite,” among other hateful terms, by self-avowed liberals.
Clearly, many readers weren’t willing to seriously grapple with the argument of my most recent article, unkindly dubbed on Twitter “the Federalist version of the ‘Renegade Jew.’” (At the same time, a lot of people, Jewish and non-Jewish, really appreciated it. To label them all anti-Semites too is absurd.)
Indeed, the reaction was revealing. I anticipated one similar to that which recently met historian Gil Troy (who, like yours truly, is Jewish) after he merely argued that Bernie Sanders contributed to Hillary Clinton’s loss. That’s what I got: a heap of name-calling and essentially no sincere analysis. But I was still stunned by its venomous nature.
The Left has only further demonstrated that it demands absolute conformity in thought and belief. All Jews, apparently, must stay within a well-defined box. The suffocating atmosphere within that box, of course, is secular and despises diversity in tradition and culture. What I deduced from the critical response to the article was that the only good Judaism is non-religious Judaism.
I’m neither a “secular Jew” nor a “cultural Jew.” So to be castigated as an “assimilationist,” a “kapo,” and a “self-hater” is beyond ironic. I’m not Orthodox, but I keep and respect many of the traditions. If I’m trying to “cozy up” to anti-Semites, I’m going about it in an odd way.
For if a Holocaust ever does come to America, I’ll be far easier for the brown shirts to pick out than those ethnic Jews who have acculturated and abandoned the ways of the past. And if the crematoria come to these shores, left-liberals will also be to blame for the excessive and inappropriate use of the term “anti-Semite.” By crying wolf, they will have desensitized the public and only made it that much harder to discern the real enemy.
Alt-Right Is Not All the Same as Anti-Semite
Now, my article compared left-wing anti-Semitism with the alt-right, not right-wing anti-Semitism, which is a broader phenomenon. My detractors pulled a clever trick, perhaps so clever they didn’t even recognize it. They equated the alt-right with anti-Semitism. Yet what we’re dealing with resembles a Venn diagram. The overlapping space between the alt-right and right-wing anti-Semitism is alt-right anti-Semitism. It’s like the way the overlapping space between left-liberalism and anti-Semitism is left-wing anti-Semitism.
Even the Anti-Defamation League in its primer about the “New White Supremacy”—which it appropriately designates “an extremely loose movement”—describes the alt-right as a “white supremacist” phenomenon, not specifically an anti-Semitic phenomenon. “A number of Alt Righters,” it further explains, “are also blatantly anti-Semitic and blame Jews for allegedly promoting anti-white policies such as immigration and diversity.”
But how many alt-righters, let alone anti-Semitic alt-righters—who were, after all, the focus of my article—are there? Plus, what tangible, concrete steps can be taken to defeat “an extremely loose movement”? If you’re earnest about stopping anti-Semitism, it’s vital to pinpoint individuals and institutions rather than to vocally lambast the ill-defined “alt-right.”
Here, not back there, is where I hoped for constructive discussion. I am convinced that left-wing anti-Semitism is more pervasive and more dangerous than alt-right anti-Semitism. I am convinced, first, because of its influence. Alt-right anti-Semitism, like right-wing anti-Semitism, in general, is overt and stupid (meaning literally vulgar) and, therefore, is much easier to be tracked and combatted by law enforcement, nonprofits, and private citizens concerned with fighting bigotry.
Left-wing anti-Semitism, on the other hand, too often is afforded a pass because it’s given an intellectual veneer by masquerading under the façade of anti-Zionism. (Frequently, it’s downright overt as well, and it usually almost always appears, lo and behold, in connection to disapproval of Israel.) If “you” can say that most of the alt-right is anti-Semitic (which it undoubtedly is), then I certainly don’t see why I can’t also say that most of the “criticism” of Israel is anti-Semitic.
Taxpayers Fund Left-Wing Anti-Semites
Here’s the second reason I’m convinced that left-wing anti-Semitism is more pervasive and dangerous than alt-right anti-Semitism. Members of the alt-right—at least according to the publically available data we have on political donations—do not hold teaching positions in academia. Education is of prime import. As such, the opportunity to shape the minds of our country’s future generations is unparalleled in its influence. Left-wing anti-Semitism is, to be sure, alive and well among the professoriat—and its students.
Alas, anti-Semitic “incidents” on campus are not broken down by ideological source. Still, there’s substantial evidence that Jew hatred, in contemporary times, is almost exclusively a product of the Left on the American quad. It’s evident from recent documentaries on campus anti-Semitism, such as “Hate Spaces,” which features commentary and analysis from professors Alan Dershowitz of Harvard, William Jacobson of Cornell, and Richard Landes of Boston University as well as journalists Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal and Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post.
There’s also Canary Mission, an authoritative website that tracks campus anti-Semitism. I strongly encourage left-liberals to build a website that similarly calls out alt-right members of the professoriat—not because I want to be proven correct that there are so few, but because if there are some, they too should be subjected to intense public scrutiny.
Next, I was criticized for “downplaying” the threat of the alt-right. Since I believe that left-wing anti-Semitism—especially that which manifests on college and universities campuses—is a bigger problem, then, yes, I’m necessarily “downplaying” the relative threat of the alt-right. Few things in this universe aren’t subject to a zero-sum reality. In other words, I don’t believe the two forms of anti-Semitism are actually split right down the middle, 50/50, in their presence.
I don’t know exactly how much is to the left of the median marker. But given my protracted time in the Ivory Tower in the United States and in Europe paired with the extensive statistics those dedicated to countering bigotry have compiled, I’ve personally concluded that in America, anti-Semitism is markedly more a crisis of the Left. My critics, without supplying evidence as to the alt-right’s breadth while demanding that I give greater weight the alt-right, only reinforces my article’s argument about the phenomenon being largely an adversary of convenience.
This Is about Refocusing On Bigotry that Gets a Pass
Once more, this was not an article about the alt-right. Enough of those have been already. Dayenu! The crux of the article was that anti-Semitism on campus is a significant issue and, moreover, it’s a product of modern liberalism. Tellingly, I went through literally thousands of mentions on Twitter and virtually no one bothered to attack either of those two points.
I’m committed to defeating anti-Semitism on both the Left and the Right. But with inherently limited resources—time, energy, and money—we have to pick and choose our battles. That’s the choice every organization and individual dedicated to a cause must make. Saying, as quite a few did online, “I’m capable of dealing with both forms of anti-Semitism, thank you very much” is intellectually lazy. Yes, I have no doubt we as a society can deal with both. And we do need to. But which one is the larger problem at this moment, meaning the one that is going to negatively impact the most people in the greatest way?
Like I said before, I’ve spent a lot of time on college and universities campuses on both sides of the Atlantic. The only anti-Semitism I ever experienced on campus came from individuals who not just identify with the Left, but staunchly so. I’ll readily admit that the anti-Semitism wasn’t overwhelming. But it was consistently there in a variety of forms, the way in which Israel was portrayed at “anti-occupation” protests or the way in which Jewish “influence” was discussed in the classroom, bar, or pub.
Additionally, I grew up in Pennsylvania and have also since spent considerable time in Michigan—two parts of “Middle America,” where left-liberals allege prejudice runs amok. Yet I can count the number of times I faced anti-Semitism on one hand.
In fourth grade, a classmate told me that I was “going to hell” because I didn’t believe Jesus was the savior. (Even then, it’s hard to accuse a nine-year-old of conscious anti-Semitism. I’m sure she was repeating something she heard from her parents.) Then, in seventh grade, I had to miss a test because it was scheduled for Yom Kippur. That wasn’t the bad part, though. When I returned the following day, the teacher wouldn’t provide me “extra credit” questions he had provided all the other students.
The reason I wrote the article was to illustrate this point. I’m confident that, today in the post-1960s world, Jews who have grown up in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles have seen swastikas and endured anti-Semitic verbal insults. I’m also confident that the first time the average Jewish American will encounter a sustained and systemic manifestation of anti-Semitism will be as an undergraduate at college.
So I’m not again misunderstood, let me declare that we should ceaselessly go after Jew hatred, and all other forms of intolerance, wherever it is found. Thus, it’s a fallacy that a contemporary neo-Nazi, just by being a neo-Nazi, somehow represents the most virulent form of anti-Semitism. Simply, the most virulent form of anti-Semitism is the most virulent form—regardless of who espouses it and what affiliation they claim.