Anyone watching television footage of Charlottesville immediately knew what we were seeing. The malignant face of right wing anti-Semitic and racial hatred was erupting before our eyes. Thankfully, this recognition was followed by counter-demonstrations against anti-Semitism and other forms of racism as well as various forums largely aimed at right wing anti-Semitism, the familiar kind, the kind seen in Charlottesville.
But anti-Semitism emanating from the left is more difficult to identify. Twice, when I mentioned to friends that I was writing about anti-Semitism on the left, they were shocked. One, a lifelong Republican until Trump, said, “But aren’t the racists all on the right?” The other said, “I thought the good guys were on the left.” Yes, we progressives cherish our belief that we are the good guys, champions of the underdog. But isn’t another cherished belief that good and bad exist in all people? That means anti-Semites are as likely to be found among left wing progressives as right wing conservatives. And indeed this the case.
How is left wing anti-Semitism expressed? Let’s look at the positions taken by feminist, Black Lives Matter and LGBT leaders, important progressive movements. What we see is an emphatic rejection of Zionists (supporters of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state). Linda Sarsour, one of the leaders of the Women’s March on Washington, insists “feminism and Zionism are incompatible” and refers to “Palestine…[as]the beating heart of this new feminist movement.” A platform in the Movement for Black Lives Matter (M4BLM) falsely refers to Israel as a genocidal and apartheid state. For those who wonder whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, the Chicago Dyke March doesn’t share your confusion. It expelled several Jewish lesbians for carrying Jewish pride flags emblazoned with a Star of David, stating the march was “pro-Palestinian” and “anti-Zionist.” There was no way of knowing if the women carrying the banners were Zionists but the Star of David identified them clearly as Jews.
When only one group is singled out for expulsion, that is unmistakably racism. Declaring Zionists, Jews, unfit for participation in progressive causes is just plain anti-Semitism. And it’s particularly painful for Jews who believe in these movements but are expected to sacrifice their Zionism while members of other groups are not asked to sacrifice their beliefs.
In addition to expunging Zionists from their ranks, leftists are promoting a form of anti-Semitism known as BDS. Like many people, my friends had never heard of BDS.”BDS” stands for Boycott, Divest, Sanction, a desiccated trio of words that simply doesn’t arouse the same alarms as torch lit marches or swastikas painted on a school wall.
While its immediate goal is to boycott Israeli products and services, to divest from financial investments in Israel, and to apply sanctions such as restrictions on trade, scientific, artistic and other exchanges with Israel, the distinguished scholar, Dr. Deborah Lipstadt explained, “Its objective is the de-normalization of Israel, the toxification of Israel.” In other words, the ultimate goal of BDS is to convince the world that Israel is an “illegitimate” state with no right to exist.
BDS must be taken seriously. My friends were also shocked to learn the Nazi genocide actually began with a boycott of Jewish businesses in 1933. Leftist BDS activities on campuses in America and abroad often involve aggressive targeting of pro-Zionist students and disruptions of their meetings that constitute serious violations of the right to free speech and assembly. Universities where BDSers are active see increases in campus anti-Semitism. One report says, “Instead of just boycotting Israel, the anti-Zionists are now boycotting Jewish students.” BDS is dangerous. It purports to oppose Israel/Zionism but directs its venom against Jews.
We also see leftist anti-Semitism in false charges made against Israel. The allegation that “Zionism is racism” is the centerpiece of leftist as well as Palestinian propaganda. But Israel’s foundational document, its Declaration of Independence, proclaims the opposite of racism: “[Israel]…will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions…” This how Zionism defined itself.
In addition, any visitor to Israel can see with their own eyes that Israelis are a multi-ethnic, multi-racial people. In fact, Israel air lifted 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to live in Israel. Why would a country go to such extreme measures to bring in thousands of Black Africans if it were truly racist?
And yet, for all this, it is worth assuming that some racism surely exists in Israel. And here we see the double standard at work: Is there a country on this planet where racism does not exist? In America we continue to struggle with our own racism, which, due to our history of slavery, is arguably more entrenched than Israel’s. Why is the charge of racism in Israel viewed as somehow more shocking and awful than racism elsewhere? One answer is that labeling Israel racist serves to delegitimize it and even to justify Palestinian terrorism against it. Another answer is that Israel is held to different standards than other nations.
For example, Israel is singled out with bogus allegations while real abuses occurring elsewhere are disregarded, especially if that “elsewhere” is Palestine. The left ignores the terrible violations of human rights that occur in Palestine, including the stoning of adulteresses, beheading of homosexuals, child marriage, incest, genital mutilation, honor killings etc. Where are the campus BDS movements against Palestine?
Israel is also singled out as an “occupier — an accusation challenged by scholars of international law — despite the fact that there are 40 places in the world with conflicts about occupation. These include Turkey’s occupation of Northern Cyprus and the wholesale incorporation and subjugation of Tibet by China. Most are barely mentioned in the media relative to the attention paid to Israeli “territories.” Are the people who are so vehement in their criticism of Israel also organizing BDS movements against these 40 occupiers?
Where is the left’s expression of concern for the very real threats from Russia or the nuclear threats from Iran or North Korea? Or do Israel’s left wing critics believe the greatest obstacle to world peace is the number of houses built in the West Bank?
So I say to my friends, fellow progressives like me, Republicans, conservatives, moderates, we need to identify leftist anti-Semitism. The left’s disproportionate degree of preoccupation with Israel, a tiny place containing 1/1000th of the world’s population, coupled with its silence in the face of truly grave threats against humanity is yet another hallmark of its anti-Semitic double standard.
It is time to recognize that anti-Zionism, anti-Israelism, anti-the-world’s-only-Jewish-state-ism is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of anti-Semitism. Indeed, the use of “Zionism” as a coded synonym for “Jew” needs to be called out. When “Jew” is substituted for “Zionist,” the anti-Semitism is explicit and just as ugly and dangerous as what we saw in Charlottesville.