I used to live in San Diego, for a total of nearly 8 years. I attended the San Diego Jewish Academy for three of those years. I have friends who still live there. The anti-Semitic shooting at a Poway synagogue, therefore, deeply troubles me. At the same time, I can’t say I’m surprised. Anti-Semitism is increasingly being normalized in American society. Not yet to the levels of what is seen in western Europe, to be sure. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t still a troubling development.
The shooting came exactly half a year after the tragic shooting of a synagogue in Pittsburgh. It also came two days after the New York Times international edition published a cartoon that was a vicious, Nazi-esque depiction of Jews. Some might argue that this is to be expected, given that the New York Times is generally thought of as left-leaning and biased against Israel. But the articles underneath the cartoon had nothing to do with Judaism or the Jewish state.
A newspaper that prides itself on being one of the most widely-circulated and well-regarded news sources on Earth can’t get away with just blaming the cartoon on one editor’s “mistake.” Are we really to believe that the NYT–which is highly-regarded–hires inept, culturally-insensitive, or stupid staff on a regular basis? If so, perhaps it should be viewed with disdain instead of being a litmus test for responsible journalism. The photo showed US President Donald Trump wearing a kippah on his head and being blindfolded. He was led on a leash by a dog with the face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The image is problematic for a multitude of reasons. First, it implies falsely that Trump is Jewish. Secondly, it wipes away all blame for Trump’s shortcomings by blaming it on Netanyahu–as if he is leading a US President (who doesn’t know any better and has no agency) towards certain policies. Finally, it dehumanizes Jews by associating our religion, symbols, leaders, and people as animals–something that White & Arab Nationalists have done for decades. Something that their bigoted predecessors have done for centuries. And something that 19 year-old John Earnest–the Poway Shooter–wrote in his manifesto.
What does John Earnest have in common with Representative Ilhan Omar and the NYT Cartoon? He claims that Trump–and others deemed supportive of pro-Israel policies–are “traitorous.” He conflates Jews and anti-Semitic stereotypes with the State of Israel. His manifesto also used terminology that likened Jews to something less than human, and upheld his desire to “protect” the European race. Of course, the far-right puts out its own anti-Semitic tropes and theories without necessarily needing the assistance of their Islamist and far-left counterparts. It’s likely that Earnest had long believed in this ideology of his own volition, and that the NYT cartoon had no impact on whether or not he would have committed this act of terror.
Earnest, Omar, and the NYT perfectly demonstrate how anti-Semitism operates in modern times. On one end, you have far-left and/or Islamist-leaning actors–Omar and the NYT–spreading anti-Semitic tropes and then feigning victim-status, innocence, ignorance, or progressivism. On the other end, you have a White Supremacist with far-right political orientations (Earnest) who believes these tropes and acts violently upon them.
Left-leaning activists–including within the Jewish community–are right that we need to remain vigilant against right-wing anti-Semitism. This is even true in the Trump era, despite some of his pro-Israel stances. One mustn’t let that stop them from challenging anti-Semitism from conservatives. At the same time, the Political Left will only be a viable challenger against anti-Semitism when it cleans house, so to speak. It is difficult, if not impossible, to take seriously left-wing challenges of anti-Semitism when they make excuses for the likes of Ilhan Omar, Tamika Mallory, or Bob Bland, while “All Lives Matter-ing” resolutions against anti-Semitism in the Congress. Such actions help to legitimize and normalize the pervasive anti-Semitism that was once only common in marginal extremist fringes of society. Segments of Donald Trump’s voting base are already increasing the amount of bigotry in society, and normalizing such sentiments. The country and all minorities will be worse off if the media, academia, and left-leaning political organizations are also complicit in this disturbing trend.