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Bonnie K. Goodman
Librarian, Historian, and Journalist

Antisemitism from the right and left

Anti-Semitism in the United States. Source: Wikipedia Commons
Anti-Semitism in the United States. Source: Wikipedia Commons

President Joe Biden wanted to upgrade the US State Department’s Special Envoy for Combating and Monitoring Antisemitism to an ambassadorship. In July, Biden nominated Emory University professor and esteemed Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt. Unfortunately, for Biden, the Senate must confirm her position. However, Republicans are holding up her nomination in the Senate. Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is refusing to allow Democrats to schedule her hearing. Troublesome, especially with the rising antisemitism. Lipstadt accused Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) of “white supremacy/nationalism,” when he claimed he would have been more afraid of the far left, Black Lives Matter movement, or Antifa at the January 6, 2021, Capitol Riots rather than the far-right radicals that invaded Congress. [1] Despite antisemitic attacks such as Colleyville, Republicans, who are supposed to be pro-Israel, are playing politics when American Jews are in such peril. The episode is again putting her nomination and confirmation delay in the spotlight and the antisemitism from the right and also left.

Antisemitism globally is more associated with the far-right politically. The rise of Donald Trump’s presidency and the August 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally and riots of right-wing extremists and white supremacists chanting antisemitic diatribes, such as “Jews will not replace us,” and chants often associated with Hitler and Nazism. [2] University of Chicago historian David Nirenberg told the Atlantic, “The extreme right considers many people their threat. But it always, always, always comes back to the Jews.” [3] It’s difficult not to include Israel and anti-Zionism in the antisemitism narrative when former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, a leading marcher in the Charlottesville rally, preaches, “Jewish Zionists control the media and American political system.” [4]

McGill University Historian Professor Gil Troy finds that the left and far-left are just as much contributing to the new antisemitism as the right. However, with most American Jews liberals and card-carrying Democrats, they are less likely to blame the worst elements of the left for recent antisemitism. “In a polarized polity, too many in the overwhelmingly liberal American-Jewish community either ignore or cover up left-wing complicity in the New Antisemitism, meaning anti-Zionist Jew-hatred. Call it Zio-washing bleaching the anti-Zionism out of modern antisemitism.” [5] Writing amid the latest Israel-Gaza war, Troy recounted, “The antisemitic attacks and rhetoric during the latest conflict was fueled by the anti-Zionist left’s sweeping denunciations of Israel and Zionism. Wrapping their cause in Black Lives Matters rhetoric and righteousness, pro-Palestinian and pro-Islamist goons have committed many of the most recent anti-Jewish street crimes.” [6]

Jewish historians, sociologists, and journalists vary whether anti-Israel sentiment anti-Zionism is a part of antisemitism and even fueling recent hatred and attacks on Jews. University of Toronto’s Robert Bryma and York University’s Rhonda Lenton defined antisemitism and anti-Zionism in their essay “Antisemitism, Anti-Israelism and Canada in Context.” Bryma and Lenton write, “For purposes of our analysis, we define antisemitism as opposition to the notion that Jews should be treated in the same way as non-Jews, with the expression of this opposition ranging from mild prejudice to genocidal action. We define anti-Israelism as opposition to a range of conditions, ranging from specific state policies to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.” [7]

Troy believes that anti-Zionism is the new antisemitism, arguing, “anti-Zionism feeds Jew-hatred.” [8] Steven Windmueller, the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles, explains, “Anti-Semitism must be seen as a specific ideology of belief about Jews and Judaism as well as a prescription for a particular form of behavior or action, directed against the Jewish people. Those who embrace this age-old form of political practice have extracted specific elements of anti-Judaism from the pages of history or from the current social rhetoric about Jews and Israel.” [9]

New York Times columnist and former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens concurred that anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Stephens wrote the piece “Anti-Zionism Isn’t Anti-Semitism? Someone Didn’t Get the Memo” in May 2021, amid the latest Gaza war, where Palestinian disturbances and rocket attacks led Israel to take action. The fighting lasted ten days, from May 10 until a ceasefire on May 21. At the time, attacks that included multiple times over on Jews worldwide occurred. Stephens noted, Progressives “have indulged an anti-Israel movement that keeps descending into the crudest forms of anti-Semitism.” [10]

Bryma and Lenton argue the opposite, “We take issue with both the new antisemitism thesis and its most ardent critics. We argue that a correlation exists between antisemitism and anti-Israelism, but the correlation varies widely in strength by social context. It follows that, in some cases, extremists on both sides of the debate are correct. However, in most cases they are not.” [11]

Despite some Jew’s and non-Jews viewpoint, most American Jews realize that anti-Israel sentiments and anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Among American Jews, 82 percent realize that the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) Movement has “mostly anti-Semitic or some antisemitic supporters.” They view remarks questioning Israel’s right to exist and American Jewry’s dual loyalty as antisemitic, “Israel has no right to exist.”

“American Jews are loyal to Israel and disloyal to America,” 81 and 85 percent as antisemitic. American Jews have almost zero tolerance for Holocaust denial, with 94 percent finding the comment “The Holocaust has been exaggerated,” as antisemitic. [12]

Jewish college students find the far-left and the far-right as antisemitic threats on campus. Still, as Troy noted and Pew Research Center indicates, young liberal Jews find the far-right much more of a threat than the far-left on campus, 61 to 45 percent. Most Jewish college students view anti-Israel sentiment, anti-Zionism, and the BDS movement as antisemitic, only 54 percent equate antisemitism to anti-Zionism. Ironically, very few 20 percent know anyone or themselves experienced antisemitism on campus. [13]

Reform community in Colleyville, Texas, and its rabbi were not the stereotypical targets for an antisemitic attack in the US. The liberal congregation was well integrated into the community and welcomed a diverse Jewish community. Rabbi Charlie as his congregation affectionately called him is involved in inter-faith activities that support diversity and LGBT rights. Liberal values were held near and a priority. A former congregant even accused the rabbi of being against the second amendment, not allowing guns within the sanctuary, and criticizing Israel to the point of calling it an apartheid state, which Rabbi Cytron-Walker vehemently denied to JTA. [14]

Usually, such assimilated views lead to more acceptances. Unfortunately, in this case, being Jews was the qualification; showing identification with most American views does not protect from antisemitism. Antisemitism is all around and it does not matter how American Jews align politically and socially. As Gil Troy indicates in a Jerusalem Post opinion piece, entitled, “Antisemitism, Holocaust denial: First they gassed us, now they gaslight us,” “Obviously, many today deny Jew-hatred to avoid confronting Islamist Jew-hatred. But this is an old story. This phantom hatred takes many forms. Some hate Jews for standing out, others hate Jews for fitting in; some hate from the Right, others from the Left. Amid this cacophony of bigotry, people pick convenient targets while dodging uncomfortable truths. They condemn the antisemites they hate anyway, overlooking any allies’ antisemitism. Amid such partisan-clouded confusion, evil flourishes.” [15]

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, For Jews, Going to Services Is an Act of Courage” Deborah Lipstadt conveyed that despite the antisemitism we are strong. Lipstadt expressed, “We are shaken. We are not OK. But we will bounce back. We are resilient because we cannot afford not to be. That resiliency is part of the Jewish DNA.” [16] While Andrew Rehfeld, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) seminary, Ohio, rightfully expresses, “When an attack on any one of us happens, we’re not Reform, or Orthodox or Conservative. We are a Jewish people.” [17] With antisemitism still a physical threat to world Jewry, we all must put aside our political, social, religious, and geographical differences, kind to each other despite varying viewpoints, and stand strongly united because if we will not, who will be? [18]

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) and historian. She is the author of “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” “The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South,” “We Used to be Friends? The Long Complicated History of Jews, Blacks, and Anti-Semitism,” and the viral article, “OTD in History… October 19, 1796, Alexander Hamilton accuses Thomas Jefferson of having an affair with his slave creating a 200-year-old controversy over Sally Hemings.”

[1] https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/580121-adl-jewish-groups-in-rare-move-press-senate-to-immediately-consider

[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/nazis-racism-charlottesville/536928/

[3] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/nazis-racism-charlottesville/536928/

[4] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/nazis-racism-charlottesville/536928/

[5] https://jewishchronicle.timesofisrael.com/when-it-comes-to-anti-israel-attacks-on-jews-its-time-to-name-the-enemy/

[6] https://jewishchronicle.timesofisrael.com/when-it-comes-to-anti-israel-attacks-on-jews-its-time-to-name-the-enemy/

[7] https://www.jewishdatabank.org/content/upload/bjdb/2018_Survey_Jews_Canada_Antisemitism,_Israelism_and_Canada_(Brym,_Lenton).pdf

[8] https://www.jpost.com/opinion/we-need-to-focus-on-the-jews-that-love-israel-not-those-who-are-anti-opinion-684524

[9] https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/reflections-on-global-anti-semitism-its-implications-and-impact/

[10]

[11] https://www.jewishdatabank.org/content/upload/bjdb/2018_Survey_Jews_Canada_Antisemitism,_Israelism_and_Canada_(Brym,_Lenton).pdf

[12]

[13] https://www.ajc.org/AntisemitismReport2021/AmericanJews

[14] https://www.jta.org/2022/01/19/united-states/the-texas-rabbi-who-escaped-a-hostage-situation-wants-to-correct-the-record

[15] https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-694567

[16] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/18/opinion/texas-colleyville-antisemitism.html

[17] https://www.jta.org/2022/01/19/united-states/the-texas-rabbi-who-escaped-a-hostage-situation-wants-to-correct-the-record

[18] https://abcnews.go.com/US/american-jewish-groups-leaders-send-support-texas-synagogue/story?id=82308225&fbclid=IwAR2TlKq4V4qOVIUuocmuuc1xGbhBlBQxFPq2wB1MtfDgPKYQx6Fjelbi48Q

About the Author
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a librarian, historian, and journalist. She has a BA in History & Art History, an MLIS, Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program, where her thesis was entitled, "Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Anti-Semitism, 1860-1913." She is the author of “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” and contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, Judaism, and news. She has a dozen years of experience in education and political journalism. She is currently expanding her article about Confederate cabinet secretary Judah Benjamin "The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South" into a full-length biography.
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