Ardie Geldman

Old Fears, New Reality

Old habits die hard. Apparently, so do old fears. For many, perhaps most American Jews, Jews outside of the Orthodox community, the ethos of liberal politics has replaced the values and beliefs of traditional Judaism that have for centuries informed Jewish life. They believe, deeply believe, that political liberalism, as a philosophy, as social policy, is the hope of humanity and the hope of the Jews. And like any religious belief, it is impervious to logic and rational arguments.

Among the consequences of this alternative understanding of the world is denial that the greater threat to the welfare of American Jews today emanates from the political Left and no longer the Right. Antisemitism from the nationalist Right is undeniably a historic reality that has left a bloody stain across the the many pages of Jewish story. There are even those who believe that the often bitter historical experience of the Jewish people has engendered what is known as inter-generational trauma, wherein intrinsic fear and suspicion, as a consequence of centuries of persecution, are passed on by way of genetic mutation from generation to generation; Jewish antennas are up and operating 24/7. Traditionally, yes, the enemies of the Jews have come from the right. At least until more recently.

The change began in last century. The Bolsheviks, or Communists, purported to promote an ideology that was internationalist and universalist, a world in which all people regardless of background were of equal value. Yet, the Soviets were responsible for the persecution and murder of hundreds of thousands, perhaps more, of Jews, who were singled out just because they were Jews. This antisemitism came from the political Left. However, in retrospect, by comparison with the scale of evil that was the Holocaust, the leftist antisemitism of the Soviets, up to and including the Soviet Jewry Movement, tends to be downplayed, even unknown to some today.

It was thus ingrained within America’s post World War II Jewish baby-boomers, who passed it on to their children, that antisemitism first and foremost lurks on the right within the hate-filled swamps of racist, nationalistic, and jingoistic organizations. In America, historically, this includes the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party and the John Birch Society; more recently groups like the Aryan Brotherhood, the Proud Boys, and the somewhat humorously named Goyim Defense League. They are racist, they are antisemitic and they are out there.

Members of these organizations, or members of similar extremist groups, participated in the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where marchers infamously chanted “Jews will not replace us.”  Some also joined the attack on the US Capitol on January 6th, 2021, a blatant attempt to overthrow American democracy irrespective of who one believes truly won the November 2020 Presidential Election.

And now Donald Trump hopes to return to the White House to again lead America. A significant number of American Jews believe that if Trump wins the election in November, these radical groups will have access, for a second time they claim, to the Oval Office. There is no evidence for this, but since when does emotionalism require evidence? Likely or not, the scenario is anathema to American Jews and their fears are reflected in their war of words against the possibility of Trump’s re-election.

No one should deny the existence of right-wing extremists who in their fevered dreams envision a monolithic white Christian America. No one should deny the existence of right-wing antisemites who still pose a danger to the well-being of American Jews. The Tree of Life and Poway synagogue murders were at the hands of crazed persons who identified with the political Right, not the Left. As horrendous and devastating as were these events, physical assaults on Jews by rightists have always been sporadic, few and far between. While these murders were the fulfillment of macabre rightist fantasies, to date such violent acts remain the work of demented individuals, not swarms, not mobs.

The deep-seated American Jewish fear of a potential takeover of the country by the Right, again, always believed to be lurking, has prevented the majority of America’s Jews from acknowledging and responding adequately to the much more immediate and greater danger, the far Left. Few Jews have heard of the Red/Green alliance, the unofficial nexus of cooperation between Islamists and the anarchistic political Left.  Yet, the machinations of this unlikely partnership are the catalyst behind the myriad demonstrations and encampments, marked by unvarnished antisemitism and anti-Zionism, that have become all too familiar to Americans in the last nine months.

When was the last time a hoard of right-wing demonstrators blocked entrance to a synagogue on Shabbat morning? When, but for the one-time in 1977 when the Illinois Supreme Court sanctioned the march of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party of America through Skokie, did right-wing extremists last intentionally intimidate an entire Jewish community by marching up its main street in full antisemitic regalia? When was the last time a group of Ku Klux Klan members in masks openly harassed Jews on a subway or on the streets of a number of major American cities? Even before the October 7th massacre in Israel, in a growing crescendo throughout the last decade, Jewish-owned property and Jewish events in cities throughout the US had become the targets of radical pro-Palestinian protest rallies. These outbreaks increased following the period of the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter/Antifa riots during the summer of 2020. And since the October 7th atrocities, antisemitic activism in many forms targeting individuals, groups and institutions, online and in public, continues to spew forth from leftist groups each weekend in numerous parts of the country, if not also during the week. The assaults appear to be well-organized and unending and they are taking an unprecedented, palatable toll on American Jewish life, psychologically and economically.

This explosion of antisemitism, why it occurred and what may be done about it, has by now become the topic of innumerable articles, essays, conferences, podcasts and table discussions. And yet, as reflected in the polls leading up to November’s presidential election, most of America’s Jews are still working from the same worn template, the danger is on the Right. Yes, there is antisemitism on the Right, but the more imminent and treacherous threat at present resides on the Left. Denial is an effective palliative, but until the danger of antisemitism from the Left is fully acknowledged and confronted by America’s Jews, efforts to defeat it cannot even begin.

About the Author
Ardie Geldman writes about Israel and diaspora Jewish issues. He lives in Efrat.
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