In 1970, the author Tom Wolfe coined the phrase “radical chic.” He wrote an essay in The New Yorker about a house party at composer Leonard Bernstein’s apartment in New York City where 60’s radicals were in attendance, and marveled how the sophisticated, “smart set” guests gushed over them.
In the 2020s, we have a new phenomenon. With apologies to Mr. Wolfe, I’ll call this “racist chic.” Much like during the 1960s, in 2022 the privileged intelligentsia swoon at being around Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Louis Farrakhan, Linda Sarsour and others who cloak themselves in the mantle of progressivism, civil rights and justice yet spew race hate, especially good old fashioned Jew hate, with aplomb.
To be cool and chic today is to side with the left. They have co-opted the term “progressive,” which means moving forward. In the American political context that term actually was made famous by a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1912 ran for President on a third party of his creation that he called the “Progressive Party.”
The Republicans have moved far to the right of Teddy Roosevelt, who likely would be a Democrat today, but the Democrats have moved far to the left of their historic roots. The common working person, who for decades formed the backbone of the Democratic Party’s coalition, is practically looked down upon by many of the party’s stalwarts. Now the American party of the left is very much a party of certain minorities and white intellectuals. This phenomenon is not limited to the United States.
Just this last week two major European countries, Sweden and Italy, elected far right governments. Each country’s main rightist political party has neo-fascist roots, which each claims it disowned, but the political left is both dismayed and shocked by their rise.
They shouldn’t be. Over the last two decades the left has gone so far out of the mainstream as to be almost unrecognizable. The perfect example of this was former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s opening up of her nation to massive immigration, without much real debate. Anyone wishing to raise a cautionary view was shouted down as being a “racist” or a “xenophobe.” The same happened in Sweden and Italy.
Yet as the leftist leaders accused all who objected to their societal re-engineering of racism, those same leaders allowed a new/old bogeyman to arise, the Jew. To the new intelligentsia however, their racism wasn’t something to be hidden. It was something to be proud of. Their objections wasn’t with Jews they claimed, they loved Jews. No their objections were with Zionists. In their incessant criticism of the Jewish state and its supporters, they weren’t acting in contravention of international human rights and dignity, they were the righteous upholding the rights of the poor, oppressed Palestinians.
On the left now, racism is easy. In fact it’s more than easy, it’s both expected and encouraged. In short, it’s chic. Is there a college campus now where all “correct thinking students” are not supposed to support BDS? Students at the Law School of the University of California Berkeley have gone so far as to form clubs that prohibit the presence of any Zionists or Israel supporters. https://jewishjournal.com/commentary/opinion/351854/berkeley-develops-jewish-free-zones/
Is there an LGBTQ group that doesn’t express solidarity against Israel and with the Palestinians, despite the fact that Gay Pride is acceptable in Tel Aviv yet can be punishable by death in Ramallah? So what if we’ll be killed should we try to travel to and demonstrate in the Palestinian territories, we have a chance to hate Jews and be righteous!
Of course, now comes the backlash. Having refused to allow any discussion of the mass societal change the left hoisted upon European societies, those societies threw out the left and handed power to the right. For the first time in 70 years European states will be led by people who rail against “international financiers.” Does that sound eerily and disturbingly familiar to Jewish ears?
Those who made racism so easy now both grit their teeth at the thought of rightist rule yet also congratulate themselves for their own perceived moral superiority. They remain oblivious to how their mainstreaming of antisemitism led to its reemergence. Israel and Zionism had no real impact on the Swedish or Italian elections, but the condescension on the left certainly did. Having created its own new righteousness polemic, the left had no idea how to control it. Giorgia Meloni of Italy knew how, asking basic questions like “when did the family become the enemy of society”? Her language left open the possibility that her ultimate nemesis will be the same one as on the left, the Jew.
In the United States the leading figures of “racist chic” now show, by their silence over Iran, the limits of their supposed commitment to human rights. In Europe we shall see. Unlike before there now is a State of Israel, which not only provides a safe haven for Jews but also can be useful to countries like Italy over issues ranging from security to natural gas.
There is nothing about rightist Jew hatred and racism that is subtle or elegant, and nothing that is chic. But thanks to those on the left who made antisemitism and racism so much a part of their political identity the right now holds power. We Jews must remain eternally vigilant, and always realize that when antisemitism becomes easy, sophisticated and chic, we all are in peril.