While President Trump’s behavior after Charlottesville was regrettable, much of the outrage within the Jewish community won’t help combatting the problems we face. While condemning Trump, an editorial in the liberal Catholic magazine, Commonweal, noted, “That some of the counterprotesters in Charlottesville were also armed, including a group of so-called antifascists, raises serious moral and political concerns.” Unfortunately, many Jewish leaders and media outlets have juxtaposed violent white supremacists against peaceful protesters so as not to give any credence to the president’s claim that there was fault on both sides. This was the position taken by the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Jonah Presner, when discussing his reason for cancelling a meeting with President Trump. By contrast, just before Charlottesville, Peter Beinart had pointed out that growing numbers of progressives are defending the use of force to stop what they believe is hateful activities. After Charlottesville, he stated,
“Antifa activists are sincere. They genuinely believe that their actions protect vulnerable people from harm. Cornel West claims they did so in Charlottesville. But for all of antifa’s supposed anti-authoritarianism, there’s something fundamentally authoritarian about its claim that its activists—who no one elected—can decide whose views are too odious to be publicly expressed. That kind of undemocratic, illegitimate power corrupts.”
One recent example occurred when the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra invited radio talk show host, Dennis Prager, to be a guest conductor at a fundraising event. A boycott was organized by two college professors because they believed a “concert with Prager would normalize hatred and bigotry.” A member of the Santa Monica City Council stated: “I personally will most certainly not be attending a concert featuring a bigoted hate-monger. The judgement (or lack of) shown in inviting Prager may affect future community support for the Symphony.”
Unfortunately, Charlottesville has led many Jewish groups to ignore the dangers from the Left while inflating those from the Right, typified by The Jewish Week headline, “In the Wake of Charlottesville, Hate Becoming Mainstream.” Though the images from the Friday night rally rekindled Nazi-era memories, we are talking about a few hundred participants. Indeed, I am unaware of a single white supremacist rally that has been larger. There is not one elected official anywhere in the country that has shown them any sympathies. As the Commonweal editorial stated, “But while individuals associated with these groups can be dangerous, the movement itself is a fringe element in American society and politics, and should be treated as such.”
The Left has tried to inflate their numbers by linking white supremacists to a much larger group that is characterized as having deep “racial resentment.” Over the last decade, however, FBI statistics indicate that hate crime assaults against black Americans have decreased by almost 60 percent. While the claim that Trump has emboldened white supremacist groups is widely held, an ADL report found that between 2015 and 2016 there was a dramatic drop in killings by rightwing extremists but instead a rise in killings by black nationalists. Though the ADL did find a substantial increase in anti-Semitic incidents, they did not present evidence that this was from rightwing sources. Moreover, the number of anti-Semitic assaults declined from 56 to 36. Thus, while incidents have increased, actual extremist rightwing violence has declined.
Too many liberal Jews have been focused on any evidence of rightwing anti-Semitism but mostly silent on the new normal: the hostile climate on campuses and in progressive organizations towards Jewish individuals and groups who do not pass an anti-Zionist litmus test. This new normal is reflected in Jay-Zee unrepentant response to muted ADL concerns about the anti-Semitic lyrics in his just released album: “You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit / You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This is how they did it.” Even more troubling, many liberal Jews have gone out of their way to defend influential so-called progressives who have worked with anti-Semites and espoused offensive anti-Israel rhetoric, including the current co-leader of the Democratic Party, Keith Ellison. What is more dangerous to Jewish interests: Ellison’s politics, Jay-Zee’s lyrics, or a bunch of menacing white supremacists in Charlottesville?
In early August, New York Times staff editor Bari Weiss criticized three of the four leaders of the Inauguration Day Women’s March — Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory — for their support of anti-Semites and terrorists. She concluded, “Will progressives have more spine than conservatives in policing hate in their ranks? Or will they ignore it in their fury over the Trump administration?” Jewish organizations and publications would do well to heed her concerns.