Simon Hardy Butler
Simon Hardy Butler

The New Anti-Semitism: A Lefty’s Perspective

Meet the new boss … same as the old boss.

Remember those lyrics from the Who song “Won’t Get Fooled Again”? They might be more germane than ever when it comes to anti-Semitism.

I’m a registered New York Democrat. I grew up in a liberal Jewish household, retain those ties and cherish my cultural roots. I’m also staunchly pro-Israel; my mother and grandfather both raised money for the country in a more tumultuous time, and I view the state as a home away from home, a land for a people who have been persecuted through the ages, a destination for those exhausted by the horrors of prejudice and discrimination. I don’t agree with all of the Israeli government’s policies, but that’s my prerogative. My family helped build it. I have that right.

Recently, I’ve been more than a little disheartened by a growing trend that appears to have infiltrated the left side of the political spectrum. It’s a trend that, in the past, appeared to be more frequently relegated to the right. Post-war anti-Semitism, once thought to be the province of neo-Nazis, maniacal conspiracy theorists and old-money aristocrats, has become a disturbing force among many Democrats, the party of my immediate family. It has popped up at the Democratic National Convention, where the Israeli flag was burned in a display that purported to be a statement against Zionism but undoubtedly had anti-Jewish connotations, as Zionism, the political movement espousing a homeland for Jews, is part and parcel of the collective Hebraic identity. And this ideology’s ugly head has manifested itself on the Internet aplenty—including on the Times of Israel’s own Facebook page. The implications are quite distressing.

Where does this bigotry come from? It certainly wasn’t prevalent when I was a youth … when my political awareness was coming to the fore. Has it been fomenting, like unwanted mold on cheddar cheese, for eons, or is it a new phenomenon?

Sadly, this kind of intolerance is just as toxic as the hatred perpetuated by the far right, but unlike the latter, which is blunt in its disdain for all things Judaic, the left’s hostility toward Jews is disguised as a dislike of Zionism—particularly via rallying cries such as the following statement: “Criticism of Israel does not equate anti-Semitism.” The problem with such arguments is that their veracity depends on context, and those who proclaim this mantra more often than not focus on one side of the story without attending to the contentions on the other. This skews the reasoning and results in a kind of sophistry, a dubious analysis that seeks to replace balance with antagonism, even-handedness with vitriol. Yes, criticism of Israel’s policies does not necessarily equate anti-Semitism. Yet in most situations these days, it does—and masking it only makes it worse.

Meet the new boss … same as the old boss.

It seems like a similar belief system, doesn’t it? The old verbal attacks and canards of yore are back with a vengeance, clad in new clothes and broadcasting new slogans, though they retain the animosity Jews were all too familiar with way back when. Now, however, the gist is that Hebrews do not deserve a state, that they are only legitimate when wandering, that God, somehow, determined they should be landless, nomadic, bereft of political voice. Fear of Jewish power is still the name of the game here, and Israel is at the nexus of that invective. We still control the media, the banks, the purse strings of politicians. Only this time we do it with a country.

I will always believe in the power of conversation to resolve differences, and discourse can only help in this vein. But we cannot ignore the fact that anti-Semitism has become pervasive among advocates of the left, and there is no difference, when the diatribes are boiled down, between their bias and that of those on the right. Ignoring this phenomenon will only allow it to fester, and we cannot, as a people, idly stand back. Education is the way to go, methinks, as well as dialogue, and we can also address such vilification through advocacy and support of anti-defamation organizations. These are small steps, but they will help. And the more people attend to them, the more we can mitigate hate.

The entrepreneurial spirit of the left formed the foundations of the state of Israel and assisted greatly in its development. It is part of what made the country so successful, and it’s an integral part of its fabric today. Let’s see to it that this quality is maintained, minus the anti-Semitism that appears to have become tangled in its threads. After all, it’s not like we haven’t encountered this type of thing before. It’s now just in an updated costume.

We won’t get fooled again, that’s for sure. Then again, I’m not merely talking about my generation.

About the Author
Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and has interviewed innumerable people—including two Auschwitz survivors whose story may be heard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. His views and opinions are his own.
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