Antisemitism Isn’t Caused by the Political Left or Right
The recent attacks against the Jewish community have revealed a surprising abundance of self-proclaimed experts on the causes of antisemitism.
For example, a Jewish ex-New York Times reporter, writing on the op-ed page of the Washington Post on March 3, declared that “the growing examples of antisemitism … [were] enabled, if not inspired, by [President Donald] Trump’s white nationalism.”
In another case, the leader of one Jewish progressive group recently suggested that President Trump is engaged in “outright advancement” of antisemitism.
At the other end of the political spectrum, the president of one small Zionist organization asserted, without evidence, that the antisemitic incidents were “acts of frustration and misery” over the Trump administration’s support for Israel. He even claimed the attacks were “encouraged” by the recent UN resolution on Israel.
There was also a veritable torrent of assertions by pundits and Jewish organizations that President Trump could help stem the hate by being more vocal in his condemnations.
Presidential pronouncements can indeed play a role in shaping public attitudes, so it’s good that President Trump has made public pronouncements on the subject, including in his recent speech to Congress.
But the arrest and indictment of a St. Louis man for making “at least eight” of the recent anti-Jewish bomb threats pulls the rug out from under the politically oriented “explanations” of antisemitism.
The suspect, Juan Thompson, is not a “white nationalist.” He was not inspired or encouraged by Donald Trump. Nor was he protesting the president’s support for Israel or the UN resolution, or emboldened by those on the political Left.
He’s an African-American journalist with extreme political views that predate Trump, and that are unrelated to Israel. Thompson’s Twitter profile features this Malcom X quotation: “You show me a capitalist, and I’ll show you a bloodsucker.” According to the indictment, Thompson perpetrated the crimes in order to pin them on his ex-girlfriend.
Sure, it’s convenient to blame one’s political opponents for antisemitism. But it would make more sense to blame the antisemites themselves. Thugs who threaten Jewish institutions or desecrate Jewish gravestones are not usually motivated by some policy position of a president. They assault Jewish institutions or Jewish property because they hate Jews, because of deep personal problems or due to some combination thereof.
Antisemitic incidents will not end with the arrest of Juan Thompson. So how will all of our experts “explain” incidents that occur months, or years, after some presidential statement or United Nations resolution? Who will be blamed then?
It’s a fair bet that some Jews will take to blaming each other. The sad phenomenon of Jews accusing other Jews of provoking antisemitism can be found throughout Jewish history. In recent times, assimilated Jews have claimed that Zionist Jews provoke accusations of dual loyalty. In the 1970s, Jewish conservatives claimed that Jewish opponents of the Vietnam War would provoke an antisemitic backlash. And some liberal Jews today claim that Israel’s behavior is the cause of Arab antisemitism.
These kinds of hypotheses have been tested many times, and always fail. Even those German Jews who gave up all of their Jewish beliefs and practices were still murdered by the Nazis. Russian Jews who embraced communism were still purged and persecuted by the Soviets. Jews in Arab countries were oppressed long before the state of Israel came into existence. And neither Jewish liberalism nor Jewish conservatism has provoked pogroms in the United States.
The bomb threats and cemetery desecrations were not caused by either President Trump’s policies or President Obama’s abstention on the UN resolution, nor by Jews being too liberal or too conservative. There is no simple explanation for antisemitism. Sometimes it is influenced by religious or political factors, sometimes by socioeconomic situations. Often it is triggered by deeply personal circumstances. Antisemitism has no single cause, and no single cure.
Passions are rising throughout the American Jewish community, and those passions sometimes fuel bitter partisanship. Vigorous debate is an important part of a healthy democratic society. But using antisemitism as a rhetorical cudgel with which to beat one’s political rivals is not. Recklessly blaming others for antisemitism — and not blaming the antisemitics themselves — does a great disservice to public discourse.
Dr. Medoff is the author or editor of 16 books on Jewish history, Zionism and the Holocaust.