Trump Encourages Right-Wing Antisemites, but They Also Exist on the Left
JNS.org – We live in a time when — as the US State Department has noted — a “rising tide of antisemitism” has swept across the globe. This has partly happened because intellectual elites and some Muslims have produced a surge of venom against Israel and Jews. This movement has found a foothold on American campuses and among some left-wing groups, resulting in Jews being stigmatized and isolated in the public square, and students being subjected to violence and intimidation.
But the growth of this noxious form of hate is not what many American Jews are most worried about. Instead, it is sights like neo-Nazis and their Ku Klux Klan and alt-right allies parading in Charlottesville, Virginia, that scares Jews the most.
A reasonable argument, however, can be put forward to assert that the left-wing poses a more serious menace to global Jewish security. But fear of the antisemitic right is always going to be the threat that resonates the most in the Jewish community. The thought process leading to that conclusion might be debatable, but it also reflects a disturbing truth about the persistence of antisemitism — and the failure of both liberals and conservatives to think clearly about the issue.
Part of the reason why right-wing antisemites are scarier to American Jews is a function of imagery and historical memory. The spectacle in Charlottesville is chilling in of itself, but also because it is reminiscent of the Holocaust. These thugs aren’t anything close to being the threat that the Nazis were in Germany, but their brazenness provides a visceral shock that even the most vicious, and perhaps more influential, Jew-haters on the left can’t provoke.
The increasingly central role that antisemitic attitudes are playing on the left often flies under the flag of anti-Zionism, rather than open Jew-hatred. But that is a distinction without a difference. Even in the US, where this hate against Israel is less prevalent than in Europe, it has meant boycotts and even violence, as well as inflammatory rhetoric. This rhetoric comes from many prominent members of the anti-Trump “resistance.”
Liberal Jews have been slow to respond to this threat, because it requires them to confront erstwhile allies who are part of the Democratic Party base — or groups that they view with sympathy, like Black Lives Matter or organizations that purport to represent the LGBTQ community.
But liberals aren’t the only ones who have ignored things that didn’t fit into their worldview. Republicans have become a lockstep pro-Israel party. Many Republicans believed that the main organs of conservatism like the National Review chased antisemites out of the movement long ago. This has led Jewish conservatives to believe that the virus of right-wing antisemitism was dead and buried. But antisemitism on the right has made a comeback.
Neo-Nazis the Klan,and their alt-right allies, may be small in number and make up only a small fraction of the coalition that elected Trump. But their impact is magnified by Trump’s reluctance to consistently take them on. In my view, Trump is no antisemite, and he has governed as a staunch friend of Israel. Yet he has encouraged right-wing antisemites by alleging a false moral equivalence with those who oppose them, while also signaling sympathy with the cause (preserving Confederate statues) that the antisemites and racists turned out to support in Charlottesville.
Neo-Nazis may seem scarier than Jew-haters on the left, but the challenge for American Jews now lies in trying to rise above the partisan loyalties that can blind us to both sides of the antisemitic coin.
Liberals prefer to ignore the potent influence of those who promulgate antisemitic boycotts of Israel, while encouraging intimidation and attacks against Jews. Many seem to think calling out left-wing antisemites in the anti-Trump resistance is not as important as opposing the administration. At the same time, conservatives need to acknowledge that speaking up about the antisemitic and racist right isn’t chasing ghosts. They need to understand that calling out Trump for his encouragement of alt-right antisemites will neither betray Israel nor aid left-wing Jew-haters.
What is needed is a Jewish community with the wisdom to take up the fight against hate and bigotry no matter its origin. Until that happens, liberals and conservatives alike will continue to fail to adequately address a problem that ought to transcend politics.
Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.