The Forward’s Backwards Approach to Antisemitism
As leaders on the far-left, including Linda Sarsour, Ilhan Omar, Tamika Mallory, and Marc Lamont Hill, have plunged progressively deeper into antisemitic positions, The Forward’s opinion editor, Batya Ungar-Sargon, has equivocated on the issue of antisemitism itself.
In a November 19 opinion article — published in the midst of the Women’s March and Sarsour-Farrakhan controversies — Ungar-Sargon professed to be “shocked by the language” from Sarsour, conceding that it “deploy(ed) a classic anti-Semitic dogwhistle … [that Jews] masquerade as progressives but always choose their allegiance to Israel over their commitment to democracy and free speech.” Ungar-Sargon conceded that this accusation of Jews having dual loyalties were “a staple of anti-Semitic literature.”
But in the very same piece, Ungar-Sargon summons the temerity to declare that “Sarsour successfully toes the line of being anti-Zionist without being anti-semitic.” This follows a May opinion article in which Ungar-Sargon declared, without any citation or support whatsoever, that it was Sarsour’s goal “to eradicate anti-Semitism.”
If you’re having difficulty reconciling the position that someone like Sarsour can frequently say antisemitic things “without being anti-semitic” while wanting to “eradicate” antisemitism, you’re not alone.
What is most revealing about Ungar-Sargon is her frequent criticism of American and Israeli Jewish communities in response to these controversies.
In a November 21 opinion piece in which Ungar-Sargon again partially defended Sarsour, she wrote of the Jewish community, “We have our share of ‘Louis Farrakhans.’” Ungar-Sargon didn’t stop there, accusing some Jews of welcoming these Farrakhan types.
Perhaps she believes that she is insulated from the implications of her writing because she is Jewish. But the accomplished opinion editor should know better. Just being a member of a group doesn’t allow you to criticize or discriminate against it without cause. A woman may not refuse to hire other women. A Jew may not refuse to hire other Jews. In the college classes I teach, I have had a number of African-American students tell me that in some African and African-American circles and cultures, light-skinned individuals will discriminate against darker-skinned people. This is not okay simply because both groups identify as black. Such treatment remains firmly discriminatory, unequivocally bigoted, and has no place in our society.
Ungar-Sargon’s comments reflect ignorance, classic antisemitism, and textbook, deep-rooted bigotry. Unsurprisingly, Ungar-Sargon lacks the courage or integrity to put forward the name of one single Jewish person that she accuses of being a “Louis Farrakhan,” nor even one solitary example of how any such person has been “welcomed” into the Jewish community.
Incredibly, Ungar-Sargon’s views of the Jewish community are the least problematic of her missives. Readers of her column have observed Ungar-Sargon’s relentless determination to play down antisemitism.
In a piece from May 15, Ungar Sargon stunningly declared that Jews “don’t face systemic discrimination” and “don’t have to deal with … workplace discrimination, or poverty.” In other words, she refutes — with no evidence whatsoever — any claims that Jews are regularly denied jobs because they wore a religious head covering to an interview or because they revealed they could not work on Saturdays or because they had a Jewish last name or because of their Jewish heritage. This surely comes as a surprise to those of her Jewish readers that have experienced such terrible things firsthand.
She also makes these claims at a time when American Jewry represents approximately two percent of the population while suffering over 57 percent of all religious hate crimes. Recent statistics demonstrate not just that Jews are definitively victims of discrimination, but that African-Americans and Jews represent – by far — the two groups most systemically victimized by hate crimes. This is to say nothing of the ubiquitous reports of antisemitism against students on college campuses.
No doubt, Ungar-Sargon’s agenda is aided by her demonstrably false claim that Jews are not systemic victims of discrimination. That’s why, without statistics or citation, she insists on repeatedly publishing this myth in The Forward, even while reams of data demonstrate that she is not telling us the truth.
When former Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind recently took to Twitter to express displeasure at the antisemitism he observed emanating from the Women’s March and lamented what he referred to as “so-called” Jews who participated in antisemitism, Ungar-Sargon quickly criticized Mr. Hikind, tweeting, “‘So-called Jews.’ You should be ashamed of yourself, Assemblyman.”
To be clear, I would not classify Ms. Ungar-Sargon, or other Jews that share her views on antisemitism, as “so-called” Jews. Their identity is their heritage. It cannot and should not be taken away.
But, just like anyone else, with any other heritage, from any other group, their individual views, and their individual actions, beliefs, and statements are fully their own responsibility; and those personal views are what should determine who they are as people, beyond their immutable race, color, nationality, gender, heritage, culture, or other inherited identity.
It is my hope that Jews and all others who reject all forms of antisemitism will stand up to this hateful rhetoric and continue to do what many have already been doing: turn Ungar-Sargon, and The Forward, away.
Jeffrey Lax is an attorney, professor, and department chair at the City University of New York (CUNY). He writes for Medium and sometimes hosts a talk radio show in NYC.