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January 7, 2020 9:16 am

After Antisemitic Attacks, a Call for Moral Clarity on the Left

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avatar by Melissa Landa


The “No Hate, No Fear” march against antisemitism in New York City, January 5, 2020. Photo: screenshot.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of people gathered in New York City to march across the Brooklyn Bridge and send a unified message against antisemitism. Several Jewish organizations, in collaboration with elected officials, called for the march after the recent spate of antisemitic attacks, including the one in Monsey, New York.

In a remarkably powerful interview that she gave as she walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, The New York Times’ Bari Weiss observed that the dangerous antisemitism in progressive circles and the recent antisemitic attacks in New York perpetrated by people of color have not been addressed with any degree of “moral clarity.” She applied that lack of moral clarity to Bernie Sanders’ choice of Linda Sarsour as his “surrogate,” given her close affiliation with the virulent antisemite Louis Farrakhan, and to New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s comparison of Al Sharpton to Martin Luther King, which she referred to as “a national scandal,” given Sharpton’s incitement to violence against Jews in Crown Heights in 1991.

Weiss’ words about the lack of moral clarity on antisemitism in progressive circles resonated with me, particularly given the circumstances surrounding a vigil I attended later that same day in Takoma Park, Maryland.

The vigil, called “Stand Up to Antisemitism,” was a private event planned by three residents of Takoma Park. Despite several politicians, including Mayor Kate Stewart, being lined up to speak at the event, the description of the vigil stated, “Bring non-political signs if you wish.”

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According to one of the organizers, who identifies as a Zionist, the message reflected their hope to discourage all references to Israel and Zionism, based on their concern that pro-BDS residents of Takoma Park would mar the event with anti-Israel rhetoric and imagery.

Less than six months ago, and despite public outcry, the city of Takoma Park, with the consent of the mayor, used taxpayer funds to screen the antisemitic film The Occupation of the American Mind in the city’s community center. The film, narrated by known antisemite Roger Waters, claims, among other things, that Israel and AIPAC “shape American media coverage of the conflict in Israel’s favor.”

However, in light of the antisemitism that is being generated, in part, by the BDS movement, the Jewish organizers of the vigil should not have had to shoulder the burden of seeing the Jewish state portrayed negatively during their event. Instead, during the recent months of violent antisemitic attacks in New York and New Jersey subsequent to Takoma Park’s screening of the antisemitic film, Mayor Kate Stewart should have reflected on the potential danger of her own activities, which veer into the antisemitic. Then, when she accepted the invitation to speak at the vigil, she should have informed the organizers of her intention to apologize for her promulgation of antisemitic messages via the BDS movement, and of her intention to renounce her support of the BDS movement during her speech. But she did not.

As the vigil proceeded, I was reminded of Weiss’ words again, when Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando took the microphone. Despite having signed a letter back in July that expressed “grave concern” about the city’s showing of The Occupation of the American Mind, Jawando now portrayed antisemitism as exclusively a right-wing phenomenon. Jawando seemed more focused on pandering to his progressive audience than on honestly addressing the fact that antisemitism is coming at Jews from both the left and the right. And despite most of the attackers in the New Jersey, Monsey, and Brooklyn attacks being people of color, Jawando continued by falsely referring to all violent antisemites as white supremacists.

From Bernie Sanders and Bill De Blasio to Will Jawando and Kate Stewart, progressive leaders in the United States still are not displaying moral clarity when it comes to addressing antisemitism. They persist in remaining silent when antisemites are people of color. They are willing to accept fabricated anti-Israel propaganda as factual information, and refuse to recognize the antisemitic tropes that are contained within. And they deny the obvious reality — that the BDS movement is a call for the annihilation of Israel.

In light of the recent vicious and violent attacks on Jews, it is reasonable for American Jews on the left to be concerned that this lack of moral clarity is going to be a permanent fixture among progressive leaders across all levels of government. It is, therefore, incumbent upon them to demand that Sanders and De Blasio and more local leaders like Jawando and Stewart comprehensively and honestly confront antisemitism in all of its forms. If they do not, American Jews must ensure that progressive leaders face political consequences when they go to the polls.

Melissa Landa Ph.D has been addressing the pernicious tactics and goals of the BDS campaign for four years. Most recently, she founded and directs the new anti-BDS organization Alliance for Israel.

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