The antisemitism pandemic

Liberals who tolerate no bigotry from conservatives will excuse antisemitic leftists who call for the destruction of Israel. Op-ed.

Matthew M. Hausman  ,

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

Upon awakening in the morning, an observant Jew’s first thought is supposed to be directed toward G-d with the recitation of Modeh Ani (מודה אני), the prayer expressing thanks for the return of the soul to the body. Thereafter and throughout the day, observant Jews conduct their lives according to the commandments set forth in the Torah and values elucidated in sacred literature.

Knowing the laws regarding prayer, kashrut, charity, interpersonal and professional conduct, and how mitzvah observance relates to the proper functioning of society, reminds Jews of their relationship with G-d and His involvement in their daily lives. This reinforces the belief that G-d is continually engaged with the world and that every Jew has the innate ability to communicate directly with Him without need for intermediaries.

Jewish tradition similarly teaches that society cannot exist in a spiritual vacuum, a concept succinctly reflected by the words of Pirkei Avot (1:2) stating: “The world rests upon three things, Torah, avodah [divine service], and gemilut hasadim [acts of kindness].” This dictum is actualized when Jews live according to their law and tradition and recognize how belief and observance enable them to fulfill their mission as a “light to the nations” (אור לגויים‎).

But what happens when they abandon traditional belief and instead worship alien ideals that contravene Jewish law? Or when nontraditional movements and secular communal organizations conflate rabbinic values with partisan politics? The result is moral confusion that threatens Jewish continuity and excuses antisemitism in progressive and identity communities with whom many liberals find common cause.

Evidence of Jew-hatred among progressives and minority communities abounds and yet liberals often deny its existence or rationalize it as a response to imaginary Jewish indiscretions. Or they vindicate it by misrepresenting Jewish history, forsaking Israel, and shielding leftists from accusations of bias.

Radicals who preach the destruction of Israel or Jewish culture deny they are antisemitic by pointing to Jewish progressives who do the same. How can they be antisemitic, they ask, when “enlightened” Jews also reject their tradition and characterize Israel as a colonial enterprise? Even moderate liberals excuse radical hatred when they are ignorant of Jewish history or believe Torah values equal progressivism.

Nothing illustrates this more than their refusal to recognize antisemitism within the current protest movement or at the center of the revisionist Palestinian narrative.

Despite the myth of progressive tolerance, antisemitism has permeated leftist thought for generations – becoming especially shrill after the 1967 war – and has clearly infected today’s liberal mainstream. It seems that “radical chic” of the 1960s paved the way for left-wing antisemitism in the twenty-first century.

Jewish progressives who renounce tradition often seek spiritual fulfillment by sanctifying political ideologies and paying lip-service to rabbinic values they reject. Many who spurn tradition portray spirituality as progressive idealism, with typically implausible results. Some support the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) movement, Students for Justice in Palestine, or organizations like J Street or New Israel Fund. Others endorse Antifa or applaud Black Lives Matter activists who falsely accuse Israel of apartheid, support BDS, and honor Louis Farrakhan.

Progressives justify these affiliations by wrongly equating tikkun olam with “social justice” and claiming mussar-inspired introspection leads them to reject Israel. Clearly, they understand neither concept.

The result of such thinking is that liberals who tolerate no bigotry from conservatives often excuse antisemitic leftists who call for the destruction of the Jewish State.

Republicans ostracized Congressman Steve King for comments deemed racist during his tenure in the House, and the party ultimately stripped him of his committee assignments in 2018 and supported his opponent in the 2020 Republican primary. In contrast, when Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or other Congressional Democrats made offensive or insensitive comments regarding Jews or Israel, Democratic leadership rushed to their defense and proclaimed them valuable members of the caucus.

This partisan hypocrisy runs deep and pushes Democratic priorities into the realm of the absurd. Whereas House Democrats last year held hearings on the threat of right-wing extremism, for example, they refused to investigate Antifa for domestic terrorism and instead treated violent protests where people were injured and property destroyed as “democracy in action.”

Neo-Nazis are not the ones instigating the civil unrest that is now roiling the nation and which has included physical violence, assaults on police officers and federal courthouses, and mob attacks against Jews, their businesses, schools, and synagogues.

Though liberals have made condemning racism against African-Americans and other minorities a litmus test for conservatives and Republicans, they have refused to regard anti-Jewish racism with equal seriousness. Only Republicans have made fighting Jew-hatred a moral priority, while House Democrats could not even pass a resolution condemning antisemitism (which was necessitated by comments from members of their own caucus) until they rewrote it as a generic denunciation of all hatreds and omitted specific reference to Jews.

Antisemitism is clearly at play in the 2020 presidential race, but establishment liberals will not acknowledge its pervasiveness. Moreover, they tout Joe Biden as good for Israel and the Jews without any critical analysis, irrespective of a record marked by many troubling incidents, including:

  • threatening Menachem Begin in the halls of the Senate in 1982;
  • blaming Israeli policies for terrorism against Jews while ignoring Palestinian antisemitic rejectionism;
  • falsely identifying the historically Jewish Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in Jerusalem as disputed territory and condemning construction there in 2010;
  • criticizing President Trump’s relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem in compliance with legislation that Biden himself had supported as a Senator in 1995.
  • serving as vice president in a virulently anti-Israel administration that consistently undermined PM Netanyahu and Israeli national integrity, and which in 2016 coordinated UN Resolution 2334 in an effort to deny Jewish sovereignty and erase the Jews’ historical presence from Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.

Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, whose self-proclaimed affinity for Israel is inconsistent with her failure to attend this year’s AIPAC conference, desires to reinstate the Iran nuclear deal, and failed to condemn bigoted remarks by Ilhan Omar. Jewish voters should be apprehensive that Harris appeared to show greater concern for Omar’s welfare after her odious comments than the targets of her incitement.

Though the failure to condemn antisemitism among fellow Democrats should be an electoral red flag, it instead elicits silence from establishment liberals.

If Jewish Democrats were truly alarmed by surging antisemitism or existential threats to Israel, they would mobilize against the hate-speech of prominent athletes and celebrities. They would also challenge abhorrent commentary in mainstream media outlets that provide platforms for BDS advocacy and downplay reports of antisemitic acts committed by progressive or minority activists. Liberals prefer instead to put their slurs “in context” or blame President Trump.

Those who invoke Jewish tradition to justify partisan affiliations should learn what it actually entails before conflating it with ideals that are extraneous to or inconsistent with Jewish law.
Sadly, many seem embarrassed by Jewish pride and assertiveness, which progressives often deride as chauvinistic “microaggressions.”

Jewish voters can dislike Trump for his personality, politics, behavior, or job performance, but they cannot base their disdain on rabbinic tradition they know little about. Indeed, in the current political climate – where violent hatred of Jews and Israel has become acceptable among identity groups and progressive Democrats – they cannot claim that any current Democratic candidate is especially philosemitic or pro-Israel.

Authentic Jewish values are not synonymous with progressivism and do not demand allegiance to the Democratic Party. Accordingly, those who invoke Jewish tradition to justify partisan affiliations should learn what it actually entails before conflating it with ideals that are extraneous to or inconsistent with Jewish law.

Whereas most American Jews are nonobservant, many still yearn to express themselves spiritually – though they may no longer know how. In contrast, those who start the morning with “Modeh Ani” are familiar with their history, traditions and holy obligations, including the commandment to end their day by reciting the bedtime Shema affirming G-d’s oneness. Beginning and ending the day with words of prayer gives traditional Jews a spiritual template for conducting their lives from dawn to dusk. Can those who abandon Torah values for temporal politics say the same?