The social unrest sweeping the US offers insight into the mindset of Jewish liberals who overlook antisemitism on the left and in a Democratic Party that has become increasingly radicalized.
This phenomenon arises either from ignorance or the conflation of Jewishness with liberal political values and a deterioration of traditional Jewish identity. Those who generations ago would have tried “to pass” by avoiding social conflict now embrace it while validating progressive activists whose agendas include disparaging Israel, even calling for its destruction, and harassing Jews where they live, work, and worship.
Racism is certainly a societal evil that should be eradicated in all its forms. But why does this involve empowering extremists who inflame mob passions with antisemitic imagery or incite violence against Jewish targets – as recently occurred at Black Lives Matter protests in Los Angeles, New York, and elsewhere. How can it legitimize alliances with those who claim to oppose racism while slandering Jews and Israel with malignant stereotypes reminiscent of Der Stürmer.
Somehow, Jewish liberals are often quick to partner with progressive or identity organizations that in turn endorse the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) movement, the Nation of Islam, and Islamists dedicated to exterminating Israel and her people. They justify such alliances by claiming they can collaborate on racial issues while “agreeing to disagree” with those organizations’ antipathy toward Jews and Israel. This sophistry is untenable.
Inconsistency thoroughly suffuses leftist political thought. Most progressives, for example, believe legislative efforts to reform immigration or voter registration laws are innately “racist” no matter how neutral the language or broad the application. Though their reflexive use of the term renders it a hollow epithet, it leaves an indelible stain whenever asserted. The only avenue for absolution when accused is to admit one’s alleged bigotry and waive any reputational defense. This political coercion,has a chilling effect on speech – particularly when reinforced by complicit journalists.
The left does not apply the same standard to the antisemitism so firmly ingrained in its political psyche. Have any progressive leaders, for example, have condemned BDS for its systemic anti-Jewish bias; or shunned Congressional Democrats Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, or former Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour for inflammatory rhetoric regarding Jews and/or Israel? And mainstream Democrats were mute when protestors at BLM demonstrations assaulted Jewish schools, businesses, and synagogues in Los Angeles and threatened the Jewish diamond district in New York.
In fact, no leaders in the current protest movement have meaningfully condemned antisemitism, and many seem to endorse it. Some of the deadliest anti-Jewish attacks in recent months, including those in Jersey City and Monsey, NY, were carried out not by white supremacists, but by members of minority
Cries of “kill the Jews” are not unique to American protests. Indeed, the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France and European Jewish Congress have documented similar deadly chants at demonstrations in Europe – where the self-same prejudice had earlier inspired Crusaders, pogromists, and Nazis to commit genocide.
The liberal Jewish establishment seems reluctant to admit that antisemitism exists on the left or in minority and Muslim communities, despite its upward trend since the days of the Obama administration. Moreover, liberals have shown a facile willingness to forgive antisemitic Democrats when they “apologize” for offensive comments without actually acknowledging or recanting their bigotry.
“There is nothing new under the sun,” wrote King Solomon (Kohelet, 1:9), and new canards like “Jewish privilege” merely repackage ancient myths of Jewish power and control. Though some liberals have conceded that recent mob violence did indeed target Jewish victims, they minimize its significance by saying the current unrest is “not about the Jews.” However, when revisionist history is used to falsely depict them as racial oppressors or architects of the slave trade and unleash violence against them, it becomes very much about the Jews, irrespective of complicit mainstream silence. Only useful idiots would claim otherwise.
Liberal denial of progressive antisemitism is either the height of cognitive dissonance or the nadir of self-loathing. Regardless of which, this is not the first time “enlightened” Jews have forsaken their ancestral loyalties and endorsed movements that reject their humanity.
Since the French Enlightenment, secular Jews have deluded themselves into believing that liberalism is the fulfillment of prophecy and that Torah sanctifies temporal humanism over Jewish continuity. But such thinking reflects Jewish illiteracy and overlooks the bigotry of a progressive pantheon that detested Jewish religion and nationhood.
The fathers of western liberalism merely secularized Christian antisemitism and portrayed Jews as crass materialists, cultural usurpers, economic predators, and eternal foreigners – caricatures that persist within the current protest movement.
One need only read the words of the Enlightenment’s greatest icons to see that Jew-hatred permeated their ideology from the beginning.
Though known for championing civil and political equality, for example, Voltaire regarded Jews with contempt. In his Philosophical Dictionary, he harangued: “The Jews are an ignorant and barbarous people, who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition and the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched.”
So did Denis Diderot, who characterized Jews as primitive outsiders to European society; and Montesquieu, who advised his fellow enlighteners to “know that wherever there is money there are Jews” and who falsely claimed the Talmud rendered the Jews coarse and vulgar.
Even those who preached toleration believed in extending civil rights to Jews only to extinguish their heritage and facilitate assimilation. This was illustrated in Count Stanislas de Clermont-Tonnerre’s address to the French National Assembly in 1789, when he stated, “the Jews should be denied everything as a nation, but granted everything as individuals.”
As Enlightenment gave way to more radical philosophies, antisemitic stereotypes continued to provide exemplars of all that progressivism rejected. Karl Marx wrote that money is the true object of Jewish worship and that: “The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew…The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money in general.” He further portrayed Jews as societal corruptors, writing: “Contempt for theory, art, history, and for man as an end in himself, which is contained in an abstract form in the Jewish religion, is the real, conscious standpoint, the virtue of the man of money.”
These views are no different from those of contemporary protest leaders and ideologues who praise BDS, Louis Farrakhan and genocidal Islamists; who hate Jews and Israel pathologically; and who deviously claim that US law enforcement uses racially-abusive tactics developed by Israelis.
And yet liberal Jews continue to support them.
But then again, progressives have always embraced ideologies that disparage Jewish heritage and history. During the Enlightenment, they rejected Jewishness as insular, whereas today they embrace it by ignorantly conflating it with liberalism. In so doing, they misrepresent Jewish tradition.
Fighting racism is a noble cause; but endorsing radicals who engage in stereotyping, advocate Israel’s destruction, and attack Jewish schools, businesses, and synagogues is not. It evokes bygone revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg, who felt no affinity for fellow Jews. “I have no room in my heart for Jewish suffering,” she wrote, “Why do you pester me with Jewish troubles?” She died violently, estranged from her people.
The question is whether today’s progressive apologists and their progeny will likewise remain estranged. Without any allegiance to authentic Jewish tradition, they will probably assimilate and disappear – just as the architects of the Enlightenment intended and the progressive left would prefer.