Antifa and anti-Semitism
Antifa and anti-Semitism

The American media has been straining mightily to link Donald Trump to the “Alt-right” and to blame conservatives for increased anti-Semitism and social unrest.  Nevertheless, the uptick in partisan violence and anti-Jewish rhetoric these days seems to come more from the left than the right.  This is not to ignore the actions of neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and right-wing extremists; but they don’t have sympathetic journalists portraying them as legitimate protesters or mainstream politicians rationalizing their conduct.

The Alt-right are also not instigating much of the conflict marring town squares and college campuses today.   No, this is most often the work of progressive activists and groups, like the Antifa movement, who engage in confrontation and seek to suppress speech.  And the epidemic of campus anti-Semitism is largely attributable to liberal BDS advocates, leftist faculty stooges, and Islamists – not neo-Nazis or white supremacists, who unlike progressives don’t have a symbiotic relationship with American academia.

One can disagree with President Trump or dislike him for any number of reasons, but he cannot reasonably be blamed for suppressing speech, encouraging political violence, or promoting anti-Semitism.  These excesses today are more closely associated with leftists who justify radicalism with dubious victimhood narratives and benefit from media enablers who downplay their extremism.  They are also empowered by the refusal of many Democrats to categorically condemn progressive intolerance.

Last summer’s shooting of softball-playing Congressional Republicans by a former Bernie Sanders volunteer exposed the gross hypocrisy regarding left-wing extremism.  Many Democrats failed to denounce the shooter’s motivations without qualification, instead lamenting “extremism on all sides” to imply that conservative rhetoric was somehow a motivating factor.  Such tepid denunciations contrasted with their penchant for vilifying political opponents as racists, bigots and fascists.  Instead of engaging in honest debate, progressive Democrats often excoriate Republican critics of Obamacare as granny-killing misanthropes, for example, and are quick to label those leading the charge against Muslim extremists as Islamophobic hatemongers.  They freely impugn their opponents’ humanity, but abdicate responsibility when their words incite violence. 

This hypocrisy becomes clearer in its broader historical context.  When the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed in 1995, liberals blamed conservative talk radio until the public outcry against their exploitation of the calamity became a public relations liability.  Similarly, partisan ideologues accused Republicans in 2011 of inciting the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by a crazed assailant, who as it turned out was a political independent with a history of mental illness.  Despite the absence of any link between these tragedies and conservative speech, progressive activists seized both opportunities to disparage Republicans and call for unconstitutional restrictions on political expression.

It is not uncommon for partisan demagogues to gin up the base by demeaning their opponents.  Right-wingers do it when they accuse Democrats of being socialists or communists, and leftists do so when they refer to conservatives as Nazis and employ the term “fascist” to describe anybody with whom they disagree.  But what distinguishes the left these days is its compulsion to forego dialogue and portray conservatism as inherently evil, while giving a pass to progressives who engage in violence, intimidation, and public vandalism.

Progressive Jews are complicit when they define their partisan agenda as synonymous with Judaism, even though many of its core priorities (e.g., nontraditional marriage, single-payer healthcare, and Palestinian advocacy) are inconsistent with, antithetical, or simply irrelevant to traditional Jewish law and values.  By claiming their agenda is innately Jewish, they mean to imply that any deviation from it raises the specter of anti-Semitism.  This is nonsense, however, especially considering that anti-Semites who express their hatred as “anti-Zionism” or by spouting anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are among the leaders of progressive political society.  The acceptability of anti-Jewish bigotry was painfully obvious when party extremists burned Israeli flags outside the 2016 Democratic National Convention without censure from party leadership, which instead attempted to draw them back into the fold.

The Jewish left has also helped sanitize the image of radical groups like Antifa (short for “Anti-Fascist”), with some commentators comparing them to the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee of the 1940s, while implicitly equating American conservatives with Nazis.  There is no moral comparison, however, between Republicans and Nazis or Trump and Hitler.  And despite being labelled “Jewish,” the original Anti-Fascist Committee was largely a Soviet propaganda tool.  It was not really established to fight fascism or save Jews from the Holocaust; and it was disbanded (and its chairman assassinated) when its members criticized Russian anti-Semitism and sought to aid Jewish refugees after the war.  Thus, the attempt to sanctify today’s extremists by symmetry with a dubious political myth rings hollow.

Today’s Antifa movement claims to oppose all forms of bigotry, including anti-Semitism, but liberals should be troubled that many of the same anti-Israel academics behind BDS are among the loudest voices calling for a national Antifa campus network.  Considering the anti-Semitism observed among supporters of the now irrelevant Occupy Wall Street movement, fears that Antifa will attract progressive bigots should be taken seriously.

Liberals, unfortunately, have a poor record of spotting anti-Semitism within their ranks, as evidenced by their embrace of OWS despite the anti-Israel sloganeering seen at rallies, the calls of many supporters to “occupy AIPAC,” and the promotion by many of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.  

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security characterized Antifa’s activities as “domestic terrorism” in early 2016, although President Obama chose not to act on their observations or conclusions.
The failure to acknowledge leftist bigotry then does not instill confidence in the ability to monitor it now. 

Despite claiming to oppose all forms of bigotry, left-wing extremists nonetheless seem quite tolerant of Islamists who believe in jihad, genocide, and the subjugation of religious and ethnic minorities.  Although Antifa does not have an institutional hierarchy that sets policy, it seems to draw from an ideological pool (i.e., the extreme left) that is inherently hostile to Israel and traditional Judaism.  Accordingly, rather than coddle it, the liberal mainstream should be wary of its goals and skeptical of its intentions. 

The liberal establishment, however, will not be up to the task if it continues soft-pedaling radicalism or claiming that progressive extremism is an understandable response to right-wing effrontery – characterizations with which federal law enforcement would likely disagree.  According to recent reports, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security characterized Antifa’s activities as “domestic terrorism” in early 2016, although President Obama chose not to act on their observations or conclusions.  Similarly, Obama did nothing to curb the growth of anti-Semitism during his tenure or to contain domestic Islamists and front organizations.  

And despite claims of rising Jew-hatred since Trump’s election, research has shown that much of the increase in anti-Semitic activity observed in recent years has been instigated by leftist and Islamist interests (though right-wing Jew-hatred certainly still exists).  Consequently, placing sole blame on white supremacists for the current wave of anti-Semitism – including abuses by progressive thugs against Jewish students on liberal campuses across the country – is deceitful, ignorant, or cognitively dissonant.  

If liberals today are really vexed by a lack of civility in public discourse, their failure to condemn the excesses of their compatriots is curious and troubling.  President Trump has become a foil for them to deflect responsibility for their own incitement of hatred and social discord, which they euphemistically refer to as “the resistance.”  They accuse Trump of fostering bigotry against Jews (despite his history of supporting Israel and Jewish causes), while simultaneously facilitating progressive anti-Semitism by defending it as political speech or artfully blaming Israeli policies for engendering backlash.  In so doing, they ignore the role their identity politics has played in creating divisiveness over the last eight years – perhaps more than any policy of Trump in his first nine months in office.  

Liberals and Democrats have every right to disagree with Trump, but they should hold themselves to objective standards of honesty.  If they are genuinely concerned about anti-Semitism now, they should explain their silence about it during the Obama years – when synagogues were defaced, cemeteries were desecrated, Jewish college students were assaulted, and the administration was complicit, by act or omission, in some of the most vile, anti-Israel resolutions ever passed in the UN.  Likewise, they should condemn BDS and acknowledge that a majority of their party has indeed abandoned Israel.  And if they truly want to purge their souls, they should acknowledge their failure to chastise fellow progressives for promoting global Jewish conspiracy myths and seeking alignment with Islamists dedicated to destroying Israel and exterminating the Jews. 

Most importantly, they need to be morally consistent.  President Trump may be prone to gaffes and provocative statements, and he may not have the same oratory skills as some of his predecessors, but when he condemned anti-Semitism in the wake of cemetery desecrations a few months ago, he did not falsely equate it with Islamophobia as Obama’s minions were wont to do.  Nor has he ever treated Israel as shabbily as Obama did so blatantly for eight years.  

If mainstream liberals are honestly concerned about rising bigotry and threats to free speech, they shouldn’t reflexively lay all blame on Trump and the Alt-right. They should instead acknowledge the left’s complicity – from its long history of anti-Semitism to its current assault on dialogue and dissent – and their own role in enabling both.  And they should pledge to do better.