When Jeremy Corbyn and other members of the Labour Party make anti-Semitic comments or impugn Israel’s legitimacy, British Jews denounce them as bigots and question the party’s moral integrity. But when American Democrats embrace anti-Semitic ideologues, endorse the BDS movement, or apply classical stereotypes to Israel, Jewish liberals cling to the party and deny bigotry within its ranks. Or worse, they jump on the Israel-bashing bandwagon and become vocal critics of traditional Jewish values.
Anti-Semitism in the US is real and troubling, but it was not created by Donald Trump. Rather, it has been on the rise, particularly on the left, since the preceding administration spent eight years courting Israel-hating progressives, legitimizing Islamist organizations and regimes, validating BDS, and attempting to isolate the Jewish State.
And this trend has been exacerbated by a mainstream that expresses excessive outrage at conservatives while ignoring the progressive roots for much of today’s political anti-Semitism.
Whether progressive Jews reject Israel and traditional values out of ignorance or self-hatred, they nevertheless provide cover for left-wing anti-Semitism. Though many claim to support Israel’s right to exist, they often legitimize progressive haters by espousing similar negative views on Israel, traditional Judaism, and Jewish nationalism. And while some make impassioned public statements condemning anti-Semitism, their ambivalent, often hostile attitudes regarding Israel and Jewish tradition serve to enable the hateful bias of others wherever progressives wield power and influence, including public schools, college campuses, and within the Democratic Party.
Progressives often claim their unbalanced criticisms of Israel and religious tradition echo the Jewish values of self-reflection and empathy. However, they are largely unfamiliar with the legal and scriptural sources for these values and with Jewish heritage in general. Most are secular and have limited knowledge of Jewish religion and history. Or they identify with nontraditional movements that define tikkun olam as “saving the world” and falsely portray it as synonymous with liberal politics and a substitute for ritual observance.
The liberal political agenda is presented as intrinsically Jewish despite a disconnect with normative belief and practice. For many liberals, supporting gay marriage, transgenderism, or gun control is more important than protecting Jewish continuity, though such political priorities are extraneous to or inconsistent with Jewish law. And considering their universal opposition to school voucher programs (which mandate tax credits to make private school education, including day schools, more affordable), one could argue they are hostile to substantive Jewish learning. It seems counterintuitive that such positions could ever be equated with Jewish values.
All too often, progressives go overboard condemning Israel for imagined offenses, for example, falsely claiming she engages in apartheid and ethnic cleansing, while they ignore Islamic countries where such abuses really do occur or view offensive practices (e.g., female genital mutilation) through the prism of cultural relativism. They reject Jewish history in favor of Palestinian national mythology, and encourage partisan alliances with front organizations committed to civilizational jihad.
In addition, many lionize left-wing dictators like the late Hugo Chavez or look favorably on socialism despite its innate antipathy for Judaism. One need only consider how Jewish communists and socialists during the Soviet era disparaged other Jews, discouraged ritual observance, and advocated assimilation, to conclude that Jewish leftists today are ignorant of history or motivated by the socialist rejection of their own religion and nationality.
That progressivism means more to many liberals than Jewishness is evidenced by the political company they keep. They often excuse anti-Semites like Louis Farrakhan, who has been embraced by progressives (including members of the Congressional Black Caucus), or give kudos to the Nation of Islam for community activism despite its hateful ideology. Also, many embrace feminist leaders like Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, co-chairs of last year’s “Women’s March,” unconcerned about their admiration for Farrakhan or negative views regarding Israel. And they readily accepted Keith Ellison as Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee, despite his Farrakhan connection and past remarks about Israel, which were deemed by the liberal ADL to be “deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”
Non-Orthodox clergy are often quick to condemn opponents of radical Islam as racists and make offensive comparisons between Trump administration immigration policies and the Holocaust. Some progressive rabbis have even collaborated with questionable advocacy groups – some with covert extremist ties – to protest politically-conservative scholars and rabbinic leaders who speak out against terrorism or dare to expose stealth Islamists who are promoted as moderates by the political left.
Those who reflexively accuse President Trump of anti-Semitism, despite his record of supporting Israel and condemning Jew-hatred on the international stage, see no irony in lauding Antifa thuggery, legitimizing BDS radicalism, or defending progressive censorship on American college campuses – where Israel is routinely maligned and Jewish students are frequently marginalized, threatened, and assaulted.
They often denigrate expressions of Jewish pride or pro-Israel sentiment as “micro-aggressions,” and thus blame victims of violence for the acts of anti-Semitic aggressors deemed morally justified by the left. Ironically, they are quick to imagine neo-Nazis lurking behind every conservative rock, but have no problem supporting anti-Semites who embrace progressive political ideals, or characterizing left-wing mob violence as democratic dissent.
The problem would not be so frightening if it were limited to the political fringes, but it has unfortunately infected the mainstream. When establishment Democrats share the stage with anti-Semitic ideologues, people of decency should speak up regardless of party affiliation. But this is not happening among progressives – or on the Jewish left, where anti-Semitism is often rationalized or openly expressed as unbalanced condemnation of Israel.
As noted by cultural and literary historian Sander Gilman: “One of the most recent forms of Jewish self-hatred is the virulent opposition to the existence of the State of Israel.” Though one can disagree with the policies of any government, progressives oppose Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state and, thus, her historical justification. There is no shortage of sins they ascribe to Israel, but what seems to anger them most is that her existence prevents the Jews from disappearing as a unique people with a distinct mission. The subject of self-hatred was explored earlier by another Jewish social commentator, psychologist Kurt Lewin, who wrote that the self-hating Jew “will dislike everything specifically Jewish, for he will see in it that which keeps him away from the majority for which he is longing. He will show dislike for those Jews who are outspokenly so, and will frequently indulge in self-hatred.”
But Lewin, who died a year before Israel’s independence, seems to have presumed that most Jews would want to improve their status while remaining true to their cultural identity. He did not anticipate that so many would vehemently repudiate their heritage, disavow Jewish statehood, and condone assimilation. These same rejectionist impulses are expressed today by those who conflate Jewish identity with ideologies that contravene and undermine it.
As a result, progressives declare ethical allegiance to agendas that are as inconsistent with Judaism today as worship of the golden calf was in Biblical times. That is, the same impulse that facilitated “avodah zarah” (strange worship) in the desert seems today to compel the adoption of alien beliefs that are often incompatible with Jewish scripture, law and tradition. And no matter how loudly progressives might claim fealty to their Jewish roots, their political ideals are no substitute for traditional values or observance.
If mere ignorance is the reason why so many liberal Jews refuse to criticize a Democratic Party where support for Israel over Palestinians has fallen to 27% and left-wing anti-Semitism is openly tolerated, then restorative change might be possible through education. But if their failure to speak out is a function of self-hatred or the conscious rejection of heritage, the communal damage could well be irreparable.