A VENEZUELAN student walks over a cloth with red paint and the Star of David during an anti-Israel demonstration..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Though America has never been completely immune to antisemitism, its very essence as a nation of immigrants that was always united around a set of democratic principles, never claims of “blood and soil” or a totalitarian ideology, is a centerpiece of its blessed exceptionalism.
A recent Anti-Defamation League annual report tracking manifestations of the world’s oldest hatred, however, points to worrying trends.
Data released in November and presented to the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee last week show a 67% increase in antisemitic incidents across the US from January 1 to September 30, 2017, compared to the same three quarters in 2016. A total of 1,299 antisemitic incidents were reported in that 2017 period, including physical assaults, vandalism and attacks on Jewish institutions.
According to FBI data from 2016, Jews were targets of 684 of the 1,273 anti-religion incidents tallied by the FBI, even though Jews make up just 2% of the US population.
And, as ADL’s Israel director Carol Nuriel noted, many expressions of hatred toward Jews go unreported, either because the victims don’t report them, or because some incidents are not readily identifiable as antisemitic in nature.
What is perhaps unique to antisemitism as opposed to other forms of bigotry, racism or xenophobia is its prominence not only on the hard Right but also among progressives who either hide their antipathy toward Jews behind criticism of Israel and the “Israel lobby” in Washington, or join ranks with those who do because they have a distorted perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Some Democratic congressmen have in the past cooperated with organizations such as the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Code Pink, Jewish Voice for Peace and American Muslims for Palestine – all groups that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.
This does not make these congressmen antisemites, but their willingness to work with organizations that have more sympathy for a Palestinian political leadership that glorifies terrorism and terrorists, than for Israel, a state that strives to maintain democratic principles under the most difficult conditions, sends a problematic message and fosters a toxic intellectual environment for discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On many college campuses throughout America, proponents of Israel are intimidated. Speakers who seek to defend Israeli policies are shouted down or disinvited. It should be no surprise that antisemitic incidents on America’s top college campuses have been on the rise for several years.
This is not to say that there is no antisemitism on the Right. Though US President Donald Trump is a philosemite and has proven to be a major ally of Israel, many of the issues that he has advanced – anti-immigration, America First, anti-globalism – are shared by blatantly antisemitic conservative politicians. Indeed, a number of political pundits have noted that, leaving aside Patrick Buchanan’s anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric, there are remarkable similarities between Trump’s campaign and the issues championed by Buchanan during his unsuccessful 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns.
As a result, the supporters of men like Buchanan have shown thrown their support behind Trump and have been emboldened by Trump’s victory. Because Trump is dependent on this constituency for its support, he cannot easily disassociate himself from them or openly criticize them.
With both the Democratic and Republican parties undergoing such major changes, it is essential that prominent figures on both the Left and the Right call out antisemitism and Israel-bashing for what it is: A deviation from America’s founding principles.
Israel and America share common values which have their roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Neither Israel nor America is perfect. Both face major challenges as they struggle to integrate diverse populations while maintaining democratic principles and respect for human dignity, regardless of faith, race or sexual orientation.
Acknowledgment of these common values and their reaffirmation on both the Left and the Right are the best remedies against both antisemitism and Israel-bashing.