Last week I wrote in Time.com that Bernie Sanders’ insurgency pushed Hillary Clinton too far Left in the spring for her to recover the Center in the fall. In response, I was e-bombed by vituperative, obscene and antisemitic attacks.
Although I had pointed to other factors explaining the outcome too, Sanders supporters thought I had blamed their hero for Clinton’s failures. The barrage proved that leftists, not just rightists, inhabit today’s gooniverse; that decent politicians can have despicable supporters; and that our age of anonymous, drive-by political nit-tweets has stirred a new antisemitism that seems milder but is mainstreaming the traditional, vicious, kind.
While I usually ignore talkbacks, these insults swarmed my Twitter and e-mail accounts. They reached such an ugly, scatological crescendo on my Facebook page that my (16-year-old whiz kid) administrator temporarily blocked access after 400 attacks. Beyond many unquotable obscenities, I was called a moron, a hack, a puppet, a buffoon, a paid shill of the Clinton machine, a neoliberal sellout, a Trumper, a shillbot, a sexual predator, sycophantic, stupid, lazy, out of touch and, in one breathless post, “an old bald, wrinkly Centrum Silver popping adult” with “self-esteem issues.”
Internet muggers lash out blindly or cannibalize, weaponizing personal information posted online. Trolls used my photos or some biographical tidbit to mock how I looked and dressed or to question my motives, as if only the sinister, stupid, or selfish could possibly disagree with them. Echoing third graders, tweeters rechristened me “guilty roy.” They called me “an enormous dipshit and huge retard,” and said “gil looks like he’s pooping in this pic.” They told McGill University and Time to fire me.
More menacing, @MicrosoftINCEL threatened me, saying: “I’m buying a ticket to DC so I can stuff my boot in his mouth,” while an e-mailer mentioned my office address and threatened to visit if I didn’t stop writing. James Grose called me “A Greedy Jew, That has no Clue... !!!!”
Others wrote that “only a beanie wearing kyke [sic] could write something so wrong and misguided,” and that I should “go back to Palestine.”
“Muldfeld” tweeted: “Checked Wikipedia. You clearly hate Sanders because he wanted to treat Palestinians with respect. Typical pro-Israeli corporate Dem.”
My chronicle of antisemitic bullying parallels the accounts of many Jewish writers in 2016 – with one difference. Those journalists, from those labeled “kikeservatives” like Jonah Goldberg, to liberals like Bradley Burston who “hadn’t been called a Kike since fourth grade,” criticized Donald Trump (or Melania). They concluded, with Burston, that “under Trump, the old anti-Semitism is making a comeback” – on the Right. My antisemitic attackers came from the Left (and support Bernie Sanders, a Jew).
Being bullied by Berniacs is like being run over by a vegan cyclist. Their verbal violence shows there’s something beyond the simplistic accusation blaming all the ugliness on Trump’s bellicosity or defining demagoguery as a right-wing phenomenon. America today is like an old couch that just popped a coil no one knows how to push back in.
I have a thick skin thanks to years of insults for daring to oppose terrorism and defend Israel. But while I dismiss anti-Zionist fanatics with Franklin Roosevelt’s line “judge me by the enemies I make,” this hit squad was more dismaying. They were fellow citizens, not enemies. Writing off every laptop bully writes off too many modern – young – Americans.
This nastiness reflects the apocalyptic despair Trump’s victory triggered – suggesting an “alt-left” is emerging, paralleling the meanness of the “alt-right.” As Americans burrow deeper into polarized virtual opinion tunnels, they tolerate no opposition and always emerge swinging, using the Internet’s cloak of anonymity to lash out viciously.
Antisemitism, like all prejudice, is so vile I hesitate to accuse people of it. I resent that many partisans only see antisemitism coming from their opponents. Liberals lose credibility when they call Trump’s final campaign commercial antisemitic based on three quick photos most people missed, or deem his strategist Stephen Bannon antisemitic based on his ex-wife’s divorce testimony. Conservatives should prove that Keith Ellison is biased against Israel and shouldn’t head the Democratic Party without calling him antisemitic.
Initially, my instinct was to call my abusers anti-democratic, thuggish, idiotic – but not antisemitic. But as the anti-Jewish tweets multiplied, I realized the problem is morphing – and mounting.
Just as historians studying the French Revolution’s crowds discovered that the mob’s anonymity encouraged violence, the Internet brings out people’s inner demons, encouraging anonymous bigotry, what we could call “anonymotry.” So today’s antisemitism starts out mild, liking or retweeting some slur. It’s “antisemitish,” not traditionally antisemitic: the hostility is less intense, more of a posture than a hate crime. But just like marijuana is a gateway drug, normalizing drug use, this anonymotry is a gateway hatred, normalizing antisemitism and other bigotry. I saw the ease with which people demonized me – misreading my article, allowing others to whip them up.
Ultimately, bigotry is bigotry, be it tweeted, retweeted, or delivered personally. This coarsening of our culture normalizes the abnormal, mainstreams hatred, detoxifies bigotry. Looking Right, it helped make Donald Trump’s outrageousness feel less outrageous. Looking Left, it helps mainstream the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement’s constant escalation from anti-Zionism to antisemitism.
Burrowing deeper into our own positions, and demonizing the other, so easily, in 140 characters or in graphic photos, will ease us into ever-harsher positions, ever-more violence, ever-greater polarization.
Let’s fight this hatred aggressively, systematically – and consistently.
The author, professor of history at McGill University, is the author of
The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, published by St. Martin’s Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg’s
The Zionist Idea. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.
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