Political antisemitism

Two tweets went viral in the Jewish world this week.

March 28, 2019 21:45
3 minute read.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a House Education and Labor Committee Markup on the H.R. 582

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a House Education and Labor Committee Markup on the H.R. 582 Raise The Wage Act, in the Rayburn House Office Building on March 6, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (photo credit: MARK WILSON / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)


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Two tweets went viral in the Jewish world this week.

One featured a photograph of bagels sliced vertically as if each bagel were a loaf of bread – clearly a crime against Jewish sensibilities. The other was ostensibly meant to be more serious: Jeremy Slevin, communications director for Rep. Ilhan Omar, tweeted, “Anti-Semitism is a right-wing force” – seven times.

First, Slevin may not realize that by using a hyphen in antisemitism, he is in fact supporting right-wing forces, namely Nazis. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance says the word should be spelled without a hyphen because using the extra punctuation gives credence to Nazi racial theories, by which “Semites” are an inferior category.

As for the argument Slevin made, it was revealing to see that it came from a senior aide to Omar, who has used the same medium – Twitter – to make antisemitic remarks multiple times, including referring to Israelis having hypnotic powers and using money for unfair influence, as well as accusing Israel-supporters of having dual loyalties. Omar appears to see very little need to stop or to give a genuine apology without adding caveats. Clearly, if she has a self-described Jewish aide telling her she can’t possibly be antisemitic because she’s from the Left, then she doesn’t have to change her behavior.

Omar is just part of a larger trend. Many on the supposedly progressive Left believe this line of reasoning. UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, during whose tenure the party has become structurally and incurably antisemitic, often says he’s “anti-racist” as a way to show he can’t possibly be an antisemite or provide succor to those who hate Jews.

More and more organizations on the Left pretend that anti-Zionism is not antisemitic – as if denying peoplehood and self-determination exclusively to Jews, while claiming other national groups deserve that right, could be anything but a display of hatred of the Jewish people.

“This bigotry is taking on an insidious new form in the guise of ‘anti-Zionism,’” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, earlier this week. “It has infested college campuses in the form of the Boycott, Divest[ment] and Sanctions movement. It’s discussed in our media. It’s supported by certain members of Congress – I suspect none of whom are here tonight.”

And then there is the antisemitism of radical Islam, which has led to violence and death of Jews worldwide – from Argentina to Los Angeles to Toulouse to Bulgaria to Mumbai – and brought about the near total ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Middle East, except for Israel. Considering many of the beliefs of radical Islam, it’s hard to categorize them as “progressive Left,” except that its adherents seem to have defenders in those political quarters.

That is not to say that antisemitism is solely the purview of the Left either. Far-right forces have gained more popularity and power in the US and Europe, with strong antisemitic overtones. One need not look further than the deadly attack on the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh last year for proof of the deadly danger of antisemitism on the political Right.

Indeed, antisemitism is a case where the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum meet. For example, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke has been applauding Omar – a black, Muslim refugee, no less – for her remarks.

We are now in the weeks between Purim and Passover, where we mark two attempts to destroy the Jewish people. “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples... Their laws are different from every other people’s... It is not befitting the king to tolerate them,” Haman said. Pharaoh commanded that “every son who will be born” to Jewish mothers: “into the river shall you throw him.” What were their politics?

Antisemitism doesn’t fit into our contemporary political frameworks. Antisemitism is the reason that Jews are blamed for capitalism and communism, faulted for being spread around the world and for returning to our homeland. Antisemitism is a millennia-old hatred, a conspiracy theory against a tiny group of people who has been violently acted against again and again.

Antisemitism is not left-wing or right-wing – it is a disease afflicting humanity, and people in positions of influence, like Slevin, would do well to look for it on their own side and condemn it, instead of deflecting and playing a political blame game.

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