The Democratic Party clearly has an anti-Semitism problem, but too many Jewish Democrats have been restrained in their responses.
Anti-Semitism is reaching epidemic levels in the United States, enabled by progressives who disparage traditional values, misrepresent Jewish history, and delegitimize Israel. They also tend to secularize Jewish identity and interpret the Jewish experience as a universal metaphor devoid of substantive religious or cultural content. In so doing, they often trivialize what it means to be Jewish. The result is an identity detached from heritage and defined by a progressive political allegiance that blinds many to the anti-Semitism that has infected the Democratic Party, but which has done little to shake partisan loyalty.
As many Democrats embrace the BDS movement, anti-Zionism, and global conspiracy theories, as feminist leaders honor Louis Farrakhan and purge Jews from their ranks, and as progressive universities tolerate anti-Jewish hostility on campus, liberals often misdirect by blaming conservatives and Republicans. However, the forums where anti-Semitism flourishes today (e.g., college campuses, BDS programs, internet websites) are overwhelmingly progressive and far less tolerant of conservative thought than Jew-hatred.
The 2018 midterm elections demonstrated how inured liberals have become to progressive extremism. Among the new Democrats representatives in Congress are Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose words and actions have raised concerns for many Jews, though apparently not so much within the party.
In a Twitter message in January, Rep. Tlaib suggested that members of Congress who voiced support for a pro-Israel Senate bill “forgot what country they represent,” which implicitly raised the old canard of divided Jewish loyalties. In addition, she supports BDS, has written for Farrakhan’s “The Final Call,” and seems quite appealing to anti-Israel activists and radicals. Though some Democrats have expressed concern, there has been no real demand for discipline or restraint by the party hierarchy. Instead, she was given a position on the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services.
Rep. Omar made similar waves with a tweet implying that AIPAC uses money to influence government Mideast policy saying, “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” This time, there was criticism from some Democrats, though there was much wider outrage from Congressional Republicans, who tend to be more pro-Israel and mindful of anti-Semitism than their liberal counterparts. Democratic criticism was not unanimous, however, and the sincerity of those who did speak up was questionable considering their failure to do so last November – despite her public statements against Israel.
It was commonly known, for example, that during the war instigated by Hamas in 2012, Omar had stated on Twitter that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Republicans were aware of this comment and deemed it anti-Semitic, but Democrats seemed to ignore it – even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed her to the prestigious Foreign Affairs Committee. Although Omar issued an apology for this comment, it was qualified and did not renounce her disparagement of Israel – and she was thereafter portrayed as the victim of a hate campaign perpetrated by those who took offense to her remarks.
Incredibly, some Jewish progressives came to her defense, although fallacious claims of Jewish “hypnosis” and financial influence echo hoary themes as old as the blood libel. Others displayed cognitive dissonance, as evidenced by a tweet from the ADL stating, in relevant part: “[H]ats off to Rep Omar for her honest apology & commitment to a more just world. Open & respectful conversations will help us achieve this goal.” But her apology failed to disavow claims of Israeli “evil”; and party leaders were subsequently reluctant to describe repeated comments as anti-Semitic. In contrast, the Zionist Organization of America described her attempted conciliation as a “non-apology.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is another freshman Democrat whose conduct has raised concerns among Jews. In a television interview during the campaign, for example, she intoned the revisionist myth that Israel was occupying “Palestine,” a country that never existed, before demurring that she was not a geopolitical expert. In other forums, she would not condemn Jew-hatred within the women’s movement, was evasive about her stance on BDS, and engaged in a fawning dialogue with British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is widely regarded as anti-Semitic.
Despite such comments and actions (or perhaps because of them), Ocasio-Cortez asserted claims of Jewish ancestry last Hanukkah in an apparent effort to ingratiate herself to New York’s Jewish community. Whether she truly has any Jewish blood is irrelevant, however, because attenuated ancestry neither confers Jewishness nor absolves one of bias. Facile assertions of common descent should be as grating to Jewish ears as the lame statement that “some of my best friends are Jewish.”
Progressive extremism is clearly influencing the Democratic mainstream, as illustrated by: Senator Elizabeth Warren’s public failure to deny that Israel is an apartheid state; the refusal of twenty-three Democratic senators to support the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act,” which inter alia condemns BDS; the snubbing of AIPAC by all declared Democratic presidential hopefuls; and the refusal to single out anti-Semitism for condemnation.
The Democratic Party clearly has an anti-Semitism problem, but too many Jewish Democrats have been restrained in their responses. Many were reluctant, at least initially, to call for serious reprimand of Tlaib, Omar or Ocasio-Cortez, or to characterize their comments as biased. And liberals who did speak out seemed more concerned that the representatives’ comments “could be interpreted” as bigoted, not that they were inherently so. It is no coincidence that so many defended Barack Obama against charges of anti-Semitism in 2015, when White House mouthpieces implied that critics of his Iran nuclear had divided loyalties or wielded disproportionate influence.
Liberal hypocrisy comes into sharper focus when compared to the excoriation of Rep. Steven King (R. Iowa) for comments deemed racist and supportive of white supremacism. After his comments became known, King was upbraided by Democrats and Republicans alike and stripped of his Congressional committee assignments, and liberal groups like the ADL called for his censure. But if outrage against King was justified based on the tenor of his statements, why have relatively few liberals chastised the Democratic Party’s rising stars with similar indignation? The Democrats’ reaction has been woefully inadequate, falling well short of demands for censure. Moreover, their Congressional resolution against hate – which was occasioned by Omar’s remarks – was diluted to avoid focusing on anti-Semitism or mentioning her use of abhorrent stereotypes.
In contrast, Republicans have been consistently proactive regarding both Democratic anti-Semitism and charges of racism against members of their own party.
The tendency of liberals to ignore progressive anti-Semitism goes hand-in-hand with the impulse to misrepresent Jewish history to validate their political agenda. They debase the meaning of the Holocaust by analogizing it to the illegal immigration crisis or using it as a catchall metaphor for any generic hatred. But the plight of Jews trying to escape Nazi genocide has nothing in common with today’s migrants seeking better economic opportunity or political stability. And anti-Semitic genocide – whether during the Holocaust, the pogroms, the Crusades, the Khmelnytsky rebellion, or the Muslim conquests – is simply not comparable to prejudice against racial, ethnic, religious or sexual minorities that were never targeted for extermination as the Jews have been for two millennia.
Hatred of Jews today can be ugly and crass or it can masquerade as political discourse, but is identifiable regardless of packaging. Disproportionate criticism and delegitimization of Israel are forms of anti-Semitism. So are anti-Zionism and the elevation of a Palestinian narrative lacking historicity over documented Jewish history that is corroborated by the historical, archeological, and literary records. These modern manifestations of the oldest hatred are no different from the ancient libels that inspired massacres and pogroms – and which are enthusiastically embraced by the left today.
Though secular liberals may be loath to admit it, Jewish authenticity cannot be imputed to lifestyles that are largely devoid of traditional values and observance. Some define Jewishness as purely cultural and others by adherence to political beliefs that actually conflict with Jewish law and tradition. But what these secularized identities all have in common is their drastic deviation from historically-normative Judaism, their focus on universalism instead of cultural self-preservation, and the failure to acknowledge G-d’s influence in the lives of Jews individually and collectively.
The alarming incidence of assimilation and anti-Israel rejectionism among Jewish progressives suggests that many of them have little or no connection to their tradition or history. And it is this detachment that enables so many to ignore anti-Semitism within their political ranks, remain silent when confronted with it, or justify it based on blind partisan allegiance.
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EDITORS NOTE: This Israel National News column is republished with permission.