Use of antisemitic clichés by progressives against strongly identified Jews has been ignored by the mainstream Jewish establishment.
When Haredi Jews were recently characterized on an Israeli television program as “bloodsuckers” burdening society, many secular Americans nodded their heads in agreement, unperturbed by the use of imagery similar to that invoked by anti-Semites through the ages. We have not yet seen their reaction to the odious video clip of a secular woman verbally attacking a Haredi man on an Israeli bus, judging him a draft dodger due to his sidelocks black kippah and white shirt. Unbeknownst to her, he was a career officer.
Indeed, demonizing Orthodoxy is often part of a strategy employed to explain the lack of traction for liberal Judaism in Israel – even though many secular Israelis also reject ritually nontraditional movements.
Secular critics regard anti-Orthodox slurs as valid commentary and blame religion for any perceived divisions in Israeli society; and in the process, they often adopt progressive anti-religious (and anti-Israel) talking points as default truths – whether delegitimizing Jewish tradition and faith or endorsing revisionist claims that conflict with Jewish history.
And through it all, American progressives ignore a pervasive anti-Jewish bias that is entrenched within the political agenda they espouse and crass antisemitism that has infected the Democratic Party they embrace, and which they wrongly conflate with Jewish identity and core values.
But what are these core values? The truth is that most progressives have no clue because Jewish education, knowledge, and observance have eroded drastically among the non-Orthodox and within the communal Jewish establishment.
In place of traditional values, American establishment organizations and non-Orthodox ritual movements have substituted secular progressive ideology, even when the partisan pegs don’t fit the doctrinal holes. Thus, nontraditional clergy often preach liberal politics from their bimas, claiming e.g., that unrestricted abortion, gender identity politics, or green climate policy are mandated by Jewish tradition, while public school choice and Israeli judicial reform are not.
Such claims, however, are verbal gymnastics.
Though all Jews should agree about the dangers of antisemitism (sadly, many do not), they can have differing opinions regarding their political affiliations and preferences. However, there is no justification under halakha (Jewish law) for elevating progressive causes over mitzvot (commandments) or encouraging halakhic violations in furtherance of partisan advocacy – for example, exhorting congregants to attend anti-gun rallies on Shabbat.
When challenged, nontraditional rabbis who advocate thus are typically unable to show any ethical consistency with Jewish tradition. Indeed, there is nothing in the entirety of Jewish law or scripture that commands support for alternative lifestyles, same-sex marriage, radical surgery in the name of “gender reassignment,” or divisive identity politics. There is likewise no mandate for opposition to school choice in public education – particularly when it could make day school options more affordable at a time when declining Jewish literacy threatens Jewish continuity.
There is nothing inherently wrong with Jews as individuals voting their political consciences, but policies that are extraneous or contrary to halakha do not cohere with Jewish values simply because secular or politically partisan Jews support them. Moreover, it is disingenuous for liberal clergy or establishment leaders to use their communal visibility to promote causes that conflict with halakha, especially when publicly embracing these causes gives the appearance of rabbinic sanction or traditional continuity where none exist.
With antisemitism running rampant in the USA – particularly on the left and in minority communities – the establishment’s impulse to blame it exclusively on neo-Nazis or white supremacists is astounding and deceptive. And if establishment leaders are so vexed by Jew-hatred, why haven’t they demanded censure of Democratic “Squad” members for their repeated use of anti-Israel slurs and antisemitic stereotypes? Why have they not chastised President Biden for appointing numerous BDS supporters to positions of authority in the White House? And why weren’t they outraged when he singled out antisemitic Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for compliment at a White House event marking the end of Ramadan?
Silence regarding antisemitism from their side of the political aisle does a grave disservice to the communities they claim to represent, and moreover impedes the flow of information necessary for Jews to defend themselves and their honor.
After a recent appearance on a Toronto radio show where I discussed current trends in American antisemitism, I had an off-air conversation with a woman who opined that Jew-hatred comes exclusively from the right. When I told her that recent US law enforcement statistics indicated an upward trend in hate-crimes against Jews, she asserted that the perpetrators had to be white supremacists – consistent with Biden’s recent ludicrous claim that white supremacism poses the greatest terrorist threat today. Whatever she knew about contemporary antisemitism came from establishment organizations, the liberal rabbinate, or groups like the ADL; but she was unaware of the proliferation of antisemitism on the left and in minority communities.
Because what I told her conflicted with her preconceived notions as reinforced by the usual establishment sources, she asked me to verify my statements. So, by way of answer, I asked whether she knew about the rise in antisemitism on university campuses across the country; and when she responded affirmatively, I asked her how many of those universities are bastions of white supremacism or right-wing extremism. She couldn’t name a single one. Likewise, she had no response when I mentioned the alarming number of violent assaults committed against Orthodox Jews by multiethnic perpetrators in New York City.
But she got the point.
The problem goes deeper than the failure to condemn leftist bigotry, however, and includes tolerance for stereotypes repackaged as “political speech” and used to delegitimize the Jewish state. This tactic includes the assertion of popular lies and fabrications (e.g., that Israel intentionally attacks civilians and practices apartheid and ethnic cleansing), many of which are modern-day iterations of the ancient blood libel. Such methods are reinforced by a complicit media that has adapted the medieval image of the Jew as a poisoner of wells for use against the modern Jewish State.
Unfortunately, even those who respect Israel and traditional Judaism do not always get it right when attempting to translate the message for external consumption. In discussing media double standards and the lack of moral clarity regarding Israel, for example, many advocates extol her as a liberal beacon in a sea of regional autocracy. However, by linking Israel’s legitimacy to this singular perspective, they leave wiggle room for liberals to turn against her if they cease viewing her as a progressive force in the Mideast. The logical question, then, is whether true support for Israel can ever be predicated on projected partisan values.
On a broader scale, it is reasonable to ask whether those who claim to support Israel do so out of historical conviction or because of political ideals they attribute to Israeli society. If the latter, their support is essentially narcissistic and motivationally impure. In contrast, advocacy based on historical imperative remains strong despite shifting electoral preferences because it leaves room for policy disagreements without questioning Israel’s legitimacy or ancestral integrity. The motivations of those who tout Israeli society for its supposed progressivism, however, will always be suspect.
Honest support is easier to gauge among those who do not drape their partisan values over Israel. Consistency is more likely among those who recognize Israel as the Jews’ ancient homeland and acknowledge their spiritual and physical connection there since antiquity. Given the political left’s use of vintage stereotypes to impugn the Jewish state, the issue facing well-meaning liberals is whether they can proclaim any affinity for Israel while simultaneously maintaining their progressive credibility. This seems difficult given a political agenda that sanctifies Palestinian revisionism, denigrates Jewish history, heaps scorn and disproportionate criticism on Israel, and validates antisemitic tropes.
It’s also difficult because many liberals tend to (a) ignore the antisemitism of their political allies, (b) attribute anti-Jewish hatred solely to the political right, or (c) assert reprehensible stereotypes against fellow Jews who appear “too Jewish” or who are seen as tribalistic for their fierce loyalty to tradition. And the problem is exacerbated by those who flippantly apply odious stereotypes to the most religiously observant (e.g., the image of Jews as societal parasites or global manipulators) or disingenuously compare them to the Taliban.
The facile use of antisemitic clichés by progressives against strongly identified Jews is something the mainstream establishment has failed to address adequately or even acknowledge as a problem. And the reason could be that doing so would require an admission that Jew-hatred is not limited to white supremacists, right-wing extremists, or even Gentiles, but is just as prevalent among leftists, progressive Democrats, and the identity communities they promote.
Establishment professionals and organizations seem to have inconsistent standards for condemning antisemitism. They loudly denounce it when the perpetrators are white supremacists, but often downplay it when it comes from progressives or identity communities. That is, their outrage is selectively dependent on the character of the offender. If they were serious about fighting antisemitism in all its manifestations, however, they would instead identify it based solely on the Jewishness of the victims.
But perhaps that would make too much sense.
©2023. Matthew Hausman. All rights reserved.