In Charlottesville, as white supremacists, Nazis, and KKK members marched through the streets, they chanted, among other things, “Jews will not replace us.” As Jews watched the most galling display of blatant, terrifying anti-Semitism in America in recent memory, they were not greeted with unerring support from liberals and progressives. Instead, many Jewish writers were silenced — as if this outspoken threat towards Jews does not truly threaten Jews. Jews were seemingly forgotten as Nazis marched through American streets, because much of the left has abandoned the Jewish people and embraced a new, disturbing trend of leftist anti-Semitism.
Much of the anti-Semitism on the left stems from the Israel-Palestine conflict — or at least it claims to. American progressives have become more and more aligned with the Palestinian cause. There are good reasons for this. Palestine has traditionally had few allies in American politics, as support for Israel has been a requirement of both Democratic and Republican politicians. The Palestinian people do face incredible oppression and hardship, and progressives exist to fight against oppression and for equality.
But some of the advocacy for Palestinian people has gone into complete anti-Israel sentiment, including sentiment against Israeli Jews and non-Israeli Jews who support having a Jewish homeland or even simply desire to express their Jewishness. Pro-Palestinian sentiment has also joined forces with classic anti-Semitism, giving anti-Semites a progressive veneer for their hateful ideas. It is sometimes hard to tell where activists supporting Palestinian freedom and anti-Semites who desire purely to exterminate the Jewish people begin and end. Progressives who desire a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and seek human rights for Israelis and Palestinians should not make common cause with anti-Semites.
Gal Gadot, the star of the summer blockbuster film Wonder Woman, has been the focus of much of the internet’s supposedly progressive anti-Semitic ire over the past few months. Gal Gadot is an Israeli Jew. She believes, as most Israeli Jews do, that Israel is the Jewish homeland and has a right to exist. She is frequently criticized for serving in the IDF — as every Israeli must do.
She didn’t even fight personally; she worked as a trainer (though this doesn’t stop “progressives” online from saying she “probably” or even “literally killed children”). If Gadot is worthy of hatred because she is an Israeli Jew, then are all Israeli Jews worthy of condemnation? What must an Israeli Jew do to deserve respect as a human being? Go to jail instead of enlisting in the army? Flee the country? Must an Israeli Jew forsake their homeland and its right to exist in order to be respected? Is that not, in essence, asserting that Jews are only worthy of respect if they deny their Jewishness, or minimize it to the point that it makes non-Jewish progressives comfortable? This is anti-Semitism.
The Chicago Dyke March this year was quite possibly the best, clearest example of recent anti-Semitism among progressives. Several marchers were forced to leave because they were carrying a rainbow flag with the Star of David on it. Organizers approached the marchers and told them their flag represented Zionism and Israel and made people feel unsafe. To these Jewish marchers, this flag represented their queerness and their Jewishness. The Star of David is the best-known sign of Judaism, and, originating in the 13th century, far predates modern Israel.
To insist that Jews may not demonstrate their Jewishness is glaring anti-Semitism. When confronted with the resulting outrage, the Dyke March did not apologize, but rather took their bigotry a step further, into outright slurs. The official Chicago Dyke March account sent a tweet stating, “Zio tears replenish my electrolytes!” “Zio” is a KKK term for Zionists/Jews, popularized by none other than David Duke.
“Anti-Zionism” becomes anti-Semitism, and anti-Israel sentiment, which is widely supported in left circles, bleeds over into anti-Jewish sentiment. This is insidious and dangerous. Anti-Semitism has always chosen a starting point of agreement that sounds “reasonable.” Anti-Semites never start off by admitting they hate Jews for being Jews. They start off by hating Jews who are bankers, Jews who are rich, Jews who are Zionists. The stereotype of Israeli Jews put forward by the “anti-Zionists” fits in completely with the longstanding hatred of Jews by anti-Semites. Anti-Zionists argue, in essence, that Israeli Jews are powerful and evil. This is what anti-Semites have always argued.
On September 21, Valerie Plame Wilson, a hero to many liberals, retweeted and then defended an article titled “America’s Jews are Driving America’s Wars.”
This article again uses Israel as a cudgel against Jews, this time not focusing on Israel’s treatment of Palestine, but its supposed desire to go to war in Iran (and possibly many other places in the Middle East). The article reads, “Jewish groups and deep pocket individual donors not only control the politicians, they own and run the media and entertainment industries, meaning that no one will hear about or from the offending party ever again. They are particularly sensitive on the issue of so-called ‘dual loyalty,’ particularly as the expression itself is a bit of a sham since it is pretty clear that some of them only have real loyalty to Israel.”
These anti-Semitic stereotypes could be lifted right out of the 1930s. The accusation that Jews are rich and powerful, run the media, and are disloyal to their countries has comprised the backbone of anti-Semitism for centuries. The author of the article, Philip Giraldi, is not a liberal, but it speaks to the normalization of anti-Semitic rhetoric among liberals and leftists that a prominent liberal like Plame Wilson would defend it.
A frequent debate on the left that on occasion verges into anti-Semitism is the discussion of whether or not Jews are white. This discussion takes place on the far-right, as well, and the conclusion is always no.
White supremacists do not consider Jews white, and do not see a place for Jews in the “white ethnostate” they desire to create. The debate on the left often comes to the opposite conclusion — that Jews are white. But the result is the same — Jews are deemed as not worthy of protection and defense. When Jews are dismissed as white and having white privilege, leftists are saying that Jews are perpetrators of oppression, not victims of it who require solidarity. The issue is indeed complicated — whiteness as a concept is fluid and has changed over time to create in-groups and out-groups in American society.
Jews have only been generally considered white since after World War II. But the problem is not that we can’t decide on an answer – the problem is that the left is caught up in the debate at all. It does not matter if Jews are white if white supremacists do not see them as white — they remain targets of the white supremacists anyway. Jews may experience some white privilege, but that does not stop them from experiencing oppression on the basis of being Jewish. Whenever the debate rages over whether or not Jews are white, the aim seems to be to conclude that whatever the answer, Jews are Other and not worthy of inclusion, defense, protection, or solidarity. This is anti-Semitism.
Progressives should fight against oppression — not choose which oppression to support. Progressives should not ignore the plight of Jews because they have some white privilege, or because Palestinians also face oppression. That’s not intersectionality, that’s just choosing sides. Progressives must firmly denounce anti-Semitism and ensure that Jewish people have strong allies in the fight against the resurgence of Nazism.
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