To hear Democrat politicians talk, you would think antisemitism was solely a right-wing phenomenon, that it doesn’t exist on the left.
In the United States, as in Europe and the UK, antisemitism is surging, not in admission to elite clubs or in quotas for admission to Harvard, but in radical campus activism, and among leftist politicians and progressives who pride themselves on their opposition to racism.
Let’s look at the threat to Jews from the left, not because there’s none from the right or from genocidal Islamists, but because the left’s antisemitism is typically denied. The threat from the left has achieved respectability and acceptance in the U.S. Congress, the media, and academia not seen on the right even in the 1930s.
Denial and Deflection
The Democrats’ self-image and appeal to ethnic and racial minorities has long depended on its presenting itself as the party of opposition to oppression. You would think antisemitism would have no place in such a party.
And so the party claims.
In 2019, when a reporter asked the Democratic mayor of New York about the global spread of antisemitism on the left and the spike in antisemitic hate crimes in New York itself, Bill de Blasio insisted that it was a phenomenon of the right.
“I want to be very, very clear that the ideological threat that is antisemitic is very much from the right,” de Blasio said. He offered no evidence and was contradicted by his own police chief, who recognized that many hate crimes occur in neighborhoods that Hasidic (and so easily recognizable) Jews (mainly Republican-leaning) share with black and Latino populations that lean heavily Democratic.
The bulk of hate crimes against Jews seems to have nothing to do with the right or with “white supremacy.” In their January 2020 article in the Washington Examiner, “The truth about antisemitism,” Philip Klein and Seth Mandel quote “a baffled” Chaim Deutsch, then a Democrat council member representing Brooklyn where many of the attacks on Jews in New York were taking place, as saying, “I have not seen any white supremacists coming in here committing these hate crimes.”
The Los Angeles Times reported on the climate of fear surrounding Jews in Los Angeles. It described the caravans of cars with people flying Palestinian flags driving into areas with Jewish businesses yelling expletives. In May, a pro-Palestinian mob attacked Jewish diners in what the mayor, Eric Garcetti, reportedly called “an organized anti-Semitic attack.” The assailants were, witnesses told CBSLA, waving Palestinian flags and yelling antisemitic slurs.
A year earlier in May 2020, during the nationwide rioting linked to Black Lives Matter, attacks occurred in the Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles that the San Diego Jewish World called a “modern, American-style pogrom.” Not only were Jewish businesses targeted and sacked, but “five synagogues and three Jewish schools were reportedly vandalized in George Floyd’s name by thugs.”
Palestinians and the Left
The acts of pro-Palestinian demonstrators who attack Jews in the United States are clearly antisemitic. They are acts of Jew-hatred aimed at Jewish people, businesses, schools, and places of worship that were not representatives of the Israeli government or public adherents of its policies.
But are these pro-Palestinian assailants of the left?
The Palestinian movement as it developed in the 1920s was more aligned with the antisemitic right than the socialist or progressive left. It was a movement of Jew-hatred, determined to prevent Jews from having their own state, even a small one surrounded by and coexisting peacefully with larger Arab and Muslim states. It was genocidal and antisemitic from the start.
When Israel became a sovereign independent state in 1948, the aim of the Arabs who went to war was to destroy it and establish a non-Jewish state “from the river to the sea,” as leftist demonstrators chant to this day. They lost.
From 1920 to 1948 the key leader of the Arabs in the Palestinian territories was the Jew-hating, pogrom-inciting Amin al-Husseini, whom the British appointed as grand mufti of Jerusalem. Husseini favored Hitler and his policy of annihilating the Jews, hoping to apply it in the Middle East. As Sean Durns says in Mosaic magazine in his new essay on Husseini, he propagandized for the Nazis and helped recruit for an all-Muslim SS division. After the war, he allegedly orchestrated assassinations of King Abdullah of Jordan and the founder and first prime minister of independent Lebanon, Riad al-Solh. As Durns puts it, “Their crime? Openness to negotiations with Zionists.”
Husseini’s legacy, passed down to Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat and through him to current leader Mahmoud Abbas, was, “First, the movement should gain control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip …. Next, it should use this land as a base for destroying Israel.”
In short, Husseini played the British, consolidated his power, and then worked against them and Western influences with their backing. It’s a pattern continuing, Durns argues, to this day.
With Germany’s defeat, the Soviet Union became the key supporter of the Arab states and Palestinians who sought to destroy Israel. The substitution of the totalitarian left for the totalitarian right expanded hatred of the Jews and Israel globally and won support of Western leftists to the cause.
The Russian communist rhetoric established a narrative that singles out Israel, among all the places in the world where there are territorial disputes (not least in Russia and China), for unique and obsessive hostility.
The dressing up of antisemitism as anti-Zionism has been key to the rhetoric of calling for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state and the driving out or killing of most of the Jewish population that lives there.
Anti-Zionism as the Left’s Antisemitism
As Mosaic magazine columnist Ruth Wisse puts it, “Anti-Zionism is the Communist or far-leftist version of anti-Semitism, directed not against the individual Jew but against the Jewish people in its homeland. … All the slogans of anti-Zionism—Israel as imperialist usurper, colonialist occupier—are Soviet leftovers refreshed for contemporary use.”
The key to the spread of anti-Zionism through much of the world is the substitution of Palestinian for Arab and Muslim, Wisse argues. The new state of Israel was weak and looked indefensible, surrounded by Arab armies seeking to destroy it. But the Soviet–Arab alliance lost in 1967 and 1973; Israel was no longer the underdog. The USSR and its Arab allies switched to an approach that defined Zionism as racism and labeled Israel as a colonial-settler state and tool of U.S. imperialism.
The picture of Arabs threatening to destroy the tiny Jewish state and targeting women and children to prevent its rebirth—never an attractive image in America—turned into its opposite. The hundreds of millions of Arabs and 1.8 billion Muslims became identified with the oppressed, the Palestinian refugee victims of the Jews.
The totalitarian left always, in the 1930s as now, had more appeal to American intellectuals and students than the totalitarian right with their master race ideas.
But no one espousing either fascist antisemitism or communist anti-Zionism was elected to Congress. Until now.
Today, there are members of Congress who attack and undermine Israel. They echo the anti-Zionist line internationally in slandering Israel, pushing “a narrative that falsely accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, of systematically murdering Palestinian children, or of being an apartheid state,” according to Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) (a liberal organization for Jewish liberals).
Take Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), chair of the House Appropriations Committee on Defense, whom Greenblatt uses as an example of the new antisemitism in the Democratic Party. In introducing a bill to restrict U.S. military aid to Israel, McCollum suggested that this would stop Israel from “bombing Gaza into oblivion.”
Greenblatt says this about her description in his opinion piece in Newsweek declaring “It’s Time to Admit: The Left Has an Antisemitism Problem”:
“This is a blatant and irresponsible mischaracterization of the facts on the ground, especially considering the great pains taken by the Israel Defense Forces to avoid civilian casualties—measures not duplicated by any other fighting force in the world.”
Anti-Zionism is Antisemitism
Not all anti-Zionists start out hating Jews. Some of the most ardent are Jewish liberals who support the full anti-Zionist program, including the dismantling of the Jewish state. They provide a fig leaf for the left’s increasingly open hostility to Israel.
Antisemitic acts don’t have to involve hatred of Jews, author Joshua Muravchik argues. Anti-Zionism doesn’t always start out as personal animus against Jews, though it easily morphs into it and is indistinguishable in practice.
As Pope Francis, who has been critical of Israel and sympathetic to Palestinians, says, “To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism.” In May 2015, President Barack Obama said that denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish homeland was ultimately an expression of antisemitism.
That understanding of anti-Zionism as inherently antisemitic was once shared by Americans across mainstream party lines. That’s no longer the case.
Paul Adams writes on ethics, marriage and family, and social policy. He is professor emeritus of social work at the University of Hawaii. He has also taught at Case Western University and the University of Texas.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.