Those who were terrorized by the bomb threats against Jewish community centers around North America breathed a sigh of relief when the alleged perpetrator was arrested on Thursday. The fact that the person behind the more than 100 threats turned out to be an Israeli Jew was the sort of thing that left many Jews feeling a bit ashamed that a co-religionist could have carried out this vile deed even if, as has been reported, he may have a brain disorder and be mentally disturbed. But the reaction from some of the liberal groups that had used these incidents to blame President Donald Trump for what they claimed was a surge of anti-Semitism had to involve more than a few blushes.
The arrest of the person who had been tracked down by the joint efforts of the FBI and Israeli police provided an astonishing end to a crime story that had generated widespread outrage. This is not the first time a hate crime against an ethnic or religious minority turned out to have been committed by a member of the targeted group. Nor should it blind the world to the reality of anti-Semitism since, as FBI hate-crime statistics have consistently shown, such offenses far outnumber those committed against members of any other faith, including Muslims, the group that has supposedly been under siege from a mythical post-9/11 backlash. Far-right groups do spout hate against Jews and, in an even more prevalent and dangerous trend, the far Left and Islamist groups have joined forces in promoting anti-Semitic hate that masquerades as anti-Zionism.
But the problem with the JCC threats is that among those organizations that exist to combat anti-Semitism such as the Anti-Defamation League, the bomb threats were the centerpiece of a not-so-subtle effort to blame an alleged uptick of anti-Semitic attacks on Trump. For months, they’ve been telling us the bomb threats were the inevitable result of a surge in hate that was caused by Trump’s comments during the presidential campaign and/or the slowness of his administration to directly condemn them.
The narrative of Trump’s unleashing the beast of anti-Semitic incitement had a certain superficial logic to it, since his behavior while running for president was, at best, insensitive, and, at worst, he seemed at times to be dog whistling to extremists. But it was a bit too convenient to be true. The arrest of the Israeli teenager, along with the arrest of a left-wing writer in another bomb-threat case, makes the effort to connect the dots between the bomb threats and Trump a fiasco. Had the mastermind behind the more than 100 threats been a white supremacist or someone who could have been labeled an alt-right sympathizer or even an extremist Republican, it would have vindicated the effort to blame the president. Instead, Democratic politicians and liberal groups who pushed this narrative ought to apologize, if not to the president, then to their deceived constituents who eagerly applauded an all-too-neat version of events that linked a political opponent to hate.
That won’t happen, because the same liberals who were so heavily invested in blaming Trump are already falling back to the position that even if the president didn’t inspire those who committed these crimes, his conduct was still reprehensible and might have incited somebody to do something bad somewhere. But after months of hyping a few egregious incidents into a full-scale panic about anti-Semitism, it will take more than such a lame rationalization to wipe the egg off of their faces.
Yet the main point here isn’t whether some liberal groups are made to apologize to Trump. The problem is that what happened in recent months was an attempt to politicize an issue that isn’t a matter of partisan dispute.
Liberal Jewish groups and their supporters were devastated by Trump’s victory and were naturally drawn to efforts to “resist” his presidency. And the bomb threats provided them with a coherent narrative they could use to justify stepping over the line into open partisan warfare against the new administration.
The tipoff that there was something wrong with this narrative was the way left-wingers who were themselves responsible for promoting anti-Semitic attacks on Israel and its supporters jumped at the opportunity to blame Trump for Jew hatred. Among them was Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American who was one of the chief organizers of the women’s march against Trump on inauguration weekend and then of the “women’s strike” in March. She is also a supporter of the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement that trades in anti-Semitic invective and delegitimization. She was nonetheless embraced as a heroine by many Jewish liberals. The desire to build a bigger anti-Trump coalition was so great that not even her comment to Vanity Fair that Jewish women would not be accepted in the protest movement unless they disavowed Zionism wasn’t enough to deter some on the left from associating with her.
In their eagerness to associate Trump with Jew hatred, liberals hitched their wagon to a false narrative.
Anti-Semitism exists in the fever swamps of the far Right, but the chief proponents of anti-Jewish invective in the public square today are those on the left who disguise their anti-Semitism behind a thin veneer of anti-Zionism. It is this strange alliance of Islamist and liberal elites that is the driving force of the trend that the Obama State Department correctly labeled a “rising tide of anti-Semitism.” But in their eagerness to associate Trump with Jew hatred, liberals hitched their wagon to a false narrative in which a political opponent could be tarred with the brush of hate.
By “crying wolf” about Trump, liberal groups not only undermined their own credibility, they also diverted attention from genuine problems like the BDS movement and made it harder to focus on combating their hate.
For all of his obvious flaws, Trump is clearly well disposed to both Jews and Israel. Yet Jewish liberals were too invested in their opposition to him to understand that by linking him to anti-Semitism they were making a colossal strategic error. Making anti-Semitism a political football, instead of a cause that unites both parties and their leaders, was a dangerous game that has now blown up in their faces.
Correcting that mistake should start with an apology, but it must also involve a realization among liberals that the “everybody I don’t like is Hitler” paradigm not only does nothing to combat anti-Semitism but will also make it more difficult to mobilize public opinion the next time a genuine threat arises.