Politics & Policy

Why Progressive Anti-Semitism — and Why Now?

Outside the New York Times building in Manhattan (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
Jew-hatred has a natural home on the multicultural Left, and ‘woke’ culture demands that leftists hate anything Trump supports — especially Israel.

The New York Times International Edition recently published an anti-Semitic cartoon of a dachshund with the face of Benjamin Netanyahu. The composite animal was leading a hunched Donald Trump who had on dark sunglasses, as if blind, and a yarmulke.

Almost immediately, everyone pointed out that the theme of doglike Jews pulling along their clueless befuddled blinded “Aryan” masters was a favorite in Hitler’s Germany. The theme, style, and imagery of the cartoon might have trumped what was often published in Der Stürmer, the Nazi megaphone of propagandist Julius Streicher. The latter was hanged after the Nuremberg Trials for two decades of fomenting the Jew hatred that helped lead to the Holocaust.

Stranger still, at first the New York Times merely explained how the sick cartoon got published in its international edition, but without an apology for its publication. Its subsequent second-try mea culpa was rendered a pathetic joke when, a few days later, the paper published yet another incoherent anti-Semitic cartoon of a Benjamin Netanyahu, this time as some sort of blind Moses with selfie stick in one hand and a stone tablet with the Star of David in the other, as he descends from Mount Sinai.

It has been noted that the Times has had a long history of anti-Semitism, dating to before World War II, and, after that, of serial anti-Israel venom. Certainly, if the cartoon had similarly portrayed any other ethnic or religious group (except heterosexual white Christians), the Times would immediately have fired anyone remotely involved in running such trash. Was it any surprise that the Times recently referenced Jesus as a Palestinian rather than Jewish?

The Times in general sees bias such as anti-Semitism and racism in terms of political warfare: The hatred is always a cry of the heart of marginalized people, and always directed at the supposedly deserving. Note that not long ago the Times vigorously defended its hiring of Sarah Jeong, the racist blogger who had a long history of anti-male and anti-white hate speech that included such social-media posts as “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men” and “Dumbass f****** white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants” and “White people have stopped breeding. You’ll all go extinct soon. That was my plan all along.” In other words, the Times seems to have no innate problem with its progressive employees expressing racist and anti-Semitic tropes, as long as their targets are deemed politically incorrect.

Recently at UC Berkeley, in a now familiar routine, during a student-government meeting, protesters slurred Jewish students with conspiratorial charges that the Israeli military has trained American police how better to kill blacks. Campuses now routinely ignore student anti-Semitic smears; indeed, universities and colleges are becoming the incubators of progressive hatred of Jews.

The strange thing about the now predictable anti-Jewish and anti-Israel social-media outbursts of  Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) was not that Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and  Representative Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) defended Omar’s slurs. (Tlaib herself recently demanded cutting off aid to Israel, claiming it did not reflect American values.) Rather, what’s striking is that the Democratic party in general could not even muster a vote condemning the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements of one of their own House members.

The examples of progressive hatred of Jews could be multiplied endlessly, but the key question is: Why in this generation and why on the Democratic left?

There, are of course, always white nationalists who voice reactionary anti-Semitism, but most are pathetic fringe groups easily identified and ostracized. For all the invective lodged against Donald Trump, no president has proved more sensitive to Jewish issues and more committed to the survival of Israel. The anti-Semitic extreme alt-right has received no sanction from the Republican party, and it remains a tiny, mostly irrelevant group of losers. In contrast, progressive Jew-hatred is expressed at the nation’s premier institutions, such as UC Berkeley, the New York Times, and the U.S. Congress. Again, why?

The far Left is intertwined with Islamist activists. Both share a hatred of the U.S. and see the Middle East as a postcolonial victim of Western imperialism. Students and urban youth bond with radical Islamists in their shared dislike of the Western countries (such as Israel) in general and the United States in particular.

Radical Muslims and the Left disguise their hatred of Jews by claiming that they are only championing downtrodden Palestinians. Few bother to ask them why a tiny democracy in a sea of autocracy is always singled out any time global attention turns to the question of refugees, disputed territories, or treatment of supposed religious minorities. In other words, the hater of Jews always says, “I have no problem with the Jewish people, but I do not like the imperialist and colonial policies of the Jewish state of Israel.”

But if so, why not extend such universal empathy for refugees to the last of the East Prussian Germans, or those who are left of the Volga Russians, or the octogenarians still alive from the nearly 1 million Jews who were ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homes in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and throughout the Islamic world? Why pick only on tiny Israel?

If the rub is disputed land, why not agitate for the northern Cypriot Greeks who suffered (and do suffer) terribly from the occupation of Turkish overseers, or the Tibetans, whose lands were simply expropriated by Chinese Communists?

If the youth of today are anxious about the treatment of religious minorities, why not at least confess that 1 million Arab speakers in Israel cherish freedoms found nowhere else in the Middle East? They also are certainly freer and more secure than Muslim minorities in either India or China. So there is no reason to fixate on a tiny constitutional society — except that it is a Jewish state.

Anti-Semitism, to be frank, is deeply embedded also among the elite black progressive community. Numerous contemporary African-American national leaders — Jesse Jackson (“Hymietown”), Al Sharpton (“If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house”), the Reverend Jeremiah Wright (“Them Jews aren’t going to let him [Obama] talk to me.”) — have at some point trafficked in anti-Semitism.

The Jew-hating Louis Farrakhan is no outlier. He has been prominent in the progressive Women’s March, has had his picture taken with a then-smiling Senator Barack Obama (the photo was repressed until after Obama left the presidency), and he was once close to former Democratic National Party vice chairman Keith Ellison. Representative Hank Johnson (D., Ga.), like Farrakhan, has compared West Bank Jews to “termites” — another sick metaphor and, like those used in cartoons appearing in the New York Times, one with a disgusting pedigree from the Third Reich.

In such old-new binaries, Jews and Israelis are now recast as “privileged whites.” So their frequent attackers expect immunity from condemnation; they seek refuge as marginalized people for whom charges of bias or privilege do not so readily apply.

There is also the insidious suggestion by those on the left who traffic in anti-Semitic language and symbolism that most American Jews are assumed to be loyal Democrats. In passive-aggressive style, the new anti-Semites enjoy poking fellow party members on the left, in the expectation that they can do so without warranting the odium that like-minded Nazis and Klansmen would earn.

Like teenagers who rant against their parents on the expectation that, as members of the same family, they are exempt from rebuke, the progressive anti-Semites expect fellow Democrats to contextualize their animus, tolerate it, and even excuse it for the greater good of party and ideological unity.

Add in that a new generation of younger Jewish Americans is not inclined to push back against left-wing anti-Semitism. These fourth- and fifth-generation American citizens are often increasingly secular; they don’t have much knowledge about or interest in the history and nature of Israel, and they’re keen to avoid conflict with fellow hipster students and urban progressives. Like the former and now largely inert Greek-American “lobby,” the next generation of Jewish Americans is less interested in traditional Jewish concerns and likely to defer to fellow progressives in matters of “woke” issues such as the alleged “colonialism” of Israel.

Anti-Semitism is only going to intensify. Both in America and Europe, it is naturally at home among the multicultural Left. The media, popular culture, universities, and left-wing political parties either cannot or will not stop it.

Trump’s unwavering support for Israel and keen support of Jews also encourages leftists, in Pavlovian fashion, to attack anything that Trump favors. Prominent progressive Jews lack either the ability or the inclination to call out members of their own political persuasion — a fact that only encourages even more overt anti-Semitism.

So here is the near future: Every time the New York Times runs another anti-Semitic cartoon (and it will), each time a left-wing member of Congress questions the patriotism or morality of American Jews (and one will), and on every occasion Jewish students are harassed on campus (and they will be), we go another mile down the road to the well-known historical disaster that is looming ahead.


Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University; the author of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won; and a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness.
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