by Joel Kotkin
May 7, 2018
Since the election of Donald Trump, prominent American Jews, notably in the Reform movement and among the intelligentsia, have lamented the resurgence of right-wing anti-Semitism, seeing it as the greatest threat to their community in the United States.
The rise of xenophobic and often marginally anti-Jewish parties in Eastern Europe — even with fewer Jews left there to persecute — has deepened the alarm. Yet by far the greatest threat to Jews, not only here but also abroad, comes not from zombie fascist retreads, but from the Left, which is increasingly making its peace with anti-Semitism.
This shift was first made clear to me about 15 years ago when, along with my wife Mandy, whose mother is a Holocaust survivor from France, I visited the legendary Nazi-hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld. They predicted that the primary threat to Jews in Europe increasingly would come not from the centuries-old French Right, some of whom had supported the Nazis, but from the Left, in alliance with a growing Muslim population. Time has proved their assertion to be, for the most part, on target. In Sweden, for instance, never known for its persecution of Jews, only 5 percent of all anti-Semitic incidents, notes the New York Times, involved the far Right, while Muslims and leftists accounted for the rest. Germany’s recent rash of anti-Semitic incidents has coincided with the mass migration of people from regions where hostility to both Jews and Israel is commonplace. At European universities, where pro-Nazi sentiments were once widely shared, anti-Israel sentiments are increasingly de rigueur. The growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, aimed at cutting all ties with Israel, often allies itself with anti-Jewish Islamist groups, some with eliminationist agendas for Palestine’s Jews.
Of course, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are not identical. One can criticize some Israeli policies — as many American Jews do, for example, on the expansion of settlements — without being an anti-Semite. But, as the liberal French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy argues, targeting the Jewish state while ignoring far more brutal, homophobic, and profoundly misogynist Muslim states represents a double standard characteristic of anti-Semitic prejudice. European progressives increasingly embrace this double standard. Generally speaking, the further left the European politician, the closer his ties to Islamist groups who seek the destruction of Jews in Palestine. Many left-wing parties — the French socialists, for example — depend more and more on Arab and Muslim voters, who come from countries where more than 80 percent of the public holds strongly anti-Jewish views.
The Left’s animus toward Jewish causes has spread to Great Britain, where Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn counts the leaders of openly anti-Semitic groups like Hamas and Hezbollah as allies. If Corbyn becomes Britain’s next prime minister — no longer inconceivable, given his strong showing in the last election — the consequences for Israel, and for Britain’s dwindling Jewish community, could be troubling.
Some, like Barcelona’s chief rabbi, think that it’s time for Europe’s Jews to move away, and many, particularly in France, are already doing so. Europe’s Jewish population (roughly 1.4 million) is less than half what it was in 1960, and a mere fraction of its pre-Holocaust size (9.5 million).
Israel and the Anglosphere — the United States, Canada, and Australia — look like the remaining safe harbors for Jews. To date, anti-Semitism in America has been more restrained than in Europe, both on the right and on the left. But mainstream Jewish leadership and its progressive intellectuals are stuck in an historical loop where it is always 1940; Hitler now takes the form of Donald Trump. The notion that Trump, however unattractive in his xenophobia, is anti-Semitic — a commonplace among progressive Jews — seems absurd, given his Jewish grandchildren and pro-Israel policies. Yet some progressive Jews even sat shiva — the traditional period of mourning following the death of an immediate relative — after Trump’s election. The disdain toward Trump among the rabbinate — often more liberal than congregants — was reflected in the cancellation of this year’s annual Rosh Hashanah call with the president.
Trump, as these Jews allege, has at times seemed to encourage the white supremacist “alt-right,” but the alt-right, while loud, is marginal. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan and various National Socialist wannabes exist more vividly in the literature and imagination of fundraisers than they do in the real world. The far Right has no political leader of consequence, and its media presence is limited, to say the least. As the Los Angeles Times reported last year, the nine major alt-right sites received nearly 3 million visits and 839,000 unique visitors, compared with 236 million visits and 102 million unique visitors for the mainstream Left, and 264 million visits and 111 million unique visitors for the mainstream Right.
As in Europe, the danger to Jews primarily lies not in the white nationalist fever swamps but on the left. Much of the Democratic Party coalition — the progressive Left, minorities, and millennials — has turned decisively against Israel. The most anti-Israel members of Congress tend to come not from the backwoods of Alabama but from “progressive” inner cities, coastal tech-burbs, and academic communities. In polls, minorities and millennials are consistently less sympathetic to Jews and Israel than older, generally white Republicans. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), African-Americans are twice as likely to be anti-Semitic than the general population; roughly 12 percent of blacks express anti-Semitic views. The attitudes of native-born Americans of Hispanic descent track fairly closely with those of other Americans, but Hispanics born abroad are three times as likely to dislike Jews. Equally disturbing, notes Pew, warm feelings toward Jews are strongest among seniors, at 74 percent, but drop to 62 percent among millennials.
To be sure, anti-Semitism is not rampant in America today, but the political evolution of progressive Democrats points to a troubling future. Last year, the party almost named Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison as its chairman (he became vice chairman). Ellison has met repeatedly with Louis Farrakhan, though he claims to have broken all ties with the notorious Jew-baiter. Many Jewish Democrats, particularly in the Reform movement, seem more concerned with maintaining unity among the anti-Trump “resistance” than about their party’s growing anti-Jewish sentiment. To some extent, their silence reflects the progressive logic of intersectionality, which envisions a popular front made up of oppressed people — and excluding anyone with a Zionist taint. Some Jewish progressives won’t even denounce anti-Semites like Linda Sarsour, a prominent leader of the anti-Trump women’s march on Washington earlier this year. Like other march organizers, Sarsour celebrates her ties to Farrakhan. She is also a devoted anti-Israel activist, supporter of the BDS movement, and Hamas admirer who once tweeted that “nothing is creepier than Zionism.” Tamika Mallory, another women’s march co-founder, recently joined Sarsour in denouncing Starbucks for inviting the ADL to help run racial-bias training sessions for its employees — because the ADL, as they see it, instructs local police departments in Israeli techniques of controlling and killing people of color.
Other outsider groups have played the intersectionality card to justify discrimination toward Jews. Organizers of a gay rights march this summer in Chicago moved to exclude marchers who put Jewish stars on their banners; organizers explained that Zionism is “an inherently white supremacist ideology.” Never mind that Israel is infinitely more tolerant of homosexuality than its Muslim neighbors.
American college campuses have become, as in Europe, major incubators of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish agitation as well. Ironically, much of the worst abuse occurs on the most liberal campuses — San Francisco State, the City University of New York’s Brooklyn campus, and the University of California — while more conservative Southern schools seem more welcoming. Like European Jews in the early 1930s, young Jews on campus are living in an increasingly authoritarian atmosphere, with the shouting down of speakers, limits on free speech, and roughing-up of Trump supporters. More than half of Jewish students, notes a Trinity College study, have experienced anti-Semitism in some form. Most incidents are perpetrated by anti-Israel activists, not wannabe brownshirts from the alt-right.
How can American Jews avoid the increasingly marginalized fate of their European counterparts? Performing good deeds, or mitzvot, and speaking for tolerance, remain critical, but more attention needs to be paid to the 40 percent of Jewish millennials who are already unaffiliated, compared with just 25 percent among baby boomers. Younger Jews are also increasingly indifferent to Israel; a quarter of Jews under 30 feel that American support for the Jewish State is excessive, compared with just 5 percent of their elders.
But above all, Jews should remember what they owe in allegiance to America and its fundamental ideals. The basic principles of due process, equality under the law, free speech, and religious freedom — not the vaporous promises of “social justice” — represent the best guarantee that in this country, at least, the historically miserable experience of Jews will not be repeated.
Joel Kotkin serves as Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (COU). He wrote this for City Journal.