There isn’t much the left and right wings of political ideology can agree on. The further you get out into the fringes of those ideologies, the less they have to agree about. That is, until you hit on one ugly ideology – antisemitism. That, unfortunately, is an area where those on the extreme ends of both the left and the right do find some common ground.
The justification for it are often couched in different terms, but the end result is the same – unmitigated bile and hate directed at a people because of their ethnicity. And it is about ethnicity, not religion. As British writer and comedian David Baddiel pointed out, antisemites don’t care whether Jews like him are practicing their religion or not – they hate them simply for their heritage.
“No racist asks whether you keep kosher before they set light to your house,” he told NPR in a recent interview. “I’m an atheist. It would not have given me a free pass out of Auschwitz. It would also be irrelevant to any white supremacist wanting to kill me.”
But while neo-Nazis admit and embrace their bigotry, many other antisemites, especially those on the left, don’t see themselves as bigots. When antisemitism rears its head on the left, at least today, it’s often cloaked in criticism of the Israeli state.
The recent fighting between Hamas and Israel, for instance, led to criticism of the Jewish state in the media and online, with most of that criticism coming from the left. But while it is fair to criticize a government – and there is more than enough blame and criticism to spread around on both the Jewish and Hamas sides of the conflict – when that criticism turns to hate towards people with an ethnic connection to that nation, no matter where they hail from, a clear line has been crossed.
That is very clearly what is happening with the most recent fighting between Israel and Hamas.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that, during the two weeks of fighting between the Palestinian group and Israel, they tracked a 75 percent jump in antisemitic incidents just in the United States. Those incidents ranged from harassment and hate speech to vandalism and open assault.
For many Jewish people, especially those who identify as progressives and participate in progressive political movements, they say it feels like they have been abandoned by their allies. In the same All Things Considered segment, which ran on our local Morehead State Public Radio this week, Jewish writer Alex Zeldin reported his own harassment when wearing his yarmulke in public. While the language used could have been seen as criticism of Israel’s response to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, which reportedly left dozens of Palestinian children and other Palestinian civilians among the dead, the specific epithet used – baby killer – was chilling to Zeldin.
It’s an old antisemitic trope, one that stretches back to the middle ages and charges of “blood libel” against Jews by European Christians. It’s also a charge that has gained a lot of popularity and push in online and social media criticisms of the Israeli state and their response to Hamas attacks on the Israeli people.
According to the ADL, the phrase “Hitler was right” – or variations of it – were tweeted and retweeted more than 17,000 times in the first week of the most recent Israel and Hamas conflict. The number of those individuals who would openly identify as neo-Nazis, however, or even as right of center, are probably much lower.
There are a number of justifications used by those who would say – or tweet – such things. None of them are justifiable and nearly all are rooted as much in centuries old antisemitic fallacies as they are in legitimate criticism of Israel as a state.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complicated, and there is blood on the hands of both sides. That is without debate. What is also undebatable is that the recent conflict was initiated by Hamas. They began the rocket attack, and they knew that the response from Israel would lead to Palestinian deaths that were out of proportion to Israeli casualties.
You can rightly criticize Israel’s response to Hamas or question whether it was overkill. While we support Israel’s right as a sovereign nation to defend themselves from such attacks, we can’t say whether the level of the Israeli response is morally justified. It’s obviously not the most politically wise move, at least in regards to Israel’s reputation on the world stage.
What we can say, without the least bit of reservation, is that extending your criticism of the state of Israel to racist attacks against and hate speech directed at Jewish people is completely unjustified, reprehensible, and criminal.
Just as recent hate crimes against Asian Americans, ongoing hate crimes against black Americans, and hate crimes against Muslim-Americans and others of Middle Eastern origin in the aftermath of 9/11 were wrong, recent and historic incidents of antisemitism are wrong.
We stand with the people of Israel. We stand with Jewish Americans, and those of Jewish descent around the globe. We stand against antisemitism and racist hate in all its forms and permutations. Always and unequivocally.