The most interesting thing about left-wing anti-Semitism is not so much the hate driving the trend as the impulse of Jews to tolerate or even justify it.
In the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, there is no way to pretend that right-wing anti-Semitism doesn’t present a deadly threat to Jews, even if the numbers of its adherents are small and marginalized in terms of access to influence or power.
But when faced with the increased visibility and influence of people willing to openly advocate for the demonization and destruction of the one Jewish state on the planet, the reaction from some on the left has been to discount this trend, but to embrace it.
Last week saw a controversy over now-former CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill and his anti-Israel tirade at the United Nations, as well as open support for the BDS movement on the part of two new Muslim-American members of Congress.
The most prominent example of the trend toward justification is New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg. In her latest column, she makes the argument that supporting the elimination of the Jewish state is not only not anti-Semitic, but somehow more in keeping with the values of Diaspora Jews.
While the argument depicts Israel’s left-wing foes as advocates of liberal values, the opposite is true. Goldberg’s stand justifies a form of bias that is indistinguishable from anti-Semitism. That she does so while depicting herself as a guardian of Jewish values is utterly despicable.
Goldberg’s argument has a precedent. Anti-Zionism was popular among some American Jews prior to World War II. But if anti-Zionist groups like the American Council for Judaism declined from mainstream to marginal cranks after the Holocaust, it was because the overwhelming majority of American Jews were capable of drawing obvious conclusions from historical events. They understood that the Zionists were right about the necessity for a Jewish state in a world where anti-Semitism is capable of attaching itself to any ideological movement.
At a moment when Jew-hatred is on the rise, both in the Muslim world and the streets of Western European cities, that basic truth remains unchallenged, even as Israel stands in for the stereotype of the homeless, despised Jew that had long sustained such hate.
Goldberg claims that opposing Jewish ethno-nationalism doesn’t make you a bigot. But those who wish to deny Jews the right to their own state and the right to live there in security — things they don’t seek to deny to other ethno-religious groups — single them out the way anti-Semites have always done.
That’s why the BDS movement, which can now count among its adherents two new members of Congress in Democratic Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, is not interested in changing Israel’s policies so much as it wants no Israel at all, and engages in anti-Semitic invective and violence to get its way.
Yet to justify their stance, and the notion that nice liberal Diaspora Jews — as opposed to nasty Israelis who remain determined to defend their state — should praise them for it, Goldberg distorts three basic issues.
One is that she gets the Israel-Palestine conflict dead wrong. The columnist claims that the Israeli government’s foreclosure of a two-state solution via settlements justifies Palestinian efforts to replace the Jewish state with a secular alternative. But to reach that conclusion, you have to forget 25 years of history during which Palestinians repeatedly rejected offers of an independent state, unwilling to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Israelis saw what happened when they withdrew every soldier, settlement and settler from Gaza in 2005; to replicate the terrorist state there in the West Bank would be suicidal.
She’s also wrong about Israel being antithetical to pluralist democracy. Though it is as imperfect as any democracy, Israel remains a fundamentally liberal society based on the rule of law. Replacing it with a binational state where Islamists would be empowered would not only destroy democracy but also endanger millions of Jewish lives.
Equally wrong is her notion that Israel’s attempts to forge relationships with Eastern European states means that it supports anti-Semitism elsewhere. With so many enemies, its efforts to make friends in unlikely places are understandable.
But while some of those allies are problematic, the sad truth — as JNS’s Sean Savage points out — is that it may be that Jews are safer in Eastern Europe than they are in the supposedly more enlightened West. Ironically, it was the vicious anti-Semitism in the liberal Paris that convinced Theodor Herzl of the necessity of creating a Jewish state.
What Goldberg is really trying to do is replace the idea of Jewish peoplehood with loose universalism that returns Jews to their old role of popular victims, dependent on the goodwill of others.
Progressives who fall into this trap demonstrate ignorance of more than the realities of the Middle East.
Criticism of Israel’s government isn’t anti-Semitic, but those who rationalize a cause that seeks to eliminate the one Jewish democratic state on the planet also rationalize a noxious form of modern-day anti-Semitism. Doing it in the name of Jewish values from a prominent perch in academia or The New York Times doesn’t make it less abhorrent.
Nor does it change the fact that their efforts will fail, as Israel, with the support of decent people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, keeps going from strength to strength.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS.