This week, an assemblywoman from Brooklyn — the New York City borough with approximately 2.7 million people, not some far-flung hamlet in flyover country — went on an near-hour-long rant in which she accused Jews of conspiring to gentrify her district and steal her home. In the midst of this outburst, Diane Richardson reportedly referred to one of her rivals as the “the Jewish senator from southern Brooklyn.”
This incident comes not long after a DC Council member named Trayon White Sr., a Democrat who represents the Eighth Ward of the capital of the free world in the twenty-first century, posted a video offering some of his thoughts on how “the Rothschilds” were controlling the climate to squeeze money out of the oppressed.
Both of these people have been treated as raving lunatics, which they might very well be. But a person could easily imagine the fate of any elected official in a large city had he or she aimed similar conspiracies at African-American neighbors. We would almost assuredly be plunged into a national conversation about the shameful bigotry that plagues our cities.
That’s not to argue that we should overreact to these incidents. Although certainly a serious concern, anti-Semitism is a relatively minor problem in American life. It is, however, getting difficult not to notice a trend among liberals of either ignoring, rationalizing, or brushing off anti-Semitism, which seems to be more commonplace on the Left than it has been in a long time.
But when identity politics and class warfare propel your movement, as it does the progressivism that’s becoming increasingly popular on the American Left, it’s almost inevitable that the Jews, who’ve tended to successfully navigate meritocracies, will become targets. This hate has traveled with socialists since Karl Marx first declared that “Money” was the god of the Jews.
The other, perhaps more pertinent, factor driving the kind of leftist anti-Semitism we see on campuses across America and now gradually in politics is anti-Zionism. That’s because it is not merely criticism of various Likud policies that girds this animosity, but a broad antipathy towards the very existence of the Jewish state — a position that almost always devolves into something uglier.
The most obvious example of this trend is the Left’s embrace of Women’s March co-founders Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, both supporters of the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam (although Sarsour’s Jewish problem goes deeper). Mallory only recently attended a speech given by Louis Farrakhan and posed with a man who had that day opined on “Satanic Jews” and other pressing matters. Referring to Farrakhan as “GOAT” — the greatest of all time — Mallory will surely continue to widespread attention and adulation in mainstream publications.
Extremists and quacks have always attempted to tether themselves to mainstream political movements. What’s more concerning than the presence of Sarsour and Mallory is how liberals have either ignored anti-Semitism or gone out of their way to rationalize it.
“[Many] black people,” wrote The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer, in one of a number of articles working through this sudden “conundrum” of Jew-hating on the Left. “But many black people come into contact with the Nation of Islam as a force in impoverished black communities—not simply as a champion of the black poor or working class, but of the black underclass: black people, especially men, who have been written off or abandoned by white society.”
So, you see, “white society” is really at fault for Mallory’s turn towards anti-Semitism. Would anyone ever accept such reasoning for racism among the poor of Appalachia or the Jews of Brooklyn? At this point, you have to wonder what kind of relationship someone would have to enter to merit a full-throated denunciation from fellow liberals. I imagine nothing less than socializing with a conservative would do the trick.
At least Serwer concedes that the Nation of Islam is a consequential force in urban communities and offers a theory for its popularity. Most often, those who associate with anti-Semites are insulated and excused of any wrongdoing by the mere fact that Republicans are the ones bringing the charge.
For example, while it’s inconceivable that a person who spent a decade as a member of the Klan could find a place in politics today, despite its lack of influence, a member of the Nation of Islam can rise to become deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee without anyone in his party challenging his ascendency. Elizabeth Bruenig, a Washington Post columnist, recently praised Keith Ellison (she was far from alone) for “calling out the silly Farrakhan-related smear campaign against him for what it is: a totally cynical attempt to pit the black community against the Jewish community.”
Now, maybe it’s silly to point out that Ellison once appeared as a local Farrakhan spokesman in Minneapolis to defend a congregant who said “Jews are among the most racist white people I know,” or to mention that the left-wing magazine Mother Jones reported that Ellison had embraced that idea that “European white Jews are trying to oppress minorities all over the world” and talked about “Jewish slave traders” (there was never a denial from the congressman’s office), or even that the DNC’s deputy chairman only distanced himself from anti-Semites during his 2006 run for Congress, and then only when right-wing bloggers started pointing out his past.
But is it really silly to point out that one of the leading lights of the Democratic Party told a group in 2010, after breaking with Farrakhan, that Jews were running American foreign policy or that he and Farrakhan attended a dinner honoring Iranian President and Holocaust-denier Hassan Rouhani in 2013?
While smearing all conservatives as bigots has been an ongoing project, anti-Semitism whitewashing is relatively new for liberals. Although, of course, the two can work in tandem. When Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, was asked by Meghan McCain on “The View” about Mallory’s affection for Farrakhan, she replied, “You work with people all the time with whom you disagree. Goodness knows I met with the Koch brothers when we were working on criminal justice or Rupert Murdoch when we were working on immigration reform.”
Jarrett’s contention that the Koch brothers, whose consistent libertarian positions make it entirely predictable that they’d be concerned about criminal justice issues, are comparable to a man who described Hitler as “a very great man” is half a despicable smear and half a clumsy attempt to moderate the real extremism within her own ranks. Of course it’s inconvenient, perhaps even politically perilous, for Democrats like Jarrett to attack their own Resistance leaders. Perhaps they even have some ideological sympathy for the cause.
Moreover, acknowledging that both sides attract bigots undermines a critical narrative for Democrats. This is why places like the Anti-Defamation League spend an inordinate amount of time acting as if some fringe Nazis, most of whom probably live in vans down by the river, are a cohesive and dangerous movement while largely ignoring, or quickly moving past, leftist anti-Semitism.
It’s also why Richard Spencer and David Duke, people with few followers and zero political power, are given an inordinate amount of media attention while the fact that Congressional Black Caucus members, who both coordinated and met with the leader of the Nation of Islam, is given virtually no coverage at all. It’s why the deputy Washington editor of The New York Times, Jonathan Weisman, can write an entire fearmongering book purporting to examine Jewish life in “the Age of Trump” by stringing together a bunch of disparate incidents — some genuinely troubling, others imagined — to warn of the coming fascism, while meticulously ignoring the contagious strains of anti-Semitism that live, not on the periphery, but smack in the middle of the most celebrated activist movement in the country.
In Britain, there has been something of a reckoning for Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has spent a lifetime associating and befriending Jew-haters, 9-11 Truthers, terrorist sympathizers, Holocaust deniers, and politicians who claim Jews perpetrate blood libel. In the United States, these kinds of associations with the far-left would have previously destroyed careers. Not anymore.