“The past few days provide a useful case study,” The New York Times’ Bari Weiss wrote this weekend. “Thursday: an anti-Zionist cartoon is published in the Times. Saturday: a white nationalist guns down Jews in synagogue. Sunday: Javad Zarif appears on Fox. The three strands of modern anti-Semitism: far-left, far-right and Islamist.”
Although Weiss correctly identifies the three strands of contemporary Jew-hatred, none of them are truly modern. To various degrees, Islamic anti-Semitism has been prevalent for a long time. Left-wing anti-Semitism is old as Marx (and, really, even older.) And right-wing nationalist anti-Semitism has been with us since the concept was birthed in Europe.
The only truly modern component found in all three strands is Israel. Anti-Israel sentiment is already the predominant justification for violence, murder, and hatred against Jews in the Middle East and Europe. Now it’s coming here. Sometimes it’s merely a transparent excuse for animosity, other times it’s the spark for that hatred. But almost always a part of it.
The Passover shooting at the Poway Chabad synagogue in suburban San Diego was perpetrated by a 19-year-old gunman who seems to have acted alone. The man hadn’t cooked up his ugly ideas reading “Mein Kampf” in a cabin in the deep wilderness of Red America, but in a comfortable home in Southern California using the internet. The shooter wasn’t raised under the shadow of a Robert E. Lee statue or a Confederate flag, but in a substantially diverse area in a deeply liberal state.
As far as we know, he didn’t grow up in poverty, nor had any Jewish person done anything to personally undermine him. In fact, the shooter almost surely interacted with all types of races, ethnicities, and faiths on a daily basis. If reports are correct, the murderer of Lori Gilbert Kaye was from a churchgoing family and good student at Cal State University San Marcos, a university that earns an “A” in diversity.
The shooter’s manifesto makes clear that he didn’t kill because of Donald Trump or some alleged dog whistle or a New York Times cartoon or any concerted ideological cause other than hatred. Although we shouldn’t put too much thought into his vile rantings, the man was clearly a racist who detested Jews and “Zionists” because he saw them as the enemies of white people.
Now, we can “confront” these xenophobic murderers all day long, but they don’t really care about your emotional condemnations or your rallies or your PSAs. It’s unlikely that we can shame them. The shooter’s rhetoric, thankfully, is already unacceptable in mainstream American discourse.
The only anti-Semitism still widely used in public discourse is the kind masquerading as “anti-Zionism.” That is why there was warranted outrage when The New York Times’s international edition publishes a Der Sturmer-style cartoon and when members of Congress protect a woman who has persistently smeared Americans Jews as money-grubbing interlopers and when progressive activists march behind those who embrace the most noxious anti-Semitic notions imaginable.
Now, a Jew-baiting cartoon or an ugly tweet isn’t going to shoot you. But anti-Israel rhetoric doesn’t just hurt feelings, it leads to policy that puts people in danger. It is why, whatever the intentions were behind the Iran deal, many Jews were rightly disturbed when the antagonist Obama administration made a sweetheart agreement and sent pallets of cash to a Holocaust-denying terror state that openly threatens to throw six million Jews into an “inferno.” It’s a bit on-the-nose.
Since Israel is increasingly detested by the American left—often for the very same reasons the United States is detested—progressives have also been increasingly comfortable attacking Jews or defending those who do. And no, these people aren’t merely being “critical of Israel.” The New York Times cartoon depicting Trump as a blind man being led by the Star of David-bedecked Benjamin Netanyahu was a pictorial interpretation of a paranoid grievance that many anti-Israel progressives and paleocons have been peddling for years: that Jews control the U.S. government.
Claiming that Americans are dying to protect Jewish interests isn’t only a lie, it’s a fresh iteration of an old slur. Whereas once there were “bankers” and “money lenders,” today there are “Zionists.” I see this smear every day, and not merely from randos on Twitter.
Some progressives, in fact, argue that the concept of “Zionism” is itself a form of white supremacy. Liberal editors of major publications now contend that the democratically elected prime minister of this Jewish state is one of “global anti-semitism’s greatest allies.” Writers for major magazines breezily blame Jews who support Israel for their own massacres. Among them are a small number of progressives, who defraud the public by falsely using their abandoned Jewish heritage to promote their leftist ideology.
Like many left-wing publications, the Times has obsessively depicted the Jewish state—a nation that is not only the most liberal in the Middle East but perhaps the most liberal nation in all of Asia—as a national manifestation of bigotry. Not Hamas. Not the PLO. Not Iran. Not Qatar. Until recently, not even Saudi Arabia.
When outlets like The New York Times spend decades normalizing the idea that Zionism is tantamount to fascism and apartheid, it is just a matter of time before some hapless editor at the newspaper—if that’s really what happened—has trouble differentiating between the supposedly “anti-Israel” cartoon and demonstrably anti-Jewish one.
This position has driven them not only to embrace a decades-long bias but has opened them up to publishing all strands of ugly propaganda. Just one week before running the cartoon, the Times ran an Easter op-ed identifying Jesus as being “most likely a Palestinian man with dark skin.” Trying to strip a couple thousand years of Jewish (and Christian) history to promote a comforting fantasy for progressives is arguably more anti-Semitic than any dumb cartoon. “Palestine,” of course, was a name given to the land by Romans, who exiled most of the Jews from their homeland more than 600 years before the Arabs showed up.
The frustrating and tragic truth about this weekend’s shooting spree on Passover—a holiday that celebrates the miraculous escape from Egyptian slavery to freedom in Israel—is that there’s little we Jews can do about the presence of random far-right murderers other than continue to marginalize their ideas and defend ourselves. And nothing seems to aggravate all three varieties of anti-Semites more than the idea of Jews protecting themselves after 1,800 years of being at their mercy. The collective anger over Israel is proof.