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Antisemitism Is A Real Threat. But It Comes from the Pro-Israel Right, Not the Pro-Palestine Left.
The ADL and the media are trying to confuse us. It won't work.
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As the world continues to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, the American media has supplemented its coverage of the fighting with a discussion of ostensibly rampant antisemitism across America. From CNN to The New York Times, the primetime press has decided to report on what they’re calling an increase in anti-Jewish hate, specifically on college campuses. Much of this coverage has been driven by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which recently claimed there was a “388% increase in antisemitism” since Hamas’s attack on October 7th.
This is a serious accusation. If the ADL and mainstream media are correct, America is undergoing an unprecedented spike in hate crimes that will endanger American Jews. Like any form of hate, antisemitism should be combatted and driven from public life, wherever it exists. It also has no home in leftist and progressive circles, which should remain bastions of equality and dignity for all. But, as there is a long history of using false charges of antisemitism to give political cover to the actions of Israel, these charges shouldn’t be taken at face value. Those who care about protecting the dignity of all people, regardless of their identity, must root out bad-faith accusations so we can advocate for justice in Israel-Palestine while protecting our Jewish brethren from the very real hatred, wherever it exists.
Unfortunately, upon inspection, it appears the ADL and its water holders in the American media do not share this goal.
I first heard about the alleged rise in antisemitism from the mainstream press, but I grew suspicious of the claim when I learned the ADL was the source. Though it positions itself as an anti-hate league, the ADL has a tangential goal of shielding Israel from any and all criticism. It has repeatedly conflated antisemitism with criticism of Israeli policy, even going as far as to compare anti-Zionism to Holocaust denial. Back in the 1990s, the ADL was caught bribing law enforcement to spy on pro-Palestine and anti-apartheid activists, so anything they claim should not be assumed as true.
As I’ve written previously, Zionism, the belief that there should be a Jewish ethnostate, is a political ideology entirely detached from being Jewish. Being anti-Zionist does not mean one is antisemitic, just as one can be pro-Zionist and antisemitic. Many Jews are anti-Zionists, while many Zionists are not Jews. Criticizing Israel is fine. Criticizing Jews is hate. The ADL knows the difference between the two but still chooses to blur the line between them to give political cover to Israel’s well-documented apartheid and occupation of Palestine.
Unfortunately, the ADL’s latest report continues this smoke-and-mirrors tactic. As examples of “antisemitic incidents,” the ADL cites a pro-Israel protestor being called a “Fucking Zionist,” unconfirmed reports of harassment between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel protestors, and a bizarre accusation of “a car with Palestine flags appearing to intentionally swerve, nearly hitting a visibly Jewish family.” Calling someone a “Fucking Zionist” may be rude, but it’s not anti-semitic. “Alleged” assaults are not actual assaults, especially in cases where exactly what happened is unclear. For example, many pro-Israel media figures accused Palestine supporters of killing a Jewish man in Thousand Oaks, California, only for it to be later reported that the man died due to a head injury he sustained during an accidental fall. The claim about the car appears to be unreported anywhere else, as no trace of it exists online (if you have a video of the incident, please send it to me!). The ADL also uses the phrase “appearing to intentionally swerve,” implying an intent to harm that it can’t possibly corroborate. The ADL has also mapped “anti-Israel rallies” alongside antisemitic assaults, implying there is a connection between peacefully criticizing the nation of Israel and assaulting someone because they are Jewish.
Fueled by this dubious report, the mainstream media has returned to its favorite stomping ground — college campuses. CNN, The New York Times, CBS, and other legacy press outlets have all interviewed college students claiming to bear the brunt of this antisemitic wave. But upon a closer look, few are able to offer any actual evidence for their claims. Instead, they report seeing support for Palestine and feeling “attacked.”
On November 13th, Jake Tapper interviewed an MIT graduate student about supposed antisemitism under the sensationalist chyron of “Hate In America.”
When asked to describe what was making her feel unsafe, the interviewee cited two occurrences of “antisemitism” at MIT:
Peaceful, pro-Palestine protests at the office for internships in Israel, and
An on-campus daycare telling parents to pick up their children early, fearing clashing protests could turn violent.
That’s it. The interviewee was never harassed, assaulted, or, according to her own account, even acknowledged by pro-Palestinian protestors. She wasn’t even present for these events. And yet, this graduate student, amplified by CNN, reiterated the claim that merely supporting a historically oppressed group was “antisemitic.” At best this is bad journalism. At worst, it’s an attempt to dissuade Americans from speaking out against the ongoing genocide of Gaza.
Similar stories have been run in other notable outlets, all following the same pattern. While some students are quick to claim antisemitism is abundant, they never provide actual claims of hate-based incidents. As the student interviewed on CNN stated, no one accosted her, said anything about Jews, defaced synagogues, or anything of the sort. Instead, she spoke about a perception of hate. Upon seeing calls for ceasefires and equality for Palestinians, this woman (and many others) have taken that as an affront to their Jewish identity. But like other forms of bigotry, the existence of anti-Jewish hate and the perception of anti-Jewish hate are not the same thing. The first is a real threat, while the latter is imagined. Those who see a call for freedom in Palestine and feel personally attacked should ask themselves why they are offended by a call for justice. (And if Tapper was a good journalist, he would have asked exactly that. But he did not, and I digress.)
The Real Danger
Whether they come from media outlets such as CNN, NGOs such as the ADL, or random individuals plucked off the street, these false accusations of antisemitism cannot be ignored. They are not harmless misunderstandings but acts that endanger both Jews and non-Jews alike.
Antisemitism is very much alive and well in the United States. According to the FBI, it makes up 10% of race and ethnicity-based hate crimes. I reckon if you ask any American Jew, they have endured at least one anti-Jewish assault or harassment in their life. But the false accusations like the ones the media are currently trumpeting only hinder us from combatting actual antisemitism. When political opinions (Zionism) are conflated with identities (Judaism), many will recognize they are being deceived and will tune out future accusations. This makes it difficult to identify legitimate hate mongers, who are very present in American politics.
For example, I’m writing this on November 14th, as the “March for Israel” rally is held in Washington D.C. One scheduled speaker is Pastor John Hagee, a known antisemite who claimed Hitler was sent by God. I can’t believe I have to say this, but if you think saying “Free Palestine” is antisemitic while praising the architect of the Holocaust is not, your moral compass is in dire need of repair.
Donald Trump, who praised the Neo-Nazis who marched through Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” will likely be the Republican Party’s 2024 Presidential Nominee. If the ADL and the media were serious about combatting threats to Jewish Americans, their natural priority would be on ensuring every American remembered the former President’s praise of anti-Jewish fascists. But, as evident by their decision to steer the conversation into public relations on behalf of the Israeli Defense Force, any rational observer can conclude this is not their goal.
Instead of combatting the very real, very dangerous threat of antisemitism in American politics, the ADL, the mainstream media, and many in the political establishment are more interested in using hollow charges of bigotry to protect an American ally. In doing so, they’re attempting to dissuade Americans from speaking out against the Gazan genocide while distracting from the real threats facing our Jewish brethren. While these actors are trying to posit the pro-Palestine left as antisemitic, the real threat to Jewish safety comes from the political right, which studies have found is seven times more antisemitic than the left. And as the Charlotesville terrorist attack shows us, the right has few qualms about acting on this anti-Jewish hate.
Though the mighty are trying to disrupt the movement for equality in Palestine, we will not be confused. I sleep soundly knowing my politics come from a place of love, not hate. Despite the false accusation that we’re enabling antisemitism, those of us who advocate for justice in Israel-Palestine will continue to do so, unwavered by this malicious slander.
If you haven’t yet, I urge you to call your representatives and press them to call for a ceasefire.