It has been striking and sobering to see how many in the American Jewish community, over the past few days, have invested more time and energy in talking about an anti-Semitic cartoon in the New York Times than an actual act of terrorism which murdered a Jew in a San Diego synagogue.
Stroll over to the more conservative portions of Twitter, and you’ll see the Times cartoon prompting a near-obsession, with the shooting virtually an after-thought – or worse, somehow a consequence of the cartoon.
The AJC’s David Harris, for example, has five times as many posts on his twitter feed about the cartoon compared to the shooting. Elad Nehorai’s sad prediction, that we would be spending less time talking about the San Diego shooting than we will about Ilhan Omar, is already coming true.
Typically, when challenged about this seemingly obvious misallocation of priorities, the response I hear runs something like the following: Yes, obviously, a shooting is "worse" than an anti-Semitic cartoon. But the thing is, everyone knows right-wing anti-Semitism is bad. Nobody defends shooting a synagogue. There’s nothing interesting to say about it, other than: "It’s awful."
Left-wing anti-Semitism, like this cartoon, is more subtle. It requires explanation. People defend it. It may not itself be an act of violence, but it contributes to a discourse where anti-Semitic violence can thrive.
It’s a good point. Or it would be, if it wasn’t utter chickenshit.
The fact is, everyone does not "know" right-wing anti-Semitism is bad. Everyone knows shooting a synagogue is bad, just like they know bombing a church or torching a mosque is bad.
But that is not the same thing as agreeing that right-wing anti-Semitism, in its totality, is bad. Opposing right-wing anti-Semitism doesn’t end at opposing people who open fire on a synagogue.
There is a broad network of tropes, stereotypes, and conspiracies that have permeated the American right - not (just) the alt-right, but the right-right - and which provide the ferment in which hatred can grow.
From fears of demographic "replacement" (what did you think "Jews will not replace us" was referring to?) to claims that migrants and protesters alike are puppets of "globalist" financiers like George Soros, these tropes make regular appearances in the Republican Party’s highest levels.
One hears them from the U.S. president, from senators, from congressmen, from governors, from right-wing pundits in the media. It is mainstream. It is normal. And it is tied into a larger ideology of white supremacy and xenophobic hatred that today characterizes a fully-Trumpified Republican Party.
And we do not, in fact, all "know" this is anti-Semitic. The Republican Party and its backers do not concede that there is anything problematic about any of this. Even when bombs arrive at Soros’ house, even when shooters’ manifestos speak of Jews leading white genocide, they refuse to acknowledge the link.
They’ll bluster about how much they love Israel (or at least its right-wing government). They’ll make spurious connections to left-wing bogeymen. As the former NY State Assemblyman Dov Hikind tweeted to Ilhan Omar: "As if you being an antisemite in Congress hasn’t contributed to such antisemitic violence?" - ludicrously asserting that white supremacist men who brag about burning mosques take their cues from hijab-wearing women.
Or they’ll sneer that "not all criticism of George Soros is anti-Semitic" and we shouldn’t "conflate ‘anti-globalist’ with anti-Semitism" (give them credit: they’ve learnt something from the "discourse.")
Right-wing anti-Semitism, the sort that contributes to a discourse where anti-Semitic violence thrives, is, it turns out, very controversial, and very much in need of explanation.
So why isn’t it explained? Why don’t we devote the time and energy and passion to tackling it?
The answer is cowardice, and fear. We know that if we did tackle mainstream right-wing anti-Semitism with the same uncompromising vigor as we do its left-wing peers, the retaliation would be vicious and very well might be violent.
Say what you will about the New York Times, but it instantly admitted that its anti-Semitic cartoon was offensive and offered a fuller apology for it a day later. Nobody of substance defended its publication; the Times’ own op-ed page ran a column of self-flagellation blasting the wrongdoing.
That, incidentally, is what it looks like when "everyone" really does know something is anti-Semitic.
And that’s also how we know that the "everyone already knows" explanation for silence around right-wing anti-Semitism is BS. When mainstream actors do something that "everyone knows" is anti-Semitic, it turns out, we do not respond with silence at the self-evidence of it all.
But we know, instinctively, in our bones, that things would go down differently if we tried to give Donald Trump or Kevin McCarthy or Mo Brooks the New York Times treatment (or, God forbid, the Ilhan Omar treatment). There would be no apology. There would be no effort at rapprochement. They would deny, and they would lash out.
I still remember a few years ago when the ADL tried to call Mike Huckabee to the carpet for making facile Holocaust comparisons.
The Arkansas Governor - such a friend of the Jews! - did not apologize. He gave warnings. He issued outright threats towards the Jewish people if we didn’t back down. And the ADL caved. The story ended with him not only getting away with trivializing our people’s greatest tragedy, but somehow earning an apology from the ADL to boot.
That’s what happens when Jews ask the mainstream right to reckon with its own anti-Semitism.
We talk a big game about both sides needing to acknowledge anti-Semitism in their own ranks. But the fact is only one side adamantly, and consistently, never makes that concession.
When it comes to anti-Semitism by an actual substantial public figure, liberals sometimes will call out their own and sometimes will struggle to do so. But conservatives never do anything but deny, and deny, and deny. They deny it’s anti-Semitism, and if the anti-Semitism is undeniable they deny that it’s conservativism: "This shooter was your guy, not ours."
There’s no further it could go.
The reality is the media spends far more time on left anti-Semitism because that kind of anti-Semitism will be recognized by, if not quite by "everyone," then at least by prominent figures on both sides of the aisle. That makes it "safe" and non-partisan.
But condemning conservative anti-Semitism means doing so in the teeth of frothing Republican denials, furious invocations of "media bias" and "but what about Hamas!"
It is unsafe; it requires courage of conviction to insist on reporting truths that not "everyone" knows. Too often, the media hasn’t had that courage. It lets conservative anti-Semitism slide not because everyone knows about it, but because many are in denial about it.
I used the term "chickenshit" above, and that was intentional. It’s how Rep. Max Rose described a Republican caucus that has been eager to jump (and jump, and jump) on liberal Democrats for anti-Semitic remarks but has been utterly unwilling to clean its own house on the issue.
It could also as easily apply to the media, which can spend weeks obsessing over Ilhan Omar but can barely rouse itself awake to comment on Mo Brooks literally quoting (favorably!) Mein Kampf on the House floor. When we say we don’t demand comment on that issue because “everyone knows” Brooks is an extremist, that’s a chickenshit apologia.
Clearly, people don’t "know." We don’t force the issue not because it’s so obvious, but because we’re afraid of the backlash.
A world in which it is universally-accepted knowledge and discussed at every opportunity that the Republican Party has Nazi-quoting radicals populating its backbench and Soros-conspiracy pushers occupying its frontbench looks very different from the world we live in right now.
There will never, ever be days of scandal wondering whether Kevin McCarthy will resign have led the GOP to campaign on the theme that George Soros was going to buy our election; there will never be weeks of headlines unrelentingly telling us "GOP on the Defensive as Anti-Semitic Attacks Spike"; there will never be a moment where every mention of Senator Ted Cruz pauses to note he organized a presidential run around the need to combat – ahem - "New York values."
And that’s not because these are deemed too obvious to need mention. Fox News deliberately cut away from a guest linking Trump’s rhetoric to rising antisemitism - not because it feared the point being made was too boring. The prevailing narratives of American politics do not "take for granted" conservative anti-Semitism.
Right-wing anti-Semitism is alive and well in America: not just on the margins, but at the mainstream. This is not something "everyone knows." This is not something "everyone condemns."
So it is up to us to make it known, and make it contemptible. Every day if we have to. There’s no more room for being chickenshit.
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