Analysis |

Jews Don’t Have the Luxury to Ignore anti-Semitism on Either Side

Our duty is to make clear to Jewish apologists on both the right and left that we’re no longer prepared to tolerate anti-Semitism or racism in any guise

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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White supremacists clash with counter protesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017.
White supremacists clash with counter protesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017.Credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

What would you do if you discovered that your boss was openly anti-Semitic? Or your teacher? Or the local police chief or any other figure of authority and power in your daily orbit?

If you live in the West, the answer is clear. You take your proof to the anti-Semite’s superiors, or to the media. The transgressor will be severely disciplined, publicly shamed and forced to resign. We’re members of the most fortunate generation: The first in which it’s simply unacceptable to be publicly and explicitly anti-Jewish.

But don’t take it for granted. If you’re over 50 you’ll remember a not-so-distant past in which you had to tolerate nasty comments about Jews at school, at work and in government offices. You considered yourself lucky that you could study and work untouched and carried on with your life. If you’re my age or younger, ask your parents. They won’t have forgotten.

It wasn’t that bad. Most anti-Semites were relatively harmless. Many were quite nice people. And if you were a Jew living in America or Western Europe, trying to get ahead in life, you may well have chosen to work for an anti-Semitic boss, if the pay was better.

The thinking went: He hires Jews, so he probably doesn’t really mean everything he says. Or he does actually believe that Jews are good with money and that’s why he hires them. Those were the good anti-Semites. Bad anti-Semites wouldn’t hire Jews.

Most Western Jews want to believe they don’t have to choose anymore. We live in a zero-tolerance age and there are no good or harmless anti-Semites. But not everyone sees it that way.

On Wednesday, Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, responded on Facebook to the controversy over the Charlottesville murder and Donald Trump’s shameful statements — “To put things in perspective. I’m a Jew, I’m an Israeli, the neo nazi scums in Virginia hate me and my country. But they belong to the past. Their breed is dying out. However the thugs of Antifa and BLM [Black Lives Matter] who hate my country (and America too in my view) just as much are getting stronger and stronger and becoming super dominant in American universities and public Life.”

Generations of Netanyahus

There is a temptation to ignore what a 26-year-old unemployed bum who lives with his parents in a house maintained by the Israeli taxpayer has to say. The Talmud, however, instructs us that “the child says in the market what it heard from its parents.” Based on a close reading of what Yair’s father and grandfather have both written over the decades, it’s safe to assume that the Dauphin of Netanyahu is merely reciting what he has been hearing at home for years. In his uncouth way, he provides insight into the mind of the prime minister. This is what Netanyahu Sr. thinks but doesn’t say.

Benjamin Netanyahu sees anti-Semitism as an evolutionary process — just like his father, the historian Benzion Netanyahu who believed that the persecution of Jews by the Spanish Inquisition wasn’t based on an extreme Catholicism, but rather on racial Judeophobia that evolved over the centuries into the Nazi’s genocidal ideology. Bibi has written at length in his book “A Place Among the Nations” on how anti-Semitism has evolved into hatred of the Jewish state and is a central element in both Arab nationalism and radical Islam. In Netanyahu’s world, Jews and Israelis are the same and the hatred of them is a hatred of Western enlightenment of which Israel is the vanguard in the Middle East. Seen through this prism, anti-Semitism in the West that’s not also anti-Israel is irrelevant.

Under this thinking, neo-Nazis and other Jew-haters on the far right are fighting long-ago lost battles. They are as Netanyahu Jr. said a “dying out” breed — an archaic and therefore harmless nuisance. Their contemporaries on the far left, however, who in the same breath demand that “white” Jews renounce their privilege and brand the Jewish state an imperialist ethno-nationalist entity, are would-be enablers of a potential Muslim genocide of Israel’s citizens. Nazis are quaint and deluded relics of the past. They have lost their power to cause us harm. Critics of Israel and supporters of the Palestinian cause are collaborators and fellow travelers of those who would commit a second Holocaust. It’s a self-serving analysis but not devoid of logic.

Until very recently, a compelling argument could be made that right-wing anti-Semitism in the West was a spent force. The fascists in Europe were reforming and re-branding themselves as “people’s,” “freedom” and “independence” parties and jettisoning the old Judeophobic baggage. Their leaders made overtures to the Jewish communities and came on visits to Israel. In the United States, hatred of Muslims replaced anti-Semitism among large swaths of the far right and some Jews even joined up and took prominent positions in the movement. The main media vehicle of right-wing racism in the United States, Breitbart News, is even named for its Jewish founder.

The dubious left

That argument, however, foundered on the rock of reality last year when the Republican candidate for president, Trump, couldn’t even distance himself from former KKK leader David Duke and refused to stop using the slogan coined during World War II by American anti-Semites: “America First.”

Trump understood how many anti-Semites there are out there and wasn’t prepared to give up on their support. A million Jews voted for Trump as well. They’re not self-hating Jews. They were telling themselves that it was okay to vote for the candidate being championed by the Nazis, as he has Jewish grandchildren and wouldn’t pressure Israel to pull back from the West Bank. Some of them were belatedly shocked this week when Trump refused to condemn the Nazis marching in Charlottesville. Others doubled down.

This side has an effective counterargument. Why should they stop supporting a president who has neo-Nazi supporters but at the same time is hugely supportive of Israel when Jews on the far left overlook both anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in their camp? They have a point. Not every fierce critic of Israel is anti-Jewish as well. Not by a long shot. But those who choose to single out the Jewish state for criticism, from justified motives, too often fail to make sure they’re not making common cause with those who are simply masking their anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism.

Our parents had little choice but to work, study and live with open anti-Semites. For centuries, Jewish survival relied on working out which anti-Semitic neighbors and rulers were relatively benign and which had to be avoided at all costs. Early Zionist leaders had no choice but to court politicians who wanted the Jews to leave Europe. Jewish communists could either ignore the deep-seated phobia of Jews in their movement, try to forget about the show trials and purges, or abandon faith and flee for their lives. We are in no position to judge them.

Our duty is to make clear to Jewish apologists on the right and left that we are no longer prepared to tolerate anti-Semitism or racism on either side. We don’t have the luxury to single out just one type of Jew-hater for criticism while disregarding and even cooperating with the other type. To do so would mean giving up on everything the Jews have achieved over the last 70 years, both in Israel and the Diaspora.

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