Kessel: Anti-Semitism is a problem, not a political tool

Zach Kessel, Columnist

After the December 10 shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) tweeted a picture of one of the victims with the caption, “This is heartbreaking. White supremacy kills.” Unfortunately for Tlaib, the perpetrators of the attack were not white supremacists, but followers of the Black Hebrew Israelites. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the organization as a black separatist hate group notorious for antisemitic beliefs. When authorities made the details of the shooting clear, Tlaib deleted her tweet and did not offer any further condolences.

Over a month later, with this instance constituting part of a spate of antisemitic violence in the New York area, the problem remains the same: politicians refuse to address anti-Semitism unless it fits their preferred narrative.

The recent attacks on Hasidic Jews in the New York Area, culminating in the December 28 stabbing in Monsey, New York, have primarily been perpetrated by black residents of the area. Perhaps because of that uncomfortable truth, we have not reckoned with hatred of Jews in the aftermath of these attacks like we did in the wake of shootings at synagogues in recent years. After those anti-Semitic attacks, we had a national discussion about white supremacy, about nationalism and about the President’s possible role in stoking such sentiments.

After Jersey City, Monsey and the rash of assaults on the streets of New York City, what have the media reported? A panoply of victim-blaming rationalizations of violence and a lack of good-faith conversations about antisemitism.

On January 2, during the aftershocks of the attack in Monsey, NBC New York published an article saying that “the expansion of Hasidic communities in New York’s Hudson Valley, the Catskills and northern New Jersey has led to predictable sparring over new housing developments and local political control.”

Because shootings and stabbings are nothing more than “predictable sparring” over zoning laws when they don’t fit into the preferred narrative.

A day after the Monsey stabbings, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) tweeted, “Anti-Semitism is on the rise in America, and it’s being stoked by @realDonaldTrump.” Say what you will about the President’s flirtations with white nationalism and his equivocation in Charlottesville — and there is a lot to be said — these recent attacks had nothing to do with him. It is easier — though no less dubious — to make a case that they could have been inspired by the sentiments regularly expressed by Omar and Tlaib: that Jews cannot be fully loyal to the United States, that Jews pull the strings in our society.

Omar talked at an event in March of last year about “the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” referring to Israel. President Trump recently invoked a similar idea, referring to Jews who vote for Democrats as “very disloyal” to Israel. For reference, 71% of Jews voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The accusation of Jews holding dual loyalty is one that goes back thousands of years, and has been used to stoke fear and hatred of Jews by notorious figures from Haman, the vizier of ancient Persia, to Adolf Hitler. Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins” when confronted about spreading anti-Semitic beliefs, which continues the time-worn tradition of accusing Jews of buying political influence. In reality, other lobbying groups spend far more.

Both Omar and Tlaib have associated themselves with virulently anti-Semitic characters and organizations. Yes, both Omar and Tlaib have endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, for President, but it’s not as though Sanders’s record is clean on the issue of anti-Semitism. His national surrogate Linda Sarsour says that Zionism — the belief in the continued existence of the State of Israel — and feminism are oxymoronic, and that Israel is “based on the idea that Jews are supreme to everyone else.” Omar’s and Tlaib’s support for Sanders does not cancel out their history of anti-Semitic utterances and posts.

Republicans are guilty of much of the same. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) invited notorious Holocaust denier Chuck Johnson as his guest at the 2018 State of the Union. He has appeared on Infowars as a guest of Alex Jones, who has said that Jews “run Uber, they run health care, they’re going to scam you, they’re going to hurt you.”

On March 7 of last year, Democratic leaders in the House wrote a resolution condemning Omar’s anti-Semitic statements. It was quickly watered down, ending up not naming Omar and condemning all forms of hate, not just anti-Semitism. The Democrats’ capitulation is largely the result of an idea prevalent on the left for quite some time: that anti-Semitism is not as legitimate as other forms of hatred because Jews are often white and therefore oppressors themselves. Since Jews are oppressors, there can be no legitimate form of bigotry against them, and any attempt to reckon with anti-Semitism on the left is painted as racist or Islamophobic.

Anti-Semitism knows no ideology. It is a quilt of conspiracy theories knitted together by groups of all stripes — Christians and Muslims, liberals and conservatives and members of all races. It pre-exists all of those ideological sects, originating in antiquity. It is entirely irresponsible for some people on the left to ignore any anti-Semitism that doesn’t fit the white supremacy narrative. That being said, the problem doesn’t only exist on the left.

The Republican Party has failed to address anti-Semitism within its ranks, and oftentimes downplays the threat of white supremacism. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) repeated on Fox Business the lie that Jewish investor and philanthropist George Soros helped the Nazis take Jewish property during the Holocaust.

Tucker Carlson said in August that white supremacy is “actually not a real problem in America,” contrary to all the evidence that it is, in fact, an issue. The President’s many brushes with anti-Semitism and white nationalism include his “very fine people” incident in Charlottesville, and his campaign advertisement that showed Hillary Clinton against a background of money, next to a Star of David with the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” emblazoned across.

Both parties are guilty here. Neither side addresses anti-Semitism when it doesn’t fit the preferred narrative: the left when it implicates people of color and the right when it implicates alt-right and nationalist figures on their side.

As a Jew, it is disheartening to realize that all these acts of hatred could occur in the United States.

Fixing the problem of anti-Semitism is a daunting task, and one that will probably never be complete. However, in an age in which anti-Semitic attacks increase in frequency year after year, it is time that both parties address it as the problem it is, not just mentioning it when it serves a political end.

To Swalwell, and others on the left who speak up against anti-Semitism on the right, I say: Speak up against hatred on your own side, as well. Only then will I take your thoughts seriously. To those on the right who use anti-Semitism as a smear against the left but refuse to condemn it on their own side, I say the same. Some issues are more than political. Some require the goodness of the human spirit to conquer. This is one, and I hope that our leaders will be more honest, more forthright and more proactive in fighting the great evil that is the hatred of the Jewish people.

Zach Kessel is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.