No Victim HereYonoson Rosenblum
The left's consistent downplaying of anti-Semitism
Purim celebrates our deliverance from the arch-anti-Semite Haman, who would have exterminated every Jew. Thus the holiday is a natural time to reflect upon anti-Semitism as a historical and contemporary phenomenon.
Writer John-Paul Pagano published an interesting piece in the Forward last month on the left's congenital inability to take anti-Semitism seriously enough. (Left anti-Semitism was the subject of the last major work of the great modern historian of anti-Semitism, Robert Wistrich: From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, The Jews, and Israel.)
Pagano begins by noting the consistent downplaying of anti-Semitism by the left. For instance, 2017 saw a 67% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in America. Yet that increase has garnered relatively little press coverage. The virulent anti-Zionist and darling of left-wing feminists, Linda Sarsour, concedes that anti-Semitism is an unfortunate phenomenon if one is Jewish. But she adamantly denies that anti-Semitism can be compared to anti-black racism or so-called Islamophobia because the latter are "systemic," while the former is not.
At its most extreme, the Anti-Defamation League reports, on campuses the Holocaust may be dismissed as "white-on-white crime," even as Jews who complain of anti-Semitism are accused of being insufficiently sensitive to racism against blacks.
And indeed, writes Pagano, anti-Semitism does differ in one important respect from other forms of racism. Typically, racists view the group against whom they are biased as inferior beings. The most rabid anti-Semites, by contrast, are obsessed with the fiendish intelligence of the Jews.
"Fiendish" is chosen with care. For the anti-Semite typically sees the world in terms of a Manichean struggle between good and evil, with the Jews representing absolute evil in their desire to rule the world and subjugate all to their own interests.
So the standard-issue racist, in the eyes of the left, fits readily into the role of oppressor. But with respect to anti-Semitism, it is the anti-Semite who places himself in the role of the victim "punching up" against the Jewish oppressor. Thus, for all the multitude of "micro-aggressions" university diversity offices are ever on the alert to ferret out and forbid in university speech codes, blatant slurs of Jews and of the state of the Jews in Israel are ignored.
The Jews in particular have been targeted by conspiracy theorists of all sorts, writes historian Norman Cohn, as a small and clandestine society existing in the midst of a larger society while threatening the larger society through abominable practices that are literally anti-human — e.g., drinking the blood of Christian children.
Even as the theological dimension of anti-Semitism has declined, the portrayal of "the Jews" as a diabolical force has not. For those seeking to destroy existing regimes, the Jews are satanic puppeteers controlling the state; and for anti-Semites already in power, the Jews are seditious puppeteers seeking to undermine it.
IN THE MONTH since Pagano published his essay, his thesis gained several powerful supporting examples. Lawrence Wilkerson published an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that President Trump is being manipulated into war against Iran by Jewish billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Paul Singer, through organizations like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, just as President George W. Bush was manipulated into war against Iraq.
That latter claim is straight out of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's The Israel Lobby, which argued that the second Iraq war can only be explained in terms of the manipulation of the American body politic by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu through the Israel lobby in America. Mearsheimer subsequently admitted in a BBC interview that the Israeli government had opposed the invasion of Iraq. But he nevertheless never retreated from his original thesis.
In a May 2013 radio interview, Wilkerson speculated that the slaughter in Syria might be an Israeli false flag operation, and Bashar al-Assad an Israeli puppet. He has repeatedly described Israel as an apartheid state that will eventually have to be "eliminated."
Two things must be noted. First, the New York Times, the paper of record for American liberalism, did not shy away from publishing an op-ed suggesting that the Jews are once again manipulating their host country into war to serve their own interests. Second, Wilkerson once served as chief of staff to Colin Powell, when the latter served as secretary of state. And in 2016, he was a top foreign policy advisor to Bernie Sanders. The man may be a nutcase given to peddling conspiracy theories about Jews, but his rantings have not placed him beyond the pale.
The Times knew of his history of nutty pronouncements prior to publishing his op-ed. Indeed, the paper of record wrote about them when he was appointed to the Sanders team.
So why did the Times publish his op-ed? Liel Liebowitz provides the answer at Tablet: "Many on the well-groomed left believe things about Israelis and Jews that are, at their very essence, absolutely and absurdly insane."
Example number two. Harvard University recently appointed a new president, Lawrence Bacow, a distinguished economist. That appointment aroused the ire of the Times, which noted in the second paragraph of a purported news story that with Bacow's appointment Harvard had missed the opportunity "to choose a leader who would reflect the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movement."
What, one wonders, do the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements have to offer with respect to choosing a president for Harvard? The former rejects "All Lives Matter" as a racist slogan. One would hope that the Harvard president, however, does believe that all lives matter. Begun as a protest against several well-publicized police slayings of black men — most of them fully justified by the circumstances — the Black Lives Matter movement has led to the deaths of hundreds of inner city blacks so far, as police have grown reluctant to police inner-city neighborhoods. Those deaths exceed the number of unwarranted police slayings by large multiples.
And it is anyone's guess what the Times meant by the reference to the #MeToo movement. Does the Times believe that being harassed is a qualification to be president of Harvard?
The Harvard Crimson also made reference to student discontent that a person of color had not been chosen. A student op-ed lamented that Bacow "does not understand what it means to be reduced to your gender or the color of your skin."
But of course, that is precisely what the op-ed editor had done to Bacow — judged him unworthy on the basis of his gender and skin color. But worse, he had done what proponents of identity politics habitually do — he had reduced his fellow minority students to the color of their skin by viewing them purely through the lens of victimhood.
Bacow, too, could have emphasized himself as a victim. His mother is an Auschwitz survivor and his father a refugee from Minsk. But precisely because American Jews refused to view themselves solely as victims of oppression has another Jew been appointed president of an institution that once imposed strict quotas on Jewish admission — the exact opposite of affirmative action.
Bacow was wise not to play the victim card. For, as Pagano argued, being a member of a people subjected to the most lethal genocide in history is one form of victimhood that doesn't count