Ben Wofford’s recent article in Politico is headlined “In a Time of Trump, Millennial Jews Awaken to Anti-Semitism.” The crux of the article is that the Trumpian Twitter harassment of journalists, the Donald Pepe the Frog meme, and the general alt-right support for Donald Trump have alerted my generation of Jews to the fact that there is anti-Semitism still in the world. Wofford alleges that “to some young Jews, this election season has felt like a cold shower.” He quotes 19-year-old Debbie Rabbinovich: “Whether you experienced no anti-Semitism growing up, or a watered-down version of it, I think most young people felt like anti-Semitism was dying.”
The alt-right may have awoken Ben Wofford and the liberal youngsters he quotes to anti-Semitism, but for those of us who have lived through it, we scoff.
The Left has been pretending that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist for years; they have been arguing that being anti-Israel doesn’t equal being anti-Jewish, and that their Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements aren’t hateful at all. So I may think that the alt-right social media posts are crap, and I may even agree that Trump has had a problem with his retweets, but I think that if this is what is awakening you to the problem of anti-Semitism then it’s time to take a look in the mirror.
I grew up in the affluent San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, a place with a far-above-the-national-average population of Jews. And yet even there, in what should have been a Jewish protectorate, I can think of three heinous incidents of anti-Semitism.
As a young kid, I attended summer and afterschool programs at the North Valley Jewish Community Center (JCC). I remember it as a happy place where I sang the songs of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (a show I was really into at the time), and where I spent my first night away from my parents (there was a community sleepover). In 1999, only a couple years after I stopped attending their programs, a white supremacist named Buford Furrow entered the JCC with five rifles, two pistols, and six thousand rounds of ammunition. He shot a 5-year-old, two 6-year-olds, a 16-year-old camp counselor, and a 68-year-old receptionist. Luckily all his victims at the JCC survived. Furrow had cased the University of Judaism campus, the Skirball Cultural Center, and (ironically) the Museum of Tolerance, before settling on his JCC target. He told investigators “he wanted this to be a wake-up call to America to kill Jews.”
I attended Jewish private schools from kindergarten to high school, and after the JCC shooting my grade school started taking security seriously. The school hired an armed guard, put up fences, cameras, and protective screens, and trained its staff on what to do to prevent incidents. And yet, in middle school, one of my classmates was walking just off campus to the carpool line, when a group of teens pulled their car over and started beating him up. He said they yelled about him wearing a yarmulke and a Jewish star necklace. Thankfully, there were enough other people around that they didn’t leave any permanent damage, but he was understandably shaken and hurt.
And in 2012, when I was a college student in Michigan, a group of young girls and one of their mothers went on a vandalism rampage. Within a mile of where I had lived, they put human feces on the porches of two homes, toilet-papered their front lawns, and drew swastikas and wrote “Jew” on the entrance to one of the homes. It doesn’t seem as though the girls faced any stronger punishment than expulsion from Nobel Middle School.
These examples are striking, and haven’t been as rare as the Politico article implies. According to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, “the figures until 2000 showed a clear decline in anti-Semitic attitudes. In 1964, 30 percent of the American people were infected with serious anti-Semitic attitudes. By 1992 this had decreased to 20 percent. It further declined to 12 percent by 1998. [… But] in a poll we conducted in early 2002, the figure increased to 17 percent – the first time in many years it had swung the other way. This means that 30 to 40 million Americans consider[ed] Jews to be too powerful and disloyal.” And in June of this year, the Anti-Defamation League released this statement: “The number of violent anti-Semitic assaults taking place in the United States rose dramatically last year.” Their annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents “recorded a total of 941 incidents in the U.S. in 2015, an increase of about 3 percent from the 912 incidents recorded in 2014,” with violent acts contributing in larger part to this rise.
I think a 1999 episode of The West Wing perfectly summarizes my view of the Trump Twitter “hate-speech.” In the show, the White House chief of staff is asking the black chairman of the Joint Chiefs, a Navy admiral, whether he’d have a problem with a young black man working as the president’s aide, whether the imagery of him carrying the president’s bags would be offensive. The admiral responds, “I got some real honest-to-god battles to fight, Leo. I don’t have time for the cosmetic ones.” We, as Jews, have some real honest-to-god battles ahead of us—to protect our community from violent acts, to defend Israel, and to keep Judaism vibrant for the next generation. If there are some hateful tweets out there, I’ll say that I don’t have time for the cosmetic issues.
The primary problem with Ben Wofford’s article is the assumption that the Right somehow owns the rise in anti-Semitism.
Liberal-dominated college campuses have become harbors for anti-Semitic acts. According to The Washington Free Beacon, “Nearly 100 more anti-Semitic incidents were recorded on U.S. college campuses during the first six months of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015.” Incidents at Northwestern University, several University of California campuses, Northeastern University, and Stanford University set these schools at the top of the list of major anti-Semitic universities. And for those liberals who claim you can be anti-Israel without being anti-Semitic, The Washington Post reports, “[A]nti-Semitism was twice as likely to occur on campuses where BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign] was present, eight times more likely to occur on campuses with at least one active anti-Zionist student group such as SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine], and six times more likely to occur on campuses with one or more faculty boycotters. In fact, schools with more faculty boycotters and more BDS activity tended to have more incidents of anti-Semitic activity.”
It’s important to remember that Bernie Sanders’ former Jewish outreach director, a girl I went to high school with, was pro-boycotting Israel. And a friend of mine was assaulted while attending the AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) conference this year by protesters associated with the Occupy movement.
And earlier this year, the Black Lives Matter movement released a platform, “a far-left manifesto,” reports The Washington Times, “that strays well beyond police brutality and accuses Israel of ‘genocide’ and ‘apartheid.’” Even my rabbi, who you’d have a tough time calling right wing, said over Rosh Hashanah that he had talked with a black pastor friend of his about the Black Lives Matter movement. During his sermon, my rabbi said that his friend told him that the movement didn’t speak for him or his congregation, and that the platform was indeed veiled anti-Semitism couched in anti-Zionism.
I really wish it hadn’t taken Donald Trump’s candidacy to awaken young Jews to the threat of anti-Semitism. But if it has, I welcome the discussion about this menace from both sides of the political aisle. If liberals are ready to take it seriously, they can denounce movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter, they can condemn BDS groups, and they can ask their leaders, like Hillary Clinton and Jesse Jackson, to apologize for their past hate speech. If all this is only about Pepe the Frog, then we can clearly see that liberals are only willing to dredge out anti-Semitism when it’s politically expedient for them.
P.S. When a journalist writes an article that lambasts a segment of the Jewish population, and publishes it during our high holidays, it doesn’t allow us to respond in a timely manner. I was in temple services on Monday and Tuesday, and couldn’t have taken the time to write this piece. I’ll give Ben Wofford the benefit of the doubt and assume this was simply a decision made for expediency, and not because he’s biased in any way…