Cancel Culture Has an Anti-Semitism Problem | Opinion

We talk about cancel culture a lot. We talk less about the double standard when it comes to Jews. But that's a big part of the story, and a part that erupted on Wednesday when Nathan Robinson, a columnist for the Guardian and editor-in-chief of the magazine Current Affairs, claimed his Guardian column was canceled due to some tweets about Israel.

Robinson made the claim in a lengthy Current Affairs article published this week, where he explains that he had written the tweets in question back in December, in response to a viral tweet that turned out to be fake news: Another journalist had wrongly tweeted that the new COVID bill included funding for Israel—funding which was in fact in a different bill altogether. "Personally I was appalled and depressed to see new funding for Israeli missiles being passed at the same time as pitifully small COVID relief," Robinson explained in his Current Affairs essay, and he took to Twitter to fire off a response.

"Did you know that the US Congress is not actually allowed to authorize any new spending unless a portion of it is directed toward buying weapons for Israel? It's the law," he tweeted, then added a second tweet for clarification: "or if not actually the written law then so ingrained in political custom as to functionally be indistinguishable from law."

Soon after, Robinson got an email from his Guardian editor, who pointed out that Robinson's tweet amounted to fake news, and expressed his dismay that a Guardian columnist would make "such a clearly erroneous statement." Robinson promptly deleted the tweets. But he claims that his column was effectively canceled in the months that followed.

In his article summarizing the affair, Robinson maintains his initial tweet was "100 percent a joke," and the notion that he is an anti-Semite is "clearly absurd," but "there is no 'three strikes' policy when it comes to criticism of Israel, no matter how justified the criticism, and no matter how far it falls from actual anti-Semitism," writes Robinson.

Here's the thing: His tweets were anti-Semitic.

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A demonstrator wears a protective mask as he holds a placard reading 'Silence supports violence' during a Black Lives Matter protest following the death of George Floyd outside the United States Embassy on June 07, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. The death of an African-American man, George Floyd, while in the custody of Minneapolis police has sparked protests across the United States, as well as demonstrations of solidarity in many countries around the world. Ely Pineiro/Getty

Robinson's first tweet stated that, according to U.S. law, Washington cannot spend money unless some of it goes to Israel. Robinson claims this was a joke—something we will return to—but first let's evaluate it on its own merit.

The crux of modern anti-Semitism is the notion that Jews are secretly controlling the world, including entire governments. Some anti-Semitic theories describe the shadowy Jewish manipulators as simply "the Jews;" others give the puppet masters a more concrete face, such as that of George Soros or Mark Zuckerberg or the Rothschilds. But quite often these days, especially on the left, the "they" in this conspiracy theory is the State of Israel.

I'm not talking about criticizing Israel; I'm talking about the tendency to cast American support for Israel as a primary cause, one that overwhelms and even undermines what's good for America—because the Jews have rigged it. You know you're out of the criticizing Israel zone and in the anti-Semitism zone when you can find the thread common to all anti-Semitic theories, whether the puppet master is George Soros or the Rothschilds or Israel: that Jews have too much power and that they are using it to undermine the right and the good. This view has resulted in millions of dead Jews, from the old pogroms in Eastern Europe to the ovens of Auschwitz to the 2018 synagogue massacres in Pittsburgh and Poway.

Robinson's first tweet fits squarely within that blood-soaked anti-Semitic lie: "Did you know that the US Congress is not actually allowed to authorize any new spending unless a portion of it is directed toward buying weapons for Israel? It's the law," he wrote. In other words, Congress has to pay a tax to the Jewish state in the form of weapons before it can take care of its own people.

Robinson wrote in his essay that this tweet was meant in jest, which he says was made clear by his second tweet: "if not actually the written law then so ingrained in political custom as to functionally be indistinguishable from law." In fact, the second tweet did the opposite: It made things much worse, by walking back the hyperbole of the supposed joke to the realm of reality. After all, if the initial tweet—an anti-Semitic canard implying Israel has control over U.S. policy spread by anti-Semites every day— was a joke, what was the punchline? That the Jews don't need a law to control Congress? That's what the second tweet said.

In other words, Robinson's second tweet didn't negate the first tweet; it confirmed the premise of his alleged joke: that Israel's control over America is an unwritten, tacitly understood matter, which is exactly what anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about covert Jewish control over the levers of power are about.

To understand the anti-Semitism involved, just imagine someone tweeting the following:

Tweet 1: "All Palestinians are taught to be terrorists in school. It's in the curriculum..."

Tweet 2: "I'm kidding of course, but srsly, it might as well be part of the curriculum lolz".

That's not a joke followed by an explanation that it's a joke. That's racism, followed by more racism.

This is not an attempt to condone the Guardian's actions; if, as Robinson claims, the Guardian fired him over two tweets, the Guardian was wrong to do so. It's also not to say that Robinson is anti-Semitic, or that one cannot legitimately criticize America's aid to and relationship with Israel.

Yes, one can absolutely criticize Israel and America. Yes, there are plenty who deploy bad-faith accusations of anti-Semitism to attack any criticism of Israel. And yes, there are also plenty who use bad-faith criticism of Israel as an excuse to spread anti-Semitism.

But one doesn't counter that by idly throwing around an anti-Semitic canard, then pretending there's nothing at issue. Unfortunately, Robinson's 3,500 word article in Current Affairs contains no attempts to address the question of anti-Semitism other than to scoff, which is a shame.

Lev Golinkin is the author of A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka, Amazon's Debut of the Month, a Barnes & Noble's Discover Great New Writers program selection, and winner of the Premio Salerno Libro d'Europa.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.