It's Time to Admit It: The Left Has an Antisemitism Problem | Opinion

In our super-charged partisan times, it is often said that every issue has become politicized, with each side of the spectrum lining up on "their" side. This is also true of antisemitism which, like so many other issues in society, is polarized with partisan interpretations.

We know this from our long history, and we have seen it over the past several weeks. The left too often claims that the only real antisemitism is on the right. The right claims that the left is the sole problem.

This is unfortunate from all directions, because neither side has a monopoly on morality, and antisemitism shows up across the political spectrum. It is the world's oldest conspiracy theory, a sick set of beliefs that can spread with alarming speed. To fight this virus, we need leaders from all corners to stand up and root it out, even when it comes from one's allies and friends.

While extremism on the right has dominated the public conversation for much of the past five years, from moments during the 2016 campaign to the Jan 6 insurrection, right now the challenge is also rising among certain elements of the far left.

Over the past several months, we've witnessed a series of incidents in which progressive activism, often displayed as pro-Palestinian advocacy, has morphed into single-minded anti-Israel aggression—and sometimes outright antisemitism.

We all watched in horror as Jewish diners at a restaurant in Los Angeles were attacked and a Jewish man was beaten in broad daylight near Times Square – both by participants in pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

The attacks along with the many others ADL has documented in recent months did not occur in a vacuum. They were fed in part by an anti-Israel animus that appears to be gathering steam in numerous corners of American society. It is irrational and dangerous.

Perhaps most disturbing is the inflammatory rhetoric coming from elected officials, including some members of Congress who have made spurious claims about Israel's actions and pushed a narrative that falsely accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, systematically murdering Palestinian children, or of somehow being an apartheid state.

Take Rep. Betty McCollum, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, who, in introducing a new bill to restrict U.S. military aid to Israel, suggested that stopping the flow of taxpayer dollars to Israel would stop Israel from "bombing Gaza into oblivion." This is a blatant and irresponsible mischaracterization of the facts on the ground, especially considering the great pains taken by the Israel Defense Forces to avoid civilian casualties—measures not duplicated by any other fighting force in the world.

Last month, we also saw Rep. Ilhan Omar tweet about the "unthinkable atrocities" committed by the U.S., Israel, Hamas and the Taliban, prompting her Democratic colleagues to condemn her for drawing such an outrageous comparison between the U.S. and Israel and terrorist groups.

This kind of anti-Israel sentiment is not limited to the halls of Congress. It is spreading. And it is dangerous.

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Antisemitism ADL Jonathan Greenblatt Jewish
Anti-Defamation League President Jonathan Greenblatt said Friday that a rise in antisemitic incidents amid the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict was "like a Charlottesville every day." A group of pro-Palestinian protesters are pictured burning an Israeli flag during a demonstration in New York City on May 20, 2021. Spencer Platt/Getty

A restaurateur in Detroit was subjected to a coordinated campaign of online harassment after posting about his support for Israel. Over the course of two days, his restaurants received over 10,000 one-star reviews thanks to his pro-Israel views.

In the run-up to the annual Dyke March in Chicago, posters surfaced reading "queers for Palestine" showing a machine gun raised against a Palestinian keffiyeh-inspired pattern with the slogan "Zionism is queerphobic," a slogan that would come as a surprise to the thousands who throng Tel Aviv's streets for its annual pride parade.

In Philadelphia, an Israeli food truck was disinvited from a food festival after organizers received threats because of its participation. The vile antisemitism and threats of violence lobbed at the organizers was staggering.

Even when the language used isn't in and of itself antisemitic, it fosters an increasingly hostile climate that can directly lead to acts of antisemitism. We can't ignore that these words and actions have real-world consequences.

ADL made these points in recent years when leaders and pundits from the political right were spreading wild conspiracies and making unsubstantiated accusations about immigrants. The same is true now even when it is leaders on the political left who are doing the same about the Jewish state and the potential victims are Jewish people.

This is evident from ADL's data, which logged 251 antisemitic incidents from May 11—the official start of military action in response to the rocket attacks from Gaza —through the end of the month. This was an astounding increase of 115 percent over the same period in 2020. Such acts of hate included brutal assaults committed by people who had participated in pro-Palestinian protests in Los Angeles and New York, the vandalism of a local Jewish-owned eatery in San Francisco with the words "Zionist Pigz," and many, many more that I could choose from.

Vandalizing synagogues and attacking Jews to register dissatisfaction with Middle East affairs isn't activism; it's antisemitism.

Demonizing Zionism as a concept represents a kind of anti-Jewish racism. Delegitimizing the Jewish state with exaggerated claims and unhinged charges, then dismissing the connection between that level of inflammatory rhetoric and the violence perpetrated against Jewish people, is willfully ignorant at best, intentionally malign at worst. Excluding Jews from political coalitions or public activities is discrimination, plain and simple.

It has been heartening to see that some prominent progressive voices have spoken out against antisemitism or apologized for using overheated rhetoric. And there have been members of Congress who have made their problems with their colleagues' statements crystal clear. Last month, ADL and other leading Jewish organizations held an online rally against antisemitism that drew participation from the top leaders in Congress from both parties, as well as Muslim, Jewish and Christian clergy, and a number of prominent civil rights leaders. All of this was encouraging.

But we need all our allies to listen and others to engage authentically. This might not be easy. It may require some serious self-reflection on the part of some partisans in order to admit their biases and acknowledge their insensitivity. But it's imperative that leaders from all corners of society clearly, forcefully, unequivocally condemn antisemitism full stop.

And it's even more important and meaningful to do so when the hate happens to come from their own camp.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of ADL (the Anti-Defamation League).

The views in this article are the writer's own.