Episodes of Anti-Semitism in America

(Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

What Happened

Two major events, of different character, rattled the American Jewish community:

  1. On Saturday, April 27, the last day of Passover, a 19-year-old burst into a Chabad synagogue in San Diego, where he killed Lori Gilbert Kaye and injured three more. The ADL reported that anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. doubled from 2017 to 2018, and are at a “near-historic high.”
  2. On Thursday, April 25, the New York Times published an anti-Semitic cartoon in their International edition. The paper apologized, but it’s impossible to retract its reaching millions of people across the world.

These events, while not necessarily related (though Caroline Glick argues that they are), have caused many to wonder: Are American Jews safe? Is this the best of times or the worst of times for Jews in America? Is anti-Zionism synonymous with anti-Semitism?

Diversity of Perspectives

From one sidejournalist Caroline Glick voiced her disapproval of the New York Times for publishing a “cartoon that could easily have been published in a Nazi publication.” She highlights the Times’ “responsibility for rising anti Semitism in the United States” as “the most powerful news organization in the United States, and arguably in the world.”

On the other side, while acknowledging the anti-Semitic nature of the New York Timescartoon, law professor David Schraub is shocked by the attention the cartoon has received compared to the shooting in San Diego by conservatives, noting that if you “stroll over to the more conservative portions of Twitter, and you’ll see the Times cartoon prompting a near-obsession, with the shooting virtually an afterthought – or worse, somehow a consequence of the cartoon.” Schraub’s belief is that anti-Semitic tropes have “permeated the American right – not (just) the alt-right, but the right-right – and which provide the ferment in which hatred can grow.”

With an altogether different approach, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens published a scathing response to his own paper’s cartoon. He raised the alarms not about the paper’s committing a willful act of anti-Semitism, but about its committing an “astonishing act of ignorance of anti-Semitism.” He blames this judgment error on the paper’s anti-Israel bent, which desensitizes readers to its bigotry.

Is Anti-Zionism Anti-Semitism?

This is a complicated question with passionate arguments being articulated on both sides.

No Way! New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg and political commentator Peter Beinart are among those who believe that it’s possible to be anti-Israel without being anti-Semitic. Goldberg writes, “Certainly, some criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, but it’s entirely possible to oppose Jewish ethno-nationalism without being a bigot. Indeed, it’s increasingly absurd to treat the Israeli state as a stand-in for Jews writ large…” And Beinart has written extensively about this topic, saying “In the real world, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism don’t always go together. It’s easy to find anti-Semitism among people who, far from opposing Zionism, enthusiastically embrace it.” Beinart cites Jerry Falwellas example of this, who was at once a close ally of Menachem Begin’s and also quipped that Jews “can make more money accidentally than you can on purpose.”

Of Course! At this year’s AIPAC conference, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked to go on the record as saying “Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism… This bigotry is taking on an insidious new form in the guise of anti-Zionism… Criticizing Israel’s policies is an acceptable thing to do in a democracy. But criticizing the very right to exist of Israel is not acceptable. Anti-Zionism denies the very legitimacy of the Israeli state and of the Jewish people.” Bret Stephens expounded on this point in a lengthy piece in February and Israel’s Shuki Friedman of the Israel Democracy Institute is of the same mind. (See Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on the topic, below.)