By: Yosef Lemel | Opinions  | 

On the Nature of Right-Wing Anti-Semitism

Over the past few years, there has been a noticeable uptick of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States. These attacks have, in my opinion, been fueled by radicals on both the left and right-wing sides of American politics. Yet, the focus of this article will be on the growth of right-wing anti-Semitism. 

The primary reason for this focus is two-fold. First, that anti-Semitic rhetoric (in various statements and overtures) by Democratic congressmen such as Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have been covered ad nauseam, whereas it would be difficult to find such brazenly anti-Semitic statements by Republican congressmen and leaders. This leads me to focus on a different sort of anti-Semitism, namely, by members of the right-wing political sphere. 

Second, there have been a number of recent incidents of right-wing anti-Semitism, one of which directly impacted the students of Yeshiva University. 

For the purposes of this piece, I wish to make a distinction between three types of right-wing anti-Semitism, and delineate the various steps that we, as a community, can take to combat it. Of course, this is not a definitive list; there are numerous forms of anti-Semitism. I choose to mention the following forms of anti-Semitism that are most relevant and evident, in light of recent events. 

First, there is a type of “anti-Semitism” — if it even merits being called that — that is caused by insensitivity and, perhaps, ignorance of the Jewish experience. It is important, in this case, to separate actions from people. The individual might not be anti-Semitic, yet his conduct may display an unconscious harmony with anti-Semitic behavior. Take, for example, President Trump. Within the past month, Trump accused American Jews who vote for the Democratic Party of “disloyalty.” The meaning of disloyalty in this context is unclear. What is clear is that Trump considers the act of a Jew not voting for him to be a moral flaw. This is analogous to Barack Obama’s statement during the 2016 election cycle that he would consider it an “insult” to his “legacy” if African Americans failed to show up to vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. In both cases, politicians have arranged ethnic demographics in a category they perceive to be a given: Jews for Trump and African Americans for Clinton. I don’t believe that Donald Trump is any less anti-Semitic than Barack Obama is racist. However, there is a noticeable lack of sensitivity to the idea of individuality within ethnicities. 

I have diagnosed the first problem as that of ignorance and insensitivity. The simple solution would be a combination of education on the community level and the use of judicious speech on the individual level. On the educational front, President Berman deserves special praise for the establishment of the Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies to spread awareness of anti-Semitism. Regarding judicious and measured speech, it would be quite hopeless to ask the president to take some time to review his tweets before hitting the send button. I would not be the first to propose that solution, nor will I be the last. However, I believe that it is incumbent on the Jews to carefully evaluate all statements they make about Judaism and its relationship to Israel, especially in the presence of non-Jews. Even if a Jew is loyal to the state of Israel — which may, indeed, be virtuous — he should not voice support for Israel in a way that makes non-Jews believe he is apathetic about America and its interests.

The second form of right-wing anti-Semitism is the use of inflammatory language against a Jewish community for reasons which stem from internal problems within the community. For example, the Rockland County Republican Committee (RCRC) recently posted — and later took down — on social media a sensationalist political advertisement targeting a Hasidic Democratic legislator, Aron Wieder, and accused him of plotting a political “takeover” by overdeveloping Hasidic areas and redistricting to his community’s advantage at the expense of the non-Jewish community. The RCRC called on their supporters to “take back control” and said: “If they win, we lose.” 

Some might see this sort of rhetoric as a callback to actual anti-Semitic regimes that accused Jews of forcefully taking control of government. Unfortunately, however, there is some truth to the sentiment expressed in the ad. The overdevelopment of Hasidic areas would radically change the cultural makeup of Rockland County to that of an Eastern European export. Many Hasidim dress differently, speak a different language and share almost none of the customs which typically define the American community. Anecdotally, I have witnessed many Modern Orthodox and yeshivish Jews who reside in Monsey raise concerns regarding the rapid spread of Hasidism, and for many good reasons. Indeed, one cannot but demur the cynicism towards modern innovations — such as vaccines — which displays itself in certain Hasidic and Haredi circles, and have led to the onset of measles in such communities. 

The non-Jewish community must be educated to stay away from borrowing past tropes that have been used against Jews by actual anti-Semites. Even if the intentions of RCRC were pure and they wished to solve a legitimate problem, a cognizance of the social history of the Hasidic and Jewish community is necessary before the condemnation of said community. 

The final type of anti-Semitism is one in which both the language and the individuals who utilize such rhetoric are anti-Semitic. This was most recently expressed by the posting of hundreds of pictures of members of the YU community on an online white supremacist forum and the demeaning comments which accompanied it. This sort of anti-Semitism is, obviously, pure, unadulterated evil. There is an unbridgeable chasm between morality and their beliefs. They believe — for whatever reason — that the Jew is endemically inferior by virtue of his genetic makeup. 

A public statement released by YU Campus Security encouraged students to “ignore the site and not seek it out or visit it since experts advise that individuals of this nature seek attention.” Through attention, their abominable ideology may spread. I and many other YU students had never heard of this website before the news story was published. If an individual who is ideologically predisposed towards racism comes across this forum as a result of news coverage, he may become even more radicalized. 

As a result of media attention, neo-nazis see themselves as having accomplished something by  having successfully “triggered” a group of people. Indeed, when I accessed the neo-nazi website, all I saw was an endless mass of hate; no good came of it. 

These reasons are essentially why publications such as The Daily Wire or media personalities like Anderson Cooper have refused to publicize the names and faces of mass shooters. 

In light of this, news coverage of anti-Semitic incidents may merit a re-evaluation. The general tendency of news coverage is to report all of the facts, as objectively as possible. And yet, when the result of this reporting may lead to a sense of victory and potential radicalization among enemies of the Jewish community, it might not be wise for newspapers to report “the facts” in such a fashion. A simple solution would be to report on what was said and posted on the site without mentioning it by name or providing a link to it. 

There are ever-growing dangers posed to the Jewish community by recent manifestations of anti-Semitic rhetoric, whether the rhetoric is unintentional or intentional. However, there are practical steps that we — either as a community or as individuals — can take to curb such bigotry.


Photo Caption: The yellow badge: a visceral symbol of anti-semitism  

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons