The old anti-Semitism was mostly, but not exclusively, a tribal prejudice expressed in America up until the mid 20th century most intensely on the right. It manifested itself from the silk-stocking country club and corporation (“gentlemen’s agreement”) to the rawer regions of the Ku Klux Klan’s lunatic fringe.
While liberals from Joe Kennedy to Gore Vidal were often openly anti-Semitic, the core of traditional anti-Semitism, as William F. Buckley once worried, was more rightist. And such fumes still arise among the alt-right extremists.
Yet soon a new anti-Semitism became more insidious, given that it was a leftist phenomenon among those quick to cite oppression and discrimination elsewhere. Who then could police the bigotry of the self-described anti-bigotry police?
The new form of the old bias grew most rapidly on the 1960s campus and was fueled by a number of leftist catalysts. The novel romance of the Palestinians and corresponding demonization of Israel, especially after the 1967 Six-Day War, gradually allowed former Jew-hatred to be cloaked by new rabid and often unhinged opposition to Israel. In particular, these anti-Semites fixated on Israel’s misdemeanors and exaggerated them while excusing and downplaying the felonies of abhorrent and rogue nations.
Indeed, evidence of the new anti-Semitism was that the Left was neutral, and even favorable, to racist, authoritarian, deadly regimes of the then Third World while singling out democratic Israel for supposed humanitarian crimes. By the late 1970s, Israelis and often by extension Jews in general were demagogued by the Left as Western white oppressors. Israel’s supposed victims were romanticized abroad as exploited Middle Easterners. And by extension, Jews were similarly exploiting minorities at home.
Then arose a relatively new mainstream version of Holocaust denial that deprived Jews of any special claim to historic victim status. And it was a creed common among World War II revisionists and some American minorities who were resentful that the often more successful Jews might have experienced singularly unimaginable horror in the past. The new anti-Semitism that grew up in the 1960s was certainly in part legitimized by the rise of overt African-American bigotry against Jews (and coupled by a romantic affinity for Islam). It was further nursed on old stereotypes of cold and callous Jewish ghetto storeowners (e.g., “The Pawnbroker” character), and expressed boldly in the assumption that black Americans were exempt from charges of bias and hatred.
Anti-Semitic blacks assumed that they could not be credibly charged with bigotry and were therefore free to say what they pleased about Jews. Indeed, by the 1970s and 1980s, anti-Semitism had become the mother’s milk of a prominent post–Martin Luther King Jr. black-activist leadership, well beyond Malcolm X and the Black Panthers — even though Jews had been on the forefront of the civil-rights movements and had been recognized as such by an earlier generation of liberal black leaders.
Soon it became common for self-described black leaders to explain, to amplify, to contextualize, or to be unapologetic about their anti-Semitism, in both highbrow and lowbrow modes: James Baldwin (“Negroes are anti-Semitic because they’re anti-white”), Louis Farrakhan (“When they talk about Farrakhan, call me a hater, you know what they do, call me an anti-Semite. Stop it. I am anti-termite. The Jews don’t like Farrakhan, so they call me Hitler. Well, that’s a great name. Hitler was a very great man”), Jesse Jackson (“Hymietown”), Al Sharpton (“If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house”), and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright (“The Jews ain’t gonna let him [Obama] talk to me”).
Note that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton both ran as Democratic candidates for president. Sharpton officially visited the Obama White House more than 100 times, and Wright was the Obamas’ longtime personal pastor who officiated at the couple’s wedding and the baptism of their daughters and inspired the title of Obama’s second book.
In the past ten years, however, we have seen an emerging new, new anti-Semitism. It is likely to become far more pernicious than both the old-right and new-left versions, because it is not just an insidiously progressive phenomenon. It has also become deeply embedded in popular culture and is now rebranded with acceptable cool among America’s historically ignorant youth. In particular, the new, new bigotry is “intersectional.” It serves as a unifying progressive bond among “marginalized” groups such as young Middle Easterners, Muslims, feminists, blacks, woke celebrities and entertainers, socialists, the “undocumented,” and student activists. Abroad, the new, new bigotry is fueled by British Labourites and anti-Israel EU grandees.
Of course, the new, new anti-Semitism’s overt messages derive from both the old and the new. There is the same conspiratorial idea that the Jews covertly and underhandedly exert inordinate control over Americans (perhaps now as grasping sports-franchise owners or greedy hip-hop record executives). But the new, new anti-Semitism has added a number of subtler twists, namely that Jews are part of the old guard whose anachronistic standards of privilege block the emerging new constituency of woke Muslims, blacks, Latinos, and feminists.
Within the Democratic party, such animus is manifested by young woke politicians facing an old white hierarchy. Progressive activist Linda Sarsour oddly singled out for censure Senate majority leader Charles Schumer, saying, “I’m talking to Chuck Schumer. I’m tired of white men negotiating on the backs of people of color and communities like ours.”
In attacking Schumer, ostensibly a fellow progressive, Sarsour is claiming an intersectional bond forged in mutual victimization by whites — and thus older liberal Jews apparently either cannot conceive of such victimization or in fact are party to it. With a brief tweet, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez dismissed former Democratic senator Joe Lieberman’s worry over the current leftward drift of the new Democratic party. “New party, who dis?” she mocked, apparently suggesting that the 76-year-old former Democratic vice-presidential candidate was irrelevant to the point of nonexistence for the new progressive generation
Likewise, the generic invective against Trump — perhaps the most pro-Israel and pro-Jewish president of the modern era — as an anti-Semite and racist provides additional cover. Hating the supposedly Jew-hating Trump implies that you are not a Jew-hater yourself.
Rap and hip-hop music now routinely incorporate anti-Semitic lyrics and themes of Jews as oppressors — note the lyrics of rappers such as Malice, Pusha T, The Clipse, Ghostface Killah, Gunplay, Ice Cube, Jay-Z, Mos Def, and Scarface. More recently, LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers basketball legend, tweeted out the anti-Semitic lyrics of rapper 21 Savage: “We been getting that Jewish money, everything is Kosher.” LeBron was puzzled about why anyone would take offense, much less question him, a deified figure. He has a point, given that singling out Jews as money-grubbers, cheats, and conspirators has become a sort of rap brand, integral to the notion of the rapper as Everyman’s pushback against the universal oppressor. The music executive and franchise owner is the new Pawnbroker, and his demonization is often cast as no big deal at best and at worst as a sort of legitimate cry of the heart from the oppressed.
Note that marquee black leaders — from Keith Ellison to Barack Obama to the grandees of the Congressional Black Caucus — have all had smiling photo-ops with the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, a contemporary black version of Richard Spencer or the 1980s David Duke. Appearing with Farrakhan, however, never became toxic, even after he once publicly warned Jews, “And don’t you forget, when it’s God who puts you in the ovens, it’s forever!”
Temple professor, former CNN analyst, and self-described path-breaking intellectual Marc Lamont Hill recently parroted the Hamas slogan of “a free Palestine from the river to the sea” — boilerplate generally taken to mean that the goal is the destruction of the current nation of Israel. And here, too, it’s understandable that Hill was shocked at the ensuing outrage — talk of eliminating Israel is hardly controversial in hip left-wing culture.
The Democratic party’s fresh crop of representatives likewise reflects the new, new and mainlined biases, camouflaged in virulent anti-Israeli sentiment. Or, as Princeton scholar Robert George recently put it:
The Left calls the tune, and just as the Left settled in on abortion in the early 1970s and marriage redefinition in the ’90s, it has now settled in on opposition to Israel – not merely the policies of its government, but its very existence as a Jewish state and homeland of the Jewish people.
In that vein, Michigan’s new congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib, assumed she’d face little pushback from her party when she tweeted out the old slur that Jewish supporters of Israel have dual loyalties: Opponents of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement, which targets Israel, “forgot what country they represent,” she said. Ironically, Tlaib is not shy about her own spirited support of the Palestinians: She earlier had won some attention for an eliminationist map in her office that had the label “Palestine” pasted onto the Middle East, with an arrow pointing to Israel.
Similarly, Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) — like Tlaib, a new female Muslim representative in the House — used to be candid in her views of Israel as an “apartheid regime”: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” On matters of apartheid, one wonders whether Omar would prefer to be an Arab citizen inside “evil” Israel or an Israeli currently living in Saudi Arabia or Egypt.
Sarsour defended Omar with the usual anti-Israel talking points, in her now obsessive fashion. Predictably, her targets were old-style Jewish Democrats. This criticism of Omar, Sarsour said, “is not only coming from the right-wing but [from] some folks who masquerade as progressives but always choose their allegiance to Israel over their commitment to democracy and free speech.” Again, note the anti-Semitic idea that support for the only functioning democracy in the Middle East is proof of lackluster support for democracy and free speech.
The unhinged Hank Johnson (D., Ga.) has derided Trump as a Hitler-like character, and Trump supporters as a doomed cadre of sick losers. He had once wondered whether too many U.S. Marines stationed on the shores of Guam might tip over the island and capsize it, so it was not too surprising when he also voiced the Farrakhan insect theme, this time in connection with apparently insidious Jewish destroyers of the West Bank: “There has been a steady [stream], almost like termites can get into a residence and eat before you know that you’ve been eaten up and you fall in on yourself.”
Out on the barricades, some Democrats, feminists, and Muslim activists, such as the co-founders of the “Women’s March,” Tamika Mallory and the now familiar Sarsour, have been staunch supporters of Louis Farrakhan (Mallory, for example, called him “the greatest of all time”). The New York Times recently ran a story of rivalries within the Women’s March, reporting that Mallory and Carmen Perez, a Latina activist, lectured another would-be co-leader, Vanessa Wruble, about her Jewish burdens. Wruble later noted: “What I remember — and what I was taken aback by — was the idea that Jews were specifically involved, and predominantly involved, in the slave trade, and that Jews make a lot of money off of black and brown bodies.”
Progressive icon Alice Walker was recently asked by the New York Times to cite her favorite bedtime reading. She enjoyed And the Truth Will Set You Free, by anti-Semite crackpot David Icke, she said, because the book was “brave enough to ask the questions others fear to ask” and was “a curious person’s dream come true.” One wonders which “questions” needed asking, and what exactly was Walker’s “dream” that had come “true.” When called out on Walker’s preference for Icke (who in the past has relied on the 19th-century Russian forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, in part to construct an unhinged conspiracy about ruling “lizard people”), the Times demurred, with a shrug: It did not censor its respondents’ comments, it said, or editorialize about them.
These examples from contemporary popular culture, sports, politics, music, and progressive activism could be easily multiplied. The new, new anti-Semites do not see themselves as giving new life to an ancient pathological hatred; they’re only voicing claims of the victims themselves against their supposed oppressors. The new, new anti-Semites’ venom is contextualized as an “intersectional” defense from the hip, the young, and the woke against a Jewish component of privileged white establishmentarians — which explains why the bigoted are so surprised that anyone would be offended by their slurs.
In our illiterate and historically ignorant era, the new, new hip anti-Semitism becomes a more challenging menace than that posed by prior buffoons in bedsheets or the clownish demagogues of the 1980s such as the once-rotund Al Sharpton in sweatpants. And how weird that a growing trademark of the new path-breaking identity politics is the old stereotypical dislike of Jews and hatred of Israel.