How the Progressive Movement Has Institutionalized Anti-Semitism

Getty Images

I am no fan of Chelsea Clinton—or of her parents, for that matter. But the former first daughter's denunciation of anti-Semitism is right and praiseworthy. Recall that, last month, freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) accused American politicians of supporting Israel because of the influence of Jewish money. A journalist responded to Omar, requesting that she "learn how to talk about Jews in a non-anti-Semitic way." Clinton then endorsed the journalist's comment, tweeting, "Co-signed as an American. We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism." A reasonable expectation, one would think. But apparently not for some progressives, who have lambasted Clinton for her tweet, accusing her of stoking the flames of anti-Muslim bigotry. In so doing, these voices further show how the progressive movement has actually institutionalized anti-Semitism, entrenching the virus's key features as doctrine.

On Friday night, Leen Dweik and Rose Asaf, both seniors at New York University, attended a vigil at their school's Islamic Center for the victims of the terrorist mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand. The students were surprised to see Clinton also in attendance. When the initial shock dissipated, they approached the former first daughter. "After all that you have done, all the Islamophobia that you have stoked," Dweik yelled at a pregnant Clinton, while Asaf filmed. "This right here is the result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you put out into the world."

"I want you to know that and I want you to feel that deep down inside," the student continued. "Forty-nine people died because of the rhetoric you put out there."

The students explain why they confronted Clinton in an essay published by BuzzFeed, writing that the former first daughter incited the massacre in New Zealand by calling out Omar, a Muslim, for her comments about Israel. Those comments included the insinuation that American Jews are guilty of "allegiance" to the Jewish state.

"To Chelsea Clinton: We hope that our intentions in confronting you are now clear," the students write. "We believe that you still owe an apology: not only to Rep. Omar, but also to Palestinians for using your platform to defame their cause. As an Israeli national and a Palestinian, we want you to know that it is dangerous to label valid criticisms of Israel and its lobby as anti-Semitic. We know that this is a tactic to silence us and deny us our free speech."

Dweik and Asaf are echoing the argument of Omar's defenders in Congress and the progressive community, who have couched her anti-Semitic remarks as legitimate criticism of Israel. I have written previously how, while it is of course not anti-Semitic to criticize the policies of the state of Israel, Omar and like-minded progressives all too often cross that very distinct line to anti-Semitism.

The students also write that they stand "in unwavering solidarity with Palestinians in their struggle for freedom and human rights," and explain that the fight against anti-Muslim bigotry is the same as the fight against all forms of bigotry and oppression. "When someone attacks one of us, they attack all of us," they add. "We know that our struggles are intertwined, and for any of us to be safe, all of us must be safe."

It is easy to dismiss Dweik and Asaf's ideas as harmless, just the naive and idealistic thoughts of two undergraduates. But first, look at one of Dweik's tweets from earlier this month:

So the goal is to "demolish" the world's only Jewish state as a final "solution" to a problem. Forgive me for thinking the students are after more than social justice.

One still may argue that the words of two college students have no broader significance. And normally they would be right, except in this case the most prominent progressive activists—such as Linda Sarsour and Marc Lamont Hill—and the most prominent progressive politicians—such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D., N.Y.)—share the students' exact same ideology. Just listen to their speeches and read their articles. There is a reason why so many leaders on the political left rushed to Omar's defense: they agree with her! Or at least they are sympathetic to her arguments, and thus the arguments of Dweik and Asaf, whose attacks on Clinton show that progressives are even willing to vilify well-known liberals who condemn anti-Semitism. And there is a reason why the Democratic Party failed to condemn Omar for making anti-Semitic comments in any meaningful way: they recognize that the future and energies of their party reside in the progressive movement. Look at how many 2020 presidential candidates refused to denounce Omar's words or even praised them. They do not want to upset their base.

Back to the headline. Critics may say that I am wrong because no progressives they know hate Jews or want to harm them just because they are Jewish. In fact, many progressives are Jews themselves. This argument is a sign of ignorance and should not be taken seriously. As I write often, anti-Semitism is not hatred and persecution of Jews; rather, two special features make it distinct: judging Jews by a standard different from that applied to all other peoples, and accusing Jews of cosmic evil unlike anything else in this world. Now that anti-Semitism is based primarily on the Jewish people's nation-state—after basing it on race and religion became unfashionable—treating Israel differently than all other countries and accusing it of a disproportionate level of evil, nefarious influence in the world are the two pillars of anti-Semitism today. These pillars often manifest in demonizing and delegitimizing Israel, and in advocating boycotts and other policies that fit under the banner of anti-Zionism, which seeks the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

Now, think about how often progressives talk about the "Israel lobby" and Israel's "genocidal" campaign against the Palestinians. Think about the illogical obsession that progressive activists and politicians have with Israel, a small country about the size of New Jersey. Think about how often these voices advocate Palestinian rights, which "are being integrated into the broader progressive agenda," as Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, said last year. "It's becoming almost standard that if you support single-payer health care and climate justice, you'll support Palestinian rights." And then think about how many oppressed peoples there are in the world, and how no progressives spend nearly as much time talking about them, or the Palestinians suffering in Syria, or Lebanon, or anywhere else in the Middle East—just where Israel has a presence. After doing all of this thinking, add up all of the pieces and seriously consider a question: has the progressive movement institutionalized anti-Semitism?