You can’t fight antisemitism while ignoring its supporters on the Left

CNN’s special on antisemitism tackled an important subject but could have served viewers better (forward.com).

Summarizing millennia of hatred in an hour is a tall task. But that’s what Dana Bash and CNN attempted with their Sunday special Rising Hate: Antisemitism in America.

People should better understand antisemitism, which has been rising domestically. In this case, CNN’s intended audience appeared to be laymen without subject area expertise. The show offered a broad overview, primarily focusing on 2016-2022, but in various ways, producers might have served viewers better.

For example, it’s helpful to contextualize. Jews are only about 2% of America’s population, and antisemitism differs from other hatreds. Crucially, antisemites believe they are punching up. And unlike other forms of bigotry, antisemitism shape-shifts to reflect societal prejudices. So, Jews have been demonized as both capitalists and communists, too religious and too assimilated.

Additionally, far-left antisemitism deserved more attention. Far-right antisemitism, of course, remains reprehensible, but it’s readily identifiable. More people struggle to recognize far-left antisemitism, which has historically cloaked Jew-hatred in the language of social justice. It’s a problem across college campuses and increasingly in lower-level schools. CNN’s viewers are also more likely to encounter the far Left. In that sense, Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law President Alyza Lewin, who explained Jewish peoplehood and the connection between Judaism and Zionism, merited more air time.

Jews face threats from numerous directions. Unfortunately, viewers may be left with the impression that the far Right is dangerous, the far Left makes unpleasant comments, and any other threats are vague. For the sake of American Jews’ safety, though, a comprehensive threat overview is necessary.

Viewers saw a picture from the Tree of Life synagogue, where 11 Jews were massacred in October 2018, and watched the shooter from the April 2019 Poway Chabad attack play piano — both of those men identified with the far Right. However, that’s not always the case.

There was no mention of the Black Hebrew Israelite influence on the attackers who killed Jews in Jersey City, New Jersey, or Monsey, New York, in 2019. While the January 2022 Colleyville, Texas, synagogue attack was spotlighted and the deputy director of the FBI mentioned the hostage-taker’s interest in freeing a convicted al Qaeda terrorist, his Islamist ideology was not made explicit. There was no discussion of the attacks on New York’s visible Jews or increased anti-Zionist attacks on Jews walking to a pro-Israel rally or eating sushi in May 2021.

The special did rightly reference the trope of Jews as disease vectors, pointing to Orthodox Jews being blamed for spreading COVID-19 in 2020. This narrative was irresponsibly furthered by New York City’s mayor, who tweeted about breaking up a Jewish funeral and locked playgrounds in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, while New York’s governor appeared to lie to Jewish leaders about gathering limits and blasted an Orthodox Jewish community over a wedding. However, this wasn’t new. New York’s Orthodox Jews were also blamed for measles in 2019.

The special also zoomed in on social media’s fueling of antisemitism. However, a cited investigation focusedoverwhelmingly on user reports of far-right antisemitism, which were almost entirely ignored. Reality is undoubtedly uglier.

Bash’s comment that “experts across the board caution antisemitism is growing on the Left, but it is not equivalent to hate from the Right” was unhelpful. Antisemitism is a problem on the Left. Debating whether the far Right or the far Left is “worse” is a waste of time — both pose dangers to American Jews. Given how heavily featured the far Right was, though, it’s worth remembering that America’s society already stigmatizes the far Right, but the far Left is culturally embedded. Further, given how many Jews live in Blue America, most Jews in the United States are more likely to encounter problems from the far Left.

Finally, education was offered as an antidote to antisemitism. Yet, there were no specifics for those interested in learning more. This was a missed opportunity. Beyond offering a list of organizations fighting antisemitism on campus and in the country at large and a reading list, viewers should have been directed to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. If well-intentioned people can’t recognize antisemitism, there’s no way they can help combat it.

This article appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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