Breaking the Cycle of Identity Politics + Anti-semitism

by Oct 6, 2023Uncategorized

IN 2012, when I was still under the impression that anti-Semitism in America was waning, I read a column by Jeffrey Goldberg in Bloomberg on Israel. I scrolled down to the comments section and witnessed what can only be described as a hatefest, where dozens of malevolent commentators hurled epithets and accused the writer of being loyal to the Jewish state. Stunned, I tweeted “There are 50 anti-Semites left in America and they’re all commenting on Jeffrey Goldberg’s column.” Even before Trumpism and wokism reached a fevered pitch, the online world had given new life to an old problem.

Of course, the problem has only gotten worse—much worse—in the past decade since the populist right takeover of the Republican Party and resurgence of far-left-wing politics. During the 2016 presidential campaign, it was clear that dark forces had been unleashed in the body politic. According to a study by the ADL, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, a then-never-Trumper and an Orthodox Jew, was the single most targeted person of alt-right hate during this period. It became a trend for alt-right anti-Semites to place any Jewish name in triple parentheses in order to direct more enmity their way.

The problem has only gotten worse—much worse—in the past decade since the populist right takeover of the Republican Party and resurgence of far-left-wing politics.

When my book Woke Anti-Semitism: How a Progressive Ideology Harms Jews came out, I posted an Amazon link to the book on numerous Facebook groups that oppose Critical Race Theory and the like, looking to generate interest. The vast majority of comments I received were enthusiastic and congratulatory, but in every single post one or more people responded to the effect of: “You Jews created wokeness, so shut up.” These bigots were not, of course, radical social justice warriors—the people I wrote about in my book—but right-wing anti-Semites engaging in the most brazen of Jew-hatred.

I was recently interviewed by the editor of a politically conservative publication who happens to be married to a Jewish woman. He confessed to me that he is taken aback by the torrent of anti-Semitic hate in the comments section of any opinion piece in his publication that involves Jews. To be sure, one doesn’t have to look at the comments section of an op-ed to realize we have a severe problem with anti-Semitism on the political right. The shootings at Squirrel Hill and Poway, the numerous threats directed at synagogues and JCCs, the shocking antics of the “Goyim Defense League,” the rising number of documented hate crimes against Jews (mostly but not exclusively coming from the right), more than suffice to drive home the point. For me, however, online hate is an everyday reminder of the ubiquitousness and brazenness of right-wing anti-Semitism.

The anti-Semitism on the right is like a heart attack—it’s violent and fast moving. The right has guns and is hence more dangerous to our immediate security and wellbeing. The anti-Semitism on the left is like a cancer—it’s slow moving and corrosive. It threatens to disenfranchise Jews from politics and society. And both forms seem to be feeding off each other.

Recently, it was reported that Sam Bankman-Fried, the young cryptocurrency exchange entrepreneur and alleged fraudster, was not indicted for violations of campaign finance laws. Upon hearing the news, Twitter lit up with a new hashtag, “#He’sJewish.” Thousands of tweets poured in with caricatures of other nefarious Jews under the same hashtag. (The campaign finance charges, incidentally, have since been reinstated.)

The anti-Semitism on the right is like a heart attack—it’s violent and fast moving. The right has guns and is hence more dangerous to our immediate security and wellbeing. The anti-Semitism on the left is like a cancer—it’s slow moving and corrosive. It threatens to disenfranchise Jews from politics and society. And both forms seem to be feeding off each other.

When Bret Weinstein, a sometimes controversial Jewish podcaster with a large following, tweeted of Bankman-Fried, “…[H]e’s white and he’s Jewish, and neither is relevant. He’s a rent seeking elite and they are above the law,” numerous conspiracy-minded followers were quick to point out that Jews routinely distance themselves from whiteness. “Bankman-Fried is a Jew, not white!” they pronounced.

Responding to the anti-Semitic trend from the left that insists that Jews are white and, hence, privileged, many Jews have, in fact, declared that they’re not white. They insist on defining themselves in their own terms. Some resist racial classification altogether. I refuse to check a box on a form. But our response to the anti-Semitic left has not escaped notice of the anti-Semitic right who sees us as selling them out. The left declares Jews white and complicit, erasing our identities, and the right, in turn, declares Jews race-traitors.

DEL Bret

Indeed, the continued growth of identity politics on the left gives rise to a more dangerous ethno-nationalism on the right. The political scientist Francis Fukuyama explained that “at the core of Trump’s support were working-class white voters who felt the Democratic Party had become a party of minorities and professional women that no longer took their concerns, like job loss from outsourcing, seriously.” Moreover, many progressive ideologues promulgated all manner of ethnic grievances, insisting that white people are a distinct ethnic group and need to “own their whiteness”—i.e., take responsibility for their complicity in a system that continues to oppress people of color. These radical voices tied whiteness to unearned privilege and shame. This struck many white people, a high percentage of whom are anything but privileged, as deeply unfair, and fed on persistent resentment toward social elites.

The continued growth of identity politics on the left gives rise to a more dangerous ethno-nationalism on the right.

Predictably, instead of seeing their whiteness as a source of shame, more and more white people came to see it as a badge of honor. One white identitarian recently queried rhetorically, “Why do you think us white people shouldn’t have a Likud?” What can one say? That all others are permitted to aggressively assert their identities on the political stage but you must remain silent and ashamed? Even if you think so, that’s not going to cut it for many working-class whites.

Steve Bannon, among others, understood the simmering resentment among many ordinary whites and sought to exploit it. Utilizing a strategy shaped by Bannon, Trump gave the grievance politics on the right a permission structure and became its default figure-head. The president winked to the extremists among his followers, who became increasingly audacious. Even though Trump didn’t invent identity politics on the right, he stoked it for political gain, leaving in his wake millions of Americans who are now armed with well-developed talking points for their grievances and a thriving conspiracy theory industry.

It’s often said that anti-Semitism on the right and the left are a horseshoe: the farther one goes to one extreme the more one converges with those on the opposite end. True enough. But anti-Semitism on the right and the left are also cyclical, like the Escher lithograph of the hand that draws the hand in an endless vicious circle. An ideology on the left generates grievances among white and minority elites, which, in turn, stirs up resentment among the white majority, which then uses state power to punish those who shamed them, which further exacerbates the sense of victimization on the left. And so on and so forth. The cycle will continue until political moderates—the majority of the population—refuse to go along with extreme voices on either side and put an end to the madness.

DEL ECHEL

The fight against anti-Semitism, then, must be understood as more than a set of tactics in a national plan, but as a project to restore normalcy to our politics. For as long as the identitarian right and left are competing in the Oppression Olympics and the moderates stand on the sidelines, the Jew, who is both white and non-white, both an insider and an outsider, will be caught in the back and forth and deemed a traitor to both.

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