The Rise of Woke Anti-Semitism

Pro-Israel demonstrators at a rally denouncing anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence in New York, May 23. ...


Pro-Israel demonstrators at a rally denouncing anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence in New York, May 23.



Photo:

ed jones/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

There’s something especially unsettling about the newest eruption of the oldest hatred. Anti-Semitism has been so routine and enduring a part of human history that it’s easy to become almost numb to fresh instances of it.

For a statistical picture of how consistent—and contemporary—Jew-hatred is, look at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s hate-crime data. We live in an age of heightened awareness of ethnic and racial victimhood, but in the quarter-century the bureau has kept records, hate crimes against blacks have declined dramatically—by more than a third between 1996 and 2019, the latest year of full data. By contrast, the number of anti-Semitic crimes—which are, proportionate to the share of Jews in the population, much more frequent than antiblack crime—has scarcely changed.

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Jews themselves know better than anyone that, as banal as this ancient evil is, outbreaks of anti-Semitism can be a harbinger of something more pervasive, a signal of a wider disturbance in a society’s soul. That’s the inescapable sense one gets from the recent rash of assaults that have unfolded in New York, Los Angeles, Florida and elsewhere.

The political context is new, for a start. In the past most of the anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. have been the product of the usual depraved minds: white supremacists or sick individuals deciding to take out their pathologies on the group most often blamed for society’s flaws.

Occasionally there’s been a broader political subplot. Outbursts of anti-Semitic violence occurred at times with the encouragement of black leaders such as

Louis Farrakhan

or the now supposedly respectable

Al Sharpton.

But mostly they haven’t occurred as the kind of street-level response to geopolitical events that is too common among political activists in Europe, especially on the left.

This latest outbreak, however, has come about in direct response to the recent conflict in Gaza. While politicians of all parties denounce anti-Semitic violence, the rhetoric of some leading leftist Democrats has helped nourish resentments and prejudices. It’s one thing—even if it’s wrong—to condemn the actions of the Israeli government in defending its citizens, quite another to question the character of the Jewish state itself.

Rep. Ilhan Omar,

with a strong track record of promoting anti-Semitic tropes, has talked of “war crimes” committed in Gaza. Her colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has described Israel as an “apartheid” state, a weighty accusation of violent racism with historic resonance.

The same Democrats, including President Biden, who have pounced on other examples of hate crime in the last few months—sometimes before the evidence of the criminal motivation was even clear—have been oddly silent about people throwing explosive devices at Jewish-owned businesses and shouting “F— the Jews.”

The wider political and cultural environment is what makes this outbreak of anti-Semitism especially unsettling. For many progressives, this latest conflict in the Middle East fits—or rather, has been made to fit—the binary classification of the human race into oppressor and victim on the basis of identity that they now see as the defining dialectic of history everywhere.

To be sure, the explicit identification of Palestinians with disadvantaged African-Americans isn’t completely novel. As American racial tensions of the 1960s coincided with earlier episodes of Israeli-Arab conflict, organizations such as Mr. Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam sought to make the connection. But the wide penetration of this notion into the consciousness and discourse of prominent elected figures in the Democratic Party is new.

It takes extraordinary intellectual flexibility to represent the Jewish people, especially those in Israel, as part of some grand global historical pattern of white-supremacist aggression, but these ascendant protagonists of modern progressivism are used to such gymnastics. As long as the narrative can be sculpted to fit the larger objective, it will do.

All this contributes to an uneasy sense of a widening clash of civilizations that is increasingly the objective and likely outcome of the modern left’s program. The embrace of critical race theory and woke ideology in the cultural and political establishment, like its more traditional Marxist forebears, neatly reduces all tensions in human relations to a simplifying narrative of oppressor and victim, only this time not on the basis of economics but race.

We can only hope that the cease-fire in Gaza will lead to an ebbing in anti-Semitic violence in the U.S. The Jewish people know all too well that the hatred may wane but it never disappears. History tells us it is at its most virulent when it can be hitched to a larger ideological message of victimhood, resentment and retribution.

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