In recent years, there has been much talk of a new anti-Semitism that comes primarily from the left, not the far right, and cloaks itself in progressivism, championing disenfranchised Palestinians and demonizing Israel and its Jewish supporters.
But this year, America has seen the resurgence of a more old-fashioned type of far-right anti-Semitism: Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, with its pandering to nativist passions, has become a magnet for white supremacists and has often flirted with them despite overt disavowals of racism.
Which type of intolerance should be a greater cause for concern?
The Trump campaign is now in another controversy over anti-Semitism and white nationalist connections.
Over the weekend, Trump tweeted a graphic attacking Hillary Clinton, with the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” inside a six-pointed star against the backdrop of piles of $100 bills. After the image was criticized as an anti-Semitic reference to the Jewish Star of David, he deleted the tweet and posted another one in which the star was replaced with a circle.
Trump, his campaign and his supporters claim that the star on the original graphic had nothing to do with the Star of David and was either a sheriff’s badge or just a plain six-pointed star, blaming the controversy on the “dishonest media” and “political correctness.” But the protestations of innocence have been undercut by the revelation that the image first appeared on a racist (now-deleted) Twitter account.
New Republic senior editor Jeet Heer argues that Trump’s pattern of recycling inflammatory material from anti-Semitic sources and then backpedaling and rationalizing such rhetoric and imagery is not carelessness but deliberate strategy: this way, he can repudiate bigotry for the general public while offering sly encouragement to the nativists and white nationalists — some of them self-professed neo-Nazis — who form a particularly zealous part of his fan base.
Trump’s white supremacist army is almost certainly a small fringe; many of its Twitter warriors are duplicate troll accounts. But this is still, without question, a dangerous phenomenon. The Trump campaign’s relationship with white nationalists and anti-Semites has emboldened bigotries long banished from civilized society.
Yet around the same time that the Trump campaign faced these questions, there were also fresh reminders that the new anti-Semitism of Jew-bashing cloaked in hatred of Israel has its own ugly face.
After the death of Eli Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, writer, and probably the most renowned Holocaust survivor, far-left journalist Max Blumenthal sent out a series of tweets denouncing Wiesel. One stated, “Elie Wiesel went from a victim of war crimes to a supporter of those who commit them. He did more harm than good and should not be honored.”
Aside from the outright falsehoods in Blumenthal’s indictment, such as the charge that Wiesel resisted recognition of the Armenian genocide, the sheer indecency of this attack boggles the mind.
Meanwhile, in England, the Labor Party has just held an inquiry on anti-Semitism in its ranks under the leadership of pro-Hamas member of parliament Jeremy Corbyn. Pro-Israel Jews say they now face open hostility in the party.
Both the resurgent old anti-Semitism and the rising new one are deeply worrying trends.
The former kind may be more dangerous, as writer Phoebe Maltz Bovy has argued on Twitter, because it is unchecked by any shame about being seen as racist; but the latter, more hypocritical kind may draw more mainstream adherents.
The former has been linked to white supremacist violence; the latter can effectively excuse the violent anti-Semitism of Islamist extremists.
There is no reason those concerned with anti-Jewish bigotry should limit their concern to just one strain of hatred.
Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and Real Clear Politics.