Hate on the Left: We Must Confront Antisemitism in Our Ranks

One thing I have learned from being a gay man of color is that targeted threats and violence against a particular community - commonly known as hate crimes - are never the actions of mere “lone wolves.” The hate is just as important as the crime, and the seed, sprouting and nurturing of hate is a force more powerful than any single act of violence.

This morning, we received news of a stabbing attack at a home of a New York rabbi. That attack is at least the ninth reported attack on Jewish Americans in New York in the span of a week or so. These are hate crimes, and the growth of hate in our ranks is something we must confront as Americans.

Early this month, Donald Trump spoke to a Jewish group and commanded them to vote for him even though they and he have no mutual admiration, because all they care about, he implied, was money. That incidence is relatively low on the list of Trump’s core antisemitism, which had its most prominent moment when he called American neo-Nazis “very fine people.”

But the deep problem of antisemitism is not limited to right-wing politics. Antisemitic tropes had once been a marginal undercurrent to leftist politics, but its rise among the left of late has been as disheartening as it has been quick. The tropes used by political extremes to vilify and marginalize Jews have also been remarkably similar over the decades: the depiction of Jewish people as greedy (and rich), the view of the existence of the state of Israel as illegitimate, and the tacit promotion of conspiracy theories surrounding Jewish ownership of media and governments.

In February of this year - when some of us, perhaps naively, thought that the realities of governing and Congress could cause some far leftists to correct course - Rep. Ilhan Omar joined forces with pro-Putin journalist Glenn Greenwald in implying that American Jews were a people of dual loyalties and were using their money to buy US support for Israel. Omar and fellow “squad” member Rashida Talib, reiterated the frame of American Jews as disloyal money changers at a town hall in Washington, DC later that month. When an attendee, to cheers, referred to “the Benjamins” in reference to American support of Israel, Talib and Omar gave their smiling ascent.

Omar and Talib are now both serving as prominent surrogates Bernie Sanders for president, as is leftist firebrand Linda Sarsour, an organizer who supports a “one-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sarsour, in early December, referred to Israel as being built on the idea of “Jewish supremacy,” and claimed that American progressives could not both be for a racially and religiously diverse country at home and a democratic and Jewish Israel in the middle east. She did not, so far as I can tell, comment on whether all nation-states with official religions should be forced to become constitutional secular republics.

Sarsour has also had a close relationship with Louis Farrakhan’s virulently antisemitic organization Nation of Islam. In 2015, she boasted on Facebook about being protected by “the brothers” of Fruits of Islam, the security arm of Farrakhan’s organization.

Sarsour was one of a group of co-chairs for the original Women’s March on Washington in 2017 in response to Donald Trump winning the presidency. She and the other co-chairs of the original organization - Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland, and Carmen Perez - were quickly hailed as great leaders in light of the incredible success of the march that took place on January 21, 2017, even though most of that success came from local organizers, not the national office. At the time, neither the organization nor its leadership received much scrutiny.

But the Women’s March now is a shell of its former self - having gone from over 5 million attendees altogether in 2017 to just around 700,000 in 2019. The crowd size in DC was 500,000 in 2017, and down to just 100,000 in 2019.

In that time, the opposition to Trump has not weakened in either number or intensity, and the decline of an organization that could have harnessed the largest movement in this country since the protests against the war in Vietnam has taken place as financial mismanagement, cronyism, and antisemitism in the top leadership have been exposed.

A key aspect of that cronyism and antisemitism was the close, behind-the-scenes involvement of the Nation of Islam in the first march. Mercy Morganfield, a longtime activist who was directly involved with the 2017 march told The Tablet that members Farrakhan’s group was acting as drivers of the co-chairs (among them current Bernie Sanders surrogate Linda Sarsour) and providing security detail for the event. The organizers acknowledged that a Fruits of Islam related firm did provide security.

But Sarsour wasn’t the only original co-chair of the March who is a fan of Farrakhan’s. Another co-chair, Tamika Mallory, attended the headlining Saviours’ Day event for Nation of Islam in 2018, in which Farrakhan was his usual militant antisemitic self. Mallory not only refused to condemn Farrakhan or antisemitism when this came to light, she defended her presence by revealing that she’s been a regular at the antisemitic gathering for 30 years.

From the very beginning, Jewish organizers of the Women’s March had felt marginalized and attacked, including in a meeting after the successful 2017 march at the apartment of Farrakhan congregant Tamika Mallory. At that meeting, Mallory and Carmen Perez - in a reported incident they deny but have been confirmed by multiple accounts - told Vanessa Wruble, a Jewish organizer who had spearheaded the effort since November of 2016, that “your people hold all the wealth.”

Women’s March, Inc.’s “unity principles,” a laudable statement of empowerment that names marginalized groups of women such as black women, trans women, and Muslim women, notably - and I suspect intentionally - omitted any mention of Jewish women as a marginalized group until the stories of antisemitism within the organizing leadership began to make press.

Before the stories began to come out in public, the organization that prides itself on intersectionality not only avoided recognizing Jewish women as a marginalized group, it had no Jewish Board members or key staffers. Most Jewish organizers left the organization quickly. Wruble, who was reportedly berated with antisemitic tropes, left soon after the post-march meeting in 2017 and founded March On to fulfill the vision of a truly inclusive, women-led movement.

Bernie Sanders may be hashtagging #firstJewishPresident, but thus far, his campaign has actively sought, and celebrated receiving, the endorsement of people who, to say the very least, suffer from a deeply problematic past and present of promoting antisemitism. Sanders has himself endorsed the Congressional candidacy of Cenk Uygur, a media figure who gave David Duke a platform on their “progressive” talk show.

Antisemitic currents have always been present in leftist politics as they have been on the right. But in order to speak with moral authority for the principles of a pluralistic democracy, the left cannot simply point to the Donald Trumps of the world and stay silent when the same ugly form of bigotry taints our own house.

We cannot be silent when a major candidate for the nomination of the Democratic party openly aligns himself with those who gin up crowds by spreading antisemitic tropes about money, media, and dual loyalties. We cannot keep quiet when key movements are infiltrated by those who consider the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state illegitimate. We cannot sit and watch as the voices amplifying Farrakhan and Duke attempt to establish themselves as the new gatekeepers of the party of Obama.

We must use our voice, our votes, and our conscience to make sure that no form of bigotry has a safe haven in our big tent.

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