left & right antisemitism work together
On August 21, CNN released a documentary titled “Rising Hate: Antisemitism in America.” Many of us on Jewish Instagram awaited the documentary with baited breath, worried that it would not portray antisemitism accurately, or that little or no emphasis would be placed on left-wing antisemitism, something that many of us believe CNN itself has been guilty of perpetrating at various points.
As is to be expected, different Jewish Instagram creators and educators gave conflicting reviews of the documentary. Some were relieved that left-wing antisemitism and antisemitism disguised as “anti-Zionism” were mentioned at all. Many felt that not enough emphasis was placed on left-wing antisemitism, or that no specific examples were given, therefore making it difficult for CNN viewers to understand how left-wing antisemitism works. Others stated that it’s appropriate for CNN to prioritize right-wing antisemitism over left-wing antisemitism, as in the United States, right-wing antisemitism is generally more violent.
Before I proceed, I really want to make something clear: this is not a “call out” or a criticism of any particular creator or educator. I simply think that there is a crucial part of the conversation that we are ignoring here: left and right-wing antisemitism work together, and historically, always have. If left-wing antisemitism rises, right-wing antisemitism grows deadlier. I believe we need to stop talking about it as two separate things. It’s not a comparison; it’s a continuum.
I’ll share my personal thoughts on the documentary in the second to last slide.
Before we discuss left and right-wing antisemitism, we first need to define left and right-wing politics so that we’re all on the same page.
The concept of left vs. right politics is relatively new, originating during the French Revolution (1789-1799). Those considered to be on the right were those who remained loyal to the king, while those on the left were the supporters of the revolution.
It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that the “left” and the “right” became associated with specific political ideologies. Both “left” and “right” were initially considered slurs against political opponents of a differing ideology (for example, someone on the left might insult a conservative by calling them “right-wing,” and vice versa).
Today, we associate right-wing politics with the support of traditional social order and hierarchies; left-wing politics are associated with social equality and egalitarianism, oftentimes in opposition of social hierarchies.
Antisemitism long predates all of this. Antisemitism does not subscribe to one political ideology. It’s everywhere.
In political science, the horseshoe theory asserts that the far-left and the far-right are not opposites at the end of the spectrum, but rather, that they closely resemble each other, nearly meeting at the end like the ends of a horseshoe.
The horseshoe theory first appeared in political discourse during the period of the Weimar Republic (1918-1933), in reference to the Black Front, a far-right, anti-Capitalist, virulently antisemitic political party formed by radicals who resigned from the Nazi party. The Black Front never gained much traction, peaking at about a couple thousand members, and was outlawed in 1934. Like many left-wing, socialist and/or Communist groups, the far-right Black Front used a hammer in their flag, highlighting their anti-Capitalist stance.
In 2002, French philosopher and writer Jean-Pierre Faye re-popularized the theory after writing about the ideologies of totalitarian regimes, including the Soviet Union under Stalin and Germany under Hitler.
The horseshoe theory is not without its vocal critics. Those on both the far-right and the far-left resent the association with the other. For more on this, see my post ANTISEMITISM & THE HORSESHOE THEORY.
Regardless of any valid criticisms, in terms of antisemitism, the horseshoe theory quite honestly tracks (that is not to say that antisemitism doesn’t exist in the political center, because of course it does). I really believe this bears repeating: historically, left-wing and right-wing antisemitism haven’t worked independently of each other, but rather, have worked together. Both utilize the same ancient antisemitic tropes and conspiracies and the same virulently antisemitic texts (e.g. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion inspired both fascist, far-right Nazi antisemitism and communist, far-left Soviet antisemitism).
When antisemitism rises on the left, Jews on the political left and left of center, which is the majority of us in the United States (71% of American Jews are Democrats), are left politically homeless and unprotected from violent right-wing antisemitism. This creates a ripe environment for right-wing antisemitism of the Nazi and white supremacist ilk to fester.
When a left-wing antisemite publishes antisemitic texts, conspiracies, or lists of Jews (or “Zionists”), we know that it’s only a matter of time before they fall into the hands of Nazis. A perfect example is the recent “Mapping Project,” created by a left-wing antisemite, which was a map depicting “Zionist organizations” in Massachusetts, including Jewish summer camps, disability centers, nonprofits, and more. Unsurprisingly, Goyim TV, a white supremacist video-sharing website, quickly picked up the map and shared it with its viewers.
A neo-Nazi or a white supremacist doesn’t care if a map of where to find Jews is made by a left-wing antisemite: they’ll use it anyway, leading to tangible, potentially deadly violence against Jews.
DIVIDE & CONQUER
A major factor that has driven white supremacist antisemitism for decades is the “Great Replacement Theory” and the “white genocide conspiracy.” The Great Replacement Theory asserts that there is a conspiracy to replace white folks with People of Color, whereas the white genocide conspiracy asserts that Jews are to blame for this Great Replacement Theory. The white genocide conspiracy claims that, through intermarriage, non-white immigration, racial integration, abortion, and more, Jews are plotting to lead the white race to extinction.
The Great Replacement Theory was coined by French white nationalist and conspiracy theorist Renaud Camus in 1996, but similar ideas have been floating around for centuries. In the 1800s, race theorist Arthur de Gobineau claimed that three distinct races existed: white, black, and yellow. Among the “white” races was the “Aryan” race, which had remained “the purest” over time. Meanwhile, other “races,” such as the “Semitic” Jews from Southwest Asia (the Middle East), were a “dirty,” mixed race made up of white, black, and yellow ancestry. This idea that the Jews were “diluting” or “soiling” the white Aryan race was later adopted by the Nazis.
For white supremacists, a main method of combatting this supposed “white genocide” is to divide and conquer: if Jews are estranged from other marginalized groups, we could not possibly enact this “master plan” (of course, not all marginalized people fall on the left of the political spectrum, but statistically most do). When the left parrots antisemitic tropes, whether they are disguised under the cover of “anti-Zionism” or not, they are playing right into the hand of white supremacy.
(1) both Richard Spencer and David Duke are white supremacists; David Duke is a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Linda Sarsour is an activist on the left. The more antisemitic tropes are spread, the wider (potentially dangerous) of an audience they’ll reach, regardless of the politics of the source.
(2) in the 1960s and 1970s, the left-wing Soviet Union — the mortal enemies of the Nazis — disseminated Nazi films and other propaganda from the 1930s and 1940s among Arab and African nations to win their favor and exert their influence in the region. Unsurprisingly, this led to antisemitic violence that continues to this day.
Right-wing antisemitism will always fall into the hands of left-wing antisemites, and vice versa. Violent antisemites will ultimately always put their antisemitism over their political ideology. In my view, that makes left and right antisemitism inherently equally as dangerous and concerning.
I’d like to share my thoughts on the CNN documentary. First, it’s important to take CNN’s audience into account: according to a 2017 poll, 61% of CNN’s viewership is Democratic, 37% is independent, and 38% is Republican. Its coverage is considered liberal and/or left of center. As such, I believe that CNN needs to speak to its audience. It’s highly unlikely that a neo-Nazi, white supremacist, or even a right wing antisemite will be watching a CNN documentary on antisemitism.
CNN has a responsibility to speak to the left. What can the left do to protect Jews from antisemitism? It’s important for the left to protect Jews from white supremacy, sure, but it’s also important for the left to understand how they, too, endanger Jews.
What the documentary did well: (1) interviewing excellent, knowledgeable people; (2) explaining how antisemitism is exponentially more prevalent than forms of bigotry against other religious minorities; (3) explaining how antisemitism moves through conspiracies and rises during periods of social instability; (4) explaining Jewish ethnoreligious identity; (5) explaining that anti-Zionism is frequently a pretext for antisemitism; and (6) showing how hostile college campuses have become to Jewish students.
What was lacking: (1) while the documentary explained how online antisemitism snowballs, it hardly explained how this happens on the left and how Islamist groups use neo-Nazi recruiting tactics online; (2) they dedicated 40 minutes to right-wing antisemitism and 10 minutes to left-wing antisemitism, when CNN viewers are much likelier to be leftist antisemites; (3) claiming that antisemitism on the left is new, when it’s absolutely not (e.g. Soviet antisemitism); (4) ignoring that most antisemitic incidents in New York, which has the largest Jewish population in the US, are *not* perpetrated by white supremacists or people on the right; (5) downplaying the threat of physical violence that is leftist antisemitism; (6) not defining Zionism and anti-Zionism, thus just dancing around the subject. I also felt that the documentary was fairly whitewashed, providing little insight into the history of antisemitism in the Middle East vs Europe.
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