WHAT IS POLITICAL FOOTBALL?
“Political football” is a metaphor describing when a non-political or non-partisan issue is seized by opposing political parties and turned into a partisan issue. The term has been in use since the 1600s.
For example: antisemitism should be a non-partisan issue. Everyone should oppose antisemitism, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum, no matter the perpetrator. Yet antisemitism has been turned into political football. The right points fingers at the left as the “real antisemites,” while the left points fingers at the right as the “real antisemites.” Meanwhile, the root causes of antisemitism remain unaddressed, and Jews are made increasingly more vulnerable.
A PERFECT EXAMPLE
Neither Ted Cruz nor AOC are Jewish, and neither of them should be making inappropriate Holocaust analogies while pointing fingers at each other.
ANTISEMITISM & THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM
Antisemitism is known as the “world’s oldest hatred” for a good reason. It’s a bigotry that’s quite literally over 2000 years old. The modern political spectrum is much, much newer, and as such, antisemitism far predates today’s political views. Anyone can be an antisemite, regardless of their political views or political ideologies.
This year, a major academic study at King’s College London sought to figure out whether antisemitism is more prevalent on the left or the right. To the researchers’ surprise, the answer turned out to be neither. Instead, what the study found is that antisemitism is not so much predicated by where one stands politically, but rather, to susceptibility to conspiracy theories. Additionally, the study found that “antisemitism may be less closely linked to political beliefs than has previously been implied, and more closely linked to opinions and views on other topics such as religion, ethnic nationalism, and conspiracy theories.” Those with a propensity toward authoritarianism — regardless of which kind — were also found to be more antisemitic.
Antisemites tend to deflect from legitimate accusations of antisemitism by pointing to the antisemitism on the “other side” as “real” antisemitism. For example, when politicians on the right are accused of antisemitism, they point out to the antisemitism on the left as the “real” threat to the Jewish people. On the other hand, when politicians on the left are accused of antisemitism, they point to the antisemitism on the right.
Using antisemitism as a “gotcha” against your opponents is dehumanizing and exploitative. The only thing anyone — especially a politician — should do with antisemitism is call it out, work to dismantle it, and protect the Jewish community. Unfortunately, it seems that many Jews have now been drawn into that dehumanizing, exploitative game and demean fellow Jews who call out antisemitism on their side of the political spectrum.
ANTISEMITISM AS A POLITICAL DRIVING FORCE
When we study antisemitism, we begin noticing a glaring pattern: historically antisemites in power (or seeking power) have used antisemitism as a political driving force to achieve their own goals. In other words, they’ve consistently incited antisemitism within their own populations to achieve their political goals.
Antisemitism is the perfect distraction: when Jews are scapegoated for any given issue, attention is diverted away from the actual perpetrators of the problem.
The examples date as far back as antiquity: the Romans, for example, institutionalized antisemitism when they adopted Christianity, lest the masses blame the Romans themselves for crucifying Jesus. During the Reconquista of Spain, the Spanish crown scapegoated Jews, even though it was the Islamic Caliphate that had colonized Spain, not the Jews. During the Russian Civil War, anti-Bolshevik forces carried out anti-Jewish massacres so huge that they’ve been described as a “pre-Holocaust genocide.” In the lead up to the Holocaust, the Nazis animated the antisemitism of the German population by scapegoating Jews for Germany’s losses during World War I. In the 1920s and 1930s, Arab nationalists incited against the Jewish population of Palestine and elsewhere in the Arab world to get the Arab fellahin (peasants) on board with the Arab nationalist cause. In the Soviet Union, incitement against the Jewish population was a driving force in the Soviet Cold War against the west.
Tokenism is when a given group (e.g. workplace, political group, etc) selects a person from a minority group to give the illusion that they are diverse or representative of the minority group’s opinion. Tokenism is racism, and, in the case of this particular post, antisemitism. Unfortunately for Jews, antisemites love to tokenize us when they agree with us, because they believe their association with us shields them from accusations of antisemitism (in other words: “I can’t be antisemitic! I have a Jewish friend”).
The exploitation of antisemitism for political motives further perpetuates the Good Jew/Bad Jew trope, a trope that has existed since the days of the Greek occupation of Judea, over 2000 years ago. The Jews that fall in line with the oppressors — in that case, the Greeks — were the “good Jews.” All other Jews — the “bad Jews” — were held to an impossible standard: they either complied with the demands of the Greeks, or they were regarded as the enemies of those in power.
Today, over two millennia later, not much has changed. It’s no wonder that after thousands of years of the worst forms of persecution, many Jews are inclined to acquiesce to the antisemites’ demands. The Jews who refuse to do so — the “bad Jews” — are demonized. It’s important to note, though, that to the antisemite, “good Jews” are also disposable the moment they no longer serve them.
A couple of examples: (1) recently, Donald Trump posted a “Jewish New Year” post on Facebook which stated the following: “Just a quick reminder for liberal Jews who voted to destroy America & Israel because you believed in false narratives!…Let’s hope you learned from your mistake & make better choices moving forward!”
Trump “supports” Jews…as long as they support him politically. Those who don’t — the vast majority, by the way — are, in his words, responsible for “destroying America.”
(2) anti-Zionists tokenize the anti-Zionist (sort of) “Jewish” group Jewish Voice for Peace daily. Whenever an anti-Zionist is accused of antisemitism, they point to their personal association with JVP as “proof” that they are not antisemitic.
But because to an antisemite a “good Jew” is easily disposable, JVP is also consistently accused of being “secretly” Zionist; anti-Zionists very obviously hold groups like JVP to very different standards than non-Jewish anti-Zionist groups.
Shaun King blocking and silencing a Holocaust survivor attempting to educate him about antisemitism, because he “fights white supremacists every day,” as if fighting with white supremacist somehow makes him incapable of being antisemitic.
Ted Cruz and AOC getting into a Twitter row over which one of them is “actually” antisemitic (incredibly dehumanizing to see our oppression being used as a dick measuring contest…).
Republicans voting to remove Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee over her antisemitism, as if they don’t harbor white supremacists in their own party, including Marjorie Taylor Greene. Similarly, Democrats pretending to care about Republican antisemitism while doing virtually nothing to oppose antisemitism within their own ranks.
The same liberals and leftists who spoke out against the white supremacist Pittsburgh synagogue shooting tiptoeing around the Colleyville synagogue hostage crisis because the shooter was not motivated by white supremacy but rather, by political Islamism. People who legitimately care about Jews will speak out against all antisemitism, not just the antisemitism that they can exploit to justify their political positions.
Every single article accusing Jews of “weaponizing” our own oppression, which we know better than anyone else, because the writer happens to partake in the kind of antisemitism that we’re calling out.
There are few things as dehumanizing in politics as seeing people in leadership positions turn the oppression of your own people into a tool for political gain.
Our oppression — both historical and contemporary — has really grave implications, and seeing that exploited by people with tremendous platforms, power, and influence is incredibly hurtful and demoralizing.
For 2000 years, people have deprived us of our humanity. Our historical figures are not regarded as individuals, with their own positive attributes, flaws, thoughts, dreams, hopes, likes, and dislikes. Instead, we have been treated as vehicles. Jesus, the most famous Jew of all time, became a vehicle for Christian forgiveness; a path for Christians to absolve themselves of their sins and enter heaven.
Anne Frank, too, is treated in a similar manner. As author Dara Horn argues, “The line most often quoted from Frank’s diary are her famous words, ‘I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.’ These words are ‘inspiring,’ by which we mean that they flatter us. They make us feel forgiven for those lapses of our civilization that allow for piles of murdered girls—and if those words came from a murdered girl, well, then, we must be absolved, because they must be true…It is far more gratifying to believe that an innocent dead girl has offered us grace than to recognize the obvious: Frank wrote about people being ‘truly good at heart’ before meeting people who weren’t. Three weeks after writing those words, she met people who weren’t.”
When people play “political football” with our oppression, they are using Jewish pain, fear, and trauma as a vehicle; they are using our oppression to benefit themselves. AOC argues that she can’t be antisemitic because Ted Cruz is the “real” antisemite. Donald Trump argues that he can’t be antisemitic because he “supports” Israel. Meanwhile, Jews are stripped of our agency, of our story, all while seeing people with exponentially more followers than there are Jews in the world treat antisemitism as a political “gotcha.”
HISTORICAL EXAMPLE: THE SOVIET UNION
Following the Holocaust, antisemitism became heavily associated with the Nazis, the mortal enemies of the Soviet Union. As such, the Soviets, many of whom had long expressed antisemitic views (e.g. Stalin), began persecuting Jews under the guise of anti-Zionism instead.
In 1969, the United Nations passed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Both the United States and Brazil wanted to add a clause including antisemitism. The Soviet Union, which had been heavily oppressing its Jewish population since the 1950s, worried that such a clause would be used to rebuke them for persecuting Soviet Jews. As such, they included a counter proposal, which was a clause that equated Zionism to Nazism. That way, they could say they were persecuting Zionists, not Jews.
WHEN "GOOD JEWS" ARE DISPOSABLE
In 1918, the Soviet Communist Party established a “Jewish branch,” named “Yevsetskiya,” meaning “Jewish Sections of the Communist Party.” The mission of the Yevsetskiya was, quite literally, the “destruction of traditional Jewish life, the Zionist movement, and Hebrew culture.”
From the outset, the Yevsetskiya began harassing Zionist Jews. Initially, the Yevsetskiya legally abolished the “kehillas,” the traditional Jewish community organisations. Sometimes, they even burned their offices down. They shut down everything from Jewish political groups to theatres to sports clubs. They raided all Ukrainian “Zionist” offices and arrested every single one of their leaders.
Until their dissolution in 1929, they imprisoned, tortured, and murdered thousands of Jews.
According to historian of Soviet history Richard Pipes, “In time, every Jewish cultural and social organisation came under assault.” The fact that the Yevsetskiya was “Jewish” was central to its purpose. After all, the Soviet regime couldn’t be accused of antisemitism when those shutting down all Jewish cultural and spiritual life were Jews themselves.
The Soviet government dissolved the Yevsetskiya in 1929, claiming that it was no longer needed. During Stalin’s Great Purge in the 1930s, virtually all its members were arrested and executed.
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