I’ve spent most of my career arguing that anti-Semitism in the United States is almost entirely a product of the political Left. I’ve traveled across the country from Iowa to Texas; I’ve rarely seen an iota of true anti-Semitism. I’ve sensed far more anti-Jewish animus from leftist college students at the University of California, Los Angeles, than from churches in Valencia. As an observer of President Obama’s thoroughgoing anti-Israel administration, I could easily link the anti-Semitism of the Left to its disdain for both Biblical morality and Israeli success over its primary Islamist adversaries. The anti-Semitism I’d heard about from my grandparents — the country-club anti-Semitism, the alleged white-supremacist leanings of rednecks from the backwoods — was a figment of the imagination, I figured. I figured wrong. Donald Trump’s nomination has drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork.
Unlike Shapiro, I’ve never doubted the persistence of right-wing anti-Semitism. Way back when (but not that long ago), I volunteered for the Jack Kemp presidential campaign. As a lowly intern, I got to open a good bit of mail from donors and potential donors, many identified from rented mailing lists belonging to right-wing direct-mail gurus. The volume of overtly anti-Semitic mail was quite remarkable, especially since Kemp was not Jewish, nor did any “Jewish” issue play a significant role in his campaign.
Nevertheless, when I’ve blogged about anti-Semitism at the VC, I have focused on left-wing anti-Semitism, for two reasons. First, American Jews and their “defense” organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League tend to be exquisitely attuned to real or potential anti-Semitism emanating from the right, much less so from the left. For example, in January, before the Iowa caucuses, Ted Cruz attacked Trump for having “New York values”; Hillary Clinton suddenly opened up about her Christian religious beliefs while fending off a challenge from a Jewish candidate; and Bernie Sanders was busily attacking “a handful of people on Wall Street [who] have extraordinary power over the economic and political life of our country.” Only Cruz’s comment received attention as an alleged anti-Semitic dog whistle, even though Clinton’s and Sanders’s statements were objectively at least as open to that charge. (For the record, I don’t think any of these incidents involved anti-Semitism, though they all might have pleased anti-Semites.) Meanwhile, surveys show that Jews significantly overestimate the level of anti-Semitism among Republican-leaning constituencies such as conservative evangelicals and underestimate it among Democratic-leaning constituencies, such as Hispanics.
Second, as a public political matter, at least until the Trump campaign, anti-Semitism was largely and increasingly marginalized on the mainstream conservative right. This was in significant part due to the efforts of the late William F. Buckley, who throughout his career made an effort to rid conservatism of its anti-Semitic fringe, including such former allies as Patrick Buchanan and Joseph Sobran, and more recently due to the efforts of evangelical Christian leaders, including a theological emphasis on God’s statement in Genesis, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse,” as requiring being nice to the Jews. Not only has anti-Semitism on the right diminished significantly, but Jews, especially orthodox Jews, have of late become a significant presence in “mainstream” conservative organizations. I attended the Conservative Political Action Committee conference briefly this year and was surprised to see advertised prominently on the agenda the Fifth Annual CPAC Shabbat dinner, and there were quite a few kippot among the attendees.
Meanwhile, the left has gone in the other direction, increasingly tolerating anti-Semitism so long as its dressed up as criticism of Israel or “Zionists.” As good an example as any involves an essay written by Steven Salaita for the Nation in November. Rabbi Jill Jacobs, a prominent left-wing rabbi and strong critic of Israeli policy, took exception in a letter to the editor, arguing that “Salaita resurrects some of the most vicious anti-Semitic tropes, protecting himself by assigning these slurs to Zionism and Zionists, clear stand-ins for Judaism and Jews.” She then elaborated, quoting statements “which do not even pretend to be about criticism of Israeli policy, [but] summon the well-known bogeyman of a Jewish conspiracy that controls banks, governments, and other seats of authority.” The editors’ response failed to address her specific charges, amounting instead to, “it can’t be be anti-Semitism if you purport to be attacking Zionism.” And speaking of Shabbat dinners, recently a large group of activists at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change conference shut down a Shabbat dinner and discussion hosted by left-wing American Jewish and Israeli groups, via a demonstration that was described by eyewitnesses as as both anti-Semitic and physically threatening.
Unfortunately — and somewhat surprisingly, given that Trump has many Jewish friends, a Jewish daughter (via conversion), and claims to be a proud supporter of Israel — Trump’s campaign has brought the anti-Semitic “alt-right” out of the woodwork, lately attacking “Never Trump” as a Jewish conspiracy. David Horowitz recently fanned the flames, arguing that Bill Kristol’s opposition to Trump made him a “renegade Jew.” Horowitz’s point was stupid but not anti-Semitic — he apparently believes the Jewish apocalypse is at hand if Hillary Clinton isn’t defeated — but his Breitbart.com commenters seem to have missed the subtlety. Trump himself seems indifferent to this, as he has been to many other manifestations of bigotry emanating from his supporters.