January 27, 2023

Horseshoe antisemitism: Jew hatred on the far Right, Left - opinion

By Barbara Sofer

“Horseshoe antisemitism” is a new term for me.

I’m trying to catch up on the escalating crisis of antisemitism in the land of my birth, the USA. I have the rare opportunity of hearing two contemporary experts on antisemitism on a short visit to Florida at the National Assembly Midwinter Meetings of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. I can’t remember antisemitism in America being high on the agenda in previous national meetings.

The attendees are regional presidents from throughout the US – covering Hawaii to Maine – and other organization leaders. In this, the first American-based national business meeting in three years (the convention in Israel in November preceded it), life has changed since those BC (before coronavirus) days.

The first speaker I’m privileged to hear on this subject is Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. Our heroine.

A distinguished professor of Jewish history and the Holocaust at Emory University in Atlanta, Lipstadt, 75, is best known for winning the high-profile court case in England against author David Irving, who sued her for libel when she accused him of Holocaust denial. Actress Rachel Weisz portrayed her in the 2016 movie Denial, but it’s a greater thrill to hear Lipstadt herself.

The process took eight months, but in the end Lipstadt was unanimously approved for this job by the US Senate, soon after a gunman entered a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and held the rabbi and congregants hostage. Hadassah was among the Jewish organizations that advocated for her appointment.

An eloquent speaker with a pleasingly familiar New York accent (she grew up in Queens), Lipstadt cautions that there’s no quick fix for the old, constant ill of antisemitism. Antisemitism can come from anywhere and from anyone, she says, “Muslims, Christians, even Jews.” The difference today is that the “delivery system” of the messages is high-speed, Antisemitic literature used to be distributed in unmarked brown envelopes, but today messages of hate travel instantly across social media

Lipstadt’s official assignment at the State Department is dealing with antisemitism outside of the United States, but the boundaries are blurred. For example, the Colleyville terrorist had origins in the Middle East and traveled to the US from England. American-Jewish organizations turn to her for advice.

Speak up, speak out, she says. “Telling someone ‘You hurt my feelings’ isn’t enough.” She urges us Jews and non-Jews not to “work in silos” but to fight antisemitism together. Broad coalitions of men and women standing together can have an impact.

Nor is antisemitism itself an isolated hate, she argues. Lipstadt has long pointed to the linkage between antisemitism and racial prejudice. For example, the ubiquitous “great replacement” conspiracy theory blames Jews for being behind efforts to replace white Christians with people of color as immigrants enter Western countries in large numbers.

Michelle Rojas-Tal

THE OTHER speaker to address antisemitism also grew up in New York. Michelle Rojas-Tal lived in a housing project in the Bronx. Her mother is Jewish, and her late father was a non-Jew from Puerto Rico. She calls herself a “hybrid-Jew,” a term she urges the Jewish community to adopt for the now majority of Jewish college students who have only one Jewish parent.

Unlike Lipstadt, who grew up with a strong Jewish education, Rojas-Tal’s awareness of her Jewish heritage came after 9/11, before which she knew or cared little about Judaism or Israel. She’s proof that there can be a wake-up call for young American Jews. The “Tal” in her name comes from her husband, Oran Tal, the IDF guard on her Birthright Israel trip.

They lived in Israel for a decade before being drafted by Hillel International to work with young leaders on campuses. Rojas-Tal is currently the Zionist scholar-in-residence for Hadassah’s 300,000 members. Aged 38, she describes herself as “a hybrid millennial.” Should you be confused, “millennial” means any person born between the early 1980s and late ‘90s. They’re also called Generation Y, or Gen Y. Expanding the statistics of the Pew report (by the Pew Research Center, a think tank based in Washington), Rojas-Tal believes that as many as 80% of the Jews on campus are hybrids like her.

One of Rojas-Tal’s golden rules when confronting antisemitism is to speak to the person “from where they’re coming from.” If you’re like me, dear reader, a farbrent (burning) Zionist with a short fuse when it comes to insults to my country or my people, that’s not easy. But that’s what she does. “It’s not true that Gen Y’ers are passive. Just the opposite,” she says. “They want to be moved. You have to start with their own identity and what they don’t know, or you’re not going to get anywhere.”

When she asks the audience who has a guard at their synagogue entrance, every hand, including mine, goes up. Where’s the threat? Horseshoe antisemitism, she says, refers to the theory in which the far Left and the far Right hold a common set of anti-Jewish prejudicial attitudes that distinguish them from the ideological center. In other words, they can’t agree on anything except blaming the Jews and Israel for the world’s ills.

The mid-January 2023 report of the American-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) described widespread belief in antisemitic conspiracy theories and tropes as having almost doubled since 2019 – as well as substantially negative anti-Israel sentiment among Americans.
A question that always comes up, of course, is whether so-called anti-Zionism is a cover for antisemitism

Here, Rojas-Tal says that former Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky’s 20-year-old 3D test is still relevant today:

  • Demonization: when comparisons are made between Israelis and Nazis and between Palestinian refugee camps and Auschwitz – this is antisemitism, not legitimate criticism of Israel.
  • Double standards: when Israel is singled out by the UN for human rights abuses, while the behavior of known major abusers is ignored.
  • Delegitimization: when Israel’s fundamental right to exist is denied – alone among the nations.

A paradoxical ADL finding for those of us concerned about our brethren’s – particularly millennials’ – attachment to Israel is that 39 percent of respondents believe that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the US. Antisemitism isn’t the reason I would like to see Jews move to Israel. Strengthening Jewish roots is a better strategy. How good it is to report that these two outstanding women are generals in the battles ahead.