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Lithium Reconciling anti-Semitism on the left

Sep. 28, 2021

There is a massive degree of cognitive dissonance among self-proclaimed leftists who firmly condemn fascism, yet continue to utilize anti-Semitic rhetoric and refuse to respect Jewish people or acknowledge anti-Semitism. This dissonance exists in every niche of political lefitism, from academia to social media, and has long made Jewish people feel uncomfortable and isolated within leftist spaces. We should not have to reconcile our ethnicity and religion with our political or ideological community in such a painful, complicated way. We should certainly not feel unwelcome and unsupported within a political faction that prides itself on dismantling fascism and systemic oppression. 

To be fair, anti-Semitism is incredibly normalized. It has been threaded throughout Western society for so long that it has in many ways become unrecognizable to Goyim (non-Jews), all starting with the very early days of Christianity in the Mediterranean into the Middle Ages when Jewish people were denied citizenship. Anti-Semitism lives inside fairy talesfolkloric stories, and a repetitive history of forced exiles from an impressive collection of countries. It lives in anti-capitalist cartoons and young adult novels and propagandistic visuals. It lives in Shakespeare and conspiracy theories and formative political texts belonging to both the left and right. 

This expansive presence has not shrunk or faded, despite what some would like to believe, but changed form over time. The public tends to view anti-Semitism as something old and mostly connected to the Holocaust rather than something universally and acutely experienced by Jewish people. On the left, this dismissal of anti-Semitism as a relic of twentieth-century fascism is accompanied by an insensitive use of the Holocaust as a comparative event for every humanitarian crisis that emerges. This juxtaposition is done with little concern for the extensive generational trauma that Jewish people still deal with as a result of the Holocaust. Not to mention that, as they use our trauma, Goyim fail to acknowledge how painful and terrifying it is for Jewish people to be exposed to neo-Nazis in the contemporary world. 

This is anti-Semitic. To use our collective trauma for social or political clout—while continually disregarding anything we might feel or experience by not speaking on anti-Semitism—is exploitative and verges on dehumanization. Jewish people are real and prevailing and still traumatized, not a historical event meant to further your political ideologies. There is an immeasurable difference between discussing the global history of genocide and using it to prove a point about your politics, particularly when you have failed to protect those people in the contemporary world. 

Anti-Semitism is not dying out, but is actually on the rise and spiking dangerously. Still, leftist factions of social media largely don’t care what Jewish people have to say unless it’s about Israel. We are never encouraged to discuss our experiences, but are constantly expected to speak on behalf of Israel and held culpable for its actions. Constantly holding non-Israeli Jewish people responsible for Israel, asking us to condemn the government over and over again until our voices turn scratchy, is like holding every American teenager personally responsible for the actions of the United States government. It’s absurd. And many of us are ourselves pro-Palestine and anti-apartheid. This is also anti-Semitic because it directly conflates genocidal behavior with Judaism. Not all critique of Israel is anti-Semitic, but far too much of it is. Criticisms of Zionism are completely welcome and encouraged, but much of the time, leftists fail to divorce anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism. 

This failure happens when Jewish people are both repeatedly harassed and made responsible for Israel. It happens when all of us are assumed to be supportive of a corrupt and expansionist power. Because of the anti-Semitic rhetoric they notice throughout anti-Zionist movements, many Jewish people feel alienated and grow defensive. It is easy for leftists to label Israel as a Jewish state and project its actions onto actual Jewish people, but it would be infinitely more productive to look at things with more nuance.

There are also leftists who claim that Jewish people count neither as a minority or marginalized group of people, which is mostly derived from how white-passing some of us can be. This claim is both insulting and historically ignorant. Though many are white or white-passing (something that does afford us privilege), Jewish people are not a monolith and never have been. Judaism is a non-homogenous ethnoreligion and our people are diasporic as the result of centuries of oppression and discrimination. Judaism has an incredibly rich and diverse history, one that commonly gets erased. When leftists contribute to that erasure by ignoring our experiences as marginalized people, it only benefits white supremacists, who bury our collective past and hide our complexities in order to further expunge us. To claim Jewish people as a white-passing monolith is to disregard the deliberate ethnic cleansing Jewish people have been subjected to, which includes the raping of Jewish women throughout the Shoah. Such a claim also invalidates the intricate experiences of Jews of color throughout the world. 

To be regularly targeted by alt-right groups but still excluded from anti-fascist spaces is both strange and infuriating. I mentioned earlier that anti-Semitism is still on the rise, and such a fact becomes even scarier knowing that Jewish people feel unprotected by leftist and liberal communities. Such exclusion leaves us floundering with no political space that feels safe. This is not about competition or ignoring the countless other groups who are actively targeted by Nazis, but about how hypocritical and damaging it is to abandon Jewish people when we are still vulnerable and suffering under fascist, prejudicial violence. Leftists claiming the moral high ground while being anti-Semitic would be laughable if not so disheartening. 

Please, protect and listen to your Jewish comrades. 

Illustration by Yoo Young Chun.