Civil rights lawyer and advocate Michelle Alexander, writing last week in The New York Times, decided to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day by focusing on the “grave injustice of our time.” She had plenty to choose from. According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), “2018 was a devastating year for millions around the world, with more people displaced from their homes than ever before. In many of the world’s most challenging places, armed conflict and man-made crisis mean life will get worse and not better in 2019.”
The IRC listed Yemen as the top crisis, followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Central African Republic, Syria, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Somalia.
So, guess which crisis Alexander picked? Palestine, of course.
In an op-ed headlined, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” Alexander argued that “many civil rights activists and organizations have remained silent” about “the human rights nightmare that has unfolded in the occupied territories.”
Let’s put aside the absurd notion that the civil rights world has been too “silent” about the plight of Palestinians, which is arguably the most talked about cause on the planet. Let’s also put aside the fact that Palestinian leaders have rejected numerous offers over the years to create their own state.
The real question is: Why would Alexander single out the Jewish state?
In recent years, we’ve seen two strands of anti-Semitism percolate in America. Neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville represent the classic, blunt strand of Jew-hatred. These blatant bigots have no problem identifying themselves. They hate Jews, and they tell you they hate Jews.
The second strand of anti-Semitism is sneakier. It is made up of social justice activists who fight for the rights of blacks, gays, minorities and other oppressed people, but seem to have a real problem with Jews and the Jewish state. Because they’re so good at flaunting their social justice credentials, it’s not as easy to expose them when they show signs of anti-Semitism. Their favorite tactic is to hide behind criticism of Israel.
As Victor Davis Hanson wrote on the National Review website, this strand “grew most rapidly on the 1960s campus… The novel romance of the Palestinians and corresponding demonization of Israel, especially after the 1967 Six-Day War, gradually allowed former Jew-hatred to be cloaked by new rabid and often unhinged opposition to Israel. In particular, these anti-Semites fixated on Israel’s misdemeanors and exaggerated them while excusing and downplaying the felonies of abhorrent and rogue nations.”
The most obvious examples of this strand are Women’s March leaders like Linda Sarsour, who coddle up to vicious anti-Semites like Louis Farrakhan and single out Israel for special condemnation. But there are many others.
Take the case of Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Omar, who is part of the new wave of Democrats challenging the status quo, is regarded so highly that she was just seated on the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In 2012, while Israel was defending itself against hundreds of Hamas terror rockets launched against its civilians on the Gaza border, Omar tweeted: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
This notion of “hypnotizing the world” is a classic anti-Semitic trope.
As Bari Weiss wrote in The New York Times about Omar’s comment, “The conspiracy theory of the Jew as the hypnotic conspirator, the duplicitous manipulator, the sinister puppeteer is one with ancient roots and a bloody history.”
Omar’s initial response on CNN was to say she “couldn’t see how her comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans” and that she was “clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.” After a major outcry, she tweeted on Monday night that she had “unknowingly” used an “anti-Semitic trope” when she accused Israel of “hypnotizing” the world in 2012. She didn’t comment on the other accusation of “evil doings.”
In any case, this is encouraging. It shows that it pays to speak out. The phenomenon of hiding behind Israel to disseminate anti-Jewish sentiment is serious, and it’s only getting worse.
In his 3D test to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism, Natan Sharansky laid out three red flags: Delegitimization of Israel, Demonization of Israel and subjecting Israel to Double standards. As Sharansky explained, “Hiding behind the veneer of legitimate criticism of Israel, this new anti-Semitism is much more difficult to expose.”
What makes it even more difficult is that it hides behind the veneer of social activism. Jews are especially vulnerable to this camouflage. We have social justice in our genes. Fighting for the oppressed is our collective calling. It’s not surprising, then, that we would have a tendency to overlook anti-Jewish behavior when it comes from social justice warriors whose causes we endorse.
Let’s face it: It’s a lot easier to go after blunt Jew haters who tell us they hate Jews than sneaky Jew haters who fight for the oppressed.
It’s time to advance a new intersectionality that delivers this message: If you nurture anti-Semitism rather than fight it, don’t talk to us about social justice.