Anti-Semitism’s newest apologist? David Bernstein.

March 9, 2017
David Bernstein. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Not even the title of David Bernstein’s recent Washington Post column, “The Great Anti-Semitism Panic of 2017,” makes sense. Most everything that follows makes even less.  I mean, if you start with such a dramatic assertion — Jews! Panic!–  then you better have some facts to back it up.  Guess what?  He doesn’t.

Granted, most Jews I know — and I mostly know Jews — panic over something somewhere sometime during the day.  It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.  Then we make jokes about our panic, and then we sell a sitcom.

But Bernstein is implying the most Jews are panicked specifically over the increase in anti-Semitic threats, desecrations and social media memes. He writes:

I’ve been rather taken aback by the panic in the Jewish community over American anti-Semitism since Donald Trump won the election. The recent spate of hoax bombing threats to Jewish community centers and other Jewish institutions around the country has been a precipitating factor, but the fear is drastically out of proportion to the threat; .

His evidence for this?  Zilch. Because while Jewish communities have increased security and called on authorities– including President Donald Trump– to acknowledge and investigate the recent wave of anti-semitic acts, they haven’t done anything that could be seen as a sign of over-reaction or panic. They haven’t closed down schools, synagogues and community centers.  They haven’t turned their institutions into barbed wired enclaves. They haven’t put their stocks into gold, or packed a single bag. They haven’t stopped wearing Jewish stars around their necks or kipas on their heads. These would be actual signs of panic.

True, some Jewish leaders asserted that anti-Semitic acts are at a level not seen in America since the 1930’s, which is highly debatable.  But considering the lack of clarity on the actual numbers behind the statistical burst, those kinds of initial claims are understandable.

To strengthen his assertion, Bernstein misleads his readers.

By contrast, in the past decade or so there have been actual murders at a JCC and a Jewish federation office without precipitating such panic.

Our paper covered the JCC shooting, which took place in Los Angeles.  If you want to see “panic” look at the photos from that awful day.  Read about the chaos surrounding the pursuit and capture of the perpetrator, and the investigation into possible accomplices. Institutions all over the city–across the country– were locked down. Parents kept their kids home.  Teams of psychologists worked for weeks to calm parents, children and administrators.  A massive march was organized in response. It was the kind of understandable reaction any community would exhibit after such an event.  What’s happening now rightly pales in comparison.

Bernstein’s agenda, it seems, is not to assess the true nature of the Jewish response, but to slam Jews for panic, then pin that on their opposition to the president.  He attacks  a fake Jewish response in order to defend the real Donald Trump.

“It seems that much of the panic is in fact due to Trump,” Bernstein writes, “with the JCC threats seen as a potential first sign of the deteriorating status of American Jews.”

So Bernstein moves quickly from not-establishing panic to defending Trump and his supporters.

I’ve lost track of how many times Jewish friends and acquaintances in my Facebook feed have asserted, as a matter of settled fact, that Bannon’s website Breitbart News is a white-supremacist, anti-Semitic site. I took the liberty of searching for every article published at Breitbart that has the words Jew, Jewish, Israel or anti-Semitism in it, and can vouch for the fact that the website is not only not anti-Semitic, but often criticizes anti-Semitism (though it is quite ideologically selective in which types of anti-Semitism it chooses to focus on). I’ve invited Bannon’s Facebook critics to actually look at Breitbart and do a similar search on the site, and each has declined, generally suggesting that it would be beneath them to look at such a site, when they already know it’s anti-Semitic.

I’m one of those people who have raised concerns about Breitbart.com, and it had nothing to do with individual articles.  Indeed, some of Breitbart.com’s best friends and editors are Jewish.  But the site, as Steve Bannon has said, is a platform for the alt-right, and it has fomented and reaffirmed through its coverage and comments a deep antagonism toward Jews. Here’s what I found:

You would think, for instance, that the comments following one story about how Islamic extremism is driving Jews from France would evoke standard Breitbart-issue Islamaphobia. Instead, the comments quickly turn to how the Jews brought on their own destruction in Nazi Europe by fomenting the pre-World War I revolutions.

“The atheist Jews hate themselves and hate Christianity even more,” wrote commenter gotham1883.

“1933-1939? You are autistic?,” wrote ExDeo. “1933 was the year Europe freed itself from Jewish control and finally RESTORED BORDERS and ENDED DEGENERACY. If anything the modern era is reminiscent of the DECADENCE of PRE WAR GERMANY, where ALL VICES (prostitution, drug use) financed by JEWS prospered and where MEDIA/FINANCE/POLITICS were controlled to oppress Europeans.”

Here’s another comment, following Trump election news: “It seems apparent that we need to get back to what the founders intended America to be: a new homeland for White European only immigrants. Jews can go to Israel, blacks can go to Africa, etc. We don’t need the ‘melting pot’ subversive lie of Jew Israel Zangwill! Jews don’t want goyim in Israel, blacks don’t want whites in Africa, and the world is ok with that. We don’t want/need ANY of you here so GTFO as multiculturalism is a failed concept re-branded and promoted by Jews to serve their interests in every country but Israel! FACT! Game over! Go be with your people and leave us ALONE!”

Someone hiding behind the name Cannon Fodder added:  “… all I need is the glorious yuks of the left and jews destroying themselves.”

I collected those after spending five minutes on the site. As the techies say, these comments aren’t a bug of Breitbart, they’re a feature.

Ben Shapiro, former editor-at-large of Breitbart.com and a longtime associate of Bannon, said whether Bannon believes this garbage is irrelevant. The neo-Nazis use Breitbart.com and the high profile of its creator to strengthen their voice and advance their agenda.

“The alt-right would say, ‘Bannon isn’t one of us. Breitbart isn’t us. Trump isn’t one of us. But they’re the most useful tool we’ve ever found,’ ” Shapiro wrote.

Ben Shapiro, no liberal sap, believes Breitbart.com is “the most useful tool” for the alt-right.  But Bernstein thinks his liberal Facebook friends who think the same are just full of “panic.”

On shaky ground defending Trump’s various and well-documented overtures to the alt-right, Bernstein accuses liberal Jews of claiming that Trump supporters are “more anti-Semitic than the public at large.”

I have many times asked for empirical evidence that supports this proposition, and have so far come up empty. I don’t rule out the possibility that it’s true, but there doesn’t seem to be any survey or other evidence supporting it.

Data would be great, we all love data.  In the meantime, the lack of numbers doesn’t negate well-documented racist and anti-semitic acts perpetrated as Donald Trump ascended to nominee and then president.

“The first day of his campaign, he bashed immigrants and said Mexicans are rapists,” Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center told Salon.  “The entire campaign included xenophobic remarks, anti-immigrant remarks, anti-Muslim remarks, racist remarks, trading in anti-Semitic imagery and anti-women comments. Let’s not forget that during the campaign there were hate crimes committed — very severe ones in Trump’s name. For example, there was an immigrant in Boston who was beaten by two Trump supporters.

There was a failed attack on a mosque by a Trump supporter in Los Angeles. Then the pattern accelerated, within hours right after the electoral vote was counted. The pattern of the attacks followed the language he used. “Immigrant” is No. 1; “Muslims,” No. 2. You can go right down the list and see that based on who he attacked in the campaign, they then became victims after the election.

Is all this anti-semitism?  Not always, but Jews become understandably concerned when anti-minority groups are off leash.  And it turns out, with good reason.

“I’ve experienced more pure, unadulterated anti-Semitism since coming out against Trump’s candidacy than at any other time in my political career,” Shapiro wrote in the National Review. “Trump supporters have threatened me and other Jews who hold my viewpoint. They’ve blown up my e-mail inbox with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. They greeted the birth of my second child by calling for me, my wife, and two children to be thrown into a gas chambers.”

It takes an almost goofy, willful denial to avoid the fact that Trump’s candidacy has bred an anti-semitism on the right.

William Johnson, an LA Lawyer named by the ADL as one of the 10 most prominent white supremacists in America, told the Jewish Journal: “Virtually all of the white nationalist movement is behind Donald Trump.”

This doesn’t negate left-wing anti-semitism and anti-Zionism. But you could make the argument that the organized Jewish community has so far responded to Trump-inspired anti-semitism with far less panic and far less resources than it has to BDS and campus anti-Zionism.  The Jewish world is awash in groups dedicated to fighting BDS and steeling our college kids against the anti-Israel crowd.  But many of our leaders have been outright timid in saying a cross word against Trump when it comes to the revival of good old right-wing Jew-hating — or Muslim- or Mexican- or women-hating.

Yet in Bernstein’s effort to soldier on for Trump, it is the Jews who express concern about anti-semitism who are the ones to blame.

Jewish “defense” groups, most prominently the Anti-Defamation League, have stoked the panic with wildly exaggerated rhetoric. Jonathan Greenblatt, a former Democratic politico who now runs the ADL, stated in November that the “American Jewish community … has not seen this level of anti-Semitism in mainstream political and public discourse since the 1930s.”

I’m not sure why Bernstein puts quotes around the “defense” in Jewish “defense” groups, likely because he has no idea what they actually do.  Nor does he bother to share with readers ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s measured statements on Trump, like this one: “Those who say [Trump] doesn’t understand [Jews] and has no connection to us are wrong.”

Greenblatt has challenged Trump where he has fallen short– as in still adhering to a favored white supremacist trope that the Holocaust was not a specifically Jewish genocide. But I challenge Bernstein to find examples where Greenblatt — who was an outspoken critic of his former boss’s Iran deal– has been unduly partisan.

I’m going to skip over more dumb stuff, like the idea that only the far left uses neo-cons as a code for Jews, or that the ADL is going after Trump because it has discovered  a mother lode of donations in the Black Lives Matter/LGBT community (okay, that latter claim is so preposterous I can’t resist, having heard personally from Republican ADL supporters who stand by Greenblatt’s statements and have increased their support).

Then Bernstein concludes with a falsehood.  He writes that Jews care less about the uptick in anti-semitism and more about Arab immigration to the United States.  He provides zero evidence because, well, there is none.

The irony of all this is that if you talk privately to those who work in the Jewish organization world, many will confide that the greatest threat to the security of the American Jewish community is “changing demographics,” which is a euphemism for a growing population of Arab migrants to the United States.

I speak with “those who work in the Jewish organizational world” for a living– on the record, off the record, over coffee, at bar mitzvahs.  Not one, much less “many,” has expressed fear over the relatively minute amounts of “Arab” immigrants coming to America. (Bernstein uses Arab to mean Muslim, though of course not all Arabs are Muslims).

Instead, this is what “many in the Jewish organizational world” are doing:

• The American Jewish Committee has joined with the Islamic Society of North America to launch the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, a group of religious and business leaders from both communities who will help draft domestic policy legislation and advocate on issues of shared concern.

• The Shalom Hartman Institute created the Muslim Leadership Initiative, which educates young Muslim leaders about Judaism and Israel.

• Rabbi Marc Schneier, co-founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, launched an initiative called Muslims are Speaking Out that highlights Muslim condemnations of extremism and aims to dispel misconceptions Americans have about the Muslim community.

• NewGround, a Muslim-Jewish group in Los Angeles, launched a “Circle of Courage” campaign in which young Muslims and Jews share their stories in public areas, like the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, CA.

All this takes place with mainstream private and foundation funding. And it  is a small sample of the lack of fear and panic overtaking the Jewish community, and the lack of concern about the “threat” American Muslims pose to the Jews who live and thrive here.

So Bernstein is wrong on all counts: American Jews aren’t in a panic over the increase in anti-semitic acts, they aren’t panicked about Muslims or Muslim refugees, and they are clear, unlike David Bernstein, as to who is most responsible for the rebirth of alt-right Jew hatred today.

Rob Eshman is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TRIBE Media. He is on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism and @robeshman. His email is here.

Update: David Bernstein responded to this column here.  And my response to his response? Here.

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