IAC Panel Debates Extent of Leftist Antisemitism

Perhaps the most noteworthy panel on antisemitism from the Israeli-American Council (IAC) National Summit at the Fairmont Hotel in Austin, TX was the January 20 panel titled “Antisemitism in America: Defending U.S. Vital Bond with Israel..."
January 30, 2023

Perhaps the most noteworthy panel on antisemitism from the Israeli-American Council (IAC) National Summit at the Fairmont Hotel in Austin, TX was the January 20 panel titled “Antisemitism in America: Defending U.S. Vital Bond with Israel,” featuring former Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Emeritus Abe Foxman, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Dr. Hillel Newman and Maccabee Task Force CEO David Brog as panelists and moderated by Israeli television and radio host Efi Triger. 

Foxman began the panel by saying that antisemitism today is “different but the same” in that “antisemitism was always here. It was always serious. It was taken seriously by the general public.” One thing that has changed regarding antisemitism in America is that over the last hundred years, a Jew was not murdered in America for simply being a Jew, Foxman said, but that changed when the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh took place in 2018. He added that it used to be considered “unacceptable” and “un-American” to be antisemitic, but that too has changed over the last 5-10 years, as social media and the Internet have provided a “a superhighway” for antisemitic rhetoric. Generally, the way to deal with bad speech is to counteract with good speech, but that becomes harder when there’s a “tsunami” of bad speech, Foxman said. 

Additionally, Foxman contended that “civil society has changed in the past five years” because “taboos” on demonizing immigrants and women have been broken, which in turn causes antisemitism to become legitimized. He also pointed to a recent ADL survey showing that nearly one in two Americans believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than America. “That’s serious,” he said.

After Newman spoke about Jews getting attacked on the streets of Los Angeles, what happened to Jewish businesses during the George Floyd protests, and how social media has changed the game of messaging, Brog explained that there are two kinds of antisemitism at play. The first is the kind of antisemitism that spreads on social media from both the far left and the far right that manifested in the Tree of Life shooting as well as the Jersey City stabbing at kosher supermarket in 2019. “It’s extremely dangerous and it’s hard to fight this kind of irrational conspiracy theory hate with facts and logic,” he said, calling it a “security threat.” The other kind of antisemitism that Brog delved into was in the “policy realm,” which has infested college campuses and large swaths of the media and Congress.

“On the whole what worries me today is a view of Jews in Israel that is growing on the progressive left, the woke left, and most of this takes the form of an antisemitism that hides behind the banner of antizionism,” Brog said, characterizing it as the belief that “we love Jews; we just hate when Jews exercise their right to self-determination in the homeland.” This form of antisemitism concerns Brog because, in his view, “it dominates the academy, it dominates the media and it has a stronghold in the Democrat Party.” Brog did acknowledge that there are staunch pro-Israel Democrats like Ritchie Torres, but argued that “when you look at most of the pro-Israel politicians on the left, they tend to be older” and that the numbers regarding support for Israel “don’t look so good” with younger people on the left.

Triger pushed back on Brog, pointing out that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) spread conspiracy theories about Jewish space lasers. Brog acknowledged that “there are problematic people on the right” but there is not a “serious contingency” on the right that supports a Jewish space laser coalition. Additionally, Greene compared mask mandates to the Holocaust and Republicans condemned her, which led to her touring a Holocaust museum and apologizing for the comparison, Brog said. “There are times where I thought the Republican Party could be the home of anti-Israel voices and that could still happen,” he said, but argued that “today where the grassroots are most strongly moving against Israel are in the progressive world the woke world.” As an example, Brog pointed to how “most woke left groups” have formed a coalition with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). But Brog was optimistic about the fact that when students on college campuses are exposed to reality––whether it’s seeing Israel in person or through Israel programming on campus––their perspective on Israel becomes more supportive of the Jewish state. “These students want good things,” Brog said. “They believe in social justice. They’ve just been misinformed.”

Foxman then argued that the extent of antisemitism shouldn’t be exaggerated, and didn’t think that comparisons to 1930s Germany were accurate. He also pointed out that there was only one vote in the Senate against Iron Dome funding, and that vote was from a Republican. Therefore, “we haven’t lost Congress,” he argued. Foxman also pointed out that it was the left who rallied America to take action against the Nazis in 1940s, while Republicans at the time were isolationists who did not want the country to get involved in another war. (“True,” Brog responded.) Foxman said that he wasn’t ready to say that the Democrats, Congress and America have been lost but says “it is a challenge, and we need to deal with it.”

He then went on to tell the Israeli community and IAC that he is “impressed with your passion, impressed with your excitement, but you have written off the American Jewish community,” adding that the American Jewish community “has fought, has advocated, has achieved” various victories in the fight against antisemitism.” “You don’t need another AIPAC, you don’t need to ignore the [Jewish] Federations, you can make a difference,” he said, adding that “now is the time not to exaggerate but to come together and deal with it.”

Brog said that he wasn’t trying to be partisan and acknowledged that the Democrats in the days of Harry Truman were crucial to Israel’s survival, but argued that to fight antisemitism, “we need to look at trends on the grassroots.” And current polling trends show “trouble,” he argued, as they show that the more left and younger you are, the less likely you are to support Israel. “This is a real trend,” he said, though he acknowledged it’s not lost. “This is the default among the woke left, not the Democrats.” Foxman replied: “It was no picnic to be a Zionist in the 60s on a college campus. It’s a trend, you could say.” He argued that “the same 25 colleges that are a problem today were a problem 25 years ago.” And yet, “we’ve changed American policy around on both sides of the spectrum, so be careful about trends,” Foxman said. He did acknowledge that antisemitism on college campuses is a “problem” and a “challenge” but “they’re not lost.” “I wish there were only 25 campuses that are a problem,” Brog chuckled in response.

Newman said he agreed with Foxman that “we should not exaggerate” the extent of antisemitism, arguing that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to the White House in February shows that there is a strong bipartisan support for Israel that “goes beyond any particular person or party,” and support for Israel is still a mainstream position. However, Newman contended there is cause for concern, as there has been an “erosion in public opinion in support for Israel.” As an example, he pointed out in there were “quite a few” Los Angeles elected officials who were afraid to voice support for Israel during the 2021 conflict with Hamas because of how it could affect them politically. “Both parties are suffering from a periphery, but that periphery has an impact,” Newman said. He also pointed to how celebrities have become afraid to express support for the Jewish state because it has become controversial to do so. Foxman replied that it’s nothing new for Hollywood, as various celebrities hid their Jewish identities for years.

During the audience Q&A, an audience member who said he used to work for a conservative Republican in Congress accused the ADL of being “silent for too long against left-wing organizations,” resulting in applause from the audience. “If you think I was silent, I’m sorry,” Foxman said regarding his tenure as ADL National Director. The crowd member accused Foxman of being silent now, to which Foxman replied that the crowd member’s claims were an “exaggeration” and he was only speaking for himself, not on behalf of any organization. Foxman told the crowd member to “support somebody else” if he didn’t like the ADL.

The panel ended with a note of unity and optimism. Foxman pointed out that there are more pro-Israel groups on college campuses today than when he was on college campuses and that his advice to the IAC is to work to be ensure that as many U.S. college campuses as possible have a faculty that provides students an opportunity to study Israel and the Hebrew language. “There are things that we can do positively besides saying, ‘Oy vey,’” Foxman said, adding that the Israeli and American Jewish communities are “vibrant.” “Use your passion, use your strength to build, to create, to send the message of Israel,” Foxman said, concluding that Americans of all political stripes can ensure that the U.S. remains Israel’s “strongest ally,” which resulted in applause from the audience.

Brog cited the Haggadah in saying that “every generation enemies rise up to destroy us.” “Our job is to decide this generation who is rising up to destroy us,” Brog said. “It’s not some amorphous blob. It has a name and an address.” He added that only by identifying it “can we come up with the strategies to combat it. That is our obligation this generation as it has been the Jewish obligation in every generation, but let’s do so together as a united Jewish community because the first goal of every antisemite is to divide us. Being able to respond starts with not only unity here, but love here … love of the Jewish people.” Brog’s closing words also resulted in applause.

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