Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Does Linda Sarsour have a “Jewish problem?”

Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers of the Women's March, speaks on a panel of newsmakers Friday, July 30, at the 54th Islamic Society of North America Convention at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

Years ago, I learned something from Abraham Foxman, former director of the ADL.

“Never call someone an anti-semite,” he said.

“First, you don’t know what is in that person’s heart. And, second, you only create more problems.”

“Address the actions and behaviors that are anti-semitic,” he said.

So, I don’t know if Linda Sarsour is anti-semitic.

But, her rhetoric certainly is.

I am referring to what has happened in the wake of the election.

Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar of Minnesota openly supports the BDS movement against Israel. As you can imagine, that has garnered her a great deal of criticism.

Linda Sarsour has spoken out:

This [criticism of Omar] is not only coming from the right-wing but some folks who masquerade as progressives but always choose their allegiance to Israel over their commitment to democracy and free speech.

Which is a not-so-subtle accusation: the Jews are demonstrating dual loyalty.

Where have we heard this before?

This kind of accusation usually comes from the right.

That anti-semitism classically expressed itself thus: “The Jews are not really loyal to America.” Because, Israel.

Remember Patrick Buchanan?

He referred to Capitol Hill as “Israeli-occupied territory” (along with his defenses of Nazi war criminals and his suggestions that Israel prodded the United States into the war in Iraq).

In his book In Search of Anti-Semitism, the late William F. Buckley did a masterful job of exposing the anti-semitism of the right.

He focused on the writings of Joseph Sobran, a syndicated columnist and colleague; of Patrick Buchanan, and of Gore Vidal, who concluded in the pages of The Nation that Jewish Americans have “twin loyalties.”

Buckley called it as he saw it: it was anti-semitism. And, he publicly confessed: he grew up under the influence of Catholic upper-class anti-semitism, engaging in minor mischief and vandalism against Jewish properties.

He contritely said: This is who I was, and this is who I no longer am.

But now, the accusation of dual loyalty comes from the left: “Progressive Jews are not really loyal to the cause.”

Once again — because, Israel.

Linda Sarsour’s action have exposed, once again, how anti-semitism can come to permeate not only the radical right, but also the radical left.

In fact, the only thing those two extreme positions have in common is suspicion of the Jews, and of Jewish interests.

But, there seems to be a difference.

My right of center, conservative friends recognize the anti-semitism of some of those who are to their right. They recognize the nativist, white supremacist themes. They denounce them. They make no excuses.

By contrast, many of my leftist friends are far more reticent in recognizing and naming the anti-semitism coming from the left.

They equivocate. “Well, it’s not really anti-semitism. It is criticism of Israel.”

To which I say: you want to criticize Israeli policies? Get in line.

To which I say: you want to criticize Israel’s current government? Get in line.

But, if you say, as Linda has said, that Zionism is “creepy,” and if you think that the only nationalist movement that is creepy just happens to be the Jewish nationalist movement, then we have a problem.

But, wait, you will say.

How can you compare the anti-semitism of the right, which has proven to be violent and lethal (i.e., Charlottesville and Pittsburgh) with the “soft” anti-semitism of the left, which has only been of the intellectual variety?

To which I would say: The violence of the right began with words. It morphed into violence.

Why would we think that the hateful words of the left would not eventually do the same?

Moreover: we live in a cultural milieu in which we believe that harsh language can create trauma and that unpleasant ideas require trigger warnings.

Wouldn’t anti-Israel hate speech trigger the same kinds of trauma in Jewish college students?

And, if it does, don’t those Jewish college students deserve the same level of sympathy, empathy, compassion, and protection as members of other groups deserve?

Despite their oft-heralded privilege?

The late Irving Howe once said: “In the warmest of hearts, there is a cold spot for the Jews.”

Some are actively warming what might have once been cold — or neutral — places in their hearts.  Teresa Shook, the founder of the National Women’s March, has called on Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory to step down from their leadership of the March, citing their continued support of Louis Farrakhan.

Because, a Jew-hater is a Jew-hater is a Jew-hater.

It is time for us to condemn the anti-semitism of the right, and the anti-semitism of the left.

With no “whataboutism.”

Just name the evil when it comes.

And, be prepared to fight it.

Whatever it takes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.