Equality for Most: The Taint of Anti-Semitism on Activism

Activists can no longer ignore the growing prominence of anti-Semitism in modern political movements.

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The recent uptick in anti-Semitism across the world ought to alarm us. Neo-Nazis marched at Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 in an open display of hatred, intolerance, and bigotry. Last year, many countries witnessed an explosion of anti-Semitic attacks and incidents, such as graveyard vandalism, bomb threats, and even a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. When looking for the causes and sources of such a harmful ideology, many experts consider the usual suspects: online forums, fake headlines, and cult leader-like media personalities. One place where most do not look, though, is the modern progressive movement.

Much attention has recently been given to the Women’s March and the progress that it has made in women’s rights advocacy. However, the deep-rooted veins of anti-Semitism buried in the movement’s foundations have by and large been ignored. Recent accusations by Jewish activist Vanessa Wruble have shed light on the anti-Semitic comments made by other organizers of the march. Wruble alleges that during a private meeting, key leaders of the Women’s March referred to Jews as “your [Wruble’s] people,” she said. She also claimed that Jews have a special responsibility to aid black and brown people as their historic oppressors. The co-president of the Women’s March, Tamika Mallory, has also thrown her public support behind the leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, who is notoriously anti-Semitic and has made comments such as “the powerful Jews are my enemy."

As alarming as the anti-Semitism of its leaders is, the Women’s March is not the only movement influenced by such ideologies. In France, the Yellow Vests—a group fighting for economic equality—has been involved with several anti-Semitic incidents and figures who lend credence to the movement’s critics. As an elderly Jewish man left his home in France, several men wearing the signature yellow vest costumes barraged him with insults, yelling “Zionist piece of [EXPLETIVE],” “dirty race,” and “go back to Tel Aviv.” A recent study by the IFOP international polling firm found that 44 percent of self-identified Yellow Vests believe in the existence of a “worldwide Zionist plot.” Perhaps more alarmingly, 22 percent of the general French population also believe in similar anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, such as the idea that the Jews control the government.

Another advocacy group that has been gaining more and more support in college campuses around the U.S. is the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, Movement (BDS Movement), which targets Israel. Thus, it accordingly targets the Jews for their handling of the Israel-Palestine conflict. These movements portray Israel as “white,” “colonialist,” and an “oppressor state” that has created an “apartheid regime” in Palestine. This view creates increased tensions against Jews, and as an authoritative observer who testified before Congress in 2018 said, “[I]n the past several years, Jewish students on certain college campuses—not all, but a large number—have been subjected to unprecedented levels of anti-Jewish sentiment, leading many to feel uncomfortable participating in Jewish campus life or other campus activities [which] participants are especially hostile to Jewish students.” Even worse is the fact that because the anti-Semitism in the BDS is masked under the guise of fighting for Palestinian rights, civil rights groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center turn a blind eye, allowing anti-Semitism to grow ever more prominent.

The anti-Semitism of these movements is extremely unsettling and cannot be allowed to continue. Such causes, no matter how progressive or righteous in their advocacy, must not be allowed to publicly promote hateful and ignorant ideologies. Well-known anti-Semites like Louis Farrakhan should be vigorously opposed until a serious discussion about combating anti-Semitism can take place with all parties at the table. In addition, the Jewish people must create their own activist groups that fight against inequality without perpetrating anti-Semitism. There are groups that exist for Jews advocating for Jewish causes, such as the United Jewish Association (UJA) and the Jewish Community Relations Council, but it is important for Jews to advocate for causes that don’t necessarily revolve around them. By creating their own advocacy groups, Jews can boycott those groups that do include anti-Semitic elements, and they can take a stand against this inequality that is present. It is also important to call these groups out for their anti-Semitism directly, rather than kicking it under the carpet.

Anti-Semitism is not always as prominent or as obvious as it was in Charlottesville. Sometimes, as in the case of the Women’s March and the Yellow Vests, it lurks behind closed doors. The presence of anti-Semitism, however hidden, endangers the Jewish people daily, for it sets the precedent that we should not be accepted. What’s more, it implies that we are not worthy of fighting against discrimination, alienating us from causes that we would otherwise support. It is hypocritical to talk about fighting for equality while discriminating against an entire religion, for equality for most is not equality at all.