Antisemitism in the US is Not a Bipartisan Problem
Our Zoom call this week, for paid subscribers, will be at our regular time, Friday at Noon EDT.
Our guest will be Zohran Mamdani, who represents Astoria, Queens in the New York State Assembly. He’s author of the Not On Our Dime Act, which seeks to end tax-deductions for New York State contributions to settlements in the West Bank.
As usual, paid subscribers will get the link this Wednesday and the video the following week. They’ll also gain access to our library of past Zoom interviews with guests like Thomas Friedman, Ilhan Omar, Omar Barghouti, Maggie Haberman, Noam Chomsky, and Bret Stephens.
Sources Cited in this Video
Eitan Hersh and Laura Royden’s new article, “Antisemitic Attitudes Across the Ideological Spectrum,” in Political Research Quarterly.
The 2021 American Jewish Committee Report, which shows that American Jews are more than twice as likely to say the “extreme political right” represents a “very serious threat” to Jews than “extreme political left.”
Fatima Mohammed’s commencement address at CUNY Law School.
Former American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris’ demand that New York cut CUNY’s funding as punishment for Mohammed’s speech.
The statement by CUNY’s Jewish Law Students Association defending Fatima Mohammed.
Things to Read
The best explanation I’ve read for why Ron DeSantis is losing to Donald Trump.
This Tuesday night, June 6, I’ll be on a panel at the Brooklyn Film Festival to discuss the new documentary, “Israelism.”
On June 18 at 2:30 EDT I’ll be on a zoom panel entitled “Israel and Palestine in Crisis” with Arielle Angel, Jacqueline Rose, and Adam Sutcliffe for Independent Jewish Voices in the United Kingdom.
See you on Friday,
Hi. Our zoom call this Friday for paid subscribers will be with Zohran Mamdani. Zohran is a young New York State Assemblyman who represents Astoria, Queens, who has introduced a really interesting piece of legislation just very recently called the Not On Our Dime Act, which would prevent tax deductible contributions from people in New York state to settlements in the West Bank. As you can imagine, this is a highly controversial piece of legislation given the state of New York politics. Zohran also happens to be the son of the eminent political scientist Mahmoud Mamdani. So, we’re going to talk to him this Friday at noon ET. And of course, paid subscribers also get access to all our previous calls over the years with people like Noam Chomsky, Thomas Friedman, Bret Stephens, Ilhan Omar, lots of interesting folks.
I feel a little guilty that I’m talking again about antisemitism this week because it’s so clear to me that antisemitism is used by American politicians and establishment American Jewish organizations to prevent a conversation about the realities for Palestinians on the ground by always focusing on the alleged antisemitic kind of motivations of critics of Israel. They serve to avoid a conversation about what those critics are actually saying about what’s actually happening for Palestinians on the ground. So, those of us who want to have that conversation are kind of trapped a little bit because you can’t ignore this kind of weaponization of antisemitism, but by participating in it you also can become part of this industry, which basically distracts from what’s happening on the ground.
But I am gonna talk about it today because there was a confluence of a couple of really, really significant things. So, the first, which hasn’t gotten much attention but really should, is the publication of an academic article in the Political Research Quarterly by two political scientists, Eitan Hersh, who teaches at Tufts, and Laura Royden, who’s at Harvard, about antisemitic attitudes across the American ideological spectrum. I had seen an earlier version of this paper, but this is an extraordinarily significant piece of academic research. It should be written up in the New York Times. It’s extraordinarily rarely significant because it is an article of faith among American politicians and establishment American Jewish leaders that antisemitism in the United States is a bipartisan plague. That it is as threatening, or at least as prevalent, on the left as it is on the right. And so, one is constantly hearing people say, you know, we can’t only fight antisemitism on one side because it represents a threat that is kind of pan-ideological, exists on both the left and the right in roughly equal measure.
So, this is the most serious study we have of antisemitic attitudes across the ideological spectrum in the United States. And it shows that that’s just total nonsense. It’s nonsense. The antisemitism is dramatically higher among conservatives than it is among American progressives. It’s really not even close at all. And the data is really extraordinary. So, Hersh and Royden write—and by the way, I met Eitan Hersh, a very serious, impressive scholar. I did not get the impression that personally his views are on the far left, by the way. Hersh and Royden write, ‘we find overt antisemitic attitudes are rare on the left, but common on the right.’ They notice that they are particularly prevalent among young Americans on the right. They write that, ‘the antisemitism that has been on prominent display in white nationalist protests is not merely confined to a tiny group of extremists. Antisemitic attitudes appear quite common among young conservatives, even higher than among older conservatives.’
And then Royden and Hersh go even further and do something really remarkable, which is they know that progressives are more critical of Israel than American conservatives are, so they try to see whether they can use this criticism of Israel, even this opposition to Zionism, to elicit antisemitic attitudes among American progressives. So, what they do is they essentially prime them by saying, ‘you know, American Jews really like Israel,’ and then they ask people. So, first they tell people that American Jews really like Israel. Then they ask them whether American Jews should be boycotted because of Israel’s actions. And what do they find? The progressives overwhelmingly oppose holding American Jews responsible for Israel’s behavior. In fact, they find that young American conservatives are seven times—seven times!—more likely to believe that Jewish Americans should be held accountable for what Israel does than young American progressives. Seven times! Progressive Americans are less likely than ideologically moderate Americans to believe that American Jews should be held responsible for what Israel does.
So, what Royden and Hersh are showing is that people on the left make a very, very clear distinction between their opposition to Israel’s policies—maybe even their opposition to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state—and antisemitic attitudes towards Jews. This is exactly the thing that American Jewish organizations are constantly trying to conflate through things like the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, which are using anti-Zionism as an example of antisemitism. But when you take that out, and you actually see whether criticism or even hostility to Israel actually expresses itself as hostility to American Jews among American progressives, you find that it just doesn’t. It’s much, much more likely to do so among conservatives because conservatives simply have much higher degrees of antisemitic attitudes.
And one more interesting caveat. They do find, Hersh and Royden, that there are somewhat higher levels of antisemitism among Black and Latino Americans than among white Americans. So, you might say, OK, well that kind of scrambles this, right, because Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be on the left. But the Blacks and Latinos who they find who are the most likely to have antisemitic attitudes are the Blacks and Latinos who are most politically conservative! Right, so again, the ideological divide is just stunning throughout the piece. And, by the way, this is not that different than the way American Jews themselves perceive antisemitism because although American establishment Jewish organizations are fond of saying that there’s kind of equal threat from the left and the right—that Jonathan Greenblatt the head of the ADL has said that anti-Zionist groups are I think he used the word ‘the photo inverse’ of white nationalists in terms of their antisemitic threat—American Jews do not see them as equidistant. In fact, American Jews’ perceptions are much closer to the reality that Hersh and Royden are talking about. That there was a study in 2021 by the American Jewish Committee, which found that American Jews were more than twice as likely to see antisemitism as a very serious threat from the far right as from the far left.
Now, why is it that this academic research is so dramatically contradicting the idea of a kind of bipartisan pan-ideological, antisemitic menace that we see among American Jewish organizations and among many American politicians? Well, if you step back a minute, the Royden and Hersh research doesn’t actually seem that strange at all, right. So, for instance, if one were to ask a question: is anti-Black racism, or transphobia, or Islamophobia an equal problem on the American left or the American right? Is it as big a problem among Democrats as it is among Republicans? I think the vast majority of people would say: of course, it’s not an equal problem, right? That these forms of bigotry are much bigger problems on the American right because the American right has a much more kind of narrow, exclusivist, hierarchical vision of identity, whereas the American left, for all its many, many failings, has more of an aspiration towards genuine equality. And so, given that the right has a more exclusionary kind of ideology in general, of course you would tend to find higher rates of sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Black racism on the right. You wouldn’t expect them to be equally represented on the left and right. Democrats are not passing anti-trans laws. They’re not trying to keep it harder for Black people to vote. They’re not trying to prevent Muslim people from entering the country.
But with Jews, somehow, we’ve gotten into this idea that antisemitism is so different from these other forms of bigotry, it kind of stands alone. That it, unlike all these other forms of bigotry, is again equally found on both the left and the right. The evidence suggests that this is not true. That antisemitism is not as different from these other forms of bigotry as we might believe. It is one expression of an exclusionary, narrow kind of vision of what it means to be an American that you find on the right, which tends to exclude Blacks and Jews and trans people and women, etc. And so, antisemitism is in some ways just a lot more like other forms of bigotry than establishment American Jewish organizations would have you believe. The reason of course they can’t admit that is because they’re using the question of antisemitism as a way to try to defend Israel against criticism, and to defend Zionism against criticism. And so, they have to try to find a lot of it on the left because it’s on the left that you find more criticism of Israel, and indeed criticism of Zionism. And you find it on the left precisely because people on the left are responding to the desire for equality and they’re applying it to Palestinians.
So, I just wanna end by kind of by noting this controversy that just happened recently at City University of York, the university where I teach, particularly at CUNY Law School, where a young woman gave a pretty fiery, very anti-Zionist, anti-American speech kind of calling the NYPD fascist, you know, calling for a world without capitalism and imperialism and Zionism. And prominent American Jewish leaders, for instance, David Harris, the former head of the American Jewish Committee, not only said it was antisemitic, but indeed said that CUNY should be defunded as a result of this, right. I guess so much for, you know, for free speech. All these vaunted opponents of cancel culture now actually literally want to defund a university because of something a student says at her commencement address.
But what’s significant, I think, and underreported about this event is that the Jewish students at CUNY Law School defended this speaker, Fatima Mohammed, and in fact, they had previously even endorsed BDS themselves. And I think that they saw nothing antisemitic in her speech. Indeed, there was nothing antisemitic in her speech. You can argue that you could disagree with her criticism of Israel. You could say that they were that they were overstated, that they were imprecise in some way, but there was nothing specifically that reflected hostility to Jews. It was all a reflection of hostility to a state. And, by the way, not only Israel, but also a lot of hostility to the American state in her speech as well. But, in some ways, the reason that the CUNY Jewish law students embrace of Fatima Mohammed didn’t get so much attention was because it runs so counter to the narrative we have that Jewish students are menaced by the ideological left. In fact, that’s what these Jewish organizations were saying, which is, we have to defund CUNY because people like Fatima Mohammed are threatening Jewish students at CUNY. But the very Jewish students at CUNY Law School were embracing and endorsing what Fatima Mohammad was saying. And that doesn’t seem so strange when you think about it in light of the research that Royden and Hersh are doing.
Now, it’s true, that CUNY Law School is a particularly left-wing place. I’m not saying that there aren’t any Jewish students around the world who feel stigmatized because of their pro-Israel views. There clearly are. But given what Royden and Hersh are showing, which is that genuine antisemitism is far, far higher on the right than on the left, and that even Americans on the left who have very strongly anti-Israel views generally don’t express that anti-Israel sentiment as hostility to Jews, it’s really not so surprising at all that these Jewish law students at CUNY Law School saw Fatima Mohammed’s speech not as a threat but as something they were entirely happy to endorse. It only appeared so strange because we have been sold this story of a pan- ideological, bipartisan antisemitism, which the research suggests really does not exist. Again, our call this Friday will be with Zohran Mamdani, New York State Assemblyman, and I hope many of you will join us.