April 05, 2022
In recent years, American public life has been increasingly marked by the rise of extremism and the erosion of democratic norms. A torrent of white supremacist activity and the growing prevalence of conspiracy theories have spurred some individuals and groups to commit acts of violence. American society has been further compromised by rampant misinformation, resulting in a deeply divided and polarized electorate. Concomitantly, antisemitism has been at a historic high and animates a large swath of extremist rhetoric and action. Hateful and extremist beliefs, along with fringe ideas, have penetrated into mainstream spaces, sabotaging civil discourse. More than any time in recent memory, people view political disagreements not as good faith disputes but as zero-sum clashes with dangerous, malicious, or illegitimate adversaries. Such a dynamic can create systemic dysfunction and ultimately subvert democratic institutions and governance.
Amidst these distressing developments, a steady stream of antisemitism among the left persists, often related to Israel. Of course, some criticism of Israel is part of a healthy political ecosystem. However, a segment of the left sometimes espouses ideas that go beyond legitimate critique and into antisemitic tropes. Others engage in rhetoric that is not antisemitic but which can have the effect of making many Jews feel ostracized or excluded.
Some scholars suggest that contemporary expressions of anti-Zionism on the left (and right) have their roots in antisemitic Soviet propaganda from the mid-twentieth century. (For example, the Soviet Union pushed action under the banner of “Zionism is racism,” a popular slogan among parts of the far left today.) Left-wing antisemitism can start with vitriolic criticism of Israel as an illegitimate state, accompanied by allegations that Zionism – the movement for Jewish self-determination and statehood in the land of Israel - is a global societal ill that must be eradicated. As this becomes more normalized within some segments of the American left, a hostile environment is created for Jews and antisemitism likely becomes more acceptable. This further isolates Jews as they are increasingly a target of rightwing violent extremism. It is incumbent upon everybody to be on guard lest such problematic attitudes by some opponents of Israel on the American left go unchallenged.
2022 elections and left-wing candidates
Some candidates in the 2022 election cycle who hail from the political left have embraced themes related to Israel that range from incendiary to dangerous and antisemitic. Several have played into antisemitic tropes about Jewish power and money in public affairs. Some direct their antagonism and contempt toward “Zionists,” which disproportionately affects American Jews, as a majority view a connection with Israel as part of their Jewish religious, cultural and/or ethnic identities. Others conflate Israel with white nationalism or suggest Israel should not exist. A few accuse Israel of genocide or express sympathy for armed confrontation. These candidates are either running on the Democratic ticket or have been endorsed by smaller left-wing parties or activist groups.
The dynamics within the left-wing political constellation within which these candidates are located can at times be textured. Some candidates may express valid criticism of Israeli policies. Several may believe their critique of Israel is consistent with their rhetoric on other countries they view as human rights violators. Others may have repeatedly condemned antisemitic attacks or apologized when the Jewish community criticized their rhetoric. In many cases, left-wing candidates who express antisemitic tropes do so only in a handful of tweets. But this does not diminish from the experience of the victims – Jewish people who increasingly feel marginalized.
Theme: Zionism and Zionists must be opposed or ostracized
In recent years, Zionism has become a topic of considerable critique in left-wing spaces. While there is room to scrutinize Zionism just like any other ideology, a part of the left has engaged in a consistent, unrelenting campaign to delegitimize Zionism, the state of Israel and anyone who supports them. At times, this can border on the conspiratorial and involve prejudice. Rhetoric can range from accidental stereotyping to the intentional vilification of Zionists and Zionism. Often, “Zionists” are accused of being tools of imperialism who must be fought at every turn, reminiscent of Soviet propaganda that resulted in the denial of certain rights to the Jewish population. In some left-wing spaces in the United States, Zionists have been vilified as racists who must be shunned.
Characterizing Zionism and Zionists as a nefarious monolith creates an environment in which antisemitism flourishes. It does not reflect a serious inquiry into the wide spectrum of Zionist thought, which incorporates diverse views. In fact, many American Jews who identify as Zionists may endorse solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that are virtually identical to those espoused in mainstream left-wing circles.
The examples below depict Zionism and Zionists as inherently opposed to equality and justice. Such sweeping claims, which encompass most American Jews, can lay the groundwork for more prejudiced attitudes to emerge:
In September 2011, Laura Wells, running for Controller of California (and endorsed by the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party) told her followers on Twitter that in order to support Palestinians, one should oppose “Zionists.” While her tweet also called for readers to “oppose anti-Semitism,” her accompanying call for opposition to Zionists effectively (even if unintentionally) creates a carveout for much of the Jewish community.
In May 2021, Democratic New York State Senator Jessica Ramos responded to a tweet critical of her stance on Israel by telling the Twitter user to “Miss me with your Zionism.”
In December 2021, Congressional candidate Stephanie Gallardo (D-WA), endorsed by Seattle DSA, a local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, tweeted her disapproval of DSA’s decision against expelling Rep. Jamaal Bowman after he voted in favor of aid to Israel and participated in events with left-wing pro-Israel group J Street: “...I am disturbed that our organization has chosen to give Zionism a pass.” In June 2021, Gallardo, active in the National Education Association, tweeted in response to developments within the group: “I will not allow Zionism to manifest any further in the largest labor union in the country.”
In May 2021, Nathalie Hrizi, candidate for California Insurance Commissioner (endorsed by the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party), posted a photo on Facebook with a sign reading “Resist Zionism & Imperialism.”
When rhetoric such as the above becomes normalized, more charged and inflammatory expressions may emerge that at times veer into overt antisemitism.
One noteworthy attack on Zionism which incorporates antisemitic ideology came from a May 2021 Facebook post by Mohammad Arif, the Green Party candidate for Lieutenant Governor of California. Citing a tiny, fringe anti-Zionist Jewish group called Neturei Karta, Arif implicated Zionist Jews as driven by an ideology of “’Greed and God’” and “only political greed.”
Another example of a candidate vilifying Zionists occurred in May 2021, when Peace and Freedom Party candidate Marco Amaral, running for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, responded to Democrat Rep. Sara Jacobs’ (who is Jewish) statement about the escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians by engaging in a lengthy conversation in the comments section on Facebook, during which he stated that “Zionists are just as bad as Neo-Nazis" and that “Zionism is a death cult.”
In October 2021, Congressional candidate Huwaida Arraf (D-MI) tweeted in support of a statement authored by the DC chapter of environmentalist group Sunrise Movement that called for the expulsion of three Jewish groups (calling them “Zionist organizations”) from their organizing spaces: the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Although Sunrise DC acknowledged “the way our action has fueled antisemitism” and apologized for singling out Jewish groups, Arraf’s tweet, which included her own claim that “Zionism...has no place in our collective vision of freedom, justice & equality for ALL,” is still on her Twitter feed.
Despite numerous surveys showing that a majority of American Jews view a connection with Israel as part of their Jewish identities, Congressional candidate Brittany Ramos DeBarros (D-NY), who is not Jewish, insisted in a tweet in 2019 that Zionism is foreign to Jewish people and the Jewish religion. It is highly offensive for a non-Jewish person to attempt to define what it means to be Jewish for all Jews (even if her comment may be true for a minority of American Jews). DeBarros also expressed her opposition to Zionism in July 2021, when she tweeted a video of herself at a rally while the crowd chanted “Hey hey! Ho ho! Zionism has got to go!”
In June 2020, Max Socol, a Jewish candidate running for state senate in Maryland and endorsed by Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), decried the ability of the “Jewish Zionist US right” to impose its “agenda” of “elevati[ing] key people into” positions of power over U.S. media. While he acknowledged that his comments could be construed as invoking antisemitic tropes about Jewish control of the media, he nevertheless decided to ascribe American support for Israel to some sort of Jewish influence or control rather than an alignment of values and interests.
“...having had a lot of years to push back on the Jewish Zionist US right, their success in media framing & elevating key people into key roles is breathtaking. Like literally hard to talk about without sounding antisemitic...nearly all Jewish media, they hold so many cards...the right people go straight to the top, untouchable.”
Theme: Israel and its Supporters Assert Control Over Government and Media
Criticism of the influence of countries on one another (including Israel) is part of a healthy political discourse. A robust national debate may also include a discussion about the ways in which money influences the formation of government policy or may question the value of America’s alliances. All Americans, Jewish or otherwise, have the right to organize in support of candidates, including by fundraising. Some Jewish or pro-Israel groups indeed exercise this right. Yet several left-wing candidates have adopted the idea that Israel and Zionists inordinately and nefariously influence or even control the government or media through the leveraging of funds. These ideas play into longstanding antisemitic tropes about Jewish lust for money and control over public affairs.
Several left-wing candidates have claimed that American pro-Israel policies are chiefly influenced by financial donations by Zionists. Among the 2022 candidates who have run into this issue in recent years are Congressional candidate Nina Turner (D-OH) and Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN). On two occasions, Reps. Tlaib and Omar have expressed regret or apologized for their remarks.
In addition to these prominent cases, when the Green Party’s North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate Matthew Hoh was asked during a 2017 interview why “the United States is an unconditional supporter of Israel,” he responded it was mostly due to “the influence of money provided to American politicians,” including the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee’s [AIPAC] “overwhelming purchasing of politicians.” In addition to playing into an ugly trope that vastly exaggerates Jewish influence, such an idea (also seen in examples below) ignores that politicians may be motivated by personal convictions and instead ascribes purely financial interests to their decision-making processes, which can evoke historic tropes about a coordinated Jewish effort to sway political developments.
On at least two occasions in 2019, Congressional candidate McKayla Wilkes (D-MD) suggested that “wealthy donors like @aipac” are the reason her opponent Rep. Steny Hoyer (who is not Jewish) allegedly tended to prioritize Israeli interests over those of his own constituents. She also suggested that Hoyer is motivated by “his pockets” in regard to receiving campaign contributions from AIPAC.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Congressional candidate Shervin Aazami (D-CA), who strongly suggested that AIPAC contributions are the sole reasons for the pro-Israel stances of his opponent, Democrat Rep. Brad Sherman (who is Jewish). In May 2021, Aazami tweeted that his opponent would “never vote against the US war machine” because of contributions by AIPAC and weapons manufacturers. In another tweet, Aazami wrote that Mr. Sherman would not “speak in solidarity” with Palestinians or support “bills that honor Palestinian sovereignty & human rights” because of financial contributions from AIPAC.
In a February 2019 tweet, Democratic Michigan State Representative Abraham Aiyash expressed his view that Rep. Ilhan Omar had not engaged in a trope when she suggested AIPAC money controls much of Congress. As mentioned above, Rep. Omar apologized unequivocally. Rep. Aiyash’s message remains on his Twitter feed.
Theme: Israel embodies white nationalism, Nazism and should not exist
One of the troubling attitudes held by some on the left, referenced earlier, is that Israel is an imperialist, white nationalist or even Nazi-like state and therefore should not exist. At a time when American Jews are under threat from white nationalists and neo-Nazis, these sweeping categorizations are offensive, irresponsible and tantamount to comparing Jews to their antisemitic attackers.
In 2014, Green Party endorsee Nathalie Hrizi (mentioned above) lamented Israel’s existence in a piece published in the socialist newspaper Liberation. Hrizi claimed “Israel is a project of imperialism” and that “the history of the occupation of Palestine reaches back to before 1948 [the year Israel was established]." She additionally expressed her view that “the way in which Israel was established clearly shows its colonial, apartheid character—one that has not significantly shifted to this day.”
California U.S. Senate candidate John Parker, endorsed by the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party, posted a video on Facebook of a rally he attended in May 2021 which included a speaker who stated that the inspiration for Israel’s founding comes from “Jim Crow and then Nazi Germany.”
In August 2020, Democratic New York State representative Zohran Mamdani accused Israel’s “occupation & apartheid in Palestine” of being of a piece with white supremacy.
In a May 2021 tweet, Washington Congressional candidate Stephanie Gallardo (mentioned previously) suggested Israel is “inextricably linked” with white nationalism.
In May 2021, ADL criticized New York State Representative Phara Souffrant Forrest for posting a map of the Middle East that excluded the State of Israel. The map, which she posted alongside the hashtag #FreePalestine, sent a clear signal that Israel should not exist. Rep. Souffrant Forrest later deleted the tweet.
To be sure, white supremacy exists on a spectrum, and candidates using this term with reference to Israel may not intend to make a direct comparison between rightwing violent white nationalists and all Jewish Israelis but instead to comment on institutionalized and systemic racism. Yet unvarnished accusations of white nationalism in Israel are absurd and rooted in an American experience and concept of the issue that has no bearing on the history of Israel, the ethnic and racial makeup of today’s Israeli Jews, or the domestic politics of Israel. This deep animosity and simplistic and often counterfactual and ahistorical “good versus evil” worldview also lay the groundwork for the acceptance of dangerous ideas about the mainstream American Jewish community, the majority of which is generally supportive of Israel.
The suggestion that the Jewish state should not exist, a call nearly never directed at any other country, is often an outcome of the white supremacist allegation. Intimating that Israel should not exist would be threatening to any community but is deeply unsettling to the majority of American Jews who are reminded of the annihilationist goals of the of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas and who hear echoes of centuries-old calls for the expulsion of Jews from locales across the globe.
Theme: Israel is Genocidal and Should be Confronted Violently
Some left-wing political candidates have made allegations that Israel is committing genocide or attempting to physically exterminate the Palestinians. This is an outrageous, entirely fictional claim with no tether to reality that often has the effect of galvanizing intense hostility to Israel and against Jews who merely support Israel’s existence (non-Jews with the same views are usually not targeted in such a way). Perhaps it is no surprise that such prejudiced claims have led some to justify, applaud or promote violent resistance to Israel.
One potentially dangerous expression occurred following the U.S. military’s assassination of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020. California Congressional candidate Jose Cortes (endorsed by the Green Party and Peace and Freedom Party) promoted rhetoric from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), a U.S. State Department-designated terror organization which unapologetically refuses to recognize Israel’s existence and aspires to violently destroy it:
During the Hamas-Israel conflict in May 2021, Cortes suggested that all violence from Palestinians is acceptable, tweeting: “Oppressed people have the right to liberation by any means necessary.”
In May 2021, California U.S. Senate candidate John Parker (mentioned above) re-posted a message on Facebook which implied that he supports the “resistance” of the terror group Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian centers that have injured and killed many civilians.
In an article published in 2014, Nathalie Hrizi (mentioned previously) accused Israel of perpetrating “genocide” and of having a plan in 1948 to “essentially exterminate the Palestinian people.”
In a May 2021 tweet, Washington Congressional candidate Stephanie Gallardo (mentioned above) blamed Israel for Hamas actions: “Hamas is a symptom, Israel is the root cause.”
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