The Volokh Conspiracy

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The great anti-Semitism panic of 2017: A response to Rob Eshman


A police officer blocks an entrance as officials respond to a bomb threat at the Jewish Community Center in Louisville, Ky., on March 8. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

Writing in the Jewish Journal, editor-in-chief Rob Eshman accuses me of being an "apologist" for anti-Semitism because of the piece I wrote about Jewish panic over Trump. Let's go through his critique, shall we?

First, Eshman claims that American Jews aren't "panicking" because they haven't closed Jewish schools, turned Jewish institutions into armed camps or turned in their kippahs. True, but there are levels of panic. Many Jews have withdrawn their children from Jewish Community Center preschools, so much so that some JCCs are undertaking emergency fundraising campaigns to make up for the lost revenue. More generally—and you can see several examples in the comments to my original piece—it's commonplace for Jewish liberals to analogize the current situation to 1933. That's completely paranoid and insane, and a sign of panic.

Eshman continues, "True, some Jewish leaders asserted that anti-Semitic acts are at a level not seen in America since the 1930's, which is highly debatable." That's not highly debatable, it's obviously false and absurd, and the fact that Eshman considers it "highly debatable" is itself a sign of panic.

Next, Eshman contends that I attack "a fake Jewish response in order to defend the real Donald Trump." As regular readers know, I have long been a never-Trumper. My views on Trump haven't changed. That doesn't mean I have lost my ability to spot a panic.

In my article, I pointed out that routine claims that Stephen K. Bannon's Breitbart News is a white supremacist anti-Semitic site is belied by the articles Breitbart actually publishes about Jews, anti-Semitism and Israel. Eshman retorts that his own concerns about Breitbart "had nothing to do with individual articles. Indeed, some of's best friends and editors are Jewish." Rather, his concern is that Breitbart has "fomented and reaffirmed through its coverage and comments a deep antagonism toward Jews." No, it hasn't done so through its "coverage"; Eshman just acknowledged that Breitbart's articles are not anti-Jewish, and the articles more generally reflect mainstream conservative views.

The comments section, by contrast, is an unmoderated sewer that does contain a great deal of anti-Semitism. Is that a matter of concern? Sure. I more generally find Bannon's ethno-nationalism and "no enemies on the right" mentality troubling, and not just because of how it might legitimize anti-Semitism. But none of that makes Bannon himself, or Breitbart News, anti-Semitic. Eshman invokes the authority of Ben Shapiro, so allow me to quote Mr. Shapiro:

I've been as critical of Steve Bannon as anybody in the media. I was the first critic of Bannon because when I left Breitbart in March, I specifically named Bannon as a nefarious influence at Breitbart, by name. And yet, I was forced last week to defend Steve Bannon. I think that he's a terrible person. But because the left can't just say, "This is a guy who made way for the alt-right, which is quite terrible, and he's doing a real disservice to the nature of the country by doing so." The left had to accuse him personally of racism and anti-Semitism, and they had to overstep. This is the big mistake.

You want to empower the alt-right? Keep overstepping. Again, it's the overstepping by the left that's driving people into this almost white tribalism. It's really negative. I hate tribalism on all sides-I hate it on the left and I hate it on the right-and what I'm seeing is that increase across the board.

Eshman acknowledges, as I noted, that there is no available data suggesting that Trump's supporters are more anti-Semitic than the voting public as a whole. His response? "Data would be great, we all love data. In the meantime, the lack of numbers doesn't negate well-documented racist and anti-semitic acts perpetrated as Donald Trump ascended to nominee and then president." Yeah, but without "data" we have no idea how many of those acts were perpetrated by Trump supporters, or whether they represent a meaningful if any increase from the thousands of anti-Semitic acts perpetrated in the Unite States while Barack Obama was president.

Eshman next quotes a left-wing hate group, the Southern Poverty Law Center, for the proposition that Trump unleashed a wave of hatred against a wide variety of groups, including Jews. I don't take anything the SPLC says seriously, but in any event none of the specific acts listed have anything to do with Jews. Eshman asks, "Is all this anti-Semitism?" He answers: "Not always." Actually, not at all. And I agree with Eshman, as I stated right at the beginning of my piece, that Jews are understandably concerned when ethno-nationalism rears its ugly head in general. But "understandably concerned" is a far cry from "believing it's 1933 all over again."

Eshman also rejects my criticism of Anti-Defamation League president Jonathan Greenblatt, challenging me to provide an example of when Greenblatt has been unduly partisan. My actual criticism of Greenblatt is that he has stirred panic about right-wing anti-Semitism through exaggerated rhetoric, such as the aforementioned claim that the level of anti-Semitic discourse in the United States today is the greatest since the 1930s. But since Eshman asked, one could write a whole paper about Greenblatt's partisanship, starting with his announcement last March that the ADL was redirecting the money Donald Trump had donated over the years to the organization to "specifically into anti-bias education programs that address exactly the kind of stereotyping and scapegoating he has injected into this political season."

Finally, Eshman claims that no one is the Jewish organizational world is concerned "over the relatively minute amounts of 'Arab' immigrants coming to America. (Bernstein uses Arab to mean Muslim, though of course not all Arabs are Muslims)."

First, no, I meant Arab, and I linked to data about anti-Semitism in Arab countries. I don't know of any data that suggests that Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian Christians are any less anti-Semitic than are their Muslim compatriots. Muslim extremism is a separate, though intertwined, topic.

Second, of course people in the Jewish organizational world are (privately) concerned about this. They would have to be fools not to be, given (a) that Arab migrants and their descendants in Western Europe are responsible for an overwhelming percentage of anti-Semitic violence there, including murders at Jewish schools and stores, and attacks on Jews on the street; (b) that many violent incidents against Jews in the United States have been undertaken by Arab immigrants, including the assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1990, the murder of a Hasidic boy on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994, a shooting at the El Al terminal at LAX in 2002, and a plot to attack New York synagogues in 2011; and (c) the role that Students for Justice in Palestine, dominated by Arab students, has played in fomenting anti-Semitism on American college campuses. And the phrase "changing demographics" is used to refer to the threat of Arab (and Muslim) anti-Semitism, including by ADL director Abe Foxman here, and in a report by the American Jewish Congress in 2008, in which it notes that opponents of anti-Semitism in the United States will have to deal with demographic changes, including "the shrinkage of the American Jewish population and the growth of other groups (including Muslims and Arabs)."

Eshman adds that various Jewish organizations are reaching out to Muslim organizations to cooperate on issues of mutual interest and create mutual goodwill. That's great, I support such efforts and hope they are successful. I have nothing against either Arabs or Muslims and would like nothing better than for the Jewish American and Arab American communities to coexist in harmony. But it's ridiculous to pretend that if one is concerned about anti-Semitism in the United States, one shouldn't be concerned about large-scale immigration to the United States from places where virulent anti-Semitism is nearly universal. Maybe that means that it's Eshman who is the actual anti-Semitism apologist?

UPDATE: In a lovely irony, it turns out that Eshman's own Jewish Journal ran a piece just ten days ago with the headline "Concern, Not Panic." The author wrote, "Obviously, simply the fact that Jewish cemeteries and centers are the targets of threats and vandalism is, in itself, troubling. What is not clear is whether they reflect an increase in anti-Semitic sentiment in the body politic or isolated acts of some of society's losers…. Bad acts and occasional reversals can and will happen, even if the flow of history is favorable. … The thugs and vandals are not today's most serious problem." I guess that by Eshman's own lights his own Jewish Journal is an organ of apology for anti-Semitism.