The Problem of Defining Anti-Semitism

At JNS, Jonathan Tobin has a column critical of the ADL. " Under Greenblatt—a former Clinton and Obama administration staffer—it has become just one more liberal Jewish group with a partisan agenda," he writes.

"It’s also a function of the way Greenblatt has helped transform ADL into a partisan organization—not merely supporting liberal values, but by intervening on issues like Supreme Court nominations in order to mollify left-wing donors eager to keep the organization aligned with Democratic Party priorities. Part of the problem with confronting anti-Semitism is that partisans only see threats from their political opponents and are blind to dangers from their political allies. Rather than work against that trend, the ADL exemplifies it."

That's an obvious problem. It's the old Russian joke.

A Russian and an American are arguing about which country is freer. The American says, "I can go to the White House and say that the President of the United States is an idiot." And the Russian says, "I can also go to the Kremlin and say that the President of the United States is an idiot."

Except these days everybody is the Russian in the story.

But what's really going on is that the ADL has, inevitably, adopted the definition of anti-Semitism so widespread on the Left, which says that anti-Semitism is a reactionary form of bigotry, part of a cluster of racism, homophobia, etc... and thus routinely found on the Right and never truly on the Left. Anyone on the Left who is anti-Semitic is no true Scotsman or leftist. And if he is, then he can't be anti-Semitic.

This is the same thesis that Bernie Sanders rolled out in his recent piece.

When liberals accept this definition of anti-Semitism, and they widely do, it becomes impossible to address anti-Semitism on their own side or to do anything except advocate for lefty causes as a means of fighting anti-Semitism.

Once you believe that anti-Semitism itself is a partisan entity, that it is associated with only side of the political spectrum, then the battle against it becomes, obviously, to side with the other side.

That's what the ADL is doing. That's what most of the alphabet soup orgs do. 

The problem is that this neat leftist formula has nothing to do with what anti-Semitism really is. Like most theoretical models of root causes, it's a house of cards. Anti-Semitism is the hatred of Jews. It slots neatly into the fringe of most ideologies. As the fringe becomes mainstreamed, so does the anti-Semitism. There's nothing especially complicated about this. But it ruins the leftist team spirit that guys like Greenblatt like.

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