Liberalism and antisemitism


A November 2022 survey of hiring managers in the United States found one-in-four say their respective industry should have fewer Jews. The survey also found one-in-six hiring managers were directed by their leadership not to hire Jews.

Let’s face it: Antisemitism in the United States is now just banal reality. Today there are no safe spaces for Jews, and even liberal places may be hostile. In fact, a progressive credential can effectively conceal an antisemitic bias.

I encountered that fact, much to my surprise, at the start of my work in politics, decades ago.

“We think you’re a Jewish spy,” said the campaign staffer. The antisemitic accusation leveled at me, in the mid-1980s, seemed so bizarre at the time. I was sitting in a New York re-election campaign office of a liberal candidate in a liberal state. Volunteering for this particular candidate seemed like a good career move. Coming from a poor Bronx family, I needed a career lift up.

I knew politics could be very rough, but I never imagined I would face that kind of hostility — certainly not from the campaign of a well-respected Democratic incumbent.

When informed two high-ranking advisors — one from the campaign and the other from his professional staff — wanted a meeting, I assumed their intention was to offer me a job. I dressed up sharply in a suit and brought my resume. I had high hopes. My father was dying of cancer and wanted to see me succeed in politics, especially with a prominent progressive champion. 

I was so stunned by the “spy” accusation that I could not fathom the religious basis. I repeatedly asked why they thought I was a “Jewish spy.” 

The two political operatives didn’t want to immediately answer. My obtuseness forced the truth from them. Since one of their electoral opponents and I were both Jewish — and to them, untrustworthy — obviously I was a natural spy. Apparently, campaign secrets had been leaked to the Jewish opponent. Blatant antisemitism, I asserted.

They did not disagree, and they would deny the conversation ever occurred. More important to me, in my early 20s at the time, they wanted their actions concealed and I abided under professional duress.

I was appalled not just by their duplicity, but also how progressive values could be ruthlessly distorted. Nevertheless, such cynicism is tempered for good reason. 

Following that antisemitic incident, I worked for then-Assemblyman Larry Seabrook, an African American Democrat from the Bronx. In a 1987 meeting with Seabrook and the top array of African American Assembly leaders, Seabrook announced that I was going to be the lead staffer on the Equal Opportunity Subcommittee he was assigned. 

“Larry,” they joked memorably, “you may not have noticed, but he is a white dude.”  Uproarious laughter followed. Seabrook’s response, I remembered: “When the Klansman cometh, he is looking for us and them.” They knew I was Jewish and the laughter faded. All they said in response was, “don’t put out a press release.” 

These were true liberals and true allies. 

I earned their trust uncovering systemic patterns of discrimination in employment agency hiring practices that denied jobs to Blacks. In my years of service in the New York state legislature during the 1980s, I never heard an antisemitic utterance from any state elected African-American leader.

Seabrook was an ardent, unequivocal supporter of Israel. He protested in Europe against President Reagan’s visit to Bitburg. He demanded Swiss bank accounting for seized Jewish assets in World War II. He forcefully denounced the anti-white, antisemitic tirades of a City University professor Leonard Jefferies.

Similarly, these days, Bronx congressman Ritchie Torres has courageously stood up to defend Israel and Jews, while hateful rhetoric comes from his colleagues, so-called “progressive” Democrats in Congress.

The concealed antisemitic hypocrisy I encountered in that 1980s political campaign has mutated. For many on the left now embrace the public deception that hatred against Israel is unrelated to bias against Jews. This intellectual parsing denies the visceral connection between the Jewish religion and the Jewish state. It also denies the empirical evidence of heightened antisemitism connected with anti-Israel propaganda.

Clearly, the recent increase in antisemitism — both in terms of street violence and office discrimination — can, in some measure, be attributed to an ideology that bifurcates the world into victims and oppressors, denying those it deems “privileged,” including Jews — and Israel — into the first category.

True liberalism understands the precarious, defensive position of Israel, created literally from the post-war ashes of genocide. Surrounded by hostile forces, that slender outpost of Jewish identity is only motivated by a desire to survive, not an aspiration to subjugate. Elected African-American leaders I encountered in the past understood that kindred history of persecuted peoples.

On the issue of antisemitism, allies and adversaries are sometimes where you least expect. As for the question of how systemic is antisemitism in America from the left and the right of the political spectrum and their respective leaders, there must be further scrutiny and action. For when insidious bias and hatreds are deep and unchecked, it usually results in human catastrophe.

The author is a government relations professional, residing in Virginia