Opinion: The ratcheting-up of antisemitism

By JONATHAN P. BAIRD

Published: 10-02-2023 6:00 AM

Jonathan P. Baird lives in Wilmot.

Lately I have been reading Naomi Klein’s brilliant new book “Doppelgänger.” It offers some acute analysis about the increasing role of conspiracy theories in our lives, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Without question, more people have been falling down all kinds of rabbit holes.

Conspiracy theories around Jews are nothing new but I have found it impossible to ignore recent words from two prominent individuals, Elon Musk and Donald Trump. Probably like many Jewish people, I try to ignore the poison. One long-standing tendency in the Jewish world is thinking that it will be worse to call more attention to hateful comments. I am of a different mind. I worry more about allowing antisemitic trash to go unchallenged.

So often conspiracy theories end up with Jewish villains. Invariably, Jews get pegged as the cause of the world’s evils. Compared to the years when I was growing up, I have been genuinely surprised by the rejuvenation of antisemitic ideas and the number of antisemites now coming out of the woodwork.

Musk, the richest capitalist in the world, has been on an antisemitic tear, tweeting and accusing Jews of controlling mass media and financial markets. Not surprisingly, he has posted a series of tweets attacking the Jewish billionaire philanthropist, George Soros, who he compared to Jewish X-men supervillain Magneto. Musk has claimed Soros wanted to “erode the very fabric of civilization” and that he “hates humanity.” Why Musk has chosen to focus on Soros is a good question.

Soros has been a favorite target of Neo-nazis and white supremacists who see him as behind the great replacement. He is the modern-day equivalent of the Rothschilds, extraordinarily rich Jews who can be scapegoated. Musk is indulging a hateful stereotype about ultra-wealthy Jews who can allegedly control events and buy inordinate political power. His comments follow the example of Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban.

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Musk went on to attack the Anti-Defamation League or ADL which, by any measure, has been an important voice opposing antisemitism and racism since it was founded in 1913. On September 4, without any proof, he blamed the ADL for a 60% loss in advertising revenue. ADL has opposed Musk’s decision to allow hate speech and white supremacist accounts on the website. They and eight other groups, the Stop Hate for Profit coalition, had called for an advertising boycott of Twitter/X.

Musk has repeatedly threatened a defamation case against the ADL, saying that they had cut X’s value in half. He has said ADL was trying to kill the platform by “falsely accusing it and me of being antisemitic.”

Laying the blame on Jews for your own failure is hardly novel. He is playing on antisemitic mythology that powerful Jewish organizations are manipulating behind the scenes in unseen ways. To quote the writer, Mike Rothschild, “I love the implication that the erratic management, mass layoffs, incoherent moderation, destruction of verification, decimated engineering staff, serial unbanning of racists and crumbling infrastructure had nothing to do with Twitter losing half its value. Nope, just Jews.”

Musk could not leave the ADL alone, advancing the notion that the ADL has fostered antisemitism by calling it out so aggressively. He, the free speech absolutist, posted the idea of a poll on whether to suspend ADL from X. He tweeted ADL has been “hijacked by the woke mind virus.”

White nationalists and other far-right extremists joined in online with a hashtag campaign #BanTheADL. This might have gone unnoticed but Musk “liked” a tweet by Keith Woods, an Irish white nationalist and self-described “raging antisemite” who was a leader of the campaign. Musk then engaged with Woods online. This opened the antisemitic floodgates. Many viciously antisemitic posts followed.

Twitter has been a cesspool of racism and antisemitism long before Musk took over and renamed it X. Under his leadership, the hate has moved to a whole new level. Research shows that since Musk took over in October 2022, the volume of English-language antisemitic tweets has more than doubled.

In defending the ADL against Musk’s attacks, I would not give that organization a pass. Probably like many progressives, I am far more comfortable with its civil rights advocacy than its lobbying for Israel. The present Netanyahu government is the worst government in Israel’s history as it is based on an alliance with the most racist, sexist and backwards elements in Israeli society. A good part of Israel would agree with me as evidenced by the massive demonstrations that have been ongoing in Israel.

As for Donald Trump, he used the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, to blast “liberal Jews” who he said, “had voted to destroy America and Israel.” So apparently there are good Jews who vote for him and bad Jews who don’t. Trump had said Jewish people who vote for Democrats are either “ignorant or disloyal.”

Jews must conform to this arbiter, someone who dines with Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and “Death con 3 to the Jewish people” Kanye West. You never hear Trump criticize them.

For someone who says he is so pro-Israel, Trump has a peculiar habit of threatening American Jews. What does it mean when Trump says American Jews “have to get their act together before it is too late.” While Jews have generally voted more for Democrats since World War II, there is a diversity of political opinion in the Jewish community. Why is Trump denying Jews the right to be diverse like every other community?

Trump is always conflating American Jews with Israelis, complaining that American Jews are ingrates, not appreciating all he has done. That conflation is antisemitic as it raises the specter of dual loyalty. American Jews are not Israelis.

I would submit that Trump deliberately pushes the antisemitic rhetoric because he believes it is popular with his base. He and Musk are opening the door for the haters. They are like the 21st century equivalent of Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh who were the antisemitic leaders of early 20th century America. They need to be called out and opposed.

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