Ben Clerkin

Dismal year when antisemitism became the new normal in the US

While anti-Israel protesters fill the streets, their cheerleaders in politics and the press are also resurgent


Festive jeer: Christmas Day in New York (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

December 28, 2023 13:41

Young Isabel has been missing for a month. My corner of Brooklyn is desperately trying to find her. Her family is distraught. They have adorned virtually every lamppost with a photo of her. Their heartbreak is palpable and now felt by the community.

Isabel is a tabby cat. Posters of her have so far lasted a month longer than photographs of kidnapped Israeli children that were hung on the same lampposts and torn down in less than 24 hours.

In 2023 antisemitism went mainstream — even in a middle-class, liberal neighbourhood where Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish official in the US, lives.

Worse still, it has become old news, unremarkable, factored into the share price of modern life.

Exposing the spores to sunlight has not killed them: it has only caused them to bloom into something bigger and more poisonous. People and institutions you would never have thought susceptible have become infected.

This Christmas has seen the canker spread further.

On Christmas Day hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators raged through New York City carrying a Nativity scene splattered in fake blood with “No Joy In Genocide” written on it. They chanted “Long live the intifada” at the Rockefeller Christmas tree, left “Zionism is terrorism” stickers on buildings and scrawled “Israel kills babies” on walls.

The same day, protesters descended on Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s home with signs that read “Stop the Genocide” and calling Israel an “Apartheid State”.

While protesters have taken to the streets again anew, their cheerleaders in the press and politics are also resurgent.

The New York Times, which fired opinion editor James Bennett for publishing an op-ed by Republican Senator Tom Cotton, published an op-ed on Christmas Eve by the Hamas-appointed mayor of Gaza City. The rot at the heart of the media is such that giving an apparatchik from a terrorist group — banned by the US government and hellbent on killing Jews — a platform causes not a ripple of controversy in the NYT newsroom whereas the views of a senior Republican caused a revolt.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to social media on Christmas Eve to say that if born today Jesus would have been “Jewish Palestinian”. The Bronx representative said she was praying for the “innocent in Gaza”, suggested Israel was involved in a “massacre” and failed to mention, let alone criticise, Hamas. AOC has kept a low-profile since calling for a ceasefire within hours of the October 7 attack, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to subvert the Christmas message of hope for her own agenda.

New York magazine nailed its colours to the mast with a piece in defence of the phrase “From the River to the Sea” and the top college presidents who said calling for a Jewish genocide was not punishable on their campuses. The author, book critic Andrea Long Chu, said criticism of either was a “McCarthyist crackdown on pro-Palestine speech”. Chu conceded that the word intifada is a “threatening term”. But she went on: “The only question is whether threatened parties — the Israeli apartheid regime, American foreign-policy hawks, all the board members and lobbyists and donors and hedge-fund managers — deserve to be threatened. They do.”

Chu fails to mention that almost the entire Jewish community also feels threatened by these calls for genocide. Do they deserve it too? Did Chu forget about them — or don’t they count?

Which brings us on to Harvard president Claudine Gay, who is still in post. The real threat to her position comes now not from her defence of antisemitism but from allegations of plagiarism, which are piling up. The message to colleges across the US is clear: antisemitism gets a free pass.

On social media, antisemitism is still rife — posted often by apparently sensible people such as academics and doctors — and videos of posters of kidnapped Israelis being ripped down are commonplace. Both are so common, in fact, that rarely does either become a story in a newspaper. The American public has become accustomed to them. It’s not newsworthy any more, it’s just life.

We keep waiting for the tipping point for antisemitism to come, when society collectively recoils and even those involved take a hard look at themselves in the mirror and realise they’ve gone too far. Instead, antisemites go a little further each time, emboldened after encountering so little pushback from society for their odious views and actions.

Will 2024 be the year that society begins to care at least as much about the Jewish community as it does about cats like Isabel? I’m not holding my breath as I keep my eyes peeled for the young tabby.

December 28, 2023 13:41

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