Before World War II, anti-Semitism was an everyday part of life in most of the Western world. It was understood to take two forms. There was “vulgar” anti-Semitism and “genteel” anti-Semitism. The kind of people who were afflicted with the latter looked down upon the kind of people who were afflicted with the former. The “genteel” anti-Semites would never use certain “vulgar” anti-Semitic words. They might even have Jewish friends, because they distinguished between the Jews who were – how to put it? – clubbable, and those who weren’t. But they also joined “restricted” social clubs and golf clubs, stayed at hotels that banned Jews, and sent their kids to colleges that had quotas for Jewish students.
Many Jews who made it big kept their Jewish identity to themselves, or at least didn’t make a show of it. Jewish performers ditched their Jewish-sounding names and replaced them with WASPy monickers. In the 1930s, Jewish studio heads, producers, directors, and writers in Hollywood were reluctant to make movies about Nazi anti-Semitism for fear of drawing attention to their own Jewishness. For the same reason, the Jewish publishers of the New York Times downplayed news about the Holocaust.
It was, in fact, the Holocaust, when the entire story finally came out, that shone as bright a light on Jew-hatred as one could ever imagine. No, anti-Semitism didn’t vanish, but it was no longer considered respectable, at least not by anybody who wanted to be considered respectable. The Academy Award for Best Picture of 1947 went to Gentleman’s Agreement, a movie about anti-Semitism. In pretty much every country in the Western world, memorials were erected to the six million Jews killed in the Final Soultion and Holocaust museums were established. Some of us grew up in a time when anti-Semitism seemed surely to have become a thing of the past.
But we were wrong. In Britain, the head of one of the two major political parties, Jeremy Corbyn, is an undeniable anti-Semite. In the U.S., unapologetic Jew-haters have been elected to Congress. As the Washington Free Beacon reported recently, one of these House members, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, “was the keynote speaker at a conference hosted by a Muslim organization that traffics in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and that counts among its supporters many who seek Israel’s destruction.” The organization in question is the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), and the conference took place in late November in Chicago. Also onstage was Linda Sarsour, the unlikely feminist leader who wears a hijab, hangs with Farrakhan, and fills her speeches with anti-Semitic bile. Yet another speaker was Zahra Billoo, who in a 2014 tweet wrote that “Blaming Hamas for firing rockets at Israel is like blaming a woman for punching her rapist.” Panel discussions at the conference called for the destruction of Israel and for the classification of Zionism as a disease.
In another recent article, this one for the Spectator, Dominic Green took on the curious case of Bernie Sanders, senator and presidential candidate, whose Jewish background – members of his family were murdered in the Holocaust – doesn’t keep him from being more than tolerant of anti-Semitism. For example, he’s a fan of Corbyn, even though the latter “detests the Zionist entity with a near-Soviet passion, and is visibly aroused when he gets to signal his vices by introducing Islamists like Raed Salah, a publicist for the primitive ‘blood libel’ that Jews bake with Christian blood, into the House of Commons.” Sanders, notes Green, has called Corbyn “courageous.” Moreover, Sanders is chummy with Sarsour, who spoke on his behalf at the AMP conference. Addressing the attendees in her role as his designated surrogate, she asked: “How can you be against white supremacy in the United States of America, and the idea of living in a supremacist state based on race and class, but then support a state like Israel that is built on supremacy? That is built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everybody else. How do you, then, not support the caging of children on the US-Mexican border, but then you support the detainment and detention of Palestinian children in Palestine? How does that work, sisters and brothers?”
Back in September the New York Post reported that “[p]ressure is mounting on Sen. Bernie Sanders to cut ties with longtime campaign surrogate Linda Sarsour, with critics such as Manhattan billionaire Ronald Lauder citing her long history of anti-Semitic comments.” Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said at the time: “Linda Sarsour is a virulent anti-Semite who has publicly stated that ‘nothing is creepier than Zionism.’ Her views have no place in our political discourse and any candidate who associates with her is guilty of handing a megaphone to anti-Semites around the country.” Indeed, But Sanders shows no sign of cutting her loose. He still, apparently, views her as an asset. Which says something scary indeed about the current resurgence and mainstreaming of Jew-hatred in the West.