Extreme leftists fueling an anti-Semitic climate here

Nobody has the right to call a 14-year-old middle school student a "kike," paint swastikas on the doors and windows of Jewish institutions, claim that Jews use others' blood for kosher recipes, or leave messages on people's answering machines saying: "I'm sorry Hitler didn't finish the job." Nor does anyone have the right to call in bomb threats to Jewish institutions, firebomb synagogues or beat up a man because his kippah suggests that he supports Israel.

And yet all these things happened within the last three months, right here in our beloved Bay Area. In fact, the Bay Area has had a greater increase in reported anti-Semitic incidents than any other place in America. The local Anti-Defamation League has responded to 65 of these calls for help in that time period, about a ten-fold increase over last year's pace.

Many people seem puzzled by the anti-Semitism in an area that claims to embrace and celebrate its diversity. It doesn't surprise me.

After spending several years in the South, responding to anti-Semitic threats from the extreme right, I moved back to Northern California nearly three years ago to continue my work for ADL. Shortly after arriving at the San Francisco office, I received a call from a Jewish woman who complained that ADL should not criticize groups on the extreme left, claiming that "extremism only comes from the right." I have since learned that there are many in our community who agree with this sentiment.

ADL knows better. About 40 years ago, the ADL commissioned a study on extremism with U.C. Berkeley researchers. What we found is that extremists on the far right have a lot in common with extremists on the left. Both pose a serious threat to everyone else in the middle.

Much of today's anti-Semitism is coming from a small number of individuals on the extreme left who argue that Jews oppress Palestinians and do not have a right to their own homeland. They are convinced that they need to confront Jews aggressively to stop this "oppression." Sadly, we are rarely hearing from those on the left who legitimately criticize some policies of Israel but are opposed to anti-Semitism. They seem to agree with the caller that "extremism only comes from the right." This distortion fuels an anti-Jewish climate.

Never ones to miss an opportunity to pull new recruits into their cause, traditional haters on the right are now taking anti-Jewish positions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke rails against "Israeli genocide" on fliers distributed at California universities. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche supporters at Stanford hand out fliers condemning Israeli "oppression." Infamous Holocaust denier Bradley Smith runs an editorial in the Berkeley student paper condemning the "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians.

At first, it might seem strange that Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis and KKKers are trying to form alliances with the left. However, they obviously believe that some on the extreme left share their hatred of Jews.

Witnessing all of these events around us can be quite discouraging. So it is important to remember that extremists on both the right and the left represent a tiny fraction of society. Most Americans and most Bay Area residents are disturbed when they see protesters carrying signs equating Zionism with Nazism. They want to counter the growing anti-Semitic climate in the community. To help them speak out, ADL is organizing a public affairs campaign with Bay Area mayors and clergy, which will be launched next week.

However, you also need to respond. It is time for you to get involved with and support one of the Jewish civil rights organizations. Find out what the social action committee at your temple is doing about this issue. Most importantly, speak up and encourage others to speak up when you hear bigotry coming from the right or the left. Remember, when you ignore bigotry, you condone it.

Jonathan Bernstein
Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is the executive director of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ San Francisco Bay Area region.