Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hold a news conference in Washington, D.C., Nov. 14, 2019. (Photo/JTA-Chip Somodevilla-Getty Images)
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hold a news conference in Washington, D.C., Nov. 14, 2019. (Photo/JTA-Chip Somodevilla-Getty Images)

For progressive Democrats, the condemnation of antisemitism is lumped in with other forms of hate

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As reports of attacks on Jews broke into the news late last week, Democratic lawmakers moved quickly to condemn antisemitism — but they didn’t stop there.

“We’ve recently seen disturbing antisemitic attacks and a troubling rise in Islamophobia,” Bernie Sanders, the Jewish Vermont senator who is a leader of American progressives, tweeted Friday. “If you are committed to a future of equality and peaceful coexistence, please stand united against anyone who promotes hatred of any kind.”

Numerous other progressives soon followed suit, including multiple members of “The Squad” in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The work of dismantling antisemitism, anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian racism, and every other form of hate is OUR work,” Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri tweeted.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York wrote, “We’ve seen an increase in antisemitic and Islamophobic hate, in NYC and nationwide — hateful words, hate crimes, and other forms of violence.” And Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts tweeted, “I strongly condemn the rise in anti-Semitism and islamophobia we’re seeing across the country.”

The pattern continued through the weekend and into this week.

“Antisemitism has no place in our country or world. Neither does Islamophobia,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts tweeted late Tuesday. “That means standing together and condemning all forms of bigotry and hate.”

The messages all took aim at attacks reported while Israel and Hamas in Gaza fought a conflict in which more than 250 Palestinians and a dozen Israelis were killed. In New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere, violent attacks on Jews were caught on camera. Meanwhile, mosques in Brooklyn and on Long Island were vandalized.

Halie Soifer, who directs the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said she understood the impetus to condemn all kinds of bigotries, but cautioned that doing so can have the effect of diminishing the threat posed by one type of bigotry such as antisemitism.

“There should be no tolerance for hatred in any form, and Jewish Democrats strongly condemn intolerance targeting any racial ethnic or religious minority,” Soifer told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “At the same time, there are unique root causes of antisemitism that must be addressed, and for that reason we would caution against conflating or grouping this distinct form of hate with any other.”

Why Sanders chose to frame his tweet the way he did and whether the Democrats’ messages were coordinated is unclear. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

But his approach is not unusual among progressives, who see bigotries not as distinct but as stemming from the same toxic trends, and Sanders has explained his thinking in the past.

“Like other forms of bigotry — racism, sexism, homophobia — antisemitism is used by the right to divide people from one another and prevent us from fighting together for a shared future of equality, peace, prosperity and environmental justice,” Sanders wrote in 2019 in Jewish Currents, a left-wing magazine.

Some Jewish commentators expressed unhappiness about seeing antisemitism lumped with other bigotries, likening it to the “All Lives Matter” pushback among conservatives against the Black Lives Matter movement, a posture progressives revile.

“@SenSanders just all lives mattered Jews,” Anne Herzberg, a human rights lawyer with NGO Monitor, said on Twitter this week.

A number of Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive leader who sharply criticized Israel this month, issued statements that exclusively condemned antisemitism. Ocasio-Cortez also offered practical advice for how New Yorkers can support their Jewish neighbors.

“We will never, ever tolerate antisemitism here in NY or anywhere in the world,” she said on Twitter. “The recent surge in attacks is horrifying. We stand with our Jewish communities in condemning this violence. You can help. Take NYC’s free, 1hr bystander intervention course.”

But some said they wanted more. Rep. Dean Phillips, a Jewish Democrat from Minnesota, had some advice for his fellow progressives: Don’t equivocate when it comes to attacks on Jews.

“I’ll say the quiet part out loud; it’s time for ‘progressives’ to start condemning antisemitism and violent attacks on Jewish people with the same intention and vigor demonstrated in other areas of activism,” he tweeted Monday. “The silence has been deafening.”

Ron Kampeas

Ron Kampeas is the D.C. bureau chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


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