As someone who reports regularly on anti-Semitism across the globe and the political spectrum, one of the most frustrating parts of my job is seeing how anti-Jewish bigotry is constantly dismissed as the perpetual sin of other people. That is, while many individuals are happy to oppose and expose anti-Semitism among their ideological opponents, they balk at confronting it among their allies. Invariably, when faced with evidence of anti-Jewish hate on their side, partisans will insist that the other side is worse, as though this is a relevant retort rather than an evasion.
We’ve seen this unfortunate pattern play out repeatedly in recent days, whether it has been progressives dismissing the anti-Semitism of Louis Farrakhan and his Women’s March fans by gesturing to Trump and the alt-right, or conservatives waving off Trump’s apologias for neo-Nazis by pointing to leftist critics of Israel who lapse into anti-Semitism. In reality, the only people who win this fight over which group or political faction is “more anti-Semitic” are the actual anti-Semites, who keep on spreading their hate while their would-be opponents instead point fingers at each other.
Yesterday, progressive Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii refreshingly called out this disingenuous dynamic. Speaking at the annual J Street conference in Washington, Schatz advocated for a more open and critical discourse on Israel, and defended those like himself who disagree with Israeli policies while supporting the state of Israel. But along the way, he also made a key point about anti-Semitism that is worth highlighting.
“In one year, anti-Semitic incidents have increased by nearly 60 percent,” he noted. “And frankly, it’s coming from all sides.” This crosspartisan bigotry, Schatz continued, has historical precedent that should disturb us. “Philip Spencer, an emeritus professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Kingston University, has documented how the Nazis were able to build a movement based on anti-Semitism: It’s because the political parties never pushed back. Not the Social Democrats or the Communists in Germany, and not the resistance across the continent.” Those who overlook anti-Semitism, in other words, will ultimately be overtaken by it.
“We’ve got to remember this,” Schatz went on, “because the obscene call of anti-Semitism must be condemned every time it is heard.” Crucially, the lawmaker said, this means confronting the hatred among friends, not just among enemies. “It’s easy for us to look at another country or another political party and say: ‘Enough! Do better!’” Schatz observed. “It is a tougher conversation when the problem is in our own tent. But we know that we cannot look the other way when people who would otherwise be our progressive allies speak out of ignorance or fear or convenience and they cross a moral line.”
Watch the full clip from the speech below:
Embedded in Schatz’s remarks is an essential point for anyone genuinely interested in combating anti-Semitism today: The best place to fight anti-Semitism is where you are, not where you aren’t. You are most likely to beat back bigotry in political spaces where you have credibility—where people care about what you think. But if you mostly target bigotry among enemies who won’t listen to you, while ignoring it among friends who might, you’re posturing against hate, not fighting it.
That fight against hate, as Schatz reminds us, begins at home.