Antisemitism on the Left Demands of Biden Another Charlottesville Moment

Taking on the antisemitism of allies is often difficult and costly, but it must be done.

Senior Fellow, Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East
Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists take part in a match the night before the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Neo Nazis take part in a march the night before the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The first-ever U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism opens with a letter from President Biden. In its first paragraph, he explains that the 2017 antisemitic rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, spurred him to run. He points to the torch-bearing marchers chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and the rest of their hateful ideas, as a threat to American democracy.

Now, in cities and on campuses across the United States — and even at the gates of the White House — different marchers are chanting impassioned, if sometimes encoded, calls for the mass murder of Jews. Biden’s moral stance on Hamas’ crimes and Israel’s obligation to defend itself has been forthright, unambiguous and deeply appreciated. But he has yet to speak out against Hamas’ unrepentant supporters here in America.

The protestors demand “intifada,” the most recent iteration of which was a campaign of Palestinian suicide bombings that left over 1,000 Israelis dead and another 8,500 injured. They cry, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a core principle of Hamas’ antisemitic, genocidal doctrine that mirrors Charlottesville with an unmistakably ominous message: We will replace Jews.

Biden’s silence about these fanatical domestic demonstrators (always described as pro-Palestinian) appears to reflect a disturbingly persistent blind spot in the administration’s understanding of antisemitism.

In the president’s introductory letter to the antisemitism strategy, he argues that antisemites “also target other communities,” and lists several examples of minorities hated by white supremacists. But meanwhile, social media platforms are teeming with documented antisemitic acts carried out by members of those very same groups. 

It is impossible to understand the current moment through a lens that sees antisemitism as an exclusively right-wing phenomenon. About the antisemitism of Americans primarily motivated by left-wing, Islamist or Palestinian nationalist ideologies, Biden’s strategy and his administration have little to say

It is absolutely necessary to address right-wing antisemitism. But it is also manifestly insufficient.

Denouncing the antisemitism of political rivals is easy and appealing. Doing so offers the winning combination of being morally righteous and politically costless. Taking on the antisemitism of political allies is often difficult and costly. 

Supporters of former President Trump — and repeatedly, Trump himself — have ignored, downplayed or excused the antisemitic extremists of the right to avoid alienating them and to ensure that he can count on their contributions and votes. With less than a year to go before the 2024 elections, President Biden and his team are being urged to do the same thing with extremists on the left.

Hamas apologists, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib — who has doubled down on her “from the river to the sea” position — already have seized on the president’s potential electoral vulnerability. She, along with some Arab American and Muslim American organizations, are implicitly and explicitly threatening either to stay home or to support Biden’s political opponent in 2024 unless he backs down from his support for Israel.

Tellingly, many of the same people screaming for intifada are insisting on an immediate, unconditional cease-fire. Those genuinely committed to peace and human rights do not call both to stop the war and simultaneously for a campaign of terrorist violence against Israeli civilians. 

Ending the war now would leave Hamas in power and allow it to re-arm, condemning the estimated 240 Israeli hostages to indefinite captivity in Gaza and denying Israel its right to self-defense and its citizens any sense of physical security, all of which is precisely the protestors’ aim.

The good news is that most Americans side with Israel in its war on Hamas terrorism and recognize and reject Hamas as a genocidal terrorist group. In American politics, supporting Hamas, its radical goals, or its methods is a losing position, as it should be. This moral and commonsense understanding among the public should make it easier for the president not only to continue standing by Israel while it meets its well-founded war goals, but also to rebuke the demonstrators obscenely calling for Jewish blood.

President Biden has an opportunity to put into practice what he rightly argued in his preface to the antisemitism strategy: “History teaches that hate never fully goes away; it only hides until it is given just a little oxygen. That is why we must confront antisemitism early and aggressively whenever and wherever it emerges from the darkness.” 

Whenever and wherever is now and here. This is President Biden’s second Charlottesville moment. It too demands of him moral clarity, courage and above all, action.

Read in Forward.