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Book on Antisemitic Resurgence in US

By Ralph Seliger

On March 21st, New York public radio (WNYC) talk show host Brian Lehrer, interviewed  Jonathan Weisman, deputy Washington editor of The New York Times, on his new book, (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump (St. Martin’s Press, 2018).  A couple of days before, he was interviewed by Terry Gross on her NPR program, “Fresh Air”: Attacked By Alt-Right Trolls, A Jewish Journalist Links Trump To The Rise Of Hate.  (These comments reflect the author’s radio appearances rather than a reading of his book.)

Weisman was shocked into writing about his experience of online hatred erupting against him and other Jewish journalists covering national politics during and after the 2016 election campaign.  The triple parentheses that form part of his book’s title is the alt-right’s coded meme designating a Jew for online antisemitic assault and potentially worse.

In the interview with Brian Lehrer, Weisman criticizes American Jewish organizations for being overly focused on Israel, to the neglect of problems facing us at home as Jews and Americans. There probably is something to his point, but when he complains about both AIPAC and J Street, he misses that their entire reason for existence is to influence American-Israeli relations.

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was founded in 1951 to lobby for an ostensibly pro-Israel agenda in Congress and the White House.  Meant to be moderate and bipartisan, AIPAC is seen as increasingly leaning rightward over the past 25 years.  AIPAC still wants to be regarded as mainstream and bipartisan, and is open to pro-Israel liberal centrists (like Sen. Chuck Schumer), but generally lines up more comfortably with Republicans and Likudniks.  J Street was founded in 2009 to influence United States policy to help broker a negotiated two-state peace between Israel and the Palestinians, basically functioning as a liberal-left counterweight to AIPAC in the pro-Israel camp.

Weisman’s critique is somewhat correct regarding the American Jewish Committee; it has narrowed its traditional focus from a broad center-left policy agenda to a mostly single-minded and defensive fixation on Israel. This would not be a fair criticism of the Anti-Defamation League, however, especially with its changing of the guard under the leadership of Jonathan Greenblatt beginning in 2015. The ADL has energetically pushed back against Trump-inspired hatred of Muslim-Americans and other recent immigrant and minority communities, as well as raising the alarm over a recent uptick in antisemitic incidents.

The writer indicates that he is a member of a synagogue, but like many of us, is not especially religious, if at all.  Apparently his knowledge of the organized Jewish community is, especially for someone writing about it, far from expert.  He does commend what he calls the “Jewish Public Affairs Committee,” by which he has to mean the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.  The JCPA is the umbrella arm of local Jewish community councils and national Jewish organizations.  It is mostly liberal in orientation, and more focused on a broad range of domestic issues than just on Israel.

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