There is a distinct tone-deafness in too many progressive circles about anti-Semitism. To some extent, I can understand where it comes from. Anti-Semitism is, thankfully, at a nadir at this point
in history. There is far less of it in the world than at almost any time I can think of, and what there is of it has been able to do far less harm to Jews than at any time in our history. But that does not mean it is gone, nor that its continuing presence is not noxious and dangerous. This last is a point too often lost on some progressives.
While anti-Semitism on the left, like many things, has been exaggerated by certain forces (usually in the service of a Likud-oriented agenda), one very real symptom of it is the ease with which some can barely cloak their anti-Semitism and find safe haven in progressive spaces from time to time. A current example of this phenomenon is the planned appearance of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Christopher Bollyn at prominent progressive outlets in Brooklyn (September 7) and Washington, DC (September 6).
Who is Christopher Bollyn? He is a former writer for the American Free Press, which the Southern Poverty Law Center denounces as an anti-Semitic hate site. Since his firing from that publication ten years ago, he has been writing books and espousing his theories, most prominently the one about Israel having been behind 9-11. But a look at his web site finds that Jews (by no means confined to Israel or to Zionists) are responsible for a great many other bad things as well in his mind.
Despite this, Brooklyn Commons and Busboys and Poets, in Brooklyn and DC respectively, will be hosting talks by him this week.
Here is part of the letter I wrote to Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets, whom I’ve met a couple of times:
“I must write to you today in shocked dismay. It has come to my attention that on September 6, B&P will host a talk by Christopher Bollyn. This man has no place in a progressive space, any more than any racist, misogynist or homophobe would.
While one might make the case, quite fairly, that progressives are as involved as any other group in 9/11 “truth” ideas, Mr. Bollyn goes much further. Just look at his web site, http://www.bollyn.com/. There you will find articles with these titles:
The Law of the Jungle & the Jews
Chicago Thuggery: The Jewish Mob & Obama
Why Do Jews Commit Massacres?
B’nai B’rith – The Secret Society of Jews
Arlen Specter – The Elder of Zion in the U.S. Senate
Need I go on? Andy, if you don’t remember me, let me be very clear: I am a proud Jewish man who is extremely critical of my own community….But I yield to no one in my outrage at anti-Semitism. I know you have no tolerance for it either, and I am sure that Bollyn’s being booked at B&P is simply a matter of someone on your staff desiring an open exchange of ideas and not knowing this venomous man for what he is.
As such, I very much hope you will use your influence to stop a man from spreading hate at B&P, as you would any racist, misogynist, Islamophobe, homophobe, etc.”
There is no question that this is not patriotism, nor is it anti-Zionism. This is Jew-hatred, anti-Semitism, pure and simple. That the social media person at Brooklyn Commons could not recognize it as such when it was pointed it out to her/him is truly dismaying. It’s hard to imagine that such ignorance of the issue would have been displayed if the issue was racism, misogyny, homophobia, even Islamophobia. But anti-Semitism is not recognized by nearly as many progressives as these other “isms” are.
If you’re in New York, please contact Brooklyn Commons here and if you’re in the DC area, please contact Busboys and Poets here and let them know that there is no more room for anti-Semitism in progressive spaces than there is for any other form of bigotry. Given the unfortunate frequency with which false accusations of anti-Semitism have been cynically used to stifle protest of Israeli policies, it’s particularly important for non-Jewish allies to speak out about this. Please do it. It’s crucial that we stand together against anti-Semitism as we do in progressive circles on so many other issues.
UPDATE: For still more on Bollyn, see this piece by Rafael Shimunov on Medium.