Progressive Democrats pan antisemitism while lumping it with other forms of hate

From Sanders to The Squad, many lawmakers apparently unwilling to decry attacks on Jews without also denouncing Islamophobia or ‘all forms of racism’

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hold a news conference in Washington, DC, November 14, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via JTA)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hold a news conference in Washington, DC, November 14, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via JTA)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — 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 US House of Representatives.

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

Representative 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 Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts tweeted, “I strongly condemn the rise in anti-Semitism and islamophobia we’re seeing across the country.”

Jamaal Bowman, the Democratic nominee for New York’s 16th congressional district, smiles as he talks to the media on Nov. 3, 2020 in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The pattern continued through the weekend and into this week.

“Antisemitism has no place in our country or world. Neither does Islamophobia,” Senator 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.

Pro-Palestinian protesters face off with a group of Israel supporters and police in Times Square on May 20, 2021 in New York City. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images via AFP)

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 Representative 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.

US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks as, from left, Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley listen during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, July 15, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“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. Representative 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.”

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