Deborah Lipstadt’s Distorted Antisemitism Definition
“Many Jews involved with progressive causes are increasingly feeling this tug, if not outright war, between their Jewish and political identities,” wrote antisemitism historian Deborah E. Lipstadt in her 2019 book Antisemitism: Here and Now. President Joe Biden’s decision to resume American aid to the terrorist-sponsoring Palestinian Authority (PA) on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day only highlighted this ongoing conflict for Jewish Biden supporters such as Lipstadt.
Lipstadt in her book strove to give an impartial review of modern antisemitism across the ideological spectrum, but her evident political biases marred otherwise insightful analysis. Particularly her antipathy towards Donald Trump stood out, as she equated this uniquely pro-Israel president with the notoriously anti-Semitic British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. “I don’t know if either of these men is an anti-Semite,” she wrote, but “both have facilitated the spread of antisemitism.”
This Trump-Corbyn “comparison is so flawed as to be absurd,” correctly countered conservative Jewish writer Ben Cohen wrote in a 2019 review of Lipstadt’s book. As he explained:
Trump may be guilty of occasionally encouraging or even enabling anti-Semites in small ways, but Corbyn is an anti-Semite, and one with a public and considered fondness for the world’s most vicious and bloodthirsty haters of Jews.
As Lipstadt’s own book documents for quizzical readers, Corbyn’s scandalous record includes defending viciously anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists and calling Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists “friends.” By contrast, she discussed certain truly troubling Trump statements, including his 2015 comments during the Republican presidential primaries to the Republican Jewish Coalition. “None of this, however,” Cohen accurately assessed of Trump, “places him remotely in the same corner as Corbyn, who is blatantly guilty not only of enabling but of fomenting anti-Semitism as an integral element of his ideological worldview.”
Lipstadt in her book offered a leftist apologia for Corbyn’s antisemitism. “Fundamental to Corbyn’s political weltanschauung is an automatic—critics might call it knee-jerk—sympathy for anyone who is or appears to be oppressed or an underdog.” Thus she concluded:
It is doubtful that Corbyn deliberately seeks out anti-Semites to associate with and to support. But it seems that when he encounters them, their Jew-hatred is irrelevant as long as their other positions—on class, race, capitalism, the role of the state, and Israel/Palestine-are to his liking.
By contrast, Lipstadt demonized Trump as a bigot, even though President Trump actually denounced white supremacists, anti-Semites, and other extremists on numerous occasions. “Trump was, and still seems to be, unwilling to castigate, much less mildly criticize, actions by the white supremacists, racists, and anti-Semites who voted for him and who continue to support him,” she wrote without substantiation. In this context rang hollow her qualification that “I’m not suggesting, of course, that they represent all of Trump’s supporters.”
Bizarrely, Lipstadt in her anti-Trump screeds overlooked the history of openly racist Democratic presidents such as Woodrow Wilson. “In the United States, for the first time in many decades—perhaps for the first time ever—these haters believe that they have sympathetic allies in the White House.” Trump “has not disabused them of that notion,” she wrote, even though anti-Semites such as the perpetrator of the 2018 mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue repeatedly denounced Trump for being too pro-Jewish.
A vaguely defined “alt-right” loomed large in Lipstadt’s book. She defined Milo Yiannopoulos, a pro-Israel, ex-gay man who once “married” a black man, as among this hateful “movement’s ideologues.” His former employer, the conservative Breitbart News (where this author has written), and its former editor, the Trump adviser Steve Bannon, also drew Lipstadt’s scorn. Without any particular examples, she criticized:
There is no credible evidence that Bannon is himself an anti-Semite, but it is extremely distressing that right-wing Jewish groups that trumpet his support for Israel ignored the racism, anti-immigrant, and white nationalist views promulgated by Breitbart News when he ran it.
Again without citing evidence, Lipstadt fretted that under Trump “alt-right” members “have managed in recent years to establish direct links to people with influence, including those in high-level government positions.” In addition to his pro-Israel record, Trump strengthened federal government efforts against college antisemitism, won increased black support with his economic growth policies, and appointed the first openly gay man to cabinet rank. Yet she counterfactually wrote:
Trump’s anti-Semitic followers believe that his dog whistles give them free rein to openly acknowledge their contempt for racial minorities, Muslims, homosexuals, and Jews. They are convinced, not without reason, that they have had a direct impact on government policy.
Any anti-Trump rant would be incomplete without myths about the violent 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, protests. Trump had rightfully condemned “many sides” here among battling white supremacists and leftist extremists such as Antifa, whose destructiveness has only become clearer in subsequent years. Yet Lipstadt whitewashed the latter by condemning Trump for “moral equivalency between racists and the counterdemonstrators.”
Lipstadt also promoted in her book and subsequently the ubiquitous Charlottesville hoax that Trump had praised racist demonstrators there as “very fine people.” While condemning these racists, he had used these words in general reference to people debating and protesting on both sides in Charlottesville over a Robert E. Lee Confederate war memorial. But Lipstadt scolded Trump for praising “‘very fine people’ marching with the white supremacist protesters.”
Concerning Islamic antisemitism, Lipstadt stood on firmer ground. She recognized that “within sectors of the Muslim community, particularly in Europe, there is endemic antisemitism” and some Muslims “have been raised to hate Jews.” She observed:
Various studies, including one conducted in 2017 by the University of Oslo, have shown that attacks on European Jews, particularly physical assaults, come in the main from radicalized Muslims. Interviews with German Muslims, including well-educated professionals, feature comments about Jews that sound as though they have come directly from the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Brief hints of this antisemitism’s historical basis in Islamic doctrines, which define the subjugated dhimmi status of Jews and other non-Muslims under Islamic rule, appear in Lipstadt’s book. Under various European and Islamic religious discriminations, “Jews were hated because they refused to accept Christianity and, later, Islam.” Jews had “centuries-long second-class treatment in Islamic lands” and even today Muslim-majority states are rife with discrimination against Jews and other religious minorities. In Israel, Islamic rages arise when Jews “return to their ancient homeland, which was for centuries part of the Islamic empire.”
Rather than critically analyze this history, Lipstadt offered more politically correct explanations for Islamic antisemitism. She suggested that European Muslim antisemitism “is part of a larger problem of integration” and referenced not Islamic, but “leftist antisemitism,” when analyzing the notorious Palestinian-American political activist Linda Sarsour. Meanwhile Lipstadt invoked the totalitarian neologism “Islamophobia” amidst her warnings against “demonization of Muslims.”
Lipstadt also insightfully examines economic warfare against Israel in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, a “direct descendant of Marxist antisemitism and anti-Zionism.” A key BDS demand is a “right of return” to Israel of millions of descendants of some 600,000 Arabs who fled what became Israel in its 1948 independence war. This demographic destruction of Israel’s Jewish state, she wrote, or “negation of Jewish nationhood is a form of antisemitism, if not in intent, then certainly in effect.”
Irrespective of practical political effects, Lipstadt noted, BDS aims “to toxify Israel” by presenting it as uniquely evil among the world’s nations. In American academia, this “impact of BDS on Jewish students is quite real. Jewish students running for office in student government have also been uniquely targeted by Israel-bashers.” This demonstrates that a “myopic focus on Israel is anti-Semitic in consequence, if not in intent.”
Lipstadt’s anti-BDS stance makes ironic her acclamation of Biden’s victory days after the November 2020 presidential elections. In Biden she saw a “leader of the country who will unequivocally condemn antisemitism and extremism.” Yet his numerous anti-Israel administration appointees have included BDS supporters.
Such matters must appear secondary to Lipstadt, whose apocalyptic denunciations of Trump during and after the 2020 elections angered many Jews with what they condemned as Holocaust-trivializations. She helped launch on September 29, 2020, a Jewish Democratic Council of America campaign advertisement that compared Trump’s presidency to the 1930s rise of Nazi Germany. She later coauthored a Washington Post editorial that analogized Trump’s “democracy denial” challenges to the election results to “Holocaust denial.” Jewish legal scholar Nathan Lewin castigated this “shameful Holocaust denial” in a “rant with a blatant political bias,
Israeli Jews, 70 percent of whom supported Trump’s reelection in surveys, have greater fear of Biden resuming the Middle East policies of President Barack Obama, whom Lipstadt supported in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. Biden, for example, has already lifted sanctions imposed by Trump on the dangerous, nuclear-proliferating Islamic Republic of Iran. Biden also seems to agree with Lipstadt’s hackneyed analysis in her book that the “current situation in the West Bank is untenable” and the “most reasonable solution would be two states,” Israel and Palestine, with secure borders. By contrast, Israeli Jews have personally experienced how Islam’s “endemic antisemitism” precisely in the Muslim-majority Middle East has only turned Israeli “land for peace” territorial withdrawals into jihadist bases for attacks on Israel.
“Fight the good fight,” Lipstadt penned in autographed book copies she distributed to a November 19, 2019, audience at the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, including this author. Yet many would agree with the book reviewer Cohen that her analysis is unfortunately “deeply unsatisfactory” in places, such as her book endnotes, where she uncritically relies upon Southern Poverty Law Center leftist smear merchants. “Although she is by no means blind to left-wing anti-Semitism, her eyesight must be adjudged impaired—as indeed it also is on the subject of Islamist anti-Semitism,” Cohen wrote in 2019 in words only more valid today.
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