How to Fight Antisemitism by New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss is a timely, but fatally flawed, book.
It has the virtue of criticizing antisemitism on all sides — not just the extreme right, but also the “woke” left, and within the Muslim community.
Unfortunately, Weiss cannot overcome her hatred of President Donald Trump, and her list of recommendations for fighting antisemitism is so weak as to be useless.
The two flaws are related: Weiss feels that Trump is a threat to liberal values, which she believes are Jews’ best defense. Her prescriptions therefore focus more on protecting liberal sentiments than on practical actions that would actually protect Jews.
Weiss begins by recalling the horrific story of the mass shooting last October at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Her recollection of events is especially poignant, as Weiss grew up near the synagogue and had her bat mitzvah there.
She explores the racist ideology that inspired the shooter there, as well as the attack on a synagogue in Poway, California, in April, and at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.
She then moves on to dissect the growing antisemitism on the left, which is primarily aimed at Israel and those who support it. Jews can join “progressives” on campus or in the street, but only if they denounce Zionism, the idea that Jews have a right to self-determination in their ancient homeland.
Weiss also describes the problem of Muslim antisemitism, which is being imported into Europe by new migrants and has appeared in the United States as well.
All of that is valuable, and could have provided the basis for a serious discussion about how to confront anti-Jewish hatred.
Unfortunately, Weiss — who supported Hillary Clinton passionately in 2016 — describes Trump as one of the villains.
She acknowledges that Trump has been a strong supporter of Israel, and even admits that he has denounced the scourge of antisemitism. But she still clings to the idea that he is to blame for recent antisemitic violence.
Her case against Trump is a familiar one, relying on a laundry list of half-truths, out-of-context statements, and flat-out lies.
“Casual racism had always been part of his life,” she says of Trump, an outrageous claim contradicted by his past relationships with black leaders, among other inconvenient facts.
(Her “proof”: Trump’s support for the “racist birther lie about President Barack Obama,” which began among Hillary Clinton supporters and may have originated with Obama himself; and a federal housing discrimination lawsuit that was settled without fault more than 45 years ago. Trump also questioned the eligibility of rival Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada; Democrats once questioned that of John McCain, born in the Panama Canal Zone.)
Weiss goes on to cite a CNN interview in February 2016, when Jake Tapper asked Trump to condemn David Duke, and he said he knew nothing about him.
She does not inform her readers that Trump had disavowed Duke literally the day before, and six months before that, as well as on other occasions. He did it again the day after the CNN interview. But Weiss claims that Trump “feigned ignorance” for political gain. (Trump’s explanation was that he could not hear the question — which is plausible to anyone who has actually sat for an CNN interview via satellite and endured frustrating audio delays.)
In her chapter on “how to fight,” Weiss quotes Ze’ev Maghen describing a Jew confronting false accusations: “‘A man calls you a pig,’ he wrote. ‘Do you walk around with a sign explaining that, in fact, you are not a pig? Do you hand out leaflets expostulating in detail upon the manifold differences between you and a pig?'”
Tapper, and Weiss, transformed Trump into that Jew, perpetually facing absurd accusations by those whose minds are already made up.
It is worth noting that Weiss works for the New York Times, which has been in trouble repeatedly in recent months for tolerating antisemitism on its editorial page and among its senior editorial staff. Weiss has little to say about that, though she does say an antisemitic cartoon depicting Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dachshund with a Jewish star, leading a blind President Trump, was run “mistakenly.” No such benefit of the doubt for Trump.
Predictably, Weiss also cites Trump’s comments in August 2017 about the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia: “You also had some very fine people on both sides.”
She leaves out the rest of his remarks, including: “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally.” Trump was praising non-violent, non-extremist protesters on the left and the right.
Weiss claims the “far right” heard Trump’s words as a subliminal endorsement. Unlikely — but if so, perhaps that is because journalists keep hiding what he actually said.
Weiss also attacks Breitbart News — again, with familiar and false claims. She cites two articles she alleges were antisemitic, without mentioning they were both written by Jews, neither of whom had any antisemitic intent.
One of these, David Horowitz’s criticism of “Never Trump” stalwart Bill Kristol, was titled — at Horowitz’s suggestion — “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew.” The article criticized Kristol for not being pro-Israel enough.
It gets worse. Weiss claims that Breitbart — a website founded by Jews, owned by a Jew, largely run by Jews, and devoting attention to Jewish causes — represents a “poisonous ideology” that has infected the White House, and notes that in July, “Breitbart’s White House correspondent was hired by the White House.”
Set aside, for now, the fact that the Obama White House hired plenty of mainstream media journalists. Breitbart’s former White House correspondent is a woman, with a name: Michelle Moons. She has a distinguished body of work, including early coverage of the “Angel Moms,” a group who lost relatives to crimes committed by illegal aliens, which developed a unique connection to Trump.
Nothing Moons has ever said or written could remotely be considered “alt-right.” Perhaps Weiss could have learned something about Trump supporters by reading Moons instead of slandering her.
Weiss also lobs a false accusation at Rep. Steve King (R-IA). King has made a number of controversial statements over the years, including on racial issues, but there is not one example of him attacking Jews. Yet Weiss implies that King is among those who “attacks us,” i.e. Jews.
There are no footnotes in the entire book, an inexcusable omission that makes it impossible for readers to examine for themselves whether Weiss’s accusations are actually true.
Weiss treats Trump and his supporters in the same way that antisemites — especially on the left — treat Jews: they are guilty until proven innocent, stained by association with a political cause they must renounce to be accepted. In the meantime, it is possible to say or believe anything about them, no matter how outlandish or unfair. She has cast them — us — as the “Other.”
As a Jewish friend of mine, who grew up in my liberal neighborhood but also became a conservative, likes to joke: “Those bumper stickers that say, ‘COEXIST’? They mean everyone — except you.”
As for recommendations, Weiss’s list is more a guide for how to feel than what to do: “Trust your discomfort”; “Expect solidarity”; “Stop blaming yourself.”
She also advises readers to “Tell the truth”; “Allow for the possibility of change”; “Notice your enemies. But even more, notice your friends.” These generous rules do not seem to apply to Trump and those who support him. His, and their, friendship is to be spurned, regardless of what he does for the Jews.
One of her recommendations is that Jews should “Apply the kippah (or Magen David) test” — that is, do not live in places where it would be unsafe to appear openly Jewish.
I have covered dozens of Trump rallies and worn my kippah at every one — as I do everywhere. I have never had a problem; if anything, it attracts positive attention. (I would not easily wear a MAGA hat in my liberal California neighborhood: it would be asking for trouble.)
Another of Weiss’s suggestions is “Maintain your liberalism.” Conservatives are evidently unwelcome in the fight against antisemitism.
Weiss simply refuses to believe that any form of nationalism — aside from Zionism — can accept Jews. She acknowledges that Jews living under conservative governments in Poland and Hungary — which she calls “fascist-adjacent” — report they feel safer than Jews living in the social democracies of Western Europe. But she warns: “History makes me certain that the status quo for the Jews in Hungary and Poland will not last.” Those Jews must suffer, it seems, to satisfy her liberalism. Or perhaps they can fight antisemitism by opposing their governments.
Ultimately, her complaint about Trump has nothing to do with Jews, at least not directly. Despite all that Trump has done for Jews and Israel, the “terrible truth” is that he “has trashed — gleefully and shamelessly–the unwritten rules of our society that have kept American Jews and, therefore, America safe.”
But while Trump has flouted rhetorical conventions, he has actually restored the written rules, the symbols, and the institutions that Americans share.
He has stood up for the flag and the anthem; he has appointed judges who interpret the law according to the Constitution as written; and he has deferred, unlike his predecessor, to the legislature and the courts — though he certainly criticizes both.
Trump has also cut back the role the federal government plays in our economy and society. That is true liberalism, in the classical sense. The result: record-low unemployment for minorities. If that is racism, he is doing it wrong.
Crucially, Trump has defended the religious liberty that has been under relentless attack by Democrats — including those who, in 2008, reportedly threatened Jewish groups with losing their tax-exempt status if they allowed Sarah Palin to speak at a rally against Iran.
To her credit, Weiss encourages Jewish observance as a bulwark against antisemitism. It is, after all, the secret to Jewish survival through many millennia of persecution. But she downplays that recommendation, placing it near the end. (The book’s cover, oddly, omits any obvious Jewish symbolism, opting instead for a bleak black background behind a torn matrix of white dots. Jewish survival is not just about enduring adversity, but also cultivating joy.)
The strange thing about Weiss’s attack on Trump is that she shares many of his views — though she will not admit it and, perhaps, does not even realize it.
In her chapter on antisemitism in the Muslim community, Weiss writes of migrants from the Islamic world: “[L]ooking at the impact that these newcomers have had on European countries and their Jews — and what the European experience might portend for America — there is reason to worry.”
That is a very Trumpy sentiment — one for which, no doubt, Weiss will be excoriated by her left-wing critics.
And yet Trump does not merely have “reason to worry.” He has a duty to act — which is why he has rejected resettling more Syrian refugees, and why he wants to change immigration laws to prioritize people with skills, rather than family connections.
“Reforming immigration to screen out people likely to be antisemites” somehow did not make Weiss’s list of suggestions.
Nor did gun ownership. The most obvious way to fight violent antisemitism is to make sure Jews can shoot back. That is how Israel survives, and it is the advice my own synagogue’s rabbi gave congregants after the recent mass shootings. We have, thank God, the Second Amendment.
But in a section she calls “Choose life,” Weiss says Jews should be “unafraid to say when we need literal protection.” Jews are passive; our security must depend on others.
It is left to Trump to do the actual, difficult fighting against antisemitism — de-funding Palestinian terror, pulling out of the UN Human Rights Council, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, destroying ISIS, pulling out of the Iran deal, reforming immigration, protecting free speech on campus, pushing the FBI to stop hoax bomb threats against the Jewish community, and so on.
And after all that, Weiss names him as a culprit. Is that how to build allies in the fight?
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.