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Is antisemitism still the third rail of prejudice?

Yes, but there's still plenty to worry about.

Antisemitic “Goyim Defense League” members hang banners over a highway recently in Los Angeles. Photo via Twitter/@StopAntisemites

(RNS) — “Start worrying,” reads the telegram in the old Jewish joke. “Details to follow.”

Here are some details.

Last June, a website called the Mapping Project went up that accused a wide array of individuals, companies, non-profits and government agencies throughout Massachusetts of being “responsible for the colonization of Palestine or other harms such as policing, US imperialism, and displacement.”

Produced by an anonymous group calling itself the Jisr Collective, the project featured an interactive map identifying 30 Jewish communal organizations as “Boston’s Zionist NGO circuit.“ 

So clearly antisemitic was the Mapping Project that the Palestinian BDS National Committee disavowed it — earning that major promoter of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement Jisr’s dismissal for supporting “the Liberal Zionist Agenda.”

In September, the student newspaper at Wellesley College described the Mapping Project as “providing a vital service” in an editorial backing BDS and “the liberation of Palestine.” Whereupon Wellesley President Paula Johnson wrote a letter to the college community rejecting the project “for promoting anti-Semitism,” prompting the paper to issue a statement saying that it does not endorse the project and that it condemns antisemitism.

Then there’s Ye, the musician formerly known as Kanye West, who has for some time been cuddling up to the white supremacist world. It was his airing of outright antisemitic pronouncements this month (beginning with a tweet to “go death con 3 ON JEWISH PEOPLE”) that finally pushed Twitter, Instagram and his corporate sponsors to drop him.

When members of the Goyim Defense League were photographed on a Los Angeles freeway overpass with banners saying “Kanye is right about the Jews” and citing classic anti-Jewish texts from the New Testament (Revelations 3:9 and John 8:44), White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted, “As part of this healing, we need to call out antisemitism everywhere it rears its ugly head. These actions in LA are disgusting and should be condemned.”

So yes, as has been the case for decades in America, antisemitism remains prejudice’s third rail— at least if it’s open and obvious enough.

And yet, and yet, there’s plenty to worry about these days.

Take Doug Mastriano, the evangelical Republican running for governor of Pennsylvania. To be sure, this year’s poster boy for Christian nationalism last summer canceled his account on the far-right social network Gab, disavowed his association with its openly antisemitic founder and foreswore antisemitism himself.

But only last month Mastriano talked about how his observant Jewish opponent, Josh Shapiro, showed “disdain for people like us” because he sent his children to a “privileged, exclusive, elite school” — in fact, a Jewish day school. Lest anyone miss this coded language, last week his senior adviser, Jenna Ellis, in response to an article on Shapiro’s Jewish faith, tweeted, “Josh Shapiro is at best a secular Jew … Doug Mastriano is for wholesome family values and freedom.”

Her conjuring of the (bad) secular Jew harks back to the “deracinated Jew” trope of yore. This was employed by the notorious radio priest Charles Coughlin back in the 1930s and surfaced the other day in a newly released tape recording of Billy Graham, speaking to President Nixon in the Oval Office in 1971.

Well, you see the Bible teaches that there is the Synagogue of Satan. In other words, there are two groups. There is the group in Israel that are going back — they don’t know why they’re going back, but they’re going back driven by God because I believe we’re getting toward the end of things. And then there’s the second group that the Bible calls the “Synagogue of Satan,” and it’s that crowd that puts out all of your literature, pornographic literature. They’re the ones that are the left wingers. They’re the revolutionary leaders. They’re the ones that control the media.

Did I mention that “Synagogue of Satan” is a quote from the same verse in the Book of Revelation cited on that banner hung over the L.A. freeway by the Goyim Collective the other day?

The more the details change, the more they stay the same.

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