“Sometimes,” I said, “it feels like everything in this country is three-steps-forward, two-steps-back.”

Aaron* agreed. I met him only a moment earlier at a concert we both attended. He and I happened to have a friend in common, and at first, our conversation was amicable as it drifted into politics. In this case, the topic was LGTBQ+ rights. 

“Especially since 2016,” I continued. “I’ve been the antisemitism columnist for the Colorado Times Recorder for the last few years —” 

Aaron cut me off: “You know, most people don’t realize that Palestinians are semites as well,” he said. I’m pretty sure he could actually hear my eyes roll in my head. 

“Yes, the term ‘semitic’ refers to the family of languages that include Hebrew and Arabic,” I said, trying to head off the direction it was clear this conversation was about to turn. “But the term ‘antisemitism’ was first coined by a man named Moritz Steinschneider who was an Austrian Jewish scholar writing in response to an essay by a French philosopher named Ernest Renan who had written that Jews were an inferior race to white Christian Euopeans. And you should look up the story about Wilhelm Marr, a pre-Nazi German Jew-hater who popularized the term to mean specifically ‘prejudice against Jews,’ when he founded his League of Antisemites which was dedicated to the eradication of Jews from Germany — long before Hitler showed up on the scene. Antisemitism has a very specific definition and it’s synonymous with ‘hatred of Jews.’ Period.”

Aaron balked at that, clearly unaware of the etymology of the term. But then he decided to move the goalposts now that his knowledge of a topic he thought he understood had been challenged. “Well, whatever, it’s still unconscionable what’s happening over there,” he countered, implying he was referring to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He then recounted a personal anecdote from some friend of his who said he watched IDF soldiers “randomly just shooting Palestinian children for fun.”

I tried not to take the bait. “Of course if that’s true, it’s horrific and those soldiers should be tried and punished,” I said, “But I’m not Israeli, I’m American, and my focus is based on that perspective.”

“Yeah, but it’s still your responsibility as a Jew to deal with Zionism…”  and Aaron was off to the races regurgitating the age-old dual-loyalty trope that somehow my ethnic Jewish identity made me personally culpable for the alleged actions of a police body in a foreign country I’ve never been, 7,000 miles away. What followed was a textbook example of antisemitism as embodied by the many people who consider themselves to be firmly on the left side of the American political aisle, and it was as predictably infuriating as you might think. 

This encounter wasn’t unique — or even infrequent. I see it daily on the Left from people who find themselves delighted to have a term they can exchange for the word “Jew” while espousing antisemitic views buried under the supposed pretext of sympathy for the Palestinian people — “Zionist.” As an American Progressive myself, it’s a heartbreaking encounter every time, and it’s endlessly frustrating — especially when it’s yet another white European man trying to lecture someone from a different ethnic background on something they themselves are opining from the perspective of a Dunning-Kruger pit of uneducated populism. 

I’m not someone who subscribes to the Horseshoe Theory of American politics — that the far ends of the political spectrum are identical. And data bears this out, particularly in regard to antisemitism in the United States. A study published in Political Research Quarterly in June examined this very topic — the pervasiveness of antisemitism on the Left v. Right sides of the political spectrum and the results are clear that it’s far worse on the Right. However, it still exists on the Left, and it’s still a problem across both sides of the aisle. 

One question in particular, caught my eye:

Predictably — at least to me — the results bear out the obvious double standard that exists when it comes to antisemitism v. anti-Muslim sentiment. According to the study: “Thirty-one percent of very liberal identifiers think Muslim Americans should denounce Muslim countries, whereas 47% think that Jewish Americans should denounce Israel. On the right, it is the opposite: 27% think Jews should denounce Israel and 65% think Muslims should denounce Muslim countries.” Even more interesting is that those numbers “horseshoe” out much more among younger survey respondents. 

The study authors asked a second double-standard question to provide a little more context and chose three subgroups to compare across the responses:

And there, the horseshoe shows up as well:

Ultimately, while it’s clear that antisemitism is more prevalent and more physically dangerous from the right, the foothold it maintains on the left is deeply concerning. And what’s worse is that even while the differing sides of the aisle proclaim themselves to be diametrically opposed in this ever-increasingly polarized climate, one thing is clear: they’re feeding each other when it comes to antisemitism. 

For students of history, it’s a behavior we’ve seen before. And it leads to catastrophic, bloody consequences. 

*Name changed