The Myth of “Anti-Semitic Violence” – Michael Lesher

The claim that the world is awash in an outbreak of Jew-hatred is a myth – a fiction cynically recycled every few years as a cover for Israeli brutality.

That’s easily said. Still, with so many falsehoods parading as news these days, why single out the lie that Jews are “under attack” in what mainstream media monotonously call a “wave of anti-Semitic violence”? Why not just ignore it and move on?

First, because this particular lie is peddled by so powerful an array of propagandists, and swallowed by so many well-meaning people, that a prompt corrective is needed to set the record straight.

Second, and even more importantly, because the lie is part of an organized campaign to turn reality upside down – to convert supporters of Israeli violence into victims, to blame the real victims for their own suffering, and to subordinate the whole issue of Palestinian human rights to the self-serving dictates of an Israeli-driven propaganda machine as to what does and doesn’t offend delicate Jewish “sensibilities.”

If we allow that kind of lie to stand unchallenged, we’re (quite literally) helping Israel get away with murder.

Not that you’d know any of this from mainstream media. At the moment, it’s almost impossible to find a “respectable” outlet that isn’t brimming with warnings about a worldwide threat to the Jews – and the fact that the same claim has been peddled before, and debunked before, doesn’t seem to bother the purveyors in the slightest.

Yet there really ought to be a few raised eyebrows over the gulf dividing the alarmist tone of the “reports” – “violence and harassment targeting American Jews…coast-to-coast” (BBC); “anti-Semitic attacks and slurs in several American cities” (PBS); “a wave of antisemitic attacks…violence and abhorrent rhetoric” (National Public Radio); “Jews have been threatened and attacked” (New York Times) – from the remarkably murky details purportedly proving them.

The May 26 issue of Ami Magazine, a popular Orthodox Jewish weekly, claims to have information about “several scuffles…including in Toronto, Montreal and New York” and insists that “Jews were beaten at several of these events.”

Ah, but which ones? Ami avoids giving specifics – and a closer look suggests that the facts aren’t on offer because they don’t exist.

Consider Toronto. What was originally described as an “anti-Semitic attack” in that city turned out to have been a fracas instigated by the notorious Jewish Defense League – listed by the FBI as a terrorist organization – in which the Jew identified as the “victim” first swung a large club, then brandished a knife, before being “attacked.” (That didn’t stop Ontario Premier Doug Ford from condemning “anti-Semitism” after the event – a statement he refused to withdraw even when presented with video evidence of the behavior of the “victim.”)

And Montreal? The circumstances of that “attack” are scarcely less turbid. The claims of “violence” against Jews were reported entirely by pro-Israel organizations and their supporters; given the heavy police presence in the area at the time, the absence of corroborating testimony renders the story rather hard to credit.

Meanwhile, a similar report of an “anti-Semitic attack” in Los Angeles (also cited in Ami) was promptly debunked by Richard Silverstein, whose Tikun Olam blog has an excellent track record for accuracy. Here is Silverstein’s report as of May 25:

You may have read about the purported “wave” of anti-Semitic incidents sweeping the world in response to Israel’s attack on Gaza. Don’t you believe it. One of the main incidents supposedly involved a group of Jews eating outdoors at an LA sushi restaurant. The media narrative says that a car full of Palestinians waving the Palestinian fla[g] shouted “fuck you” at the diners and then threw a bottle at them.

My LA Jewish friends who’ve seen video of the incident and spoken to Palestinians involved (who were never interviewed by the media) say that a group of right-wing Iranian Jews saw the car with the flags, shouted “fuck you” at the Palestinians, then threw a bottle from their table at the car.

No wonder Ami doesn’t bother trying to present evidence of that “anti-Semitic attack.”

New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind – a protégé of convicted terrorist Rabbi Meir Kahane – claims to have identified another “victim of anti-Jewish violence” in Las Vegas.

But to eyes less biased than Hikind’s, the facts tell a different story.

By his own account, the “victim” – a Jew from Staten Island – accosted a Palestinian family he encountered at the MGM Casino with the boast that he too is “from Palestine” (he isn’t), and that “Jews have been around for 5,000 years” (they haven’t), adding that he is a “proud Jew” – meaning, evidently, that he supported Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and the massacre Israel was perpetrating in order to secure it. It seems this taunt angered the Palestinian man sufficiently to induce him to push his interlocutor backward, causing him to fall – whereupon the “proud Jew” called the police.

As if being shoved in a casino after bragging about your fondness for racist violence weren’t proof enough of universal Jew-hatred, the “victim” points angrily to the fact that the police are “only” charging his assailant with “battery.” He thinks he suffered a “hate crime” – though from my point of view there’s more “hate” in endorsing mass murder than in getting upset about it.

Anyway, if that’s the horrific “anti-Jewish violence” that’s supposed to be sweeping America, I’m not panicking.

In fact, if the consequences weren’t so sinister, some of the hoopla would be almost funny.

One story making the rounds in mainstream media alleges an “attack” on an empty kosher pizzeria located on Manhattan’s posh Upper East Side. As far as I can tell, all that’s known is that someone damaged the front door during the night – there’s no evidence of a motive, let alone an anti-Semitic motive. But when Israel needs cover stories, a damaged glass door is a Big Deal: the Anti-Defamation League is said to be “working with law-enforcement officials to investigate the incident,” while Ben Kallos, a Jewish member of New York City Council, added: “This is happening everywhere…. People are in fear all over our city.”

By way of contrast, when the owner of the Foodbenders grocery in Toronto was subjected last year to a systematic campaign of harassment, vandalism and threats for posting comments supportive of occupied Palestine in a shop window, the police refused to act – even when video clearly showed an identifiable woman defacing Foodbenders’ front door with spray-painted graffiti. Meanwhile, local politicians attacked the owner, calling her expressions of sympathy for Palestinians “disgusting,” “hateful,” “abhorrent” and “unacceptable.” Double standards, anyone?

If these fictions about “anti-Semitic violence” have a familiar ring, they should: Israel’s mouthpieces have been telling the same tall tales for years. In May 2002, just in time to divert public attention from Israel’s escalating terror campaign in the occupied West Bank (where, in less than a month, Israeli forces killed nearly 500 Palestinians and demolished 878 homes), a Zionist professor at San Francisco State University claimed to have seen an “out of control mob” launch “a raw, physical assault” on “praying [Jewish] students, and the elderly women…who survived the Holocaust.”

The “Palestinians and their supporters,” she wrote, were “literally chanting for our deaths,” while “the police could do nothing more than surround the Jewish students and community members who were now trapped in the corner of a plaza, grouped under the flags of Israel.”

That this story was fabricated – a fact the redoubtable scholar Norman Finkelstein confirmed simply by checking with Jewish eyewitnesses – did not prevent it from being repeatedly broadcast as fact in “worldwide media venues,” as the Jewish Journal boasted within two weeks of the professor’s account.

Media complicity in the propaganda campaign is another persistent component of the problem – a point Finkelstein underscored in his book Beyond Chutzpah. In 2003, as Israel completed its brutal suppression of the Second Intifada, the “progressive” Jewish magazine Tikkun announced that America was experiencing a “virulent new strain” of “anti-Semitism.”

The proof? “A Jewish student wearing a yarmulke at Yale University is attacked by a Palestinian in his dormitory,” shrilled the article’s lead paragraph.

But Finkelstein found that “no one at Yale’s Center for Jewish Life or the university administration had ever heard of such an assault.”

Embarrassing, wouldn’t you think? But if the author of that lie, one Miriam Greenspan, or Tikkun, the publisher, learned a lesson about inventing “anti-Jewish violence” where none exists, you wouldn’t know it from their behavior. Sixteen years later, Greenspan was still complaining in prominent media about “the PC brand of antisemitic anti-Zionism that flourishes today, in which the ancient animosity toward Jews as a ‘race’ has been transposed to Israel as a nation.”

Meanwhile, Tikkun’s Rabbi Michael Lerner was pontificating that “a growing section of progressives are in fact legitimating anti-Semitic tropes,” such as the claim that Israel is a “central ally of global imperialism.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

I myself exposed media complicity in another pogrom-that-wasn’t – on the blog site of the Times of Israel, no less. Once again, the context was an Israeli massacre – this time in July 2014, when the assault Israel cynically dubbed “Protective Edge” had already claimed 150 of the more than 2,100 Gazan lives it would obliterate that summer.

Once again, slaughtered Palestinians were upstaged in the press by hysterical reports that a mob of anti-Semites had attacked a Paris synagogue on Bastille Day,while helpless Jews “cowered” inside.

In fact, the synagogue was never attacked at all; the violence was started by Jewish hoodlums who assaulted a group of demonstrators engaged in a noisy but nonviolent protest in the street outside. I haven’t seen any retractions of the original (false) story, though. As far as mainstream media are concerned, stories alleging anti-Semitic attacks don’t require proof – they are true by definition.

Even when not manufactured out of whole cloth, the tales of Jew-hatred are seldom what they seem. In the last two weeks, the New York press has been agog with horrified accounts of a man who started a fire outside a Brooklyn yeshiva and punched a Hasidic man a few hours later. As it happens, there is surveillance video evidence supporting the story.

But the suspect, Ali Alaheri, is also accused of burning an American flag outside a Catholic church and knocking over an image of Jesus in the week prior to the alleged arson at the yeshiva. What is more – though this isn’t mentioned in any of the articles I’ve read – court records show that Alaheri, while in prison on other charges in 2019, was held on a “suicide watch” and was described by a judge as having “significant mental health issues.”

So, while it’s possible that his latest acts reflected anti-Semitism, they’re more likely just the products of a disturbed mind. But don’t expect to learn that from the press.

The editorial bias that makes these bogus stories possible extends to the media’s uncritical reliance on dubious “sources.” When New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio promised enhanced police protection for “Jewish communities” on May 23, he was standing alongside Rabbi Bernard Freilich, according to the Jerusalem Post, which also claimed that America is experiencing “the worst anti-Semitic attacks in decades.”

“Antisemitism has to be stopped immediately,” Rabbi Freilich piously added. “It’s just out of control.”

Freilich ought to know something about being “out of control.” In 2011, the rabbi abruptly “submitted his resignation” from a $100,000-a-year job with the New York State Police after he was caught misusing a police badge, a vehicle placard and a set of emergency lights. In any other context, that kind of history might impair his credibility – but you won’t see it mentioned when he’s adding weight to an Israel-inspired propaganda blitz.

Actually, the sheer mendacity of the pro-atrocity campaign is getting so extreme that, apart from shady political fixers like Freilich, Jewish media are having trouble finding mouthpieces unscrupulous enough to fabricate the PR. So we find the latest issue of Ami Magazine relying on a non-Jewish ex-spook named John Loftus for the bizarre claim that Associated Press and Al Jazeera reporters deliberately “looked the other way every single time” Hamas fighters in Gaza aimed mortar rounds at “Israeli school buses full of children” (yes, really), thus rendering the journalists and their employers “complicit” in “war crimes.”

And just who is John Loftus? Well, the most notorious point of his media career occurred when, during an interview on Fox News, he gave out the address of a suburban Los Angeles home with the false claim that it contained a “terrorist,” forcing an innocent family of five to obtain police protection. (Fox called this a “careless error,” but quickly dropped Loftus as a “contributor.”)

Using a guy like that to proclaim Jewish innocence by manufacturing evidence-free conspiracy theories is scraping the bottom of a pretty filthy barrel. But apparently Loftus is kosher as long as he’s whitewashing the right criminals – that is, Jewish ones.

The bottom line? Whenever Israel is dropping bombs on helpless people, and you read in the press that “Jews are under attack,” or that there is a world-wide “wave of anti-Semitic violence,” you can be pretty sure you’re being lied to.

And not just because the “facts” in those stories are generally falsified or embellished.

There’s a deeper problem, too.

The message underlying all the propaganda never varies: Jewish discomfort is somehow the fault of Palestinians and their supporters – “anti-Semitism” is something critics of Israel must either “distance themselves from” or be tarred with. If Jews don’t like the sound of Palestinian activism, the activists need to justify themselves to the satisfaction of the Jews. Otherwise there is no merit in their defense of Palestinian rights, leaving Israel the aggrieved party by default.

Yet the truth is exactly the reverse of this. Jews have never had anything to fear from pro-Palestinian activism. On the contrary: Israel’s propagandists (politicians, pundits, “journalists” included) are not only complicit in Israel’s crimes against Palestinians; they are far and away the most powerful fomenters of anti-Semitism in the world today.

For it is the apologists for Israeli violence, not Palestinians, who scream from every media platform that Jews, by definition, must be criminals: that “Jewish identity” entails the oppression of non-Jews, the theft of their land, the confinement of whole populations in squalid ghettos where they are periodically massacred.

It is Israel’s “supporters,” not Palestinians, who insist that all criticism of Israeli atrocities necessarily offends Jews – who must, ex hypothesi, be defenders of mass murder, torture and apartheid. It is they, not Palestinians, who deny that Jews with ethical principles can really be Jews at all. It is they who equate Judaism with land theft and Jewish identity with ethnic supremacism.

Can there possibly be a more anti-Semitic teaching than this? Anyone who is genuinely concerned about anti-Jewish bigotry is simply wasting time talking about Palestinian activists (whose leading figures, in any case, have scrupulously excluded anti-Semitism from the movement).

The real target should be the pro-Israel crowd that, as I write, is aggressively propagandizing the world with the claim that the word “Jew” and the phrase “lawless, bloody occupier of other people’s territory” mean one and the same thing.

Which brings me to the case of Joseph Borgen. In the midst of all the media fakery about “anti-Semitic violence,” Borgen, a young Long Island accountant, lays claim to being just about the only Jew who has actually experienced a verifiable physical attack in the last few weeks that may have been motivated, in part, by his religious affiliation.

But what actually happened?

According to Borgen’s own account (reported in fawning detail by Ami Magazine), he was on his way to a pro-Israel demonstration in Times Square on May 20 – wearing a yarmulke – when, just “a couple of blocks away from the rally,” he was suddenly surrounded by “a crowd of people” who beat and kicked him, and then “proceed[ed] to mace and pepper spray me” before police arrived. He suffered minor injuries, was treated at Bellevue Hospital, and was released later that same night. As least one arrest has already been made in the case; police are still seeking other suspects.

Ami’s headline for the story is nothing short of hysterical: “ATTACKED by Anti-Semites!” (Yes, the capital letters and exclamation point all appear in the original.)

A bit of historical perspective is in order. The day American hostages, newly released from Iran, reached American soil in January 1981, the New York Times – the same newspaper that is convulsed with indignation if a Jewish supporter of Israeli atrocities gets his hat knocked off – editorialized that there should be “rage and revulsion” in the streets of the US, where Iranian students bold enough to stage pro-Khomeini demonstrations (according to Newsweek) had already been subject to “violent” treatment that included attacks with baseball bats. Khomeini, with all his faults, was guilty of nothing worse than the crimes Israel commits regularly against Palestinians – but the Times considered “rage and revulsion” appropriate ways to deal with people who rallied in his support.

Woody Allen, always an accurate bellwether of orthodox liberal opinion, was even more direct in his 1979 film Manhattan“Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey,” he asks in one scene. “We should go there, get some guys together. Get some bricks and baseball bats and explain things to ‘em.” A woman – one of Allen’s stereotypical, myopic bluestockings – mentions a “devastating satirical piece on that in the Times,” to which Allen tartly replies, “Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks get right to the point.”

For the record, I don’t agree with Allen. Violence breeds violence, and throwing bricks (at whatever target) can only end by elevating the sort of people who prefer brick-throwing to civilization – not the elements we want to strengthen. But I have never sat in a movie audience that didn’t laugh appreciatively at Allen’s suggestion that Nazis deserve a little roughing up.

So where does that leave the Jewish accountant who was so fond of racist brutality that he dropped everything he was doing on May 20 to publicly demonstrate his support for it?

In a 1990 interview, the respected Israeli intellectual Yeshayahu Leibowitz – who was also a religious Jew – warned that Israel was becoming “a Judeo-Nazi state.” Noting that “the Israeli Defense Force, armed to the teeth by American weapons, has assassinated 150 [Palestinian] children in the past two years alone,” Leibowitz insisted that the word “Nazi” was the only appropriate word to describe its conduct:

The minister of Defense [Yitzhak Rabin] who gave the order to break the arms and legs of Palestinian prisoners is a Nazi…And the president of the High Court [Moshe Landau], who judged that torturing prisoners was allowed, is a Nazi.”

I cannot gainsay Leibowitz’s reasoning. So let us use plain language to describe inescapable facts. The Times Square demonstration – the purpose of which was to flaunt Jewish support for crimes against humanity – was a Nazi rally. The Jews who organized it were Nazis. For his eagerness to attend, Joseph Borgen, if not actually a Nazi, was at least a Nazi sympathizer.

And according to the moral standards endorsed by the New York Times, by Woody Allen, and by all of Allen’s liberal admirers, Borgen got off rather lightly under the circumstances: he was kicked and pepper-sprayed, but not clobbered with bricks or baseball bats.

To repeat: I do not endorse that standard. Even Nazis have rights. I think it is entirely proper for Borgen’s assailants to be prosecuted.

But anyone who expects me to be shocked or outraged because one supporter of mass murder got slapped around in Times Square is barking up the wrong tree. What is outrageous is not that someone took a swing at Borgen next door to a Nazi rally he couldn’t wait to join. What is outrageous is that Jews organized a Nazi rally in the first place. That so many Jews enthusiastically attended it makes it doubly outrageous.

“The photos and videos are horrifying,” Ami Magazine declares in the same issue that laments the attack on Borgen. But the “photos and videos” its editors have in mind aren’t of the carnage inflicted by the Holy State on the men, women and children of Gaza. They’re of a handful of Jews who may have paid a small price for the Israeli teaching that Judaism is a violent, racist cult. For Ami and its fellow propagandists, only supporters of violence can be victims; the real victims – Palestinians – are simply nonpersons.

This appalling inversion of moral priorities gives the clue to the real nature of the myth of “anti-Semitic violence.” The myth is not just a distortion of facts. It is a grotesque revaluation of the most basic moral tenets; it makes “victims” of oppressors and converts truth-telling into bigotry.

That’s why we should not dignify the myth with a moment’s pause – let alone respond to it with our own condemnations of “anti-Semitism,” however tempting this may be to decent people who want to stress their freedom from bigotry. To allow phony “anti-Semitism” claims to dominate the public discourse about Palestine – especially under the circumstances we face now, as Israel moves from crime to bloody crime – is only to encourage the propagandists and to betray the Palestinians who await with dread the next Israeli onslaught.

The right approach is perfectly simple.

Denounce the crimes. Resist the criminals. Tell the truth. Support the victims.

And do not stop. Whatever the liars may say.

Michael Lesher is an author, poet and lawyer whose legal work is mostly dedicated to issues connected with domestic abuse and child sexual abuse. His latest nonfiction book is Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland & Co., 2014); his first collection of poetry, Surfaces, was published by The High Window in 2019. A memoir of his discovery of Orthodox Judaism as an adult – Turning Back: The Personal Journey of a “Born-Again” Jew – was published in September 2020 by Lincoln Square Books.


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