How the left is reclaiming the fight against antisemitism

By centering their resistance within the wider anti-racism struggle, progressive Jewish organizers are following a new model for confronting the growing threat of antisemitism.

By Shane Burley in Waging Nonviolence

Most people do not expect to see open antisemitism enter mainstream discourse, even as white nationalists try to keep that flame alive. Nevertheless, as Trump became the figurehead of the Republican base, and conspiracy theories about George Soros or QAnon mythologies became commonplace, the ideas of Jewish cabals became an anchor of conservative discourse.

The threat to Jews only magnified as the alt-right grew starting in 2015, particularly with high-profile moments like the 2017 torchlight march in Charlottesville and the 2018 mass murder of 11 Jewish parishioners at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The so-called “Jewish Question” — or the antisemetic assertion of allegedly problematic Jewish behavior in society — has risen to prominence on the right. Its barely coded forms were becoming common Republican talking points as they railed against “cultural Marxism,” “financial elites” and other dog whistles historically used for Jews.

With the prospect of a volatile 2020 election season on the horizon, several organizers from progressive Jewish organizations decided to create a collaborative tracking project that would help explain how prevalent antisemitism had become on the right. They wanted a tool that would help recognize antisemitic patterns, such as the reliance on conspiracy theories. At the same time, they wanted to use an intersectional, anti-racist lens that saw antisemitism as part of a larger white supremacist web of bigoted assumptions and structural inequalities.

As a result, they formed Jews Against White Nationalism, or JAWN, in 2019 and began immediately tracking the incidents of antisemitism occurring with accelerating frequency on the right. By focusing on a wide range of incidents — from actual attacks to the use of well-worn antisemitic tropes on the floor of Congress — members of JAWN could see not only antisemitism’s persistent relevance, but also the forces behind it.

Building an accurate picture of the antisemitic threat

“Anyone paying attention saw that there was an increase in the use of accusations of antisemitism to go after progressive leaders and, in particular, progressive leaders of color,” said Sophie Ellman-Golan, who works with Jew for Racial and Economic Justice, or JFREJ, a partner organization in the Jews Against White Nationalism project. She had been the Communications Director for the Women’s March, which was plagued by accusations of antisemitism. She saw first-hand how such accusations, both real and manufactured, could stop a progressive movement in its tracks.

The project began as a coalition of three organizations that had been
involved in progressive organizing: Bend the Arc, JFREJ, and the
anti-occupation group IfNotNow. All three had entered with unique
histories of their own, which included an analysis and approach to the
problem of antisemitism while not centering all of their work on the
issue either. IfNotNow did trainings on antisemitism as part of its larger activist development work. Bend the Arc worked to integrate a critical analysis of antisemitism that avoids right-wing trappings, and JFREJ produced a now popular pamphlet for the left on understanding antisemitism from an intersectional lens.


Read the full piece at Waging Nonviolence.