The old anti-Semitism was mostly, but not exclusively, a tribal prejudice expressed in America up until the mid 20th century most intensely on the right. It manifested itself from the silk-stocking country club and corporation (“gentlemen’s agreement”) to the rawer regions of the Ku Klux Klan’s lunatic fringe.
While liberals from Joe Kennedy to Gore Vidal were often openly anti-Semitic, the core of traditional anti-Semitism, as William F. Buckley once worried, was more rightist. And such fumes still arise among the alt-right extremists.
Yet soon a new anti-Semitism became more insidious, given that it was a leftist phenomenon among those quick to cite oppression and discrimination elsewhere. Who then could police the bigotry of the self-described anti-bigotry police?
The new form of the old bias grew most rapidly on the 1960s campus and was fueled by a number of leftist catalysts. The novel romance of the Palestinians and corresponding demonization of Israel, especially after the 1967 Six-Day War, gradually allowed former Jew-hatred to be cloaked by new rabid and often unhinged opposition to Israel. In particular, these anti-Semites fixated on Israel’s misdemeanors and exaggerated them while excusing and downplaying the felonies of abhorrent and rogue nations.
Indeed, evidence of the new anti-Semitism was that the Left was neutral, and even favorable, to racist, authoritarian, deadly regimes of the then Third World while singling out democratic Israel for supposed humanitarian crimes. By the late 1970s, Israelis and often by extension Jews in general were demagogued by the Left as Western white oppressors. Israel’s supposed victims were romanticized abroad as exploited Middle Easterners. And by extension, Jews were similarly exploiting minorities at home.
Then arose a relatively new mainstream version of Holocaust denial that deprived Jews of any special claim to historic victim status. And it was a creed common among World War II revisionists and some American minorities who were resentful that the often more successful Jews might have experienced singularly unimaginable horror in the past. The new anti-Semitism that grew up in the 1960s was certainly in part legitimized by the rise of overt African-American bigotry against Jews (and coupled by a romantic affinity for Islam). It was further nursed on old stereotypes of cold and callous Jewish ghetto storeowners (e.g., “The Pawnbroker” character), and expressed boldly in the assumption that black Americans were exempt from charges of bias and hatred.
Anti-Semitic blacks assumed that they could not be credibly charged with bigotry and were therefore free to say what they pleased about Jews. Indeed, by the 1970s and 1980s, anti-Semitism had become the mother’s milk of a prominent post–Martin Luther King Jr. black-activist leadership, well beyond Malcolm X and the Black Panthers — even though Jews had been on the forefront of the civil-rights movements and had been recognized as such by an earlier generation of liberal black leaders.
Soon it became common for self-described black leaders to explain, to amplify, to contextualize, or to be unapologetic about their anti-Semitism, in both highbrow and lowbrow modes: James Baldwin (“Negroes are anti-Semitic because they’re anti-white”), Louis Farrakhan (“When they talk about Farrakhan, call me a hater, you know what they do, call me an anti-Semite. Stop it. I am anti-termite. The Jews don’t like Farrakhan, so they call me Hitler. Well, that’s a great name. Hitler was a very great man”), Jesse Jackson (“Hymietown”), Al Sharpton (“If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house”), and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright (“The Jews ain’t gonna let him [Obama] talk to me”).
Note that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton both ran as Democratic candidates for president. Sharpton officially visited the Obama White House more than 100 times, and Wright was the Obamas’ longtime personal pastor who officiated at the couple’s wedding and the baptism of their daughters and inspired the title of Obama’s second book.
In the past ten years, however, we have seen an emerging new, new anti-Semitism. It is likely to become far more pernicious than both the old-right and new-left versions, because it is not just an insidiously progressive phenomenon. It has also become deeply embedded in popular culture and is now rebranded with acceptable cool among America’s historically ignorant youth.