Under normal conditions, a Democratic primary for the New York City Council would not attract much attention. Yet, Thomas Lopez-Pierre, who is running against incumbent Councilman Mark Levine, has recently received the ire of Jewish groups who believe that he is running on an antisemitism platform. Lopez-Pierre, a fierce anti-gentrification candidate, has continuously postured himself as a defender of Black and Latinx people in the fight against “greedy Jewish landlords” (Forward, “Greedy Jewish Landlords Are The Problem: New York City council Candidate,” 4.24.2017).
And that is no off-hand comment. Look at his Twitter account and you’ll be greeted by the following bio: “Jewish landlords OWN 80% of private rental buildings in Manhattan; GUILTY of GREED for pushing Black/Hispanic tenants out.” Every other tweet mentions “greedy jewish landlords.” He is running on an openly antisemitic platform, and uses his status as a candidate for public office to harass Jewish business owners and Jewish City Councilman Mark Levine. And, if that isn’t enough to make you love this puppy dog of a man, he’s also been convicted of criminal contempt for threatening his ex-wife and has a history of domestic abuse (Observer, “Anti-Semitic NYC Council Candidate Has History of Domestic Abuse”, 4.24.2017).
While a part of me feels guilty about calling any attention to Lopez-Pierre, a perennial candidate with no chance at winning, he demonstrates a growing and disturbing trend of anti-semitism in the Democratic Party and the American left.
For too long, iberals have viewed antisemitism as either an issue of the past or have exclusively associated it with the right. That’s not to say that conservatives don’t have their own antisemitism to deal with, especially considering White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s recent comments about the Holocaust. Antisemitism and anti-Jewish sentiment, unfortunately, infects all political ideologies.
And the American Left isn’t alone in its growing association with antisemitism. The United Kingdom’s Labour Party has grown increasingly antisemitic under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Ken Livingstone, Labour Party member and former Mayor of London, claimed that prior to the Second World War Zionists worked alongside the Nazis (Algemeiner, “Ken Livingstone and the Myth of Zionist Collaboration With the Nazis,” 4.21.2017). Labour Party MP Naz Shah called for the deportation of Israeli Jews in order to allow for the creation of a Palestinian state (The Spectator, “The Labour Party has become institutionally anti-semitic”, 4.5.2017). Yet, the response from the Labour Party to these incidents were underwhelming at best.
In the United States, the Left has followed a similar, if not so obvious trajectory. This growing antisemitism is oftentimes framed as either opposition to Israeli government policies or backlash against economic elites.
For the former, one would only have to look as far as Vassar College’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which in 2014 republished a Nazi propaganda cartoon from Norwegian illustrator Harold Damsleth (Times of Israel, “Vassar’s SJP sort of apologizes for anti-Israel, Nazi cartoon”, 5.16.2014). At Northeastern University, SJP was banned for, among other things, disrupting a Holocaust Awareness Week event (Frontpage Magazine, “Northeastern U. Suspends Students for Justice in Palestine”, 3.17.2014).
Or consider the case of Professor Jasbir Puar, who was invited by the Jewish Studies Department to speak at Vassar College last year and used that opportunity to reuse the historic, antisemitic trope of blood libel and levy it against the Jewish state (Observer, “Vassar Jewish Studies Sponsors Demonization of Israel…Again”, 2.9.2016).
Or consider the case of Linda Sarsour, a pro-Palestinian activist and one of the organizers of the Women’s March, who infamously declared that Zionism is incompatible with feminism. Or consider Rasmea Yousef Odeh, one of the organizers of the “A Day Without a Woman” strike, who was convicted of carrying out a deadly terrorist bombing in Israel that took the lives of two people (Snopes, “One of the Organizers of A Day Without a Woman Strike Was Convicted of a Terrorist Bombing,” 3.25.2017).
Yet antisemitism on the Left does not only exist among opponents of Israel, and oftentimes comes out during movements against economic elites.
Consider the example of Thomas Lopez-Pierre, whose blatant antisemitism came out not in opposition to Israel but as the result of a different hot-button issue: gentrification. Moreover, it painted “greedy Jewish landlords” as the elites committing “ethnic cleansing” against Black and Latinx renters. This parallels a traditional portrayal of Jews as greedy moneylenders and landlords who care nothing for anyone outside their own community.
But Lopez-Pierre is admittedly disliked and most likely won’t be winning this election. However, not every antisemite is so unpopular.
Consider the Occupy Wall Street movement, which targeted the one-percent wealthiest earners and urged the government to act against income inequality. Many liberals remember it fondly. Those same liberals forget that the movement veered off course into antisemitic territory, as one popular Occupy Wall Street page with 250,000 followers repeatedly posted content portraying Jews as elites controlling American politics and the United Nations (Vice News, “When Did the Occupy Movement Start Hating Jews?”, 10.25.2012).
Or consider the Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Keith Ellison. Ellison may not actually be a hardcore antisemite (I’m not saying he’s definitely not but there’s room to disagree). However, Ellison has publicly defended vile antisemites before and even recently. In 1990, Ellison publicly defended statements by Stokely Carmichael, also known as Kwame Ture, claiming that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War (CNN Politics, “Rep. Keith Ellison faces renewed scrutiny over past ties to Nation of Islam, defense of anti-Semitic figures”, 12.1.2016). He also repeatedly defended Louis Farrakhan, a man who has repeatedly claimed that Jews control the media and that the Holocaust was exaggerated. Yet, he received widespread support, including from Jewish progressives, when he made a big push to be the Chair of the Democratic National Committee.
There is a clear pattern in these cases of those on the Left dismissing anti-semitism as unimportant when it is tied with progressive movements they like. The American Left has not endorsed those efforts to connect Jews with greedy economic elites, but have allowed it to occur and have failed to properly object to such claims. That a man like Thomas Lopez-Pierre would even feel comfortable associating himself with the Democratic Party demonstrates that the American Left has a serious issue regarding how it portrays and approaches Jews. That a man like Keith Ellison could become Deputy Chair of a major political party demonstrates that those same Democrats don’t view antisemitism as particularly important. The social justice issues some of these activists and politicians raise are essential and vital to protecting marginalized peoples in the United States. However, such movements must reckon with and expel antisemitism from their ranks if they are to properly fight for the rights and safety of all people.