As the 2020 election approaches, conspiracy theories and disinformation demonizing political opponents have taken hold nationwide, including in Florida.
A recent column in LIBRE, a Spanish-language publication that paid to have its product printed and inserted into el Nuevo Herald, castigated American Jews as leftists who support the “thieves and arsonists” of Black Lives Matter and antifa, who “seek to destroy America.” Putting aside this blatant mischaracterization of BLM and antifa, linking Jews to a revolutionary and antidemocratic left is a tried-and-true anti-Semitic trope, promoted by anti-Semites, such as Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford, since the 1920s.
Jews have long been described as socialists and Bolsheviks who hate capitalism and seek to foment violent revolution to remake the United States into a left-wing dystopia. In the heated atmosphere of today’s political environment, where fear of socialism is running high, tarring Jews with that brush only invites demonization of an entire religion.
History has shown that Jews are particularly vulnerable to being cast as the villains in conspiracy theories and hyper-partisan political campaigns. Although explicitly anti-Semitic campaigns have not been prominent in the 2020 election cycle, partisans across the political spectrum have circulated anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes.
Attacks on George Soros, a billionaire whose charitable foundation promotes democratic institutions and progressive values, are the most common and vitriolic. Soros is no different from other voters and philanthropists, including the conservative Koch brothers, who support political and policy views. But some right-wing media, pundits and politicians have described Soros as a puppet master who uses his wealth to stoke civil unrest and maliciously undermine American values.
Because Soros is Jewish, numerous extremists link him to age-old anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that wealthy Jews are engaged in a plot to undermine Western civilization. These conspiracy theories — particularly when popularized by mainstream figures — create fertile ground for the most extreme anti-Semitic stereotypes to take root and become normalized. Wealthy Americans of Jewish descent on the left and the right routinely are attacked for allegedly attempting to “buy” American elections. Demonizing one’s political opponents in a conspiratorial anti-democratic manner is particularly harmful to American Jews when they incorporate ant-Semitic tropes.
As the right describes Jews as dangerous left-wing radicals, far-left activists have cast Jews as architects of a rapacious capitalism and white supremacy. These themes can become explicitly anti-Semitic, like the speeches by Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and his followers, which describe Jews as “bloodsuckers” who drain the vitality out of marginalized communities and undermine the advancement of other minority groups. Entertainers and mainstream activists have minimized Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism and held him up as a spokesman for minority empowerment. At ADL, we strongly believe in the pressing need to fight for racial and economic justice and to empower members of marginalized communities. But we must simultaneously be alert to the danger of elevating anti-Semitic voices.
Attempts to isolate and vilify Israel in the political debate can also stoke anti-Semitism. We have seen claims that American Jews put support for Israel above U.S. national interests, and that wealthy Jews, like Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, use the power of their donations to sway American foreign policy in favor of Israel. Some on the right accuse left-wing American Jews of insufficient loyalty to Israel. Intentionally or not, these allegations insinuate that American Jews are potentially disloyal citizens of our country — a classic anti-Semitic trope.
Perhaps the most bizarre conspiracy theory in this election cycle pertains to QAnon — a widespread belief that Democrats and progressives are pedophiles and cannibals, part of an international plot to destroy America. Although anti-Semitism is not a central tenet of QAnon ideology, some adherents conflate this conspiracy to implicate Israel, the Mossad, well-known Jewish individuals such as Jeffrey Epstein, and the Rothschild banking family in plots reminiscent of classic anti-Semitic allegations such as the blood libel (the belief that Jews sacrifice children to drink their blood) and global Jewish conspiracy theories from the fabricated Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
We are pleased the Miami Herald acted to ensure that the newspaper’s Spanish-language edition will no longer carry LIBRE and appreciate its transparent reporting on the missteps that kept the anti-Semitic and racist commentary accompanying the publication undetected for months.
We all need to be vigilant and call out anti-Semitism whenever it appears. Responsible people must refuse to traffic in longstanding anti-Semitic tropes. Most important, we all need to muster the courage to criticize our own “side” when our allies express anti-Semitic or racist ideas.
If we won’t hold ourselves accountable, how can we expect others to do so?
Sheri Zvi is ADL’s Florida regional director. Dennis Kainen, is past Florida regional board chair of ADL.