Mass publishing, the Internet, and the secularization of American society have created a place where any perspective can be broadcasted to a large audience. The first example that comes to mind is politics. In addition to the radio, television, and newspapers, Gen Z has endless options for far-reaching communication in the form of social media; former President Trump’s inflammatory Twitter account and the rise of Instagram activism are proof. The effect? An influx of posts in real-time by users, especially young people, who are even politically conscious and up to date with contemporary issues.
The fast-paced nature of Twitter, in particular, lends itself to a slew of faux-passes in which politicians must quickly delete tweets that have been questioned and criticized by the community, typically for displaying hate speech, prejudice, or bias. A recent instance of this “tweet-then-delete” phenomenon occurred on August 2, 2021, when former Republican Rep. Steve King published an antisemitic tweet regarding the Israeli gold medalist Artem Dolgopyat’s inability to marry his girlfriend in Israel due to his status as a patrilineal Jew. King’s tweet, which sought to portray the sole Jewish state as discriminatory and somehow linked the situation to George Soros (both common tropes of antisemitism), was on par given his history as a proponent of white supremacy. The point of controversy came when Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar quoted King’s tweet with a reaction image of her and fellow “Squad” member/Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib that some interpreted as supporting or endorsing King’s statement. Omar later deleted the tweet, passing it off as a joke that did not land.
Those who don’t know Omar’s and Tlaib’s habits of making anti-Zionist and antisemitic comments might argue that Twitter spat was a misunderstanding. However, buried beneath endless tweets, Instagram stories, and feed posts lies a history of antisemitic vitriol largely passed off as progressive criticism of the Israeli government. It’s not only their histories, either, but also the pattern of abuse; earlier this month, Tlaib employed classic antisemitic imagery at a video conference for the Democratic Socialists of America Convention, alluding to people “behind the curtain” who oppress citizens “from Gaza to Detroit.” This is a much less covert antisemitic flub than Omar’s. Nazi propaganda often depicted Jews as devious schemers hiding behind a curtain. Likewise, the scapegoating of Israel as a cause for the world’s issues is listed as part of the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism. Yet, outside of the Jewish world, the outcry against Tlaib’s statement was virtually nonexistent. Tlaib herself issued no correction or apology.
How is it that the Democratic party, revered for its support of civil rights, feminism, and marriage equality, takes such a passive and even antagonistic role in defending Jews? When did antisemitism stop being a social justice issue for some of the nation’s most radical progressives? Most importantly, what could a faction of self-identified Democratic Socialists have in common with a neo-Nazi? These issues all relate back to the political idea of horseshoe theory.
Horseshoe theory was first identified by the French philosopher and writer Jean-Pierre Faye in 2002. Faye posited that modern notions of political polarity cannot hold true when considering the extremism of both the far-right and far-left. Using the two ends of a horseshoe, Faye illustrated that proponents of radical conservative or progressive politics are actually more similar than they are different, with far more variability of view in the spaces between these endpoints.
Horseshoe theory frames the issue of American antisemitism partially due to the widespread increase in antisemitic acts this past year. In May 2021, the ADL reported a 115% increase in antisemitic attacks compared to the previous year. These attacks ranged in their target and political motivations. Some were traditional examples of neo-Nazism, like the painting of a swastika on an Orthodox synagogue in Tucson, AZ. The amount of radical leftist attacks spread through social media, though, demonstrate what the BBC calls the “Democrats’ tectonic shift on Israel”: brutal assaults on Jews while the perpetrators declare their intent to “Free Palestine,” the popularization of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” (interpreted as a call to abolish the Jewish state and/or cleanse Jews that live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea), and the outpouring of condemnation toward Netflix for publicly denouncing antisemitism and Holocaust denial. Not only are these attacks polarizing, but so are the responses; the right is quick to call out anti-Zionism on the left without acknowledging its own ties to neo-Nazis. Similarly, the left is quick to call out neo-Nazis without acknowledging the ways its anti-Zionist rhetoric employs antisemitic tropes. The effect is not just confusion (on behalf of the general public) as to what constitutes antisemitism; it is the normalization of antisemitism as a tolerated feature of two distinct political parties.
The radical acts of right-wing politics in recent years also highlight the horseshoe theory’s link to antisemitism. The neo-Nazi attacks on Charlottesville and the U. S. capitol are fresh in everyone’s mind. Images of Hitler-praising propaganda, swastikas, and slurs on t-shirts and signs clearly identify their bearers as antisemites. With such blatant displays of hate, the more nuanced and socially acceptable forms of antisemitism (often perpetrated in comments like Tlaib’s) are often buried… much like deleted Twitter posts. From the Nazi regime to the USSR, history has proven that Jews have no true refuge in the right or left, in conservative or progressive spaces.
Diversity and adaptability have allowed the Jewish people’s faith and traditions to continue. Indeed, the diasporic nature of the Jews is often cited as the secret to their survival. Their homelessness in politics, though, still remains an agitator of the antisemitic acts that plague their livelihood, safety, and security.