On Nov. 21, I was lucky enough to attend Never Is Now, the Anti-Defamation League’s summit on combating anti-Semitism. It offered a plethora of fascinating speakers, panelists and activities, but a few short moments stuck out for me. The first and most interesting was a set of contradicting responses from a panel that included Bari Weiss, Op-Ed Staff Editor and Writer for The New York Times, Eric Ward, the Executive Director of Western States Center and Bret Stephens, Op-Ed Columnist for The New York Times.
Toward the beginning of the panel, Weiss was posed the question, “why do you think everyone is so caught up in this question of ‘is it worse on the right or the left?’ instead of focusing on digging into the sources on the right or left and what we might do about them?” Weiss responded by first explaining that while alt right anti-Semitism is unequivocally more lethal than that on the left, leftist anti-Semitism should be taken seriously and opposed with urgency. She argued that we can acknowledge that alt right ideologues are the predominant (and almost exclusive) perpetrators of physical anti-Semitic harm, while remaining vigilant to leftist anti-Semites—it isn’t either/or.We can and must fight both.
Her second point drew a connection between the fact that American Jews are mostly liberal, and because of that, leftist anti-Semitism often falls under the radar. Weiss said it can sometimes be hard to admit your own team is in the wrong, but the left needs to stop hesitating to call out anti-Jewish prejudice in their own camp: the camp that prides itself on values like acceptance, justice and egalitarianism. Leftist anti-Semitism, according to Weiss, can seep into the mainstream, masquerading as well-intentioned social justice efforts solely focused on winning rights for Palestinians. Weiss explained that we need to be hyper-aware of this and not let anti-Semitism ever be grouped with social justice.
Ward responded later to the same prompt with a slightly different view. He, along with Stephens, sees these left v. right distinctions as immaterial to the fight against anti-Semitism. Ward contended that “there is really no left or right anti-Semitism, there is merely anti-Semitism in America.” Ward believes that the underlying ideologies that drive the two are the same, and thus he sees characterizing anti-Semitism on the left as worse than on the right or vice versa to be schismatic and pointless.
While listening to the panel, Weiss’ and Ward’s statements seemed generally in agreement, but upon further consideration I found the substance of their arguments to be quite different, even contradictory. Weiss sees distinctions between left and right anti-Semitism as potentially productive because they are inherently different and use different tactics. Ward and Stephens saw these distinctions as divisive and counterproductive, potentially turning such a vital, nonpartisan issue into a partisan one.
Another moment during the summit that piqued my interest was in a break-out session on extremism. A panel made up by security professionals and a former jihadist conversed about social media and the intersection of liberty, security and privacy on it. Two of the panelists, who specialize in identifying and limiting extremism online, debunked the commonly held view that suspending or deleting social media accounts that espouse extremist rhetoric helps mitigate their impact. In fact, according to them, it often does the opposite. When a terrorist is suspended from Twitter or Facebook, they don’t just stop communicating. They move onto more obscure forums which are often harder to monitor or regulate.Thus, to my surprise, these experts were arguing against censorship on mainstream social media platforms.
Overall, the Never Is Now Annual Summit introduced me to numerous unique ideas I would not have otherwise encountered. Having a whole day to focusing on the challenges of anti-Semitism changed my views on certain topics and added nuance and depth to others. I look forward to delving more deeply into these topics in the future.
Caleb Levine is a sophomore at Montclair High School in Montclair, N.J.