Antisemitism Is Real — We Must Fight It Loud and Proud
Jews are under assault in the United States. White nationalists are marking the landscape with a trail of blood and swastikas, desecrating Jewish tombstones, and plotting to blow up synagogues. As seen on surveillance cameras, Hasidic Jews are being randomly attacked by young people, some of color, from a variety of backgrounds. Jewish students are being intimidated and harassed on college campuses, including by members of Students for Justice in Palestine, if they dare to support Israel. Age-old antisemitic tropes are ringing through the halls of Congress. And the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel is attempting to inject its hateful antisemitic rhetoric into our public school curricula.
Rather than elicit a strong and unified public response from Jewish communities across the country, however, these assaults seem to have left many stunned. There have been no mass town halls or marches and rallies against antisemitism. Understandably, this vacuum has left many American Jews feeling disconcerted and helpless.
To help mitigate these feelings, it behooves American Jews to remember that throughout centuries of persecution, Jewish communities have survived by exercising self-determination and collective responsibility for their future.
Indeed, it was these qualities that inspired the first Zionists and the halutzim — pioneers — of the State of Israel, and it is similar qualities that encourage the Israeli people as they endure missile fire and terrorist attacks from Gaza. Thus, while American Jews may not yet be facing violence on a broad scale, channeling these same qualities may help to empower them as they confront the inevitable challenges that lie ahead.
Using the acronym “RESPOND,” I offer seven integrally-linked approaches to doing so:
Recognize that we are facing serious threats to our safety and to our country’s relationship with Israel. Rather than attempt to minimize the seriousness of the situation, by acknowledging its severity, you will be more receptive to seeking ways to respond.
Educate yourselves and interested friends about the roots of antisemitism and about the antisemitic tropes that followed. During the Middle Ages, the Church forbade Christians from dealing with money and forbade Jews from participating in most professions. As a result, Jews were forced to become money lenders and bankers, which led to the antisemitic stereotype that Jews are stingy — and to vicious comments like Ilhan Omar’s “It’s all about the Benjamins.”
Another source of antisemitism from that time period is the Blood Libel, referring to a Christian-based accusation that Jews killed Christian babies and used their blood for Jewish rituals. This is the source of antisemitic rhetoric espoused by Rutgers professor Jasbir Puar, who writes that Israel harvests the organs of Palestinians in Gaza and starves Palestinian communities for medical experiments.
Support each other in this struggle. These are frightening times, and the threats against us are real. It is important that we maintain a sense of purpose and keep morale high both on an individual level and on a communal level. The fragmentation and infighting within the Jewish community about how to respond to antisemitism is counterproductive and must stop. By supporting and encouraging each other’s efforts, our responses will be more effective.
Prioritize the fight against antisemitism over other causes that are important to you. We all care about many issues, but our time, energy, and resources are likely limited. By prioritizing antisemitism, you will help bolster our response to it.
Own your identity as a Jew. Rather than hide your Jewish identity, wear it proudly. Wear your Star of David. Wear your kippah in public. If you feel nervous doing so, organize a group to show your Jewish pride together.
Notify relevant authorities when you see antisemitism in action. Call the police or the FBI if you see swastikas or other antisemitic graffiti or fliers. If Jewish students are being harassed, contact the Louis Brandeis Center in Washington, DC, or the Office of Civil Rights in the US Department of Education. If you see antisemitic rhetoric on social media, report it online.
Donate your time and money. There are a variety of efforts underway in response to this wave of antisemitism. Some groups are circulating petitions and organizing protests. Others are raising money for a variety of grassroots interventions. Your donations are needed.
It is true that the Jewish people have been through far worse times than what American Jews are facing today. It is also true that if we do not respond to the antisemitism that is confronting us, things will continue to get worse.
Melissa Landa PhD has been addressing the pernicious tactics and goals of the BDS campaign for four years. Most recently, she founded and directs the new anti-BDS organization Alliance for Israel.