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January 31, 2020 9:58 am

Ideologues, From Both Right and Left, Are Poisoning America and Abetting Antisemitism

avatar by Justin Feldman


A picture of the scene the day after an hours-long gun battle around a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey, Dec. 11, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Lloyd Mitchell.

One of the greatest challenges facing Jews today is dealing with the fact that even lethal antisemitism is not being addressed properly by our own people, or our hyper-polarized political culture. Our country seems more divided, on the surface, than in any recent decade.

Polarization stifles honest conversations that we could be having about lethal antisemitism. That’s why the wounds of Jew-hatred remain fresh and untended on our bodies and minds. That’s why antisemitic speech, unconfronted, remains toxic and deadly for all of us. The inability to have open, frank, and meaningful conversations on the normalization of antisemitism leading up to the attacks in Jersey City, Monsey, Poway and the Tree of Life synagogue, makes uniting as Americans, as Jews, and as non-Jews, so challenging — and makes the cyclical resurgence of hate seem almost intractable.

The majority of 2020 presidential candidates condemned the antisemitic shooting in Jersey City on Twitter within hours of it happening. But not a single candidate (and also not President Trump) explicitly denounced the ties of bigoted rhetoric that animated the attack, emerging from the primary assailant’s affiliations with the “Black Hebrew Israelites” (BHI) — a radical, culturally-appropriative organization (not connected to black Jews), which has been known to regularly target visibly Ashkenazi or Hasidic Jewish people as “impostors of ‘the synagogue of Satan,'” as well as LGBTQ+ people and other communities.

I predicted that no candidate in the sixth Democratic debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles would mention who the BHI are; that antisemitism is not a partisan phenomenon, but a problem that infects both political aisles and all social groups; or would mention the New Jersey shooting at all. I had hoped to be proven wrong, by even one candidate. But sadly, I was right.

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The buckpass of identifying hate under one’s broad ideological wing has been repeated by a number of rising partisan buffs. From Senator Bernie Sanders’ embrace of campaign surrogate Linda Sarsour, and campaign trail stops with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), we’ve witnessed the raw enablement and normalization of ongoing antisemitic rhetoric — i.e. dual-loyalty canards and demonizations of Israel as a “Jewish collective” — jumbled up with progressive politics

On the other end, we have the president and members of his cabinet, exercising great power to help the Jewish state and the Jewish people, for a similar partisan agenda, while espousing analogous conspiracy theories against “globalists” — a common antisemitic trope. Trump and his supporters have also gotten in bed with prominent antisemites, and demonized the Democratic Party as anti-Israel, turning Israel and Jews unfairly into a partisan issue, and trying to turn anyone who disagrees with him into an antisemitic enemy.

A failure to condemn these actions on both sides will only further entice politicians to use antisemitism as a means of hypocritical and partisan moral décor, without real substance or consistency when the hate is found within.

Not only does this diminish mainstream American abilities to distinguish valid political platforms from blanket blood libels, but it diminishes the very basis of our Constitutional, legal and democratic norms as well. As long as we cannot use our voices and our votes to mobilize an urgent separation of bigotry from policy, instead of simply overlooking it, we will continue to see Jewish societal alienation and the resurgence of lethal antisemitism in America. One cannot deny the antisemitic rhetorical patterns in politics that have helped mobilize anti-Jewish terrorists everywhere. We must demand more for and from ourselves.

As a young, Zionist campus organizer — and the only Jew sitting on UCLA’s official Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Student Advisory Board — I find my voice a necessary but insufficient means of pushing difficult conversations forward.

From combating the aggressive classic antisemitic and anti-Israel campaigns that alienate my community, to navigating our own belonging and acceptance in non-Jewish student organizations, being transparent about what threatens our basic safety on campus is often inverted into a warrant for further invalidation and suppression. Relaying this difficult experience to fellow non-Jewish student board members and vice chancellors is even harder — but it is critical for necessary change to happen.

Living in a vibrant, humane and unifying country in the United States requires us to partake in maintaining its health with vested interest, integrity and sincerity. It requires us to eliminate the comfort of silence and replace it with the audacity of conversation.

Justin Feldman is a senior political science and Middle Eastern studies major, and the former president of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at UCLA. Twitter: @eishsadehy

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