Stop Ignoring Antisemitism in Inconvenient Places
An exhibition that is currently running at the Wiener Holocaust Library in London reveals that in every European country that fell under Nazi control, there were Jews who mobilized and formed underground resistance organizations while also participating in armed uprisings. Their heroism was also displayed through cultural resistance. Risking their own lives, they held clandestine religious gatherings, established underground schools, and helped smuggle important documents out to be preserved by history. Even in the face of unspeakable terror, Judaism was not viewed as an inconvenience.
Today, for some Jews, our religion is primarily being redefined by our entrenchment in social activism. We have become so deeply embedded in promoting tikkun olam, that we ignore instances of antisemitism when they come from sources claiming to represent social justice.
This past summer, the horrific and criminal killing of George Floyd ignited months of social unrest in this country. As was the case during the 1960s civil rights movement, many Jews sprang into action and were quick to attach ourselves to the largest and most popular civil rights organization of our time, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Yet with Martin Luther King, Jr. at its helm, the civil rights movement of the 1960s does not mirror some of the ideals currently espoused by the BLM movement. And while everyone can agree that all Black lives matter, there is a difference between that sentiment and some formal organizations affiliated with BLM.
Dr. King’s protection and love of the Jewish people was shown through numerous speeches he made, including one at Harvard in 1967, where he remarked: “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking antisemitism.”
The Zionist tenets encompassing Dr. King’s movement contradict one BLM platform, which labeled Israel an “apartheid state” and accused it of perpetrating a “genocide” against the Palestinian people. (This version was later retracted.)
In May, a BLM rally in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles resulted in the defacement of Jewish institutions and businesses, with participants yelling anti-Israel obscenities. While the violence was never called for by BLM, there was hardly any repudiation or rejection of it.
Consummating our community’s relationship with the official BLM movement, over 600 Jewish organizations — representing the bulk of American Jews, signed onto a full page ad in The New York Times last August declaring that the “ BLM movement is the current day Civil Rights movement in this country, and it is our best chance at equity and justice.”
Again, there is a difference between supporting the cause of “Black lives matter” and supporting any organization that claims to solely represent that cause. And even though the official BLM movement retracted some of its statements about Zionism, there is obviously still cause for concern about antisemitism and anti-Zionism in the organization and its affiliates.
Furthermore, there are lesser known institutions promoting racial equality who would welcome American Jewry’s support and advocacy. We should be boosting their popularity. For example, the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel (IBSI) promotes racial justice while also rejecting the demonization of the Jewish people. The Woodson Center, led by Robert Woodson, is also instrumental in revitalizing urban centers and would welcome opportunities in fostering partnerships between African-American and Jewish communities. By attaching ourselves to the most universal movement, we risk alienating other incredible groups whose missions are also about the equality we seek.
As younger educators exit universities where academic disciplines are becoming more activist and less scholarly in nature, it is not surprising that this paradigm shift regarding social activism begins to impact our most impressionable minds. In March 2018, many Jewish day schools across the country took part in the National School Walkout in response to the tragic and deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida. While this tragedy warranted both reflection and discussion, the participation of children in this movement speaks to a growing trend by some Jewish educators to highlight the importance of social justice activism. That said, Judaism’s center of gravity lies within our homeland, and the convictions with which our children march for tikkun olam should at least match the intensity and vigor used to advocate for our own community, such as through opposition to campus antisemitism and in support of Israel advocacy.
The deterioration of popular culture coupled with our mollification of this new brand of antisemitism has created a safe space for many celebrities to peddle their hatred of us online and in the media. What was once considered outlandish to say is now permissible, as proven in statements made by Nick Cannon, Ice Cube, Desean Jackson, and even fellow Jew Seth Rogen. And we can hardly fault the Democratic Party for its failure to censure the left wing members of their party for their bigotry when we legitimize those very same people by inviting them to sit on our antisemitism panels, endorse their candidacies for Congress, and march alongside them at rallies. Too many Jews seem only to be victimized when antisemitism hits us from the right, yet feign ignorance — and worse, enable it to fester — when we see it from the left.
The recent normalization agreements between Israel and her Arab neighbors feel different than the peace accords of the past — especially in how many Arab people see Jews. The new ties appear to be more authentic and warmer. Orthodox Jewish weddings are taking place in Dubai; Morocco is including Jewish history in its school curriculum; and a sheikh is now part owner of Beitar Jerusalem, an Israeli soccer team. For the first time in history, Judaism’s greatest challenges may not present themselves from the outside. On the contrary, our difficulties may be materializing right before our very eyes.
Irit Tratt is a freelance writer who resides in New York. Her pieces have appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Algemeiner, and The Times of Israel. Follow her on Twitter @TrattIrit.