Ideas for Combating Antisemitism in 2021
Much has been written about the recent rise in antisemitic activities, and much of the blame has been incorrectly attributed to white supremacy. While right-wing antisemitism is a real and serious problem, ignoring the more frequent attacks in Europe and the US that come from Palestinian and Arab radicals due to political correctness is myopic at best and suicidal at worst.
While some of the worst attacks have come from right-wing extremists (Pittsburgh and Poway), it is clear from my observations and those of many friends and colleagues that the majority of the recent attacks that we have observed (on Jews dining or walking the streets) have come from Islamists who openly despise Israel, and indeed all Jews.
Although this problem is real, there are some concrete steps we can take to help ameliorate it.
Before going into detail, I want to express disappointment in the Anti-Defamation League. While the ADL does outstanding work on many fronts, it has been lagging behind (or missing entirely) in calling out antisemitism from anti-Israel Arabs and other minority groups.
ADL joined with Project Moonshot to study what it termed “anti-Black, antisemitic and white supremacist” searches online, which it claimed had “spiked” in conjunction with Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and other real-world events. But BLM — an organization that has avowed socialist objectives and supported the dismantling of the nuclear family unit, as well as BDS and other anti-Israel efforts — should not be above criticism. The project has risked grouping individuals who were simply making legitimate online search inquiries under the umbrella of “white supremacy,” which would be grossly inappropriate and discriminatory.
A number of years ago when my synagogue in Southern California was defaced with swastikas, I called the local office of the ADL for guidance. I was told not to publicize this event or to bring attention to it, as research confirmed that copycat crimes of this nature would be promoted. While not questioning the data, I found this advice to be insufficient and determined that I would use my relationship with neighboring churches to put the attacker on the defense. At my invitation, the neighboring pastors and a Catholic priest brought their teen groups to the synagogue and joined in painting over the swastikas. These Christian ministers joined in a press conference and made public statements to the media declaring that this action was anti-Christian and anti-American, and urged fellow citizens who may have seen the perpetrator to report him or her and bring them to justice. The media coverage of this event and the impact it had was a powerful example of unity and brotherhood. Instead of cowering in silence, we took a strong initiative.
On a broader scale, there are many Jewish foundations and families that help support the non-Jewish community. While that work is commendable, it sometimes has a fatal flaw. Recently a member of my congregation shared with me that a scholarship he created was helping an Arab student named Mohammed. I asked him if he would consider letting the scholarship beneficiary know that it was a Jewish man that helped him in advancing his education.
I told him that explaining the Jewish concept of tzedaka — helping the less fortunate and new immigrants and those in need — is a part of our ethos. Also, it was likely that an Arab-American who received scholarship funds from a Jewish man would be more inclined to refrain from joining in antisemitic activities. Just think of all the citywide charities that the Jewish community participates in that help minorities who have no idea that this help and generosity emanates from Jewish sources. Imagine if Eli Broad had explained to all of those groups and individuals in Los Angeles that benefited from his support that this help came because the Jews believe in helping others, and have been at the forefront of leading social justice movements.
Lastly, I have an important suggestion that we can adopt as individuals. We have a responsibility to combat antisemitism in our own neighborhoods. Open your home for a Shabbat dinner with three to five non-Jews who are neighbors, or who work for you in your home or business. Then spend that evening engaged in hospitality and explaining to them the values of your Jewish heritage.
Each Passover, I invite non-Jews to the seder to celebrate with me. This has a lasting impact that goes far beyond what you might imagine. Those who come into your home and share a religious experience won’t soon forget it, and when the haters in the community rally against Israel and Jews, these individuals will, in many cases, stand up to the hatred.
Place the haters on the defensive and take decisive action. Inform those who receive your support and your faith about the positive aspects of Judaism and Israel, and open your home to build stronger understanding and alliances.
David Baron is the Founding Rabbi of the Temple of the Arts.