(August 2, 2019 / JNS) Fifty-eight Jewish organizations gathered in New York City on Wednesday for a “National Consultation on Responses to Antisemitism” to address ever increasing anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, Europe and around the world.
Organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations and hosted at the offices of UJA-Federation of New York in Midtown Manhattan, the consultation was attended by Jewish leaders and included two members of the U.S. Administration, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Elan Carr and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education Kenneth Marcus.
In the last year, deadly mass shootings have taken place at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and Chabad of Poway in Southern California, and just this week, a 68-year-old Jewish man was injured in a drive-by shooting outside a synagogue in North Miami Beach.
Noting that “democracy is an antidote but not a preventative” to the historical causes of anti-Semitism, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said “America has proven it is not immune to this cancer that metastasizes everywhere.”
“We have reached the end of the age of deniability and innocence. We need to build coalitions everywhere and anywhere,” he stated.
Particularly disturbing is that the current wave of anti-Semitism is taking multiple forms, both as violent incidents and harassment, as well as an ongoing politicized assault on the State of Israel, which often takes the form of promoting boycotts, delegitimization and economic attacks on the Jewish state.
While violent attacks in the United States have come from individuals identified as being on the far right of the political spectrum, the political assault on Israel has stemmed from radical groups and, more recently, from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Among the first difficulties in fighting the entirety of anti-Semitism is recognizing—in a highly polarized political environment—that strong anti-Semitic tendencies are not limited to one side of the political spectrum.
According to Eric Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, anti-Semitism can be found both on the “political left and right,” and insisted that “all forms of anti-Semitism are pernicious,” while noting that “politicizing anti-Semitism prevents our ability to fight it.”
Marcus added that “it is crucial that we put aside differences that we have when we oppose bigotry and particularly anti-Semitism.”
“I look at the trajectory. Things are getting worse. We need to change the culture,” said Marcus. “It is important to make sure this issue remains at the forefront of national attention.”
Carr said that there is “unvarnished and unquestionable commitment of the U.S. administration fighting anti-Semitism and supporting Israel.”
David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, noted that while the most violent attacks in the United States over the past year were perpetrated by white nationalists, in Europe, the situation is reversed. “In Europe, unlike Pittsburgh, Poway, and Charlottesville, [Va.], every Jew killed was killed by a jihadist—an issue that the left in Europe was unwilling to touch,” he said.
Harris noted recent episodes demonstrating that Europe is growing re-accustomed to anti-Semitism, just 75 years after the end of the Holocaust—the single worst crime ever committed against the Jewish people and perpetrated by Nazi Germany. Just last month, Felix Klein, the German government’s new commissioner for anti-Semitism, stated that Jews should think twice about wearing a kipah outside in Germany.
Harris similarly noted a court case in Belgium in which a sign was placed on a storefront that said, “No Jews welcome. Dogs welcome.” Harris lamented that “Belgian authorities dropped the case.”
Worse yet, a French Holocaust survivor Sarah Halimi was murdered by a Jihadi two years ago in France. Just this past month, French courts dropped the case against the murderer, claiming that the perpetrator was not responsible for the killing because he “was high on marijuana.”
On the political front, Harris said Europe is doing no better. “The European Union allows itself to be a tool at the United Nations to be a tool to fight against the one country with a Jewish majority.”
Yet he also noted that the Jewish community has not yet taken an adequate response.
“Conferences: That’s the new default response. How many conferences have you been to? How many have I been to?”
Harris implored the participants to get emotional about this issue, instead of just talking about it. “Jews need to have a five-letter word: ANGER. Jews cannot be silent. Where is our collective anger?” he asked rhetorically. “This is still within the lifespan of survivors, witnesses and liberators. This is happening on the blood-soaked soil of Europe. We have to begin to show anger.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, offered statistics on the growing numbers of incidents across the United States and then analyzed the causes of the rising tide, including a lack of understanding about what crimes were perpetrated against Jews in the last century.
“People certainly don’t know what the Holocaust is all about,” he said.
Greenblatt strongly warned against “white nationalism, which is a global and domestic terror threat” that is a “threat to us all.” Yet underlying the political differences that exist among many liberal Jewish American leaders, he acknowledged that “delegitimization of the Jewish state is also a threat, regardless of what you think about the elected democratic government of the State of Israel.”
While none of the leaders proposed answers to the root causes of anti-Semitism, part of the conference focused on providing better protection for Jews, particularly in Jewish institutions.
“Security has to be coordinated and professionalized,” insisted Michael Masters, national director and CEO of Secure Community Network. “We are working to develop strategic security frameworks to enhance security of our people.”
Shari Dollinger, co-executive director of Christians United for Israel, noted that “the Jewish community cannot combat the sin of anti-Semitism alone. We are here to fight with you. We are here to be your grassroots army.”
“This isn’t only about the Jews,” Carr said adding that “anti-Semitism is the barometer of human history. All societies that have embraced anti-Semitism have rotted to the core. The stakes in this fight could not possibly be higher.”
Carr has been bringing that message to politicians around the world.
“They understand that this is the crisis of our time,” he said. “I am not pessimistic. I believe we can not only contain this, we can roll this back. If we bring to realization the motto of [the Conference of Presidents]—of strength through unity—we will change the world. Jewish unity is a very powerful thing.”
However, stressed Hoenlein, “none of us can stand and be bystanders. What happens to one part of the Jewish people happens to all of the Jewish people.”
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