OpinionJewish & Israeli Holidays

Chanukah, canceled

I don’t recall public Christmas celebrations being shut down across the United States after the U.S. military entered Iraq.

Chanukah menorah. Credit: Saildancer/Pixabay.
Chanukah menorah. Credit: Saildancer/Pixabay.
Gidon Ben-Zvi
Gidon Ben-Zvi contributes to The Algemeiner, The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, CiF Watch and blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind.

Anyone still clinging to the belief that there is a difference between hating Jews and wanting Israel to disappear now needs to explain away another inconvenient truth. Scheduled Chanukah celebrations across the United States, Canada and elsewhere have been scrapped. One of the reasons cited is that hosting such holiday events would imply support for Israel in its war against the Gaza-based Hamas terrorist organization.

A Chanukah candle-lighting that was due to take place at a music and arts festival in Williamsburg, Va., was canceled by the festival’s founder because the lighting of a menorah “seemed very inappropriate” given current events in Israel and Gaza.

Let us conduct a quick thought experiment. Even supposing that holding Jewish people everywhere accountable for Israel’s actions since the Oct. 7 massacre was somehow valid, at what point did a country’s right—obligation—to defend itself against a group that invaded its territory, murdered 1,200 people, kidnapped more than 200 men, women and children, and drove over 200,000 citizens from their homes become “inappropriate”?

Moreover, this fear of being seen as siding with Israel over Hamas has not extended to Muslim-themed events and ceremonies in the United States and Canada, which continue to be held. When it comes to Muslim communities residing in these countries, there is a clear line being drawn between Hamas in Gaza and law-abiding citizens in Los Angeles, New York, Virginia and Toronto exercising their right to worship and assemble as they see fit.

Despite this discrepancy between how two minority groups are being treated, Washington has repeatedly equated the plight of American Jews to that of Muslims living in the United States. Responding to a question about soaring rates of antisemitism and the wave of canceled Chanukah celebrations, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said this week: “We have seen an uptick in hate, just more broadly, in different communities—obviously, also in the Muslim community. And so, we will do everything that we can to make sure that these communities feel safe.”

Like Israel in 2023, the United States responded militarily to a Muslim leader with genocidal intentions in 2003. For years leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein had backed up his threats with devastating action: the taking of Kuwait, the Persian Gulf War, the Scud missile attacks on Israel, the assault on the Kurds, the oppression of his own people.

But while some of the arguments in support of that war have not stood the test of time and even though approximately 200,000 civilians were killed, I don’t recall public Christmas celebrations being shut down across the United States after the U.S. military entered Iraq. The spate of Chanukah cancellations in countries founded on the principle of religious freedom highlights the fact that antisemitism is not just another form of prejudice. What makes Judeophobia unique is its shapeshifting, sometimes even contradictory, nature.

Today, the trope about Jews having an unnatural lust for money is commonplace. But in pre-Enlightenment Europe Jewish, people were reviled for the exact opposite reason: They were desperately poor. If once upon a time Jewish people were scorned for isolating themselves from the wider society, nowadays they are lumped in with the privileged, white, oppressor majority, even though they remain a microscopically small community outside of Israel. While Jews these days are treated with suspicion for their supposed lack of religiosity, history shows that they were similarly derided for living by a set of strange religious beliefs.

And whereas Jews used to be hated for being a landless people, today they are ridiculed because of the existence of Israel.

In other words, the difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism is little more than linguistic, a phantom distinction.

Even the halls of Congress are not immune from the contradictory nature of antisemitism. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.)’s support for bizarre anti-Semitic conspiracies and related comments she made before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives unleashed a media firestorm. Meanwhile, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)’s incessant demonizing of the world’s only Jewish state in the days following Hamas’ attack on Israel led to her being censured by the House.

By comparing the historic hatred of Jews to other types of bigotry, the serious risk Jewish people around the world today face is being diluted.

Yet as supposed bastions of inclusion cancel Chanukah, the “Festival of Lights” will still be held in cities and homes around Israel, where men and women are fighting the good fight to banish the darkness and preserve religious freedom for all its citizens.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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