Distortions in the fight against anti-Semitism

Partisanship, “progressive” politics, legal pretexts, anti-Israel sentiment and community divisions hamper the effort to combat surging Jew-hatred. The "fight" is also a distraction from even more urgent battles: keeping Jews Jewish and Israel safe.

Holding a sign against anti-Semitism at a rally in New York City on Sept. 22, 2019. Photo by Rhonda Hodas Hack.
Holding a sign against anti-Semitism at a rally in New York City on Sept. 22, 2019. Photo by Rhonda Hodas Hack.
David M. Weinberg (Twitter)
David M. Weinberg
David M. Weinberg is senior fellow at the Misgav Institute for National Security & Zionist Strategy, in Jerusalem. His personal website is davidmweinberg.com.

Every Jew is aware that anti-Semitism is again on the rise around the world. Today’s wave of anti-Semitic expression and violence is particularly alarming because of a series of disturbing trends:

Turning a blind eye: Jew-hatred is surging in the streets, even in North America, yet this has not commanded mainstream media attention or inspired popular outrage. Worse still, Western thought leaders tend to ignore or downplay the current arc of anti-Semitism, as Bari Weiss laid out in The New York Times last week. “If hatred of Jews can be justified as a misunderstanding or ignored as a mistake or played down as a slip of the tongue or waved away as ‘just anti-Zionism,’ you can all but guarantee it will be,” he wrote.

False equation: Even when condemning anti-Semitism, politicians and intellectuals feel the compunction to condemn “Islamophobia” and “all forms of racism” at the same time and in the same sentence. This politically correct refusal to acknowledge the uniqueness of anti-Semitism (and the overwhelming preponderance of anti-Semitism) precisely demonstrates that Jew-hatred. As Melanie Phillip has written, “People can’t stand the uniqueness of anti-Semitism because they can’t stand the uniqueness of the Jewish people.”

Worse still, many progressive Jews make the false equation of anti-Semitism with anti-Muslim abuse in a misguided attempt to prove that they aren’t claiming any special status as victims.

Mainstreaming: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and some of her Democratic Party colleagues are using their notoriety to bring anti-Semitic policies and rhetoric into the mainstream, and many news outlets are far too obsessed with the novelty of their identity or enamored by their “progressive” politics to care. Even when Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) regurgitated the “dual loyalty” charge against pro-Israel senators—a classic anti-Semitic trope—the national Democratic leadership found it hard to condemn them outright or explicitly, without wrapping rejection of the slur in the bland blanket of rejecting “all racist” language.

Partisanship: The political left only knows how to call out right-wing anti-Semitism, indeed finding anti-Semitism on the moderate right even when it’s not there. As a result, liberal groups are wrongly fixated on U.S. President Donald Trump’s stereotyping of Jews as crafty businessmen while glossing over the rot ripening in their own ranks. The political right does the same thing in the opposite direction, while insufficiently combating anti-Semitism of the brownshirt type.

Hiding behind free speech: The American Civil Liberties Union opposed the largely bipartisan “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” (S.852) because it “risked chilling the free speech of students on college campuses,” as if the Jew-haters were under siege and not Jewish students or pro-Israel faculty. Now, these same free speech fundamentalists are opposing Trump’s recognition of Jewish university students as a class protected from discrimination under Title VI civil rights law.

But Trump’s laudable initiative does not prevent respectable criticism of Jews or Israel on university campuses. God knows there is more than enough of that going around for “free speech” to be upheld! It merely protects Jews from the worst abuses of hatred, and American academia from sliding into cesspools of anti-Semitism.

Resistance to IHRA: Another guise for intellectual anti-Semitism is the “in principle” opposition in some quarters to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. The IHRA definition explicitly recognizes that anti-Zionism—the delegitimization of the Jewish state—is a clear and unequivocal expression of anti-Semitism. This is because Judaism is a creed that indivisibly combines religion, nationhood and a homeland.

Anti-Zionism employs the same tactics of demonization, discrimination and double standards against Israel that anti-Semites historically (and still today) use against Jews, and with the same aim: to strip Jews and/or Israel of any rights or power.

Distraction: The “urgent need to combat anti-Semitism” is distracting Jewish leaders and organizations from two even more urgent battles: keeping Jews Jewish and keeping Israel safe. Big Jewish community budgets are being shifted away from core Jewish education and pro-Israel advocacy to the “struggle against hate” and investments in local security.

This is a triple mistake. First, because there is no track record that suggests that in any Diaspora at any times in history Jewish activism has been the key ingredient in rolling back anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is ultimately a disease of non-Jews and can be eliminated only by non-Jews. Second, because at current rates of assimilation and intermarriage there won’t be many Jews left in the Diaspora to protect from anti-Semitism in just a generation or two. And third, because the defense of the modern State of Israel is the central historic challenge of the Jewish people for the 21st century, not fighting the sundry anti-Semites who have always been around to besmirch Jews and sully their own nations.

Splintering: If extra effort is nevertheless going to be invested in fighting anti-Semitism, there should at least be some marshaling of resources. However, new Jewish organizations and uncoordinated programs to combat anti-Semitism are sprouting like mushrooms after the rain. Donors like Ronald Lauder and Robert Kraft have announced their own organizations against anti-Semitism, and the Jewish Agency is getting into the anti-anti-Semitism business too, alongside dozens of other existing and newfangled agencies. How about some sharing and synchronization?

Take an example from Canada, where the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has just launched Maspik! (“Enough!”), a broad alliance of Jewish and non-Jewish groups who will share ideas and initiatives in combating anti-Semitism and will have access to a dedicated community philanthropic fund for programs they develop. Such strategic leadership must gain traction internationally.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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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