(August 21, 2020 / JNS) The pandemic, coupled with the rise of anti-Semitism and the ease of social media to delegitimize Jewish pride and Israel, is creating a perfect storm that the Jewish community must battle, say leaders.
“We are in the perfect storm right now of economic dislocation, social disruption and [COVID-19] impact,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The storm, he continued, began at a time when anti-Semitism was on the rise worldwide and when increasing polarization was shaking America.
Hoenlein made his remarks on a webinar called “The Explosion of Anti-Semitism” hosted by New York Times bestselling author and investigative journalist Edwin Black. Also on the panel were Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Alyza Lewin, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. The web broadcast was co-sponsored by JNS.
In his introduction, Black noted that today’s anti-Semitism is mixed with liberal fascism and that Jews have survived hate for generations—most recently, the attempted annihilation by the Nazis in 20th-century Germany.
“Hate-mongers of today, you are beginners,” he said, as part of his introduction. “Jews are experts at fighting back.”
There is no doubt, said Cooper, that people have come to understand that “the frontline battle to degrade the abilities of anti-Semites is on social media.”
“It is a battle that began pre-COVID-19,” said Cooper.
He recounted a meeting with members of the New York Police Department about growing anti-Semitism in the city, asking what has changed in the last five years. He said “it was amazing because they each said simultaneously: social media.”
‘Stepping up and pushing back on hate’
According to Lewin, one of the challenges in combating hate is that people aren’t sure what anti-Semitism is. They recognize that the swastika is anti-Semitic or that attacking a Jewish man with side curls is anti-Semitic.
“Most people today don’t understand that anti-Semitism has existed for centuries, that anti-Semitism morphs and looks a little different in every generation,” she said, adding that the one constant is the goal to demonize, marginalized and exclude the Jew.
Noting that one of the larger issues being fought about today is racism—be it apartheid, colonization or any other form—Lewin said “lo and behold, the Jewish nation-state is accused of being racist, settler colonizing … ,” making Israel an evil that needs to be confronted.
She went on to say that another goal of anti-Semites is to make Jews give up their Jewish pride, and often, that comes in the guise of anti-Israel rhetoric. This is particularly true on college campuses.
While other groups are being valued, celebrated and embraced for however they identify or define themselves, only Jewish groups are being told to give up that part of their identity, and that, Lewin said, is pure anti-Semitism.
“It is discriminatory to demand that Jews shed their identity to belong and participate in society,” she said.
Each of the speakers also emphasized the need to support other minorities who are being targeted by hate, including Asians and Uighurs.
“The Jewish community worldwide is stepping up and pushing back on hate on the Internet and social media,” said Cooper. “When we are fighting back anti-Semitism online, we also have an obligation to fight back on the absurd attacks on Asians. We have to fight anti-Semitism and show our neighbors we care for others.”
Added Hoenlein: “A society isn’t judged because it has haters; it’s judged by how it deals with haters.”
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