(May 6, 2020 / JNS) All of Christendom fasted this year on Good Friday for relief from the coronavirus, and Providence responded with an Israeli research institute based in the Galilee that is working on a vaccine for the virus and with the release of the third season of “Fauda” on Netflix. And Christians once again found salvation in Israel.
Alas, not all communities are similarly philo-Semitic. Indeed, the past six months have seen a spike in anti-Semitism in the New York metropolitan area. In early December 2019, two members of the Black Hebrew Israelites murdered a police officer before entering a kosher delicatessen in Jersey City and killing five patrons. There is reason to believe that their initial target was actually the yeshivah next door. In late December 2019, a man entered a rabbi’s home in Monsey, N.Y., and began stabbing people gathered for a celebration on the last night of Hanukkah. These two events took place amid a broader uptick in anti-Semitic attacks in Brooklyn. Most notably was an incident where a woman assaulted three Jewish women while spewing anti-Semitic slurs. Because of recent reforms to the criminal justice system in New York, the woman was released from police custody without bail, whereupon she immediately proceeded to assault another woman.
A chilling aspect of these attacks is the response of neighboring communities. Rather than condemn the attackers, local residents instead cited reasons why an individual might be understandably angered unto violence against the local Jewish community and expressed sentiments that have been common whenever anti-Semitism has been en vogue throughout history.
New York City’s municipal government has been anything but philo-Semitic. In late April 2020, after learning that Orthodox Jews had gathered in Brooklyn at a rabbi’s funeral, Mayor Bill de Blasio publicly threatened the Jewish community with arrests for violating social-distancing guidelines. During New York’s darkest hour, de Blasio identified a scapegoat and characterized the entire Jewish community as lawbreakers who are unconcerned with public health, as though the Jewish community alone—and not de Blasio’s own failed leadership—should be blamed for New York’s prolonged coronavirus pandemic. As Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, noted, “Every time a leader like [De Blasio] stereotypes the ‘Jewish community,’ he feeds into the dangerous agenda of white supremacists and anti-Semites around the world.”
It is on this background that Robert Nicholson and Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik introduced the need for philo-Semitism. According to Nicholson, anti-Semitism grows from a resentment of “chosenness”—resentment that G-d chose the nation of Israel to play a special role in history. Anti-Semitism “turns Jewish chosenness on its head and assigns to the people of Israel responsibility for all the world’s ills.” Nicholson suggests that calling out anti-Semitism is not enough and posits that the best response to anti-Semitism isn’t anti-anti-Semitism, but rather philo-Semitism, or love of the Jewish people. Rabbi Soloveichick cites the welcoming of public displays of the menorah and other public celebrations of Jewish chosenness as examples of philo-Semitism among gentiles in America. Surely, philo-Semitism, including acknowledgement of the contribution that the Jewish community and its members make to society, can do much to change the hearts and minds of local residents who might otherwise harbor anti-Semitic animosity.
However, regardless of its capacity to do good at a local level, it is unlikely that philo-Semitism is sufficient to reverse institutionalized anti-Semitism at a global level. Commenting on the difficulty of changing a global institution with anti-Semitic tendencies, John Podhoretz recently said of the United Nations, “I am skeptical that you can fix what’s broken in an endemically anti-Semitic institution simply by dint of the fact that it is endemically anti-Semitic and therefore in its DNA has a conspiratorial and conspiracist worldview that will distort every decision that the institution makes.”
Examples of institutionalized hatred towards Israel abound. For instance, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is a founding legal instrument of the African Union, includes as an organizing principle the elimination of “colonialism, neo-colonialism, apartheid, [and] zionism.” That a founding document of a political union encompassing 1.2 billion people includes Zionism as an existential threat against which the union and its subjects must organize their resources suggests the extent to which hatred of Israel has become normalized in global institutions. Anti-Semitism has become yet another piece of furniture in the moral universe of international governing bodies.
Furthermore, just as a general must tailor an army’s attack to match the enemy’s defense, so, too, the methods used to eradicate anti-Semitism must be tailored so as to effectively combat anti-Semitism in the places where anti-Semitism lives. The case of the African Charter indicates that anti-Semitism lives not just in the hearts and minds of anti-Semites, but also in the founding documents of global organizations. Thus, displaying a menorah in an American neighborhood and otherwise promoting philo-Semitism, while undoubtedly having a positive impact in that neighborhood, will probably do little to remove hatred of Israel from the founding documents of global institutions. As such, purging anti-Semitism from these institutions will require instruments that have a legal effect that is at least as legally binding as the instruments used to institutionalize anti-Semitism in the first place.
Still another example of institutionalized hatred can be seen in the response of the BDS movement to news that Israel is developing a vaccine for the coronavirus. According to Omar Barghouti, cooperating with Israel to fight COVID-19 does not constitute a normalization of Israeli evil and therefore one may take advantage of a future Israeli vaccine without violating tenets of the BDS movement. But at no point does Barghouti express gratitude towards Israel for working to develop a vaccine. In other words, the development of a vaccine is neither a normalization event nor a reason to shed even the smallest amount of anti-Semitism. Creating a vaccine to save the world from the worst health pandemic since the bubonic plague is perhaps the most tangible and irrefutable philo-Semitic argument one could ever hope to make, and yet even the production of this life-saving nectar is not enough to cure certain institutions of their institutionalized anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism must be attacked at both the local and international levels, and philo-Semitism should play an important role in a broader strategy to do so. However, if implemented on its own, it is unlikely that philo-Semitism will be enough to effectively fight anti-Semitism at international levels, especially where such anti-Semitism is legally institutionalized.
Grant Newman is a publishing adjunct at The MirYam Institute. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he was an executive editor of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.
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