The cost of altruism

“Tikkun olam” and the loneliness of the Jewish fight against antisemitism.

Carlos Frost and his son, Aaron Frost, draped themselves with an Israeli flag at a solidarity rally for Israel in Miami Beach, Fla., on Oct. 10, 2023. Photo by Sergio Carmona.
Carlos Frost and his son, Aaron Frost, draped themselves with an Israeli flag at a solidarity rally for Israel in Miami Beach, Fla., on Oct. 10, 2023. Photo by Sergio Carmona.
Steve Rosenberg
Steve Rosenberg
Steve Rosenberg is principal of the GSD Group and board chair of the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He is the author of Make Bold Things Happen: Inspirational Stories From Sports, Business and Life.

For millennia, the Jewish people have upheld the noble concept of tikkun olam, the idea that individuals bear responsibility for healing and repairing the world.

This profound principle has inspired generations to act with compassion, empathy and a commitment to justice, often placing the needs of others above their own. However, in their pursuit of tikkun olam, Jews have often found themselves standing alone in the face of antisemitism, their solidarity with others overshadowing the urgency of defending themselves.

Just look around today at virtually any spot in the Diaspora, and it’s easy to see Jews standing alone on the island hoping for others to speak out against hate and injustice just as the Jews have done time and again for others.

Throughout history, Jews have been at the forefront of social-justice movements, advocating for the rights of the oppressed and marginalized. But in their eagerness to stand with others, Jews have often found themselves abandoned when it comes to confronting antisemitism. In those moments of crisis, when Jews needed support the most, they typically found themselves standing alone, betrayed by those they thought were allies.

Additionally, there are many Jews who are now emboldened to speak out against the State of Israel. While any reasonable person can understand criticism of any sovereign nation’s democratically elected officials, it is not okay for Jews to criticize Israel’s right to exist. Had there been a State of Israel in the late 1930s, it’s safe to assume there would be millions more Jews alive today. Pretending to criticize Israel while standing with terrorists is not acceptable. In fact, if there were an 11th commandment, perhaps it would read: “Thou Shalt Not Uprise Against Your Own People.”

One of the most insidious aspects of antisemitism is its ability to masquerade as legitimate criticism of Israel. In recent years, we have seen a troubling trend of individuals and groups using criticism of Israel as a cover for antisemitic beliefs. This phenomenon, sometimes referred to as the “new antisemitism,” seeks to delegitimize the State of Israel and deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination.

Those who engage in this form of antisemitism often claim that they are simply criticizing the policies of the Israeli government. However, their rhetoric often crosses the line into outright hatred of Jews, using age-old stereotypes and tropes to demonize and dehumanize the Jewish people. This kind of antisemitism is particularly insidious because it exploits the principles of tikkun olam, twisting them into a weapon against the Jewish people.

Criticism of Israel is not inherently antisemitic and it is important to distinguish between legitimate criticism and hatred of Jews. However, when criticism of Israel crosses the line into antisemitism, it must be confronted and condemned. Jews must not allow their commitment to tikkun olam to blind them to the reality of antisemitism. They must be vigilant in recognizing and combating antisemitism wherever it appears, even when it comes disguised as legitimate criticism.

The Jewish people have a long and proud history of standing up for what is right, even in the face of adversity. They have shown time and again that they are willing to fight for justice, even when it means standing alone. However, they must also remember that there is strength in unity and they are not alone in their struggle against antisemitism.

It is time for Jews to reclaim the narrative and assert their right to self-defense. They must not allow themselves to be bullied into silence or scapegoated for the sins of others. They must stand up proudly and assert their identity as Jews, refusing to be ashamed or afraid. They must remember that being a Jew is not just about what you do but about who you are, and no amount of tikkun olam can ever justify abandoning your own people.

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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