A tweet of “Jewish Privilege” has been trending on Twitter with an overwhelming claim that Jews are a group of privileged individuals—whether it be in education, economically or many other walks of life. This hashtag followed severely anti-Semitic comments from talk-show host Nick Cannon, Philadelphia Eagles player DeSean Jackson, actor/rapper Ice Cube and others.
My question to the Jewish community is: Have you not seen the #jewishprivilege coming your way?
In recent years, reports by the New York Police Department show that the most targeted group for hate crimes in the city, especially Brooklyn of late, is the Jewish community. FBI reports, including one analysis noted by the Anti-Defamation League, show the same results nationally: that Jews were the targets of most religious-based hate crimes in 2018. Those attacks predated this vile hashtag. Yet, there has not been any outrage or outcry—not sufficiently from within the Jewish community and non from anyone else.
It is time for us as a Jewish community to ask ourselves why is it that until now, until the creation of this hashtag, we not made it clear that the ongoing societal attack on the Jewish community is unacceptable? I believe that it is because the majority of the Jewish community cannot recognize the hate against them.
While some have chosen to claim that the warning signs were never there, the hate we see has been clearly displayed on college campuses for several years now. For years, Jew-haters replaced the word “Jew” with “Israel” or “Zionist,” and were able to get away with their hate untouched. This was and still is true on college campuses. My experiences as an Israeli and pro-Israel activist on campus has made it crystal-clear to me that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are synonymous. The ongoing attacks on Zionism and Israel were the warning that the Jewish community missed. The ownership through hate that our adversaries claimed on Zionism gave them the opportunity and platform to revive the oldest hate there is—anti-Semitism—into the mainstream. Now, hate is so normalized that there’s no need to hide it anymore behind “Israel” accusations. Remember how a short while ago there was a dispute as to whether or not Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweet “It’s all about the Benjamins!” was anti-Semitic?
Our issue as a Jewish community is that we allow our enemies to remind us about the pillars of our identity. For example, in Germany prior to and during World War II, we let the Nazis define how Judaism is much more than just a faith or religion. To them, it didn’t matter whether one was an observant Jew or not; they were all the same and all expendable. There are multiple other examples in the Jewish past, including expulsions from Arab lands, reminding its Jewish population that they were expendable as well, and that there is the one place in the world they can call home: Israel.
Now, it is Zionism’s turn to take center stage as a Jewish pillar. At every Jewish wedding, there is a commitment to not forget Jerusalem (Zion). For every prayer, we turn towards Jerusalem (Zion). There is no question that Zionism—the longing and movement to return to our Jewish homeland—is an integral part of the Jewish identity. Yet it has taken our adversaries’ referral to this part of our identity to remind us how integral that part is.
I myself will return to Israel in the coming years; it is my home. Until then, I believe that as a Jew, I have the obligation to speak up against this trend in the United States and the world. I believe that it is crucial to prove that the only privilege I have is the understanding of my history and identity deeply enough to value and be proud of it. Jewish privilege is an oxymoron we cannot let go unchallenged. The concept of Jewish privilege nulls the suffering of millions over many generations, which is unacceptable for any minority, including, and maybe especially for, the Jewish minority.
The question that arises now is whether or not it is too late for the Jewish community in America to stand up to anti-Semitism and how others perceive us to be, rather than who we really are. Will they now rise up to this wake-up call?
Dalia Zahger is the North East Coordinator for the Maccabee Task Force. She is a Columbia University alumna and co-founder of the Columbia chapter of student organization Students Supporting Israel.