Our Reaction to Anti-Semitism Is Both Overblown and Underdeveloped

A different perspective than that of Deborah Lipstadt (Jews Are Going Underground: Lipstadt) and the contrast between the USA and Europe, along with the need for all sides of the political spectrum to take antisemitism seriously.

Canada more like the USA but welcome comments and view:

We American Jews enter a new decade that feels like a much older one. Fresh off murderous and violent attacks on Jews in Jersey City, Monsey, and across Brooklyn, resurgent anti-Semitism and the resulting fear for our physical safety is for many American Jews a new phenomenon and one we never thought we would experience. Uncertainty is gripping the Jewish community and the new decade feels as if it will be a pivotal one for the quality and sustainability of American Jewish life as we know it. It strikes me that we are both overreacting and underreacting at the same time and need to recalibrate our approach.

What we have seen on the streets of the New York metropolitan area, and the fear that it has engendered, seems out of place here. It is reminiscent of scenes from European cities, where Jews are attacked for displaying outward signs of Judaism, or attacked for the offense of speaking Hebrew in public, or attacked in their homes for nothing beyond the crime of being Jewish. Orthodox residents of Crown Heights and Williamsburg are afraid to walk the streets or send their children to school. None of this is normal, none of this is acceptable, and it should not be treated as either. And it is not incumbent upon American Jews to find a solution; it is incumbent upon our elected political leaders and American society writ large to find a solution. When Jews are afraid to be Jewish, it says absolutely nothing about the victims and everything about the perpetrators and anyone or anything that abets them.

Yet while making sure that this problem is dealt with swiftly and comprehensively, it is also important to diagnose the breadth of the problem accurately. Deborah Lipstadt has forgotten more about anti-Semitism than I will ever know, but her speculation that American Jews may end up imitating medieval Spanish Marranos – hidden Jews who privately maintained their Judaism while outwardly appearing as Christian converts – by going underground strikes me as inapt. Spain’s Jews faced a choice at the end of the fifteenth century of expulsion, conversion, or death. The entire force of the Spanish state, intertwined as it was with the Catholic church, was brought to bear against the country’s Jews. Hiding one’s Judaism was not about avoiding potential danger, but in response to a fatal decree from absolutist monarchs. While a step down from the Inquisition and Torquemada, the environments created by the ruling class of Tsarist Russia that fomented pogroms or by Soviet leaders that sanctioned anti-Jewish discrimination were also the result of official state policies, of governments giving the green light to or directly leading anti-Semitic mobs.

Contrast that to the reaction of federal, state, and municipal governments to the anti-Semitic incidents in New York and New Jersey. They have been denounced by the president, governors, mayors, and members of Congress. Elected leaders have promised to devote resources toward combatting anti-Semitic attitudes and protecting Jewish institutions and have rushed to demonstrate solidarity with the Jewish community. Until words are turned into actions, we should withhold judgment on the seriousness and efficacy of these promises. But that the wall to wall reaction is to condemn anti-Semitism and evince a desire to remove its scourge demonstrates why the situation in the U.S. is a universe away from the ones that previous generations of Jews fled from in Europe.

As for Jews going underground in Europe today, it is indeed frightening and saddening. But it is unfortunately not a recent occurrence. It is the norm in Europe, whereas in the U.S. it remains the exception. I do not dismiss or make light of college students who feel compelled to downplay their Judaism or their Zionism. If it happens to even one person, that is one person too many. But we are not at the point in the U.S. where we have blast walls and machine gun-toting guards outside of our synagogues, where we have to ask a local for the address of a kosher restaurant that has no visible markings or identification as such, or where government officials issue warnings against wearing kippot in public, nor do I think we ever will be. Not for nothing is anti-Semitism described as the world’s oldest and most persistent hatred, and it should be clear to all American Jews that we will never be free of it entirely. Jews will be killed for being Jews, and it is small comfort to point out that such incidents remain exceptional. But it is premature to declare that it is open season on American Jews, that American Jewish life is fated to retreat behind high walls and closed doors, and that past is prologue.

All that said, there have been too many recent instances of American Jews not taking the current moment seriously enough, and nearly all of them revolve around some form of excusing inconvenient anti-Semitism away. We have all seen this in doses over the past few years, with a camp that kicks into high gear over right-wing white nationalist anti-Semitism but is blind and deaf to the far left variety that inherently views Jews as oppressors, and a camp that has a hair trigger for the anti-Semitism of progressive intersectionality but is blinded to right-wing classically anti-Semitic stereotypes by the glow of the Jerusalem embassy. On both sides, this has to end. It cannot be that the far right and the far left, despite the chasm that separates their worldviews, can manage to be united in their sneering hatred of Jews while we Jews ourselves cannot manage to be united in combatting that hatred.

If your response to the Jersey City or Monsey attacks was that it is a complicated situation, you are not serious about anti-Semitism. If your response to any display of anti-Semitism is some form of whataboutism in insisting that the other side’s is worse or more dangerous, you are not serious about anti-Semitism. If you think that it is okay to rail about globalist Jews as long as you support Iron Dome or West Bank settlements, or that it is okay to rail against evil Zionists so long as you display phantom nuance by separating them from good non-Zionist Jews, you are not serious about anti-Semitism. And if your reaction to a politician who proudly stands next to Robert “Judaism leads people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell” Jeffress differs at all from your reaction to a politician who proudly stands next to Louis “Jews are the mother and father of apartheid” Farrakhan, you should think about whether you are more interested in combatting anti-Semitism or more interested in weaponizing it. If we want to make sure that anti-Semitism remains unacceptable, then we have to treat it as such no matter the source, the target, or the ostensible motivation.

Source: Our Reaction to Anti-Semitism Is Both Overblown and Underdeveloped

Frum: American Jews Are Being Tested By Trump

As are all groups:

It’s becoming almost a daily occurrence: President Donald Trump denouncing anti-Semitism and expressing solidarity with the state of Israel.

Gone are the days when Trump tweeted out a Star of David atop stacks of money. The Trump White House has purged itself of oddballs with troubling backgrounds and even more troubling friends.

The larger MAGA universe may still pulse with anti-Semitic animus. Pro-Trump trolls may traffic in grotesque online slurs and threats. Hate crimes against Jews seem on the rise. A deadly anti-Jewish mass killing occurred on Trump’s watch. Although the Pittsburgh killer is often described as despising Trump, that’s not quite accurate. It would be more correct to describe the Pittsburgh killer as disappointed in Trump, whom he viewed as a promising racist naively duped by Jews. In one of his postings, a word bubble is drawn over a photograph of Trump receiving a visitor dressed in Orthodox garb. “Your character will appear to the public as a white racist,” the visitor seems to say to Trump. “It’s how we control Whites.”

“Anti-Semitism has no place in our country or anywhere in our world.

The Trump Administration is working every day to oppose and eradicate anti-Semitic hate crimes and ideology.”

The Trump presidency seethes with hostility toward many different minority and subordinated groups. But Jews have been elevated to a special protected category, exempt from the lines of attack deployed against Muslims, non-Norwegian immigrants, women Trump deems unattractive, and so on and on.

This special exemption poses a moral quandary for communally concerned Jews quite unlike anything in our collective experience.Jewish collective life in America has been built on the assumption that people who espouse any form of bigotry—whether against African Americans, or gays, or the disabled—will, sooner or later (and probably sooner!), also turn upon Jews. The famous Martin Niemöller poem begins, “First, they came for the socialists”; only in the third line do they “come for the Jews.”

But what if a new generation of bigotry arose, attended by a strong, take-it-to-the-bank guarantee: This time, they are not coming for the Jews—not sooner, not later. That ancient obsession is laughably out of date. Today we have other concerns. Here’s a photograph of me posing alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He likes George Soros even less than we do!

What if American Jews found themselves facing people who practiced a politics of incitement, but not against Jews—indeed, who found it more useful to cast themselves as allies of Jews?

Trump usually has, at most, a perfunctory word for mass shootings and hate crimes. But Trump traveled in person to pay respects to the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter. Vice President Mike Pence had led the way, personally helping to restore a desecrated Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, early in 2017.

When Trump attacked Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, he specifically cited her record of tweets and statements about Jewish money supposedly swaying Congress in favor of Israel. Among other pieces of classic anti-Semitic language, Omar had said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

Statements like that goaded President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to write here in The Atlantic: “No one is questioning the right of members of Congress and others to criticize Israeli policies. But Omar is crossing a line that should not be crossed in political discourse. Her remarks are not anti-Israel; they are anti-Semitic.” Her words set in motion a resolution in the House of Representatives to condemn anti-Semitic and other bigoted speech.

By contrast, the Trump administration has more than fulfilled the wishes of many American Jews on issues from moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem to condemning Palestinian incitement to countering the Iranian nuclear program. At the Department of Justice’s conference last week, Barr said:

“Far too often, Jews and Jewish communities in America suffer outside the spotlight. New York City, this past year, has seen a sharp uptick in attacks on Orthodox Jews, particularly in the Crown Heights neighborhood. People are attacking Jews in the streets and vandalizing synagogues. In Massachusetts in March, vandals desecrated 59 gravestones in a Jewish cemetery, knocking over headstones and scrawling swastikas and hateful graffiti.

While the tragic attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway appropriately drew national attention, these attacks and others like them in communities across the country are, sadly, less well known outside the Jewish community. But they form the daily background of concerns about security and safety that many in the Jewish community feel.

As attorney general and a fellow citizen, I want to assure the Jewish community that the Department of Justice and the entire federal government stands with you and will not tolerate these attacks.”

As measured by polls, the large majority of American Jews recoil from Trump and his administration. Yet if you spend time in the organized Jewish world, you have probably noticed an early but unmistakable warming to the president. The warming is most pronounced among the older, more communally committed, and more Israel-focused part of the Jewish world.

In western Europe, Jews have been pushed away from their historic home on the secular left toward new alliances on the nationalist right. Under Jeremy Corbyn, the British Labour Party has been stained by anti-Semitism—to a point where past leaders such as Gordon Brown have taken a public stand against Corbyn.In the United States, mercifully, Omar remains a marginal figure within the Democratic Party. On July 23, all but 17 members of the House of Representatives voted to condemn Omar’s project of anti-Israel boycotts; the “squad” member Representative Ayanna Pressley voted with the House majority. But an important part of Trump’s plan for 2020 is elevating Omar’s profile, and prodding American Jews to compare him not with the actual Democratic nominee, but with the target he has singled out for attention.

It’s part stunt and scam, as James Kirchick recently argued. But it’s not all stunt and scam.

At a conference in Washington, D.C., last week, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri delivered a speech denouncing cosmopolitan elites. Some who listened to the speech thought they heard a slight against Jews. Yet the conference had been organized by an American-born Israeli, Yoram Hazony—and at every turn, the conference communicated Jewish inclusion in the new cross-border nationalist movement Hazony hopes to create. Hawley replied to his critics: “You’ll have to carry me out on a slab before I compromise my defense of the Jewish people, their greatness, their history, their safety, and the state of Israel.” That’s the language of committed friendship.

There is a message for American Jews in all this: These attacks on the other are not aimed at you. You can be part of us. We’d like you to be part of us. All you have to do is stop worrying about them. And after all, they don’t worry about you!

The comedian Chris Rock performed a classic comedy sketch about how bigotry always accelerates toward the Jews at the end. “That train,” he quipped, “is never late!” But what if that train is late? What if it’s been canceled altogether, at least insofar as it departs from Trump Station? What if the old community of interest between American Jews and other minorities is dissolving, leaving only the weaker tie of a community of values?

And not only American Jews! Many illiberal authoritarians around the world have tried to gain indulgence for other hatreds by friendship with Israel. Even the Viktor Orbán government in Hungary—which often theatrically glorifies violently anti-Semitic figures from the nation’s past—quietly assures that country’s still surviving Jewish community: None of this will translate into real-world actions against you. And indeed, thus far, that assurance has been honored.

Jews generally believe ourselves to be bound by an ethical code of tolerance and decency larger than our own parochial interests. Trump seems intent on putting that belief to the test. Will we meet it? Will we meet it as a united community? Or by tempting Jews with privileges denied to other, more marginal groups, will he split religious Jews from secular; more communally minded Jews from more universalist; more conservative from more liberal—embittering American Jews against one another, as he has sought more generally to embitter American against American?

Source: American Jews Are Being Tested By Trump

The Tone-Deaf Israeli Reactions to the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

Interesting account of the gap between Israeli and American Jews:

For Jews around the world, now is a time to mourn and come together, as the dead from the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue are buried. And yet it also reveals how far apart we are.

To be sure, most responses to the massacre were sincere and uncontroversial. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as all of Israel’s leading politicians, issued heartfelt and apolitical responses to the massacre.

But not all.

In an interview with an Israeli religious newspaper, Rabbi David Lau, Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi (a governmental position), declined to call Tree of Life Synagogue a synagogue, describing it instead as “a place with a profound Jewish flavor.” Other ultra-Orthodox newspapers have followed suit, referring to it as a “Jewish center.”

To American Jews who care about Israel, that’s a painful reminder that Reform, Conservative, and other non-Orthodox Jewish denominations are not recognized by the Jewish state. The state does not recognize conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis. And plans for a non-Orthodox prayer space at the Western Wall have been floated and canceled for a generation now—most recently by Netanyahu, who flatly broke his promise to American Jewish leaders to create one last year.

Nor is the tone-deafness exclusively on the right. Israel’s opposition leader, Avi Gabbay, said the attack should inspire “the Jews of the United States to immigrate more and more to Israel, because this is their home.”

Meanwhile, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett headed to Pittsburgh to offer condolences, saying, in part, “our hearts go out to the families of those killed, and we pray for the swift recovery of the injured, as we pray this is the last such event. Jewish blood is not free.”

First, sending the ultranationalist Bennett to “comfort” mostly liberal American Jews rubs salt in the wound. Bennett, perhaps more than any other Israeli politician, has legitimized open racism against Arabs, sworn his opposition to a two-state solution with Palestinians, and moved the “Overton window” of Israeli nationalism far to the right. Thanks to his party, Jewish Home, comments that would have been too racist for polite conversation a decade ago are now routinely made on the floor of the Knesset.

Second, Bennett’s line about “Jewish blood” is both creepily blood-nationalist and a common justification for harsh military responses against terrorists, their families, their neighbors, and even their whole villages.

What revenge is Bennett planning to take against Robert Bowers, anyway? Bennett’s rhetoric is tone-deaf, alienating to most American Jews, and part of the very hypernationalist crisis that brought this tragedy into being in the first place.

These and other comments point to a vast and growing gap between Israel and the majority of American Jews.

Take the nationalist populism of President Trump. Among American Jews, Trump’s approval rating hovers around 21 percent. Mostly liberal American Jews are appalled by his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-media, and anti-science rhetoric. In Israel, however, 69 percent of Israelis express confidence in Trump’s leadership. If you assume that hardly any Israeli Arabs (21 percent of the population) share that confidence, that’s a roughly 85 percent approval rating among Israeli Jews.

There are many reasons for that widespread support. Trump has shifted the United States from being an “honest broker” for Middle East peace to being an unapologetic partisan for Israel, symbolized by the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (the status of which is still disputed under international law). Trump’s broadsides against Muslims and his anti-Obama birtherism resonate with the prejudices of many Israeli Jews, many of whom believe they are surrounded by hostile, uncivilized enemies.

“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” in the words of pro-Israel extremist Pamela Geller.

Most important, though, right-wing Israelis, together with the majority of Orthodox, right-wing Jews in America, have a fundamentally different understanding of Judaism than the majority of American Jews, whose experiences are colored by American liberalism and the immigrant experience.

For the former, Judaism is Am Yisrael, the Nation of Israel, a source of patriotism and allegiance. For the latter, Judaism may be a culture, or a religion, or a nation, but it is defined not by blood and loyalty, but by ideals of justice, fairness, and compassion. When those ideals are transgressed, liberal Jews see Judaism betrayed. Whereas, for many on the right, you’re either for us or against us, and if you’re against us, you’re anti-Semitic and that’s that.

“Pittsburgh is why most American Jews oppose Trump. Israeli leaders seem not to understand that.”

For the former, the lesson of the Holocaust is that Jews must always be strong and defend themselves. For the latter, the lesson of the Holocaust is that baseless hatred is wrong and leads to tragedy.

For the former, Jews everywhere exist in solidarity with each other. But progressive American Jews may find more in common with other oppressed minorities than with right-wing Jews, who oppress minorities themselves.

For the former, Muslims and Arabs, often confused with each other, are the implacable enemy of the Jewish people. For the latter, violent rejectionists—be they Muslim, Jewish, or Trump-loving-Christian—are the enemy.

For the former, supporting Israel means supporting the Israeli right’s vision of a strong ethno-state triumphant over its enemies. For the latter, supporting Israel means helping calmer, more rational voices prevail so that peace and justice can be achieved for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Each side has biblical proof-texts, Jewish history, and plenty of emotional appeals they can make. We all have our friends or relatives who have died at the hands of terrorists, anti-Semites, or enemy soldiers. No one ever wins this argument. (We are Jews, after all.)

But the results are profoundly different conceptions of what it means to be a Jew.

When most American Jews hear Trump bash “media elites,” Muslims, Mexicans, Democrats, or victims of sexual assault, we see our deepest values transgressed, and we see ourselves in the crosshairs next, because we, too, are an often despised minority.

But when right-wing Israelis and American Jews hear Trump bash Israel’s enemies, they are encouraged and emboldened. They say anti-Semitism, which Trump has condemned, is totally separable from the white-nationalism, Islamophobia, transphobia, racism, and populism that he has tolerated or encouraged. They say Trump is on our side.

And yet it’s not just he said/she said. There are still facts. And the facts are that the alt-right’s most ardent members, people like Cesar Sayoc Jr. and Robert Bowers, do not separate anti-Semitism from their hatred of immigrants, Muslims, people of color, gays, liberals, and journalists. They say so quite clearly, in words and deeds.

In short, Pittsburgh is why most American Jews oppose Trump. Israeli leaders seem not to understand that.

Source: The Tone-Deaf Israeli Reactions to the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting