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Antisemitism Three Years Later

Three years ago in Pittsburgh, eleven Jews were murdered and seven injured while doing the most Jewish of things, offering Shabbat prayers at their synagogue, the Tree of Life. Furthermore, this far-right extremist claimed he was angered by the community’s support of immigration rights, by this community’s expression of their Jewish values. This past summer, protests against Israel’s war in Gaza, turned violent. Jews were attacked because they wore a kippah or they dined at a Jewish restaurant. It was thought that somehow these outward manifestations of their Jewishness made them legitimate targets for their attackers’ anger at Israel’s actions. Make no mistake, antisemitism, and murderous hatred, and violent attacks, have no such rational explanations. There is no such legitimacy. It is folly to suggest that if Israel was not so heavy handed in its response to Hamas rockets, or if Jews were not so supportive of liberal causes, antisemtism would cease.

One in four American Jews has been targeted by antisemitism over the past year, including 17% who were subjected to antisemitic remarks in person and 12% who experienced antisemitism online or on social media. (AJC The State of Antisemitism in America 2021) Congregants share with me more and more stories of how a longtime acquaintance blurted out antisemitic remarks.

On the right this increase in antisemitism appears to have begun with the conservative embrace of fringe groups. When political leaders fail to denounce antisemitism, or hatred of any group, most especially from within their own ranks, antisemitism flourishes. The trial now beginning in Charlottesville is an important step forward. Take away the funding of those who support violent antisemitism. Speak out against those who defend the absurd protests against mask wearing and vaccine mandates with Nazi analogies. Defend free speech but know its limits and limitations. Are we to believe free speech really means that factual inaccuracies should be allowed to flourish online?

On the left this increase in antisemitism appears to have begun with the liberal embrace of racial justice. Let’s be clear. Racial justice for African Americans is not the same as justice for Palestinians. The insistence that the sins of America’s founding—let’s be clear as great as this country is, sins were committed against Native Americans and African Americans—and yet these are not the same as the wrongs Israel committed in its founding. To be blunt, Jews were murdered by Palestinians. And Palestinians were expelled by Israelis.

I do not wish to explore the rights and wrongs committed in each of these struggles. Instead, I want to emphasize they are not the same. Academics, and American liberals, appear to insist that above every victim is an oppressor and that we can view every struggle through the prism of these archetypes. Victim and oppressor. All we have to do to figure out who is right and who wrong is assign someone to one of these categorizations. And so, in this worldview the Jew is the oppressor, and the Israeli is the same as the White police officer with his knee on George Floyd’s neck.

When fighting the antisemitism of the right, it is easier to draw a clear, bright line between right and wrong, good and evil. On the left, the fight is far more difficult and the lines blurry. How can I simultaneously support George Floyd and the countless others whose names I don’t know while also supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against the genocidal designs of Hamas and Iran? We become lost in the questioning and confusion. I can defend Israel and also fight for racial justice.

But again, make no mistake, antisemitism is antisemitism. Seeing Israel as the Jew among nations is antisemitism. Israel is powerful. Sometimes it wields its power for good. Sometimes for bad. It is like America and every other country for that matter. Nations, or at least the good among them, struggle to live up to a noble vision of themselves. They falter. They look within. They try to correct themselves. They try to do better. That is how I see America. That is how I see Israel.

The world appears to behave in a way suggesting that as long as Jews are small and not mighty, as long as we are victims, and not powerful, as long as we don’t wield our might with an army or defend ourselves by achieving political prominence, then the world is content with our place. My response to that is, no way. Zionism has taught me that it is not just about our return to the land but our return to history. It is about taking charge of our destiny and not allowing others to write our own story. Our fate is in our hands. We are not going to grovel to the whims of other rulers.

Do not think that if we were not supportive of immigration rights, or if our numbers were not so well represented in the calls for racial justice, antisemtism would cease. Do not think that if we do not wear a kippah outside or if we hide the addresses of our synagogues, antisemitism will come to an end. Theodor Herzl was right when he said that if you will it, then it is not a dream, but he was wrong that once the State of Israel was established antisemitism would dissolve into ancient history. I do not know why this hatred, why this darkness among all others, persists and defies all our attempts to stamp it out. I do know this, I will never cower. I will never be silenced. I will sing the songs of my tradition. I will shout with pride of my Jewish identity.

When I look up, when I lift up my eyes as Abraham, Isaac and Rebekah do, in this week’s portion, I cannot know what is off in the distance; I cannot know if this is once again a test, but I can know what every single one of us feels, things have changed, and we feel more tentative about our home. I resolve the following. No one can ever make me feel that this place is not my home. No one can ever make me feel that Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, is not our home.

Gone are the days of youthful naïveté when I thought despite my grandparents’ objections, that antisemitism no longer existed. And in their place is more pride and more resilience and an even greater sense that I will forever hold my head high and proclaim that I am proud to be a Jew. I will lift up my eyes, and see clearly that hatred lurks, and foments, even here. I will lift up my eyes with great pride that this is my tradition and that to be a Jew is a blessing and a gift.