When calling out antisemitism, we must erase the redline.
Antisemitism is on the rise. The entire Jewish community agrees that we must do what we can to stop it, no matter how much or how little. It’s argued that antisemitism exists due to a lack of education, political chaos, extremism or a desire to find others to blame.
To combat it, we must educate, secure our institutions, create allies and call it out when we see it. Emphatically yes to all these actions. However, we also must stop enabling it.
Sometimes, we bump up against redlines that we don’t want to challenge. Redlines such as cultural interpretations, academic freedom (couched as the free exchange of ideas) and passive allowance.
A few examples of redlines we are facing:
St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery in Elkins Park has a monument dedicated to a unit of Ukrainian soldiers who fought for Nazi Germany during World War II. The large stone cross honors the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Schutzstaffel — the Nazi military branch often referred to simply as “the SS.”
Some historians, including historians from the Ukrainian Jewish community, have argued that painting the monument as a tribute to the SS doesn’t capture the full historical picture. For some, the monument represents Ukrainians who fought for Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union.
Departments at the University of Pennsylvania join in hosting a Palestinian literary festival and invite, among others, Roger Waters, lead singer of the band Pink Floyd, who has paraded on stage wearing an SS costume and has a history of denigrating the Jewish community. The university claims academic freedom and the desire to enable the free exchange of ideas.
A Philadelphia lawyer named Thomas E. Bosworth, or “Tommythelawyer” as he is known on TikTok, is fired from a prominent and trusted firm headed by two well-respected Jewish attorneys. He retaliates by using social media posting videos entitled “Greed,” using Kanye West lyrics and other tropes. Several of his followers responded with antisemitic comments and violent threats aimed at the firm and its principals. Rather than delete, erase or refute, for weeks, he allowed the comments to remain.
Where should the redlines be?
The redline must be unequivocal that no matter the reason, one does not honor the SS.
The redline must be unequivocal that when something enables hate speech and antisemitism, we do not give it space, voice, or airtime.
The redline must be unequivocal in that we speak out, refute and act.
If we hear a professor or an institution, see a post online, or overhear an antisemitic comment in the supermarket, we must step in, take responsibility and act. We must hold universities, politicians, social media companies, marketplaces and individuals accountable and call on everyone to end practices that enable antisemitism to root, fester, give voice and grow.
Freedom of speech must be uplifted and protected, but it cannot be without limits. Freedom to incite hate must end. It is time to redraw our redlines, and when it comes to antisemitism, we must do everything in our power to erase it.
Michael Balaban is the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.