Today, We Can and Should Do Something About Anti-Semitism
By Rabbi Neil Cooper
Over the past several weeks, we have seen a resurgence of anti-Semitism. Here are a few examples from the news:
The number of anti-Semitic and hate crimes perpetrated against Jews has risen over the past couple of years precipitously. Within the last few weeks alone, we have seen murderous attacks on Jews gathered for Shabbat services in Pittsburgh, perpetrated by one aligned politically with the extreme right. A similar attack with similar motivation and similar results intended was being planned in Toledo, Ohio. Fortunately, that attack was prevented.
Jewish students and faculty have become frequent targets on campus. From the extreme left, the office of Professor Elizabeth Midlarsky, a Jewish professor of Holocaust education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti on Nov. 28.
Anti-Semitism, in the thinly veiled language of anti- Zionism, is becoming commonplace. Marc Lamont Hill, a professor of media at Temple University, delivered a speech at the United Nations that calls for a Palestinian state “from river to sea.” Hill, who knows the power and meaning of the words he chooses, means the eradication of the Jewish state. And for those who differentiate between anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, the new Palestinian state that the professor and his supporters envision includes the expulsion, if not the termination, of all of the Jews of Israel.
Anti-Semitic views are tolerated by the print media under the banner of “freedom of the press.” Syndicated columnist for The New York Times Michelle Goldberg recently explained that legitimate criticism of Israeli policies is not anti-Semitic (a statement that any reasonable person would agree with). With that, she justifies the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as a demonstration of a difference of agreement over policy. The BDS movement, however, is an active and direct attack.
Rashida Tlaib, has been elected as the first Palestinian-American to Congress, representing the 13th District in Michigan. As a congresswomen, she has already stated her desire to see U.S. military aid to Israel slashed. She is also a vocal proponent of BDS.
There is a lawsuit that has been initiated against the Philadelphia Police Department alleging anti-Semitism against Jewish police officers.
It is not hard to make the historical analogy between the anti-Semitism that is reflected in the events of the past few weeks and events that occurred in Germany in the early 1930s. Listed above are examples of anti-Semitism finding its way into the culture and consciousness of both the extreme political left and right.
I say this not as a call to arms and not to suggest that another Holocaust, God forbid, is around the corner. But in a world that is increasingly hostile toward Jews, we are living at a time when we have the power to resist, the power to refute and the power to make our voices heard. Unlike the political situation before World War II, we now can mobilize, raise our voices and put our pens to paper. In the face of all of this, we are not powerless this time. Today we can speak, write and protest.
Write a letter to the president of Temple University, Richard Englert, (1801 North Broad St., Philadelphia, Pa., 19122). Protest the fact that Hill is being wrongly shielded and protected from censure by the concept of academic freedom.
Write a letter to The New York Times to protest and hold accountable a columnist who espouses BDS and believes it appropriate and moral not simply to ignore the fact that Israel is the only functional democracy in the region, but to pressure Israel to change policies by way of BDS, threatening economic repercussions if Israel does not capitulate with the demands of those who are Israel’s enemies.
Israel is not perfect. There is much within Israel that Israelis would like to change and many things that I would like to see changed. But change must occur through the democratic process — not by way of threats and blackmail. Moreover, Israel is neither the worst nor the only country that should be scrutinized. If repressive governments in nearly every other Middle Eastern country are not taken to task, if we make no demands on them, then singling out Israel for special treatment and punishment is an expression of racism/anti-Semitism and hate.
Anti-Semitism has been part of the world since the beginning of the Jewish people. It is our task to watch for the shades of anti-Semitism, to point it out when it surfaces, to condemn it when we see it and to raise our voices against those who would be complicit. Anti-Semitism is part of this world. We do not and should not delude ourselves into thinking that one day we will live in a world devoid of anti-Semitism. Indeed, when we think that we have reached a moment in time when anti-Semitism no longer exists, that will be the moment when the next wave will begin. l
Rabbi Neil Cooper is the rabbi at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood.