By Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz
We all know that antisemitism is on the rise in this country, and the politicians in Arizona are among the worst offenders and instigators.
Last month, Arizona U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar tweeted a “Dark Maga” meme commonly associated with neo-Nazi online culture. Attached to the picture were the following terrifying words:
“Remember when our government sent planes to Afghanistan and brought more than 100,000 Afghans in less than a week? We have in the range of up to 40 million illegal aliens in our country. They can be deported by planes, trains and buses. We could easily deport 6 million each year.”
Six million, of course, is the number of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.
This is, sadly, nothing new in this state, where Arizona Sen. Wendy Rogers routinely spreads antisemitic statements, and she posted a photoshopped image of herself on her Gab and Telegram accounts with a dead rhino branded with the letters CPAC, where the letter “a” contained a Star of David. Tammy Gillies, Anti-Defamation League regional director, told NBC affiliate 12 News, “We’ve just released an analysis of extremist rhetoric in the elections this year, and Wendy Rogers is at the top of that list.” Of course, online hate is something we must take extremely seriously. As a community, though, our response cannot be one of fear.
Such offenses in Arizona and across the U.S. are too numerous to list in full and are on the rise. And dangerous conspiracy theories have real effects in the real world. The ADL found that, in 2020, there were 327 antisemitic incidents at Jewish institutions. In 2021, that number went up to 525, a 61% increase.
But my point is not the antisemitic messages but the response it should bring forth from us. As Jews, we should be alarmed by the rhetoric. Whatever Jewish denomination we are, whatever political party we are, we should condemn hate wherever we see it and never tolerate antisemitism. Many Jews live in fear of being targeted by the far right and the far left and make this out to be a source of Jewish unity, not of blindly only pointing in one direction.
Keeping people educated about Jewish issues is not an easy task. We make up only about 2% of the American population and just 1.5% of Arizonans. Compare that with the number of conspiracy theorists out there — and those willing to use anti-Jewish conspiracy theories to score political points — and it is easy to see why dangerous information about Jews gets spread faster than we can correct it.
The shooter who killed 10 in Buffalo, New York, on May 14, was motivated by antisemitic conspiracy theories. Antisemitism is a danger both to ourselves and to our neighbors. For white supremacists, as we saw here and in many other cases, hatred of people of color is deeply connected with hatred of Jews. The Jews are viewed by such antisemites as the worst of all. To them, we deceptively often hide in white skin and white social circles while we are actually more aligned with minority groups and not with the white supremacists.
Despite this, we cannot be placed in paralyzing fear. We must call out this hateful rhetoric loudly. However, that is not enough. Identifying the problem won’t eliminate it. We need to drown it out by educating the public on who Jews are. We do this by deepening allyship and bridge-building that promote mutual understanding. We also do this by living our lives and living out our cherished Jewish values open and proudly.
When the public comes across hateful speech about Jews, saying Jews are making the country and the world worse, everyone should know, despite our small numbers that we are a compassionate people. They should see this by the example we set in the moral clarity we have and the good we do in the community. That way, when someone comes across a crazy conspiracy theory about Jews, they’ll know from experience who we really are.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash in Scottsdale, Arizona.