As a member of The Diaspora, I have watched life in Israel from afar for as long as I can remember. I have watched as it endured what seemed to be unrelenting terror and increasing global hostility. In both my synagogue and at home, I learned to take Israel’s troubles into my heart. Yet, for all this strife, Israel and its people always seem to persevere. Once again vehicular terror in Jerusalem has stolen more innocent lives in Israel. There will be more condolences, more prayers and sadly enough more hostility from the world. Others have noted that the empathy which is so easily lent to the victims of terror in other nations evaporates when it reaches the shores of Israel. The question as to why of course looms quite large but the answer is also obvious to those who are attuned to the history of anti-Semitism. In these instances though, we now must bear an additional indignity. As Jews and supporters of Israel we are often told that any discussion of the sanctity of our lives is fundamentally impossible. It is time to change that.
While there have been condemnations from diplomatic sources, they have not been mirrored in many popular forums. Even now, as news organizations and social media report this latest attack, there is an effort to minimize, justify or cast doubt. In editorial refuge, the word terrorist hides behind double quotes. The indisputable aggression of the act is absurdly waylaid by the term alleged. It is in this process of whitewashing hatred and diluting criminal acts that Israel and The Diaspora share an undeniable link. Even the United States, with its generally tolerant atmosphere, anti-Jewish sentiments have grown in recent years. Swastikas have scarred homes and synagogues, caustic remarks have broken the bonds of social restraint.
Anti-Semitism, ever adaptable and potent, has served to drive expressions of Jewish identity into a veil of frightened shadows for many people. At its center, is the stunning assertion that to fight this injustice is to reach for more than we deserve. There is a sense that, having dealt with the guilt of The Holocaust, society is no longer obligated to pursue crimes committed against Jews with the same level of urgency. One need only look at the currents of social media and they will see how reports of vandalism, assault and intimidation are often ascribed to little more than baseless complaints.
The mark of progress for Western society has been the gradual embrace of pluralism. Groups who had been victims of oppression and exploitation are encouraged to seek a redress of their grievances and to aspire to positions which exceed the degraded states that had been allotted to them. In the United States, the struggles by African Americans or Latino Americans for unabridged civil rights are presented as proof that the promise of freedom is ultimately available to every citizen. Yet, within these histories, the Jewish experience frequently occupies only a few footnotes, embedded within the larger trauma of immigration and integration. Is there then a taboo of Jews exposing the particular struggles and hardships of their lives? The same opportunity to illustrate injustice and pursue compensation should be demanded by Jewish people wherever they live. For Jews, both inside and outside of Israel, tracing the deeper roots of animosity is a critical component in the larger conversation.
In order to challenge the ideas which devalue the lives of Jewish people, the methods by which they are spread must be confronted. In their battles against prejudice, other groups have highlighted the role played by language and word choice. Words inevitably influence emotions often in subtle ways. Loaded terms such as powerful and influential are often used to describe the role played by Jewish advocacy organizations. These words are meant to portray these groups-and by extension Jews-as having an outsize role in political affairs. The deeper roots of these insinuations lay in the well-entrenched accusations of financial domination and a general obsession with money. Even the countless tragedies and persecutions, which have had such a determinative effect on Jewish history, are swallowed up in the derisive charge of victimhood as if to say that these events were fabricated or exaggerated. As other groups have challenged the euphemisms and rhetorical sleights of hand used to trivialize their struggles, so too must Jews if they wish see real change take place.
At the heart of this new conversation is an acknowledgement that the oppression of Jewish people is an ongoing reality. It may no longer be as obvious in its intentions or traditional in its design, but it does exist. Acts of physical or verbal violence are only the most apparent violations. Associations with Judaism and Israel have become liabilities within certain academic and professional circles. In a supreme twist of logic, Jewish students and academics have been told that any singular discussion of anti-Semitism is unacceptable in that it fails to address the plight of other groups. We are oppressed when apprehension forces us to hide our identity. We are oppressed when we are subject to social reprisal for even a casual association with our faith. The best way to end this litany of abuses-the countless bars and barriers of invisible confinement-is to raise our voices when they occur.
The momentum of this conversation must not be propelled by fear but rather by pride. Oppressive acts not only attempt to degrade Jewish identity but also to control it. In responding to these acts with pride and dignity, we reassert control over the manner in which our Jewish identity can be expressed. If normalized, these acts of terror may haunt other Jewish communities. We have the same rights and responsibilities in defending the sanctity of our lives as do members of any other group. Likewise, the success of these groups in articulating their struggle should be emulated, not as an imitation but as a distinct representation of the full spectrum of Jewish life.
The work of existing Jewish organizations has provided a solid foundation that cannot be dismissed. It is the energy and passion of such groups that which must be unleashed by both Jews and their allies. Just as other groups have mastered the art of rapid mobilization, so too must Jewish advocates create a response that is rapid, lithe and uncompromising in its opposition to acts of terror and anti-Semitic oppression. In exposing these acts to the same, astringent scrutiny faced by racism, sexism and homophobia, those who perpetrate or justify them will be forced to either renounce their views or face the logical consequences. We have been told to defer our grievances until society feels comfortable confronting them. In an era in which anti-Semitism and its apologists have been granted legitimacy, this is no longer an acceptable arrangement. In truth it is not so much a conversation which we need, but rather a movement, one that will only end when the safety, security and prosperity of Jewish people anywhere is no longer a question but a guarantee.