Vigils and community gatherings were held all around the U.S. in recent days. Hundreds of thousands of Jews and Muslims and Christians and Sikhs and others along with top government officials turned out to express their solidarity with the Jews of America after the horrific slaughter of Jews in Pittsburgh by a lone hater with an assault rifle.
Almost from the moment it happened a broad range of Jewish leaders and media types wrote articles about how anti-Semitism in our country is bad and getting worse. Dana Milbank waxed eloquent about how in the age of Trump, Jews are no longer safe in America.
Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League appeared on cable news outlets and bemoaned the fact–with good reason–that what he called “anti-Semitic acts” soared by 57 percent last year.
Many of my Jewish friends and mentors are wallowing in the familiar pit of Jewish victimhood and stating what they consider to be the obvious. That Jews have always been the victims of anti-Semitism and racist haters and killers and we always will be.
But most Jews know in our heart of hearts that this assessment couldn’t be more misguided and out of touch with reality. We know that none of these acts of one-off Jew hatred by long wolf murderers changes the most important basic fact.
There has never in history been a better time or place to be Jewish than in the U.S. today. And there has never been a time or place in history when there was less anti-Semitism than there is in the U.S. today.
Anti-Semitism is a measure of the extent to which broader society and government and our laws tolerate acts of terror or hatred or discrimination against Jews. And as we have seen by the reaction to the murders in Pittsburgh, there is no place in our country where haters and bigots and murderers like this killer are not consider the scum of the earth.
There is no place where this would be welcome other than inside the secret and evil pits of hatred when that type of behavior is encouraged. And in this regard, Milbank is correct. Trump and his enablers–including a disgusting handful of wealthy older Jews– have provided a level of support and comfort to those unspeakably evil villains that can no longer be tolerated politely. But that has nothing to do with Anti-Semitism. Jews are among the victims of a wave of White Supremacists who have felt empowered to act out against and even murder no just Pittsburgh Jews but also Milwaukee Sikhs and South Carolina Black people.
And we have watched as desperate immigrants seeking to do what our grandparents did and abandon shit hole countries where their lives are in danger to seek a better life for themselves and their children have been unfairly branded as “invaders” and a major national threat. Just yesterday Trump announced he is sending thousands of armed troops to “protect” our southern borders from a mythical invasion of brown Spanish-speaking Hispanics. It could and should be argued that Jews are the most fortunate and safest and most prosperous and admired and accepted group among the targeted victims of the racists today.
A little perspective please. Just a generation ago, American Jews WERE victims of Anti-Semitism. That was when broader society tolerated and looked the other way when we were barred from many neighborhoods and clubs and schools and places of employment. That was a time when Jews were getting nose jobs and changing their names so they would appear to be less Jewish. No one but the most ritually observant Orthodox would wear a kippah in public (or even in a synagogue) much less a visible mezuazah or a Jewish star.
But thankfully those days are long gone. Things got so much better so fast that our children can’t even believe that things like that ever happened in the U.S. Their only complaint about gentiles is that all of them want to marry us.
Now, Jews are more prosperous and powerful and admired than any other group in our entire country. My CLAL colleague Rebecca Sirbu wrote–accurately–about how much we are loved! We can live wherever we want, work wherever we want, join any clubs that we would want to join, and marry whomever we want to such an extent that the Jewish community has declared the rise in intermarriage to be an existential crisis. As a practical matter, Anti-Semitism is dead in America.
As we all tragically learned last week, Jew hatred and hatred of all flavors are very much alive. We need to be vigilant and pro-active in discrediting and destroying the people who are committing acts of hatred, the politicians who cater to them, and American citizens–including too many wealthy Jews–who enable them. But the Pittsburgh slaughter notwithstanding, Jew are not the primary victims of those acts of hatred.
At each and every vigil this week, words were spoken about the need to bring about change. But very little was said about the needs to demonize and discredit those who are behind these horrific changes–beginning with President Trump but certainly not ending with him.
As Thomas Friedman has accurately pointed out–and not in a partisan way– if you want to do something to make a positive difference, vote for a Democrat next week. Not because Democrats are so great but because Republicans under Trump have become a force of pure racism, bigotry, and evil.