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Barry Newman

Antisemitism: An Unsettling Forecast

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It seems that you can hardly open a news source – digital, print, broadcast, whatever – without bumping into one or more items dealing with antisemitism. One would think that given the level of erudite attention that this subject has commanded – with contributors representing the perspectives of academia, journalism, politics, law and finance – a solution to this blight would have, by now, been found. Instead, the venom just continues to spread. As Oscar Hammerstein III’s lyrical description of the Mississippi River in Show Boat, antisemitism, like Ol’ Man River, just keeps on rolling along. You can’t help but think of the observation – made by newspaper editor Charles Dudley Warner and not, as popularly believed, Mark Twain – that everybody talks of the weather but does virtually nothing about it. Despite the learned insights, proposed strategies and recommended policies, the centuries old plague rages on, with no end in sight.

It would appear, it seems, that Jewish communities throughout the world need to be resigned to the reality that, like destructive storms, blinding blizzards, and blistering draughts, antisemitism cannot in any way be controlled. If anything, the situation Jews face is more unsettling than inclement weather. There are reasonably reliable methods and tools used in meteorological forecasting which provide an opportunity, in many cases, to prepare for and minimize the damage of hell-bent nature. Cellars could be cleaned out and made ready for refuge from tornados, cars can be equipped with tires suitable for navigating on snowy, icy roads, and windows can be bolstered to withstand the powerful winds that come with hurricanes. Not every potential danger can be guarded against, and flaws will inevitably compromise even the best laid plans. But if there is nothing that can be done to modify or adjust the onslaught of potentially hazardous weather, there are at least precautions that can be taken. Mr. Warren was not entirely correct, then. Something can, in fact, be done about the ravages of the weather. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said about antisemitism.

Adding to the complexity of this already complicated issue is that the nature of antisemitism is not merely an infestation of bias. There was a time when “No dogs or Jews allowed” signs, though not quite ubiquitous, were not infrequently seen in such seemingly enlightened countries as the United States, Canada and Belgium. Universities no longer limit the number of Jewish students they enroll, or the fields of study that these students can pursue. And while there very well may still be snobbish country clubs that restrict membership to specific groups and classes, Jews have found more than ample locations to play golf or tennis.

In recent years and months, however, antisemitism has become both frighteningly bold and aggressive on one hand and can be found lurking behind a disguised facade as freedom of expression on the other. And while the Jewish communities and leadership in North America, Europe and elsewhere are busy talking about the travesty of synagogues and Jewish institutions being vandalized and bombed, Jewish youth being attacked by marauding, hate-filled packs of Muslims, and anti-Jewish sentiment entering into congressional and legislative records dressed in the garb of permissible and politically correct criticism of Israeli policies, absolutely nothing is being done to prevent these incidents from reoccurring and even escalating.

Threats of punitive reprisal for acts of antisemitism have proven to be no more than toothless tigers. Law enforcement agencies cannot hermetically prevent or anticipate heinous, venomous acts or behavior, even though such incidents may be officially characterized as Hate Crimes. The dark web, which operates behind a firewall that is virtually unobservable, is full of sites promulgating the hatred of Jews and recommendations on how to fulfill the Final Solution, without the need to answer to oversight boards or committees. And despite all attempts to ensure that legislative and political debate remains free of antisemitic language or innuendo, such rhetoric is part of the day-to-day entries of seemingly legitimate progressive-leaning representative of the public, including but certainly not limited to the so-called Squad of the US House of Representatives.

Faced with a brick wall in seemingly every direction, it’s not at all surprising, then, that every so often the idea of fighting fire with fire resurfaces, and the approach encouraged by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Jewish Defense League is discussed…and usually dismissed. Few endorse Jewish vigilantism as a means of combatting antisemitism, and thankfully so. Street violence is a dangerous activity that promises to end badly. The last thing Jews need is to be blamed for bringing about a real-life restaging of the neighborhood gang wars immortalized in West Side Story (although, oddly enough, the original concept of WSS featured hostility between Jews and Gentiles; it was changed when the producers of the play thought that Jews weren’t the kind to engage in urban warfare). So, while a basic familiarity with self-defense certainly can’t hurt, only those properly and professionally trained and armed should be responsible for law enforcement.

The bottom line is that Judaism – both as a religion and a nation – survived throughout the millennia in spite of the ongoing practice of antisemitism and the focused, baseless hatred of both the church and seemingly civilized nations against the Jews. And if herd immunity has not yet set in and eradicated the virus of antisemitism, it is highly unlikely it ever will.

Mankind has found the means to survive and even flourish in its confrontation with devastating forces of nature that cannot be prevented. Jews, similarly, have refused to surrender its existence and bow to the evil of antisemitism. Our resolve has proven to be far stronger than the metaphorical cyclones, hailstones and floods that have been, and will continue to be, thrown at us. And we will have no difficulty dealing with the perpetual forecast facing the Jewish people: bright and sunny with occasional clouds and bursts of thunder.

About the Author
Born and raised on New York’s Lower East Side, Barry's family made aliya in 1985. He worked as a Technical Writer for most of his professional life (with a brief respite for a venture in catering) and currently provides ad hoc assistance to amutot in the preparation of requests for grants. And not inconsequently, he is a survivor of stage 4 bladder cancer, and though he doesn't wake up each day smelling the roses, he has an appreciation of what it means to be alive.
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