Shahar Azani
Storyteller, Strategic Consultant & Former Israeli Diplomat . A Jew.

Antisemitism – Dare You Call It By Its Name?

Lori Gilbert Kaye, of Blessed Memory, Victim of Poway's Antisemitic Attack, April 2019 (source: Facebook).
Lori Gilbert Kaye, of Blessed Memory, Victim of Poway's Antisemitic Attack, April 2019 (source: Facebook).

It’s been quite the month for the Jewish people. Israel has just concluded (doesn’t it seem like forever ago?)  the elections for the 21st Knesset, elections which – whether you support the outcome or absolutely detest it – were a display of Israel’s oasis of democracy and human rights in an otherwise dark and gloomy neighborhood. A blatantly antisemitic cartoon is published in the International Edition of the NY Times. bypassing logic, common sense and sheer morality. A hateful 19-year-old in Poway, CA, stormed a synagogue with the evil intention to commit a massacre at the end of the Jewish Holiday of Passover. Jews were hiding underneath tables, rushing their children to safety, raising their hands to protect themselves and others, literally sacrificing their own lives – due to an age old malaise. Mind you, this was not Odessa 1819 but California 2019, taking place only days before Israel commemorates humanity’s lowest moral point; the industrialized genocide against the Jewish People; the Holocaust. How atrociously appropriate. And just now, as Israel prepares to remember its fallen soldiers and victims of terror, as well as getting ready to celebrate its Independence Day – both consecutive for a reason – Palestinian terrorist organizations, led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, launch murderous attacks targeting innocent Israelis with barrages of missiles, reminding the world of its raison d’être: not to make lives of Palestinians better, but rather to take as many Jewish lives as possible.

Some attempt to make a distinction between the Jewish People and the Jewish State,  differentiating “classical” antisemitism from “politically motivated” attacks on Israel. They are wrong. This is a false distinction, as evident for example from Hamas itself, which uses genocidal language regarding Jews and the State of Israel, including enlisting the environment to their unholy war: “A Jew will hide behind a rock or a tree, and the rock or tree will say: ‘O Muslim, O slave of Allah, here is a Jew behind me; come and kill him”.

These events are very well inter-connected through an ancient and powerful chain, too strong and resilient, it seems, to be broken by supposed human morality over thousands of years.

From crusades to pogroms, from the Holocaust to Palestinian suicide bombings, a great motivation has been a deep and profound hatred of Jews, a persistent and stubborn disease which has plagued the Earth for thousands of years, claiming the lives of millions of innocent Jews through the millennia. At first, motivated by the Christian charge of a “collective Jewish responsibility” for the crucifixion of Jesus, it became a tenet of both Catholic and Protestant theologies, with catastrophic consequences. Later, this dark force evolved and took on political and social forms, this time targeting “Jews” for their positions, ideas and for their perceived “role” in society.

Tragically, in recent years – literally seconds in historical terms after the Holocaust – the world is witnessing a terrible  increase in antisemitism: hate speech, physical attacks and denial of the Holocaust itself. It’s happening everywhere and especially widespread in the Islamic world, where it is promoted by state owned media and antisemitic literature such as the fake “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” which is still sold “at fine bookstores everywhere”, continuing to contaminate the well, thus perpetuating the disease. In Europe it’s increasing among both far-left and far-right politicians, and even here in the U.S. – from Pittsburgh and beyond – many Jewish students on college campuses feel the hostility, only because they are Jews.

But why did I have to take you on what may seem to some as a tour of the obvious?!

Remembrance and memory are fundamental principles in Jewish existence, as evident by Jewish prayer books which make a daily mention of the yearning to return to Jerusalem and even the recently concluded Passover Holiday which is meant – through the Hagaddah –  to commemorate and teach our children the historical narrative of our people. The State of Israel is also true to that principle: as the Declaration of Independence upholds the Jewish historical connection to our homeland, and various ceremonies take place throughout the year to connect past and present, as we create and curate a Jewish future.

I believe and appreciate the place of memory. Campaigns such as #WeRemember to commemorate the Holocaust are important and welcome. However REMEMBRANCE ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH. One must take an active role in remembering and REMINDING. Sharing the historical context of the memory and teaching its value are key to allow us to move forward. We must remember the history – if only because we know very well that the other side, lurking in the dark, remembers it very well as well, albeit for very different reasons – but it is incumbent upon us not to stay there, but to take the next step, to remind, to SPEAK UP. Remind the world of the inconvenient truth of its crimes against the Jewish people – not only past ones, but also those which happen today before our  disbelieving eyes. It’s an absolute sham how antisemitism can no longer stand alone, but immediately followed by other (undeniably and justly) horrible cases of bigotry and discrimination. However, one should take a pause after mentioning antisemitism, digest its historical significance, its omnipresence, its sheer malevolence, give it the room it cruelly deserves, as means of distinguishing it. A worthy distinction this time indeed.

It is downright hypocritical to single out Israel and the Jewish People for anything and everything wrong, BUT the one thing it SHOULD be singled out for: a unique and ancient kind of hatred, still alive and well today, thank you very much for asking: ANTISEMITISM.

  • When antisemitic statements are made by a Congresswoman who’s looking for the “BENJAMINS”, we must call it out for what it is, and not bury it under a heap of words. ANTISEMITISM.
  • When Williams College pro-Israel group is denied recognition, we must call it out for what it is. ANTISEMITISM.
  • When a violently anti-Israel student group harasses pro-Israel Jewish students at NYU, only to later receive an award from the university for their “exemplary contributions to the NYU community” – we ask ourselves would NYU dare behave in such a shameful way towards any other group? towards any other minority? Clearly not. ANTISEMITISM.

ANTISEMITISM can both manifest itself in action and inaction. Watching it from the sidelines and doing nothing about it – sometimes even actively trying to cover it – is just as bad, if not a worse form of ANTISEMITISM, as it gives it ground to fester and grow, develop and metastasize.

And then a 19 year old “all American Boy” takes a gun and executes a 60 year old righteous woman in California, just because she was Jewish.

Take a good look at the late Lori Gilbert Kaye’s smile. her inner light. Taken away from us, only for being Jewish. Look at that smile, remember, remind and commit to speak up, so that history does not repeat itself.

If you see something, say something.

ANTISEMITISM.

About the Author
Speaker, Author, Strategic Consulatant. Past Northeast Executive Director of StandWithUs. A Former Diplomat for Israel's Foreign Ministry in London, Jerusalem, Nairobi, Los Angeles and New York. A Storyteller, who's passionate about people, culture and politics.
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