Eliezer Finkelman

Antisemitism — from four years ago

If you want to learn about modern antisemitism, it would make sense to interview a Jewish person who grew up among non-Jews, who has had many careers with gentiles of all economic and social classes, who studies history, and who discusses antisemitism with everybody. You could ask someone like Gilbert Sniderman of Troy, Michigan.
Sniderman grew up in changing, and already changed, Detroit neighborhoods. His personal circle was heterogeneous including friends from vastly different races, religions, economic, social, sexual, cultural backgrounds, US, and foreign. Many of whom remain his friends decades later. He earned degrees in History, Comparative Religion, Music, Mathematics and other subjects. He was active in politics, campaigning for democratic, independent and non-partisan candidates and issues for many years; marched, worked, for civil rights. During the Vietnam War, he served with the Military Police. Since those days, he has taught history, music, and classical literature in public, charter, private, and parochial (Christian, Jewish and other) schools across the country. He has sought out people who share his interest in classical music, grand opera, Japanese art, and sophisticated cooking, history and politics.
This incomplete list only suggests his wide variety of friends and interests.

Sniderman has a long history of opposition to antisemitism. At Wayne State University in 1972, when the campus paper, “The South End,” published cartoons from Nazi sources and called for violence against Jews, Sniderman worked with other students in an ad hoc committee to protest. Eventually the university took action to limit editorial staff of the paper.

On the topic of current antisemitism, Sniderman has three points to make, two observations and one quandary.

First observation: We American Jews love to debate about whether antisemitism has become dangerous here. America has long been the exception, the one country without the virulent outbreaks of hatred against Jews that appear periodically in Europe, North Africa, and the Muslim world.  Sniderman says that the debate has ended: America has become dangerous. It no longer surprises us when a gunman walks into a synagogue or a kosher store and opens fire. It should not surprise us if worse may be to come.

Second observation: Antisemitism comes from all sides. For decades after the Holocaust, explicit hatred against Jews declined. Apparently, the hatred never went away; people just suppressed it. Though many, perhaps most, Americans have no feelings against Jews, antisemitic roots go deep in separate parts of American politics. Sniderman, fascinated by history, identifies distant sources of modern hatred: ancient Phoenicians and Greeks who expressed rivalry with Israel, early Christian writers and theologians who proselytized Hellenist gentiles, more modern proponents of eugenics who thought up racist plans to improve human breeding stock, conservationists who wanted to eradicate invasive species like Jews, aristocrats who sought to exclude undeserving others, universalists who wanted to end tribalism, socialists who opposed commerce, bankers and industrialists who did business with Nazis, and investors who needed to appease oil producers. But, he says, all that does not matter so much, compared with who hates Jews now. How the hatred started is, in this circumstance, no longer relevant. The reality is that there exists hatred of Jews, and this is what we must deal with. Many have tried to determine a cause, some believing that if a cause is found then a “cure” may be had. This “cure” may be through logic, reasoning,
demonstrating we are the same as they, getting involved with their problems and forming alliances. Much of these attempts to thwart, reduce or eliminate antisemitism. are doomed to failure. Many look on us as fools to be used and be a help when needed, but still looked on with disdain and hatred. Antisemitism is so rooted in society that it has never gone away and only waits for the climate to be right to openly express it; and that is now. Though many people do not hate Jews, antisemitism comes from all sides.

It comes from those progressives who buy into “intersectionality,” the idea that all our causes interlock. They say, you cannot demonstrate for women’s rights, or immigrants’ rights, unless you accept all of our causes, including opposition to Zionism. Thus other people get to define Jewish liberals as “not progressive enough.” Even after touting intersectionality, some progressives openly tolerate antisemites in leadership. Apparently concern for Jews does not belong in “all of our causes.” Sniderman counts this concern for human rights for all minorities, but not for Jews, as a classical form of antisemitism. When Herzl foresaw that Jews would never be safe as a minority in Europe, he understood that we would need a national homeland to be protection. Anti-Zionists seek to eliminate this; leaving
us no place of refuge or safe-haven. Many wish to confound Anti-Zionism as anti-Israeli government, hiding their antisemitism behind a smokescreen.

People of color might rightfully resent Jewish bigots (as, alas, the Jewish community does include bigots). Some people of color also resent Jewish allies, who demonstrate against racism (but who still seem to have full white privilege) as “white heroes,” as “limousine liberals,” as people who dabble in fighting oppression as a hobby. Many hold a view that there is only privileged and un-privileged; not realizing that even in this there is a hierarchy. While we are “better off” than others we are still held rigidly in a caste system; and functioning as a buffer between the lowest economic/social groups and those who truly hold the power, and privilege; in what may be called a “Buffer Class”). We are: too white for these critics, but not white enough for white nationalists and white supremacists. They openly disdain Jews. If we count as white to them, then we are traitors to whiteness.

Those who would restrict immigration often despise Jews as generally supporting asylum for refugees, and supporting lenient rules for immigrants.

Political elites of all varieties owe favors to their financial backers. More than a few of these financial powerhouses earned their fortunes in deals with unscrupulous associates, with criminals, enslavers, and with notorious antisemites, and Nazis (not modern day Nazis but members of the Third Reich power structure. Sniderman views some “legitimate” political leaders with deep suspicion because of their heritage, and support systems.

Third point, the quandary: What do we do now? We have to get used to living a more hostile environment.

Would it help to bring weapons to synagogues and other soft targets where Jews congregate? With his background in the military police, Sniderman says, “Not at all, unless the people carrying have undergone thorough training, and keep up their training.” While many feel they can use them in threatening situations the actuality of drawing and using a weapon is a very difficult thing to do; and that moment of hesitation can be deadly. An untrained carrier waving a weapon probably would make any tense situation worse. A trained carrier knows not to draw the weapon except to use it, and then to use it effectively.

Should we give up on America? In the past two or three years, impressive numbers of Jews have moved to Israel from England, France, and other European countries.  Moving to Israel makes sense, according to Sniderman, who identifies as a Zionist and lived in Israel for a year; realistically, most American Jews do not see that as an option.

Do we turn to the people who shared our political dreams, and try to re-enlist them as our allies in the fight against antisemitism? Yes, we certainly should, but we have to recognize that the political landscape has shifted, and may shift more. Some of the traditional allies of liberal Jews now define us as “other.” In our times, many people defined themselves by political convictions These identities even replaced religious and ethnic, identity. When the ground shifts beneath them, and they are faced with rejection from friends and allies leaves them without an identity. Thousands of assimilated Jews from Europe, in particular Germany, from WWI to WWII, were full citizens, yet within two to three years outcast.  The traditional political parties do not necessarily provide reliable safe havens, and the people who
share our ideals may not share our concern with the safety of Jews.

Sniderman emphasizes that the discussion of whether certain ideas qualify as antisemitism, should end with the realization they are just that. Further attempts to educate, dialogue, and reason to bring others to the idea that we are “like” them is futile, self-deluding, and pointless (as well as dangerous).

Last, it is time to determine, as a community what can, and should we do to deal with this reality. We do not have time for lengthy debate.

So what do we do now?

About the Author
Louis Finkelman currently resides in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Until recently, he taught Literature and Writing at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan, and served as half the rabbinic team at Congregation Or Chadash in Oak Park, Michigan.
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