Yoni Leviatan
How to be Jewish: Be good. The end.

Antisemitism is never Israel’s fault

(Adobe stock image)

This week is bound to be an uncomfortable one for American Jews on both sides of the political aisle and the country itself.

First, you have Israel’s nothing-if-not-controversial prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu landing in California to talk tech with the equally controversial Elon Musk smack in the middle of his ongoing feud with the ADL – a feud whose wagon is full of band members jumping on from all sides of the antisemitic spectrum.

Bibi’s flirtation with Musk grants him a kashrut stamp that will be exploited to the detriment of every American Jew, even those who support him in his battle with the ADL.

But how does that change anything? Will rational people become antisemites because the Israeli prime minister props up one of their idols? Will antisemites change their mind because one of their idols props up the Israeli prime minister? As with everything these days, people’s minds were made up long before the meeting and there will be no changes after it.

The hand-wringing by some Jews is unnecessary and a distraction from the real issue – a Jew is a Jew is a Jew to any self-respecting antisemite and we will be damned as a people until we internalize this lesson as if our lives depended on it.

In parallel, Israeli protestors have descended on America to let everyone know just how badly our prime minister and his government are behaving. Support them or not, there is little doubt that Israel-haters and Jew-haters will rejoice in seeing Israelis do their bidding for them.

Palestinian activists spend day and night trying to draw attention to what they perceive as Israeli crimes. If only they had a bit more cash, maybe a better organizational culture, they might have thought to simply project such a statement on the wall of the United Nations as Israeli protestors did last week – drawing crucial attention away from the far more criminal leaders of Iran being hosted there in style this week.

The sophistication of the protest movement in Israel has gotten terribly lost in translation on the other side of the Atlantic. Had someone thought to hire a media coach before going on 60 Minutes, our courageous, tenacious soldiers might not have supplied our enemies with the soundbite of their dreams.

But how does that change anything? Don’t our enemies already lie, falsify and re-edit footage as if they took a course on Goebbels? Shouldn’t Israelis be allowed to protest their government on the world’s largest stage like any other concerned citizens of the community of nations so they can draw attention to what many perceive to be an existential threat?

Again, the problem is not the Israeli protestors. The problem was always there and it will always be there. The issue for American Jewry is that they rarely had to deal with it until recently and are still learning how to fight in the trenches. There is a disconnect that causes some diaspora Jews to see Israeli actions as stoking antisemitism instead of realizing that these actions are being used as a pretext by those who were already antisemites.

Antisemitism in America is not about Israel – it’s about American Jews.

Blaming Israel is simply what antisemites do. Thus, when diaspora Jews also blame Israel for antisemitism, they are very much on the wrong side of history – their own Jewish history to be exact.

Surely, all this controversy is not what American Jews wish to see from their visiting Israeli brethren. But if there is one thing Israelis have never been accused of, it’s giving too much consideration to the wishes of American Jewry. No Israeli flying to America with a sense of purpose this week seems concerned that whatever happens, when the Israelis fly back it will be American Jews – both supporters and detractors of whatever it is we’re talking about – who will have to deal with the blowback.

That blowback is, of course, not their fault.

Yet it is also not Israel’s fault, nor the protestors’ fault or the government’s and not even Bibi’s – regardless of one’s opinion about any of them.

The only people to blame for antisemitism are antisemites. Jews do not cause antisemitism anymore than Blacks cause racism or gays cause homophobia. And yet, we are the only group who tend to turn inward when faced with unbridled hate. We are a rational people, so we try to rationalize the irrational instead of beating it bloody with a sledgehammer.

As an American Jew, I greatly sympathize with those who do not wish to see Israel slandered on their shores by none other than Israelis themselves. I also sympathize greatly with those who do not wish to see the Israeli prime minister granting legitimacy to one of the most influential people in the world currently legitimizing antisemitic arguments on one of the world’s largest platforms.

It is uncomfortable for many. Super uncomfortable for some. I get it, wholeheartedly.

But as an Israeli Jew, I must ask – why are Jews living in America if they are not free to live as American Jews without fear of being targeted due to the actions of their fellow Jews from the world’s only Jewish state?

Last I checked, the world proved very adept at separating protestors from the regime and aiming their fire appropriately (see: Iran). But as always – Israel is the exception.

And when I say Israel, I mean Jews.

American Jews should not have to fear Israeli actions they hold no responsibility for, yet they do, and it’s understandable why. They will be held responsible regardless. That is the nature of antisemitism. What is critical to remember is that it is never your fault.

It is also, emphatically, never Israel’s fault.

Jews do not cause antisemitism. Not even the worst ones we are ashamed to call Jews. Jews are the victims of antisemitism and victims do not cause their suffering. The only agency they have is how they respond to it – and respond to it we must.

However, standing up to antisemitism does not mean Jews should be oblivious to their words and actions. Jews do not cause antisemitism but they can mistakenly add fuel to the fire or help it spread further.

Diaspora Jews must be cognizant when it comes to criticizing Israel and realize how their well-intentioned words can and will be used against them as Jews far more heavily than they will impact any Israeli. And Israelis of all stripes must be more cognizant of how their actions affect diaspora Jews, especially when visiting their countries.

Having said that, there is a big difference between being cognizant and being cowardly.

We Jews must never take the blame for being hated or seek to place it on another Jew. We must never believe that something in our actions caused a deserved response that extends to the uninvolved. And we must never abandon our right to live in this world as proud Jews, the same as any other proud people on the globe.

The only response to antisemitism – the only one – is to place the blame exactly where it belongs without an ounce of hesitation before taking action to defeat it.

Anything less is letting the antisemites win without a fight.

About the Author
Yoni Leviatan is a British-born, American-raised, Israeli-blooded musician, content producer and writer. His songs have been licensed to MTV, CNN, ESPN, PBS and others while receiving nationwide airplay on over 200 American radio stations. His production work has led to projects with Warner Bros., Waves Audio, Abbey Road Studios, YouTube and Spotify. Originally from Coral Springs, Florida, he's been living in Tel Aviv since 2009 where he spends his free time writing about Israel and politics with articles featured in Newsweek, Times of Israel and The Forward.
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