Naphtali Perlberger
Naphtali Perlberger

Antisemitism: The new woke

It has been more than 70 years since my refugee ship entered New York harbor passing the Statue of Liberty. Then, the displaced Jews of Europe sailed into a country that promised religious freedom, tolerance and opportunity — all of which would reanimate the orphaned survivors of the Holocaust. I was 5, speaking 3 languages (but not English) and my parents who had left behind the unidentified corpses of their families naively thought that antisemitism had not reached these shores.

Isolated incidents over the decades arose in America amid other forms of race, religious and ideological hatred, but it had not reached the level that boiled over regularly from Middle Eastern countries, and Israel in particular. A UN vote for Statehood had not eliminated the succession of wars between 1948 and 1973 reminding the Jews of Golus that a Jewish State, however minuscule compared to the vast expanse of surrounding Arab nations, was an unacceptable thorn in that vast garden. The Jews of Africa and the Middle East escaped or were forced out of their countries, where they had lived for centuries. But even then, it seemed to American Jews that those exiles were localized to continents beyond the oceans, and more a backlash against losing the conflicts on the battlefield against Israel. Nevertheless, while Europe saw its share of individual and group hate talk, vandalism and violence, it had not reached universal proportions — at least not in the half-century that followed World War II.

911 changed the landscape. The Twin Towers fell in the eyes of the world, while radical Islamist groups, foreign and domestic, took center stage. Other broad-based attacks in Europe and Asia, as well as waves of intifadas, became more commonplace, and it became painfully obvious that the international courts, the United Nations, and the worldwide media reacted with biased condemnation of Israel’s defense of itself and its annoying reluctance to cease to exist. Unable to win the military wars, the War of Words through the transmission of social media and the proliferation of instantaneous news emerged as the predominant battlefield. That army outnumbered and out-spent the voices that responded against the lies, misrepresentations and outright distortion of truth that assaulted the ears, eyes, minds and hearts of a world that had not fought and defeated Nazism a half century before. Generations of listeners, readers and viewers found themselves inundated with information in schools, universities and their homes — all camouflaged as “anti-apartheid,” “anti-colonialism,” “anti-Israel,” — but really targeted against Jews worldwide. So successful was this relentless campaign, that even Jews increasingly turned against Jews, inside and outside of Israel.

Came COVID-19 and the world suffered not only the deadly silent enemy of the pandemic, but the isolationism, lockdowns and economic collapse that followed, became a crucible for a more insidious dis-ease. Like so many times in history, and more reminiscent of pre-WWII Europe, widespread disease and depression sought an old scapegoat. This time, however, it did not get confined by oceans or borders, but permeated, as did the pandemic, every corner of the world. Black Lives Matter and Marxism were invigorated by the murders of George Floyd and others at the hands of bad cops, while deaf to the cries of thousands of widows and mothers in inner cities where their loved ones were victims of Black-on-Black violence of unheard-of proportions. Perhaps more metastatic and long-lasting than the virus itself, was the perfect storm we now experience on a global level.

Cancel culture, critical race theory, reverse racial discrimination, and a new term – woke-ism – are increasingly eroding society, replacing and obliterating what had once been seen as the impervious institutions and ideas of democracy, such as free speech, equal protection and freedom itself. White people now apologize for the mere color of their skin!  Leaders in the United States, who were once united in upholding the Constitution, the Flag and American values, are now polarized and forming demarcations that border on sheer chaos and anarchy. This devolution and plunge into the moral and political abyss is manifesting in every nation worldwide. This cancer is destroying not just governments and institutions, but families and friendships.

This destructive and violent onslaught is not what Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned or advocated, when he said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

In the last few weeks and months, this foundational pandemic has unmasked the cover of alleged anti-Israel rhetoric and brought a rise in Anti-Semitism, and Jew-hatred of frightening proportions not seen since the defeat of Nazism and the bloodless fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. The 4,000 plus rockets unleashed on the civilian Israeli populations were met with mild condemnation, drowned out by worldwide denunciation of Israel for defending itself, even though the military response was made with forewarning when the hiding places of the rockets were homes, schools, hospitals, all purposefully orchestrated by Hamas to result in injury and death to its own innocent men, women and children. The War of Words ignores these realities and promotes this blatant false narrative.

While Israel remains a country where its Moslem population can work, live, worship, be treated in hospitals, vote and have seats in the Knesset, it is branded as apartheid and racist. The War of Words whitewashes the fact that Jews may not build a synagogue, walk the streets, vote or hold any official position in Gaza or the West Bank. This blanket prohibition and/or threat to the existence of a viable Jewish population persist throughout the Arab countries of North Africa and Asia, where Jews had maintained their homes and places of worship for centuries.

The New Woke — is increasingly an open hostility and threat to life and limb for Jews worldwide. Not only are their businesses, shuls and cemeteries vandalized and covered with hate grafitti, but Jews are routinely sought out, attacked verbally and physically on the streets where they work and live. As an observant Jew, who emerged from Holocaust Europe, I fear for my fellow Jews, but my fears extend beyond my religious beliefs and practices, for what Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller so poignantly said in the 1930’s:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

About the Author
Naphtali Perlberger is a senior lecturer for AISH HaTorah and gives weekly shiurim at Chabad of Golden Beach and Aish Chaim of the Main Line. He is one of the founders and a past president of the Philadelphia Community Kollel. He is Founder & President of Philadelphia Chapter of Children of the Holocaust, and past FJA Chairman of Men's Organizations; past President of Kosloff Torah Academy; and, talk show host for a radio show, "G-d is Listening".
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