Amidst the constant spate of anti-Semitic terror, I recently took note of a “master class” on how to respond to anti-Semitism run by the ADL. The stated objective of the class was to “get people to start thinking about how to respond to everyday instances of anti-Semitism.”
The class addressed participants’ sense of anti-Semitism in their community, what to do if a swastika is scrolled on one’s whiteboard at work, and how to reply to perceived anti-Semitic comments. I appreciated the content of the course but was also struck that while the class may work on an intro 101 level, given the history, peculiarity, and complexity of anti-Semitism, additional courses should be charted.
Anti-Semitism 201– What it is and what it isn’t
One of the attendees indicated he was looking for “resources on how to combat any type of anti-Semitism or bigotry.” He seemed to suggest that anti-Semitism is one sort of bias within a larger family of “bigotry.” The 201 course would acknowledge that anti-Semitism is certainly a form of bigotry, but dealing effectively with anti-Semitism calls for learning about its specific nature and not conflating or intertwining it with more generalized acts or expressions of hate.
The course would examine why generalized calls for diversity in education or demands for the elimination of hate speech on social media won’t nearly be sufficient. While there may be commonalities in how the minds and dark hearts of all purveyors of hate are informed, there are critical differences among them. Also, the poison spewed by one anti-Semitic quarter varies from another, so rejecting superficial connections while comprehending root causes for each anti-Semitic manifestation are the keys to winning the battles.
Finally, the 201 course would discuss weaponizations of anti-Semitism for political or ideological purposes as diluters and distorters of its meaning. When a George Soros or Sheldon Adelson is attacked, we must restrain exploitative impulses, based on political affiliation, to play, the victim card and scream “anti-Semitism!” The motives or actions of a Jewish individual or institution can be questioned, exposed, or indicted with zero connection to anti-Semitism. For when true anti-Semitism does occur, the course will maintain, we cannot have sacrificed the credibility of our responses on the altar of ideological worship.
Anti-Semitism 301 – Exploring a wider gamut of anti-Semitism
When the class participants were asked if “anti-Semitism is a part of life in my community,” most said no. But when “community” was defined to include “local, national, and the internet,” most said yes, Certainly most of us experience little overt demonstration of anti-Semitism, and when we do come across a casual comment such as “You’re not that pushy for a Jew,” a response as suggested in the class of “What do you mean?” may be all that’s needed. In these instances, we are not engaging with hard-core miscreants whose unfiltered sentiments will turn into acts of violence.
The 301 course would address the more difficult tackling of anti-Semitism in our larger local and national communities. For instance, what are strategies for reacting to a municipality’s sponsoring an anti-Semitic forum such as what occurred in Takoma Park, Maryland last summer? How do we express our outrage productively to be able to speak to the sponsors and the willing participants?
How do we as individuals react when anti-Semitic tropes are expressed in the halls of Congress, when a virulent anti-Semitic imam is honored with giving the opening prayer at the House of Representatives, or when a ranking member of Congress discounts the pain from our Jewish Holocaust. How do we take action and not feel powerless watching a contagion seep into the body politic bloodstream and thus infect us as a nation? How do we talk among ourselves, to our representatives, to our protective institutions, and within social media to be combative and not just hope the anti-Semitism will go away?
The 301 course would also explore the fairness of expecting more from Jewish elected officials when they encounter anti-Semitism in their domains. While we hope all elected officials, regardless of religion, feel a repugnance and wage war against anti-Semitism, should we expect our Jewish representatives in particular to react angrily, show pride in their heritage, and possess a protective instinct for their people?
Anti-Semitism 401 – the courage to fight it
After Poway, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt asked for a “call to action for us as a society to deal once and for all with hate” by “people in positions of authority … enforcing norms and standing for our shared values.”
Were Greenblatt’s vision “to deal once and for all with hate” only possible! It is not, and so we need the 401 course and its emphasis on historian Deborah Lipstadt’s sad likening of anti-Semitism to “a herpes virus that lies dormant but always reemerges.” After Pittsburgh, after Poway, after Jersey City, after Monsey, anti-Semitism will always be with us, and more than after-the-fact candlelight vigils will be needed.
While the course could not explicitly teach courage, it would present the example of Israel which has from its inception recognized within its neighborhood the greatest existential threat to Jewish existence and has courageously responded with the only answer possible – we must survive! The course will examine how we come to terms with reality and act similarly in our neighborhood?
The course would challenge us to consider if we do not have the courage today to protect our children against anti-Semitism proliferating on college campuses, should we not expect to inherit shame in the future?
And in response to the most current anti-Semitic canard, the course will ask how do we pluck up our courage to face down attacks of Jewish privilege which sap our self-esteem. The course would suggest that with pride leading the way, we cannot be made to feel guilty about the economic, social, and political “power” we have rightfully achieved while at the same time contributing enormously to the welfare of our country. We cannot apologize to our enemies for who we proudly are.
Future courses on anti-Semitism
Fighting anti-Semitism unfortunately demands life-long learning. Courses will need to be developed on a continuous basis.