Fighting the Rise in Anti-Semitism: Using the AIPAC Model

With the recent shooting in the Chabad of Poway coming only a few months after the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, we find ourselves confronting the new reality that antisemitism is on the rise.  According to the Anti-Defamation League, the US Jewish community experienced near-historic levels of antisemitism in 2018, and it seems that unfortunately the trend is continuing.  How do we stop this alarming trend? How do pressure our state and federal governments and law enforcement professionals to adapt and enforce tougher laws and provide better protection for Jews and Jewish institutions?  How do we improve education in elementary and high schools and on college campuses, to teach and create a culture of tolerance and respect for everyone regardless of race or religion?  How do we turn the tide on this increasing zeitgeist of hatred against the other that is rising in this country?

Many speculate about the cause of the rise of antisemitism, entrenched in their belief that it is the other who is to blame. Far from productive, this culture of polarization and finger-pointing makes it nearly impossible for a consensus or even some semblance of a solution to emerge.  The left blames the right for allowing the growth of a broader culture of white nationalism that requires scapegoats upon whom to blame the problems of society. The right blames leaders on the left such as Representative Ilhan Omar, for making statements that are anti-Zionist and stoke antisemitism.  Are we at greater risk for antisemitism by not speaking out more forcefully against the Charlottesville riots and their apologists, or are we at greater risk by not speaking out more forcefully against the remarks by Representative Omar? Each side is so dug in to their position, so unyielding, that I fear that any attempt at a meeting of the minds would only yield finger-pointing and vitriol.

In Pirkei Avot, Ben Zoma teaches that a chacham, a truly wise person, is someone who is “lomed mikol adam,” or someone who learns from anyone and everyone, Republican or Democrat, progressive or conservative.  And so I ask: Can a brain trust of smart progressives and conservatives come up with solutions instead of playing the blame game?  Or must we make a choice about which party we support, refusing to yield any ground to the other side?

I believe it can be done. And in fact, I think that AIPAC presents a wonderful model.  AIPAC has masterfully been able to unite political leaders across the political spectrum to continue to support the state of Israel.  It hasn’t been easy, and it may prove to be more difficult depending on the direction of the Democratic party – only time will tell – but thus far, it has been a success.  And they have not only been successful with bi-partisan politicians.  They have been successful in bringing over 18,000 people to their annual policy conference, drawing an audience that reflects the diversity of American society with one exception:  they support Israel.

So it can be done.  We must use the AIPAC model and develop a bipartisan response to the rise in antisemitism that our nation faces.  The ADL is a valuable body, but at present is limited to a group of professionals.  We need volunteers.  We need foot soldiers.  We need to create an ADL-type community that hosts annual conferences, and we must invite politicians across the political spectrum that represent the breadth of American society united in one goal:  to teach respect and tolerance and fight the rise of antisemitism.  We must create an organization that epitomizes what Ben Zoma taught, that we are willing to learn from anyone and everyone how to accomplish our goal.  But first, we must each ask ourselves: When was the last time I reached across the aisle to learn something new? What have I done today to learn from those who are from a different me?  Only then can we hope to teach all Americans the worth and value of every human being.  Only then will we together celebrate the eradication of antisemitism and hatred from our midst.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.