Hatred is alive across the globe

We are in the “season” of remembering Jew-hatred.

Last Shabbat, Shabbat Zachor, “the Sabbath of Remember,” we were bidden to “remember what Amalek did” after we left Egypt, how “he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear…. Do not forget!” (See Deuteronomy 25:17-19.) This week on Purim, we reminded ourselves of the genocide a descendant of Amalek, Haman, planned for the Jews of the Persian Empire.

In both instances, we also reminded ourselves that while Amalek and Haman are gone — as are all our other tormentors of the past — we are still here. So God promised, and so it is.

God, however, helps those who help themselves, a point I made in my last column.

Amalek was defeated — with God’s help, certainly— because Joshua took an untried army of former slaves into battle. As for Purim, God’s name does not even appear in the Book of Esther (at least, not directly). Perhaps that was to highlight the fact that the Jews of Persia — with God clearly helping in the background— were saved by their taking action against their attackers.

As much as we may want to convince ourselves otherwise, Jew-hatred is not a thing of the past. Just days before Shabbat Zachor, a poster in a Brooklyn subway station was vandalized. The poster promoted the book “The Unstoppable Ruth Bader Ginsburg: American Icon.” On Ginsburg’s forehead and down her face were written the words “Die, Jew [expletive],” followed by a swastika.

Compared to other acts of Jew-hatred (anti-Semitism is too mild a word) we have seen recently, especially the murder of 11 worshippers in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue late last year, this incident seems almost innocuous, but it is not. It is yet another reminder to us in this season of remembering that Jew-hatred is alive and thriving, here in the United States and elsewhere throughout the world.

Here in the United States, Jew hatred suddenly exploded in mid-2015, going up 34 percent in 2016, and another 57 percent in 2017. In 2016, the FBI says, there were more acts committed against Jews and Jewish institutions than were committed against all other religious groups combined — and that trend continued in 2018, says the FBI, even before it has completed assembling the statistics for that year.

Anti-Jewish acts here are coming more from the right than the left, but the left clearly is escalating. Although President Trump, through his rhetoric, including his anti-immigrant rants, has helped spur the hatred from the right (not just here but, as the horrific massacre in New Zealand and the murderer’s so-called “manifesto” show, around the world, as well), elements within the Democratic party are giving license to the left to make their hatred heard. The anti-Jewish rhetoric coming from Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar is a case in point. It resulted in a tepid “kitchen-sink resolution,” as House staffers called it, because the Democratic majority could not bring itself to condemn anti-Jewish speech outright.

New York and New Jersey are right up there when it comes to a rise in Jew-hatred.

According to the New York Police Department, that city saw more hate crimes against Jews in 2018—up 22 percent over 2017—than against all other religious groups combined.

The situation is no better here in New  Jersey. In 2017, incidents of Jew-hatred statewide rose 32 percent over 2016, according to the Anti-Defamation League. That put the Garden State in the number three spot nationwide for reported incidents, right behind New York and California, and right in front of Massachusetts.

The picture is even bleaker elsewhere in the rest of the world. It is bleakest in Muslim countries, as worldwide statistics show, sparking this comment from CNN host and Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria: “Anti-Semitism has spread through the Islamic world like a cancer.”

It is not just in the Muslim world, however. Jew-hatred is breaking out all over.

In France, government statistics show a 74 percent rise in the number of incidents in 2018 over 2017. In Paris, postal boxes with the face of another Jewish icon, the late Holocaust survivor and French politician Simone Veil, were recently defaced with swastikas, while a Jewish-owned bakery in the city’s center had the word “Juden” spray-painted on its window.

In a Paris suburb, a tree was chopped down. It was not just any tree. It had been planted in memory of Ilan Halimi, the Moroccan Jewish youth who was tortured over a three-week period before he was killed in 2006. Halimi’s murderers chose him because they hoped for a huge ransom, since, “as everyone knows,” all Jews are rich; despite that belief, Halimi’s family, like most other Jewish families around the world, are not. “Anti-Semitism is spreading like poison,” said the French interior minister, Christophe Castaner.

There is a rise in anti-Jewish incidents in Germany, as well, albeit at a “mere” 10 percent over 2017. Nevertheless, that raised the number of incidents in Germany to its highest level in more than a decade. Violent acts against Jews and Jewish institutions, meanwhile, rose 60 percent, wounding 43 people.

Then there is Merry Old England, which is decidedly not very merry for its Jews these days. The Community Security Trust recorded 727 anti-Jewish incidents across Britain in the first six months of 2018. That was the second-highest total the group ever recorded in any January-to-June period, and it was just eight percent lower than the first six months of 2017, which was the highest total CST ever recorded. Those six months foreshadowed a record-shattering 1,414 incidents during all of 2017.

“We are seeing British Jews increasingly talking about leaving and also seeing signs of people actually leaving, not just to Israel, but also to the United States and Canada, and Australia is a destination as well,” Gideon Falter, chairman of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, told CNN in August. “Some of our volunteers from the coalition have become aware of so many incidents through their work with us that they have decided to leave and have moved with their families.”

The anti-Semitism in Britain is being fueled not by hate groups, but by the leader of Britain’s Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who stands a fair chance of being the country’s next prime minister.

The Labor Party’s own internal statistics confirm the trend. According to Labor’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, 673 complaints of anti-Semitism by Labor Party members were received between April 2018 and January 2019 — a Labor spokesman tried to minimize this by claiming it represented a mere 0.1 percent of the membership. Of this number, 96 members were immediately suspended, 12 were expelled, and another 211 cases now are being investigated.

When some Labor MPs attacked Formby for attempting to smear the party and its leader, she said: “I totally reject the suggestion that the existence of anti-Semitism in our party is a smear. I have seen hard evidence of it and that is why I have been so determined to do whatever is possible to eliminate it from the party.”

That is the picture — in brief.

God promised to protect us, but that only works if we show Him we are prepared to help ourselves. Only, that does not seem to be the case.

On April 26, 1970, thanks to the effort of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, 20,000 people marched from the Soviet Embassy on Manhattan’s East Side to the United Nations for a rally on behalf of Soviet Jewry. The following year, on December 13, almost as many people showed up at Madison Square Garden for yet another Soviet Jewry rally. On December 6, 1987, 250,000 people showed up on the National Mall in Washington on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

Is it not time for a rally to combat anti-Semitism; a rally for us to shout out loud that we are mad as hell and we won’t take it anymore?

Other people rally. Last June 30, more than 30,000 people came to downtown Washington to protest the administration’s immigration policies. On March 24, 2018, nearly two million people rallied in Washington and around the country to demand strengthening the nation’s gun laws. That was double the number of people who turned out for the same reason on Mother’s Day 2000 for the Million Mom March.

Is Jew-hatred of any less concern?

“Anti-Semitism is spreading like poison,” as the French interior minister said, but it is spreading the world over, including here at home.

Remembering is not enough. It is time to act.

About the Author
Shammai Engelmayer is rabbi of Temple Israel Community Center, in Cliffside Park, and Temple Beth El of North Bergen, both in New Jersey. A former president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, he chose to work as a journalist after being ordained. That career helped him hone the skills that serve him so well on the pulpit, and helped him become a popular adult Jewish education teacher in Northern New Jersey.
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