In the mid 2000s, I volunteered on IDF bases where I learned a great deal about Jewish life in other parts of the world from the people in my groups. I remember a young Belgian Jewish woman married to an Israeli physician. She had met her closest friend, a Belgian Muslim woman, in a community folk dance class. They had sons who were the same ages who had also become close friends, further strengthening the bond between the two families. They shared meals and holidays, including the Jewish woman’s son’s bar mitzvah.
But when Hezbollah started shelling Northern Israel and Israel began defending itself, everything changed. There are people, even whole nations, who believe Israel shouldn’t defend itself. (“IDF” stands for Israeli Defense Forces.) The Jewish community in Belgium and elsewhere received death threats and had to hire security guards. This happens every time Israel responds to attack. Parents had to shuttle their children to and from school. Whatever sense of safety Belgian Jews had was shattered. And so was the Muslim and Jewish women’s relationship. The Jewish woman, whose name I no longer remember, began to receive hate filled emails from the person who had been her closest friend. The Hezbollah-Israel conflict, although thousands of miles away, also caused the dissolution of their folk dance group in Belgium.
At that time, I was distressed to hear about this woman’s fractured relationship, but I was more shocked to learn of the peril faced by Belgian Jews. As an American, I was still quite naïve about the depth and extent of Jew hatred in the world and how often it was triggered by hatred of Israel.
A year or two later, volunteering on a different IDF base, an English woman told me about a Jewish volunteer organization in Britain known as the Community Security Trust, CST. Again, I found myself shocked. I learned that British Jews had to create this organization to provide security at Jewish events, accompany Jews to and from those events, train people in self-defense and monitor antisemitism. Growing up in New York City as a Jewish American, I could not imagine ever requiring this kind of protection.
Oh, how things have changed in my beloved America. On September 27, 2021, the Secure Community Network (SCN) was established in Chicago, “to ensure that the Jewish community is prepared in the event of any violence or threats.” There has been a “125 percent increase in reporting of incidents and issues related to the Jewish community in 2020. That heightened trend appears to be continuing into 2021…As a result of the Gaza conflict in May, the ADL recorded a 98 percent increase in online anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic threats spiked by as much as 75 percent in cities across the United States.” [emphasis mine] The age old antisemitic rage perpetrated against Belgian Jews when Israel defended itself against Hezbollah was now aimed at American Jews, when Israel defended itself against Hamas.
Antisemitism has once again become socially acceptable. Perhaps the only time in human history antisemitism was not socially acceptable was during the years following the Holocaust. We know it didn’t disappear, but it simply was not voiced in “polite company. As the memory of the Holocaust wanes, however, so does revulsion with antisemitism.
Sadly, I personally know a college student who had been menaced and chased through a train, onto the subway platform and into the street. His pursuer was laughing, calling him names, and pointing to the kippah, the head covering marking the student as Jewish. Although he screamed for help and for someone call the police, no one came forward to help. I am happy to report that since this incident, however, the young man not only finished college but has graduated from one of the elite units of the IDF and is living in Israel.
Other individuals have been less fortunate. In addition to the synagogue shootings, there have been too many instances of people beaten up and hospitalized-for being Jewish– right here in the most Jewish of American cities, New York. It happened in the “old country” and is happening elsewhere in the world. Again.
Sometimes, antisemitism is so subtle that even those expressing it don’t recognize what they are saying. For example, I showed a non-Jewish friend a photo of my young Israeli cousin, a blond, blue-eyed model. “She doesn’t look Israeli,” my friend said, “she looks Scandinavian.” Hmmm. What does someone who has never met an Israeli in her life mean by, “She doesn’t look Israeli?” Can you only be pretty if you’re Scandinavian? Another Jewish woman, who was present, clarified: “You mean she doesn’t look Jewish.” Or maybe, “her nose isn’t big.”
I must add that the first woman was not in the least mean spirited and had no idea of her bias. However, she innocently identifies people as, “This Jewish man…” or “This Jewish woman…”
Today’s antisemitism appears in new forms as well as old ones. Along with beatings, swastikas spray painted on Jewish sites, stores vandalized- deliberately or incidentally- during human rights demonstrations, we now have cybercrimes. Right here on Long Island, synagogue services and Jewish web sites have been hacked with hate messages. Services have been “zoom bombed.” In a Suffolk County synagogue, on Judaism’s holiest day, Yom Kippur, zoom services were suddenly disrupted by several teenagers in hoodies appearing online. They took control of the zoom site and began cursing and spewing antisemitic accusations, such as “You’re the ones who eat babies, right?”
On university campuses, antisemitism is pervasive. One evening at a Shabbat dinner hosted by his university’s Hillel, the Jewish student organization, I met a Christian man, a foreign graduate student in biochemistry. He had come to Hillel seeking an explanation to a puzzling question. Why did his professors make negative comments about Israel during class? “What does this have to do with bio-chem?” he wondered. “Why are they so obsessed with Israel? Why do they hate Israel?”
Nadiya Al-Noor, a Muslim interfaith activist, answers this question very clearly. In her article, Antisemitism is the New Social Justice, she writes, “Hating Israel is the thing to do today on university campuses. It makes you seem ‘progressive.’ It means you’re ‘woke’ and socially aware. It means you’re fighting against a tyrannical regime. It is supporting the struggle of an oppressed people at the hands of White colonialist supremacy. Zionism is racism. Israel is evil, end of story.”
The virulent beliefs that have overtaken academia have migrated into various arenas. They appear routinely in the media, and are expressed by entertainers, politicians and social media “influencers.” These people tend to be “progressives.” They support the same liberal social values dear to the hearts of Jews, values that are traditionally affiliated with the Democratic Party.
Politicians feel free to bare blatant antisemitic opinions without any concern for actual facts. As just one of multiple examples, Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) declares the water problems in Detroit are related to those in Gaza. Someone “behind the curtain,” she claims, reverting to an ancient but common antisemitic trope, is depriving poor Black people of their water in order to make money. I wonder who that money-making “someone” might be.
“Reliably progressive comedian” Sarah Silverman knows. When members of the House of Representatives, known as “The Squad, ”refused to vote to re-fund Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, Silverman discussed it on her podcast. She spoke for many progressive Jews when she said, “I want to love them, I really do. Their domestic policies are completely aligned with mine, and I think they are so cool and kickass, but this is really scary.” She concludes, “People only really like Jews if they’re suffering…not having the Iron Dome is going to kill people…Why do none of them [The Squad] even mention Hamas?” (The conflict was initiated by Hamas.)
For the sake of preserving our democracy, this is the most critical question: Why do Democratic Party leaders, who would never countenance bias toward any other racial or ethnic group, refuse to stand up, vigorously condemn the antisemites within their ranks, and tell them to knock it off!
[References upon request]