Hayim Herring

Jews in the United States are Safe. Or Are They?

I am a Columbia University alum who lives in Ilhan Omar’s district. Talk about bad luck! I am already sickened by Omar’s name appearing on my ballot every two years. Now, after hearing her remarks at the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish Columbia University protests, I am disgusted, angry, and worried. She self-righteously declared “that we should not have to tolerate anti-Semitism or bigotry for all Jewish students, whether they’re pro-genocide or anti-genocide.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Columbia’s leadership short-listed her for an honorary degree. Omar has distinguished herself for her contributions to the field of hatred against Israel and United States Jewry. Once dismissed as a fleeting phenomenon, are the likes of Omar here to stay, or is the anti-Semitism that she propagates an enduring threat to Jews in the United States that will damage their safety and security?

The raging protests across college campuses are a case study of the anti-Jewish crusade found in influential institutions in the United States. Jewish students at “elite” and “ordinary” universities live in an environment of hostility, intimidation, and physical fear. Why? Many university presidents, administrations, faculty, and board members have traded their moral courage for identity politics. Several elite university presidents broadcasted their display of moral corruption at the infamous December 5, 2023, congressional hearings on anti-Semitism. They asserted at that hearing that “calling for the genocide” of Jewish students on campus could be permissible because the definition of harassment is a “context-specific dependent” determination. Explain that to the Jewish students at Columbia University who, when interviewed, described their campus as “Judenrein” and are rightfully afraid to return to campus.

There is a straight line from the refusal of academic leaders to unequivocally condemn the use of calls for genocide of their Jewish students to Omar’s inflammatory division of Jews into “anti-genocide” or “pro-genocide.” And now, anti-Jewish-anti-Israel hatred has begun trickling down to some high schools. I’ll wager this “trickle” will eventually become a nationwide flood of high school student protests and walk-outs, as we saw when George Floyd was murdered. Many Jews in the United States rhetorically ask, “Would this kind of hate speech be tolerated against African Americans, Asian Americans, or any other minority student group?” How soon would a prominent Jewish faculty member be fired if she reassured students and faculty that they are entitled to safety on campus, whether they are “pro-terrorist” or “anti-terrorist?”

The endgame of these protests is not only to try and isolate Israel financially, academically, socially, and culturally. It is also to ostracize American Jews by sowing division and hatred at the local level in cities across the United States. Palestinian activists have been trained to leverage their power by infiltrating other groups that identify as oppressed, including Native Americans, feminists, and African Americans. They have used this new-found influence to peddle resolutions against Israel at city council, school board, and pension fund meetings. These anti-Israel meetings quickly devolve into forums for anti-Semitism, and Jews who have attended and tried to offer their perspectives have been verbally and, in some cases, physically assaulted.

But let’s remember, in parts of the Muslim world, extremists refer to Israel as the “little Satan.” The “great Satan” is the United States, and these extremists are determined to eradicate democracy, capitalism, free speech, and autonomy to express one’s gender identity. We glimpsed those goals on campuses where the United States flag was lit afire and trampled upon and in some city protests. I wonder how survivors of 9/11 and the brave police and firefighters feel when they see the American flag burning. And I ask American Jewry, how do you feel when you watch scenes of verbal violence erupt against you? Are you feeling any safer at your synagogue or dropping your children off at a Jewish day school by adding more armed security guards?

Jewish communities throughout the ages have said, “It can’t happen here. We’re safe.” My family members and friends believe “Anti-Semitism will pass” and “America is different.” But anyone who knows Jewish history is eerily aware of similar past sentiments, expressing confidence in their community’s safety. It can’t happen in America! Or can it?

Author’s note: Coincidentally, my wife and I are finally making aliyah this summer, not because we’re running away from anti-Semitism but because we are fully embracing our Zionism.

About the Author
Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is a national thought leader, organizational consultant and author on the American Jewish community with a specialty in synagogue life. He is President & CEO of the Herring Consulting Network.
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