A Plea For Jewish Activism
I am sickened. I am sickened that the progression of violent anti-Semitism worldwide is ignored, legitimized, swept under the rug, even praised. That only when the atrocious murder of Jews in the United States in 2018 and 2019 occurs by white supremacists, do some people challenge for a second that racist power structures impact Jewish lives today in our societies as well, as a tangible, pervasive, and visible issue.
The 11 innocent Jewish lives that were stolen from us on an October Shabbat in Pittsburgh and the mutually inspired gun-attack, taking yet another life, recently in San Diego have proven much a trial, bidding us Jewish Americans to change the way we repeat our mourning. Those whose lives were stolen and the many scarred by one of the oldest and most irrational, but also one of the most compelling hatreds, was enacted by both the influence of a much longer line of bigotry. Even as record tragedy, such tragedy is not unique. When Jews are shouted down and assaulted in New York streets, burned alive in homes in Paris, harassed and beaten by synagogues of London, as in communities of Marrakesh and Tehran, Caracas and Buenos Aires, Jerusalem and Hebron, there is no workable denial of the ongoing suffering and isolation experienced by Jews everywhere just following similar events that led to our systematic genocide not many generations ago.
Suddenly, in sensationalizing sources, there are ongoing calls for molding Jewish tragedy into a political agenda or a detached catchline for “civic engagement” — a cyclical feat per many American tragedies. If these brutal attacks on Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and Chabad of Poway in San Diego — as on Jews everywhere — are to be meaningfully politicized, they ought to only be politicized by the Jewish community for the sake of evaluating how to dismantle all forms of anti-Semitism (including that of both right-wing and left-wing affiliations). These drastic past two anti-Semitic synagogue attacks have been perpetrated by white supremacist terrorists. Yet, too often people underwrite the same bigoted rhetoric that fuels violent anti-Semitism, outside of that demographic.
Too often people conceive violence to be from one extreme aisle of the political spectrum, privileged without the understanding that Jews are the very frontline receivers of both ends of commonplace hate and violence in a torn world. This is transparently evident as the unity between many typically polarized, outspoken, and famed bigots like Louis Farrakhan, Linda Sarsour, David Duke, Steve King, and Ilhan Omar, an amalgamation of supremacists, is their pure prejudice and irrefutable hatred of Jews. Ending all manifestations of prejudiced anti-Jewish rhetoric and violence means tackling it wherever it arises, without discretion. This includes anti-Semitism found in both the least normalized of spaces, but more pertinently in the most normalized, as institutionally as in the New York Times cartoon section and other outlets of ‘common’ influence.
The legacy of our ancestors, of us, and that of our descendants, demands that we re-invigorate our righteous indignation, practically through community organizing led by Jews for Jews. We have to speak out loudly and proudly in public spaces and institutions, even if partially hostile to none but ourselves. Jews must organize not just for the many marginalized groups in this country, as we have for years, but finally again for Jews — when most in society forget their mutually beneficial reason and human obligation to do so.
Our political agenda should be to move forward from these reflections. Both the greater Jewish and American communities must unequivocally and unapologetically denounce and bring to justice any outward anti-Semites — meaning anyone who is promoting opposition to the existence of Jews or their equal right to be a free, protected, self-sufficient, and innovating people. Whether you are white, brown, black, Muslim, Christian, straight, gay, or any other typified demographic, we must demand that you not only hear but listen to our struggles and play an active role in ending the legitimization and perpetuation of verbal and physical anti-Semitism — as an equitable intersectional effort. As proven by a sample of too many examples of anti-Semitic attacks, in October: by a Pakistani American against an elderly Jewish male in a Boro Park intersection among onlookers in their vehicles, the targeted car-ramming attack against Jewish pedestrians by a Somali in November in Los Angeles, or the documented battery of a visibly Jewish male being harassed by African American youth on a New York sidewalk, no combination of identities precludes you from enabling or enacting hate against us, nor are you immune from our efforts to stop and hold accountable that very bigotry.
Jews cannot proceed to live a day to day life without registering the imminent threats that face us worldwide, in the Diaspora and in our indigenous homeland of Israel. Our existence is and has been something to negotiate, and our blood is accepted as cheap. Our forced widespread Diaspora links hatred against us across national, ethnic, religious, and political lines on all inhabited continents. Anti-Semitism is thus not solely a Western, religious, or racial phenomenon. It is the anomaly of all hatreds as a metamorphous and constantly permeating bigotry. There is a collective amnesia and instinctive invalidation of our anti-Semitic experiences by our host populations, when we share our collective memory of over 2,000 years of oppression, persecution, displacement, and murder, as few take upon themselves responsibility to remember and prevent hateful speech and actions from repeating. Let us not be deterred to charge those who forget with education and justice.
Furthermore, manifested hate driven by the direct motivations of the Holocaust, is forgotten to still be alive today. Particularly, just shortly after the massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh, did a Nazi who could’ve well been armed, show up to the Jewish National Fund national conference center in Arizona, which I attended, with a swastika-worn flag. This was in conjunction with the maligned demonstrators who were also outside the conference center that day, advocating very similar things with Palestinian flags and recycled anti-Semitic blood libels written on signs. There was no restraint in conducting this on the same day and time that Jewish Americans were brutally massacred, just as Holocaust Remembrance events on university campuses are protested by folks who couldn’t care less about Jewish lives, in the weaponized vanity of pseudo-social justice.
Hatred is not partisan. More particularly, hatred against Jews is not partisan. The limited binary notion of oppressor versus oppressed in the United States encompassing “People of Color versus White People” does not address the fact that as a distinct ethno-religious community, Jews are at the receiving ends of all intersections of hate that comfortably work towards the same oppressive cause. To the far-right, we are the peak of scheming Oriental communists, and to the far-left, we are the peak of scheming Occidental capitalists — perpetual strangers in all pockets of society, disowned from humanity. We are delegitimized, demonized, and held to double standards, both when we speak out as when we are silent on this reality, in its many evil facets and forms. However, silence, for myself and millions of others, as before these tragedies – as after them, is still complicity.
We know that a correlation exists between increased interaction with minority groups and lessened gravitation towards prejudice against them. Simultaneously, the more that minorities have organized in the United States to achieve equal societal and political treatment, the more they have been accepted as a fact of existence, not a temporary barrage of debris for the dustbin of history. Unwavering action and vocalization for the Jewish community is what is thus necessary for positive, tangible change. However, no matter what backlash directly results for speaking out about anti-Semitism in a greater and more present fashion, we cannot fear — we will eventually prove stronger than our enemies when we are united for Klal Yisrael. We must and we will rise above those who meet our self-empowerment with more animosity — anti-Semites have and will continue to try to disempower us regardless of our action.
Learning from the cyclical nature of history and Jewish history at large, I would rather be hated for no good reason and be able to defend myself, than be hated and unable. The hatred we face is built on lingering irrational fear, fantasy, and conceit. There’s no reason to try to reconcile it with our existence nor accommodate its most vocal proponents. Holding this true, we Jews cannot hide behind closed doors or live a conditionally privileged life based on keeping our Jewishness “in the closet”. That did not save our people from the flames of extermination just generations ago. Neither should my generation, that of Jewish college students, experiencing popular justification for disenfranchisement and violence against them through alt-right and regressive-left campaigns, entrust our activities to be kept merely in our Hillel’s and Jewish communal buildings. We have to be proud, willing leaders who consistently demand to see and actualize our representation and organization in public spaces, on campus, and in our communities without fear or intimidation. We have to demonstrate that outwardly. Jews, again, were killed doing something honorable behind closed doors. As a community, we must honor and live for these Jews, outside of them.