October 7, 2023, will no doubt be a date that lives in infamy—an occasion that the Jewish people will mourn on Tish B’Av, inscribed on the same blackened page of our history as the pogroms of the Middle Ages, the expulsions of early modernity, Kristallnacht, and the Holocaust. The brutal murder of 1,400 Jews—most of them civilians engaged in the mundane, life-affirming acts of domestic existence—conjures the black-and-white images of ghettos, forced expulsions, cattle cars, and selection platforms. How the world has reacted recalls the pogroms of the thirties, particularly Kristallnacht, the 85th anniversary of which we commemorate on November 9.
This is because the unnerving resonance does not stop at Hamas’ rampage itself but finds an echo in the response of many extremists in Europe, America, and the Arab-Muslim world. In the weeks since the attack, antisemitic hate crimes have exploded. On the steps of the Sydney Opera House, a throng called to “Gas the Jews.” In Tunisia, a mob burned a historic synagogue to the ground. In London and Paris, Islamists clamored for “jihad” and surrounded and intimidated Jewish activists. And even here in America, this citadel of philosemitism, our campuses have spawned the most vile, unabashed expressions of hatred for Israel and Jews. “Glory to our martyrs,” “intifada, intifada,” “we don’t want two states, we want all of ‘48”—such an ignoble litany of genocidal slogans has rarely been heard even on campuses that are hotbeds for overheated rhetoric and misguided radicalism. The protesters display all the exhilaration and destructive passion of the pogromists; in their celebration of the events of October 7, 2023, this miseducated, malevolent mob resembles those of November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht, dubbed the November Pogrom in Germany.
Jewish students—and other American Jews—understandably fear for their safety. If the so-called pro-Palestine protesters exult over the broken bodies of dead Jews, why would they not also try to break the windows of Jewish community centers or the bones of Jewish students? This came close to becoming reality recently at New York’s Cooper Union, when a gang of ruffians menaced Jewish students studying in the library, who had to barricade themselves inside for their own safety. It did become reality for Paul Kessler – a 69-year-old Jewish man who died after being struck by a pro-Palestinian protestor in Los Angeles just days ago. Such a scene in America in 2023 beggars belief, but this is where we are, and we must proceed with our eyes wide open.
At the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, we take a particular interest in the safety of Jewish people and institutions, especially since the wave of deplorable hate crimes that began about a decade ago and reached a climax in the 2018 massacre of eleven worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, the fifth anniversary of which was commemorated only last week. In concert with our friends in the Jewish Federations, the Orthodox Union, and in Congress, we have secured millions of dollars to ‘harden’ our community infrastructure and provide security training to thousands of employees. We and our partners also make a sustained effort to liaise with universities, where much of the most outrageous antisemitism is emerging. The Conference will do its utmost to protect our community members and institutions, above all, our children and young people.
As is the case too often, many of our erstwhile allies turn a deaf ear to the problem of antisemitism. One can only ruefully chuckle at feminist groups that implicitly condone Hamas’ rape of women, LGBTQ organizations that conveniently ignore the murderous homophobia of radical Islam, the advocates for children who turn a blind eye to the beheadings of Israeli toddlers.
Fortunately, the Jewish community need not rely on such fair-weather friends—at each level of government, leaders have shown their determination to ensure Jewish safety and security. Whereas during Kristallnacht, the government blessed the pogrom and police protection was refused to the victims, today we can count on our elected authorities and the law enforcement they employ.
President Biden set a commendable example in his immediate, forceful condemnation of Hamas’ attacks, unswerving backing for Israel’s right to self-defense, and solemn pledge to battle antisemitic hate in America. The Senate blasted the manifestations of antisemitism seen on American campuses. Politicians at the state and municipal levels have followed suit, stepping up patrols outside synagogues and community centers and ensuring the safety of pro-Israel demonstrations.
On this 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, antisemitism remains with us—this oldest hatred is also one of the most persistent. But as we contend with unprecedented threats to Jews in America, we can take solace in the fact that we have allies in and out of government, Jewish and non-Jewish, dedicated to the cause of fighting antisemitism. And we also have means of self-defense, namely in the state of Israel, which the Holocaust and October 7 prove to be vital to Jewish survival.