Next week marks the start of Hanukkah — our annual reminder of the persistence of light amid darkness. This reminder proves all the more welcome on days when it feels as though the night is closing in. Antisemitism, which for decades felt like a distant memory in the United States, has surged to the front of our communal consciousness, after the murderous rampages in Pittsburgh, Jersey City, and Poway. This oldest hatred appears also under less fatal but no less sinister guises, such as the radical critique of the Jewish state, dressing up antisemitism in the respectable garb of human rights.
There is, nonetheless, reason for hope. The Maccabees of yesteryear had to confront the mighty Seleucid Empire as a ragtag band of resisters. American Jews today can call on many allies in wider society in our campaign against hate. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is in that spirit joining the Shine A Light initiative, a coalition of over 60 civil society and non-governmental organizations committed to the fight against antisemitism. The partner organizations will coordinate a series of events, programs, and actions over the coming weeks to raise awareness and combat antisemitism in a variety of settings.
We sometimes neglect civil society in the battle against antisemitism. No one denies the importance of our presence in the halls of government. American Jews must raise our voices at each level of the democratic process, from the halls of Congress to the state capitol to city hall. Such advocacy has allowed us to secure funding to protect our communities and pass legislation both defining and punishing antisemitic behavior. Jewish history, however, teaches that antisemitism cannot be eradicated at the political level alone. One can cite innumerable examples where a society’s political class opposed antisemitism, but in which popular sentiments of hatred nonetheless overwhelmed Jewish communities.
Antisemitic acts and incidents are occurring with alarming frequency not just in our country, but around the world. This year especially, examples of that intolerance have gripped college and university campuses. The just-released ADL-Hillel Campus Antisemitism Survey concluded that nearly one-third of Jewish college students personally experienced antisemitism directed at them on campus or by a member of the campus community this past year, while 31% of Jewish students witnessed antisemitic activity on campus. Antisemitic incidents also spiked in the U.S. during the violent conflict between Hamas terrorists and IDF forces in Israel over the summer. And far too often, public support for Israel has resulted in the deliberate exclusion of Jewish student and activist groups from involvement in traditionally “progressive” organizing spaces.
The Shine A Light initiative takes a comprehensive approach to combatting antisemitism by advocating for necessary policy changes at the governmental level, as well as rooting out cultural forces that contribute to hatred against Jews in education and in civil life. We will engage with a plethora of teachers, administrators, elected officials, and local leaders this holiday season, to build a broad coalition united against hate and willing to soundly condemn antisemitism whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head. One critical tool at our disposal is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which provides a framework to identify instances of antisemitic behavior, including when criticism of Israel’s policy or the actions of the Israeli government veers into antisemitism, such as denying Israel’s right to exist or rejecting the right of self-determination for the Jewish people.
Shine A Light raises awareness of the dangers facing Jewish communities and enumerates the “A to Z” of antisemitism in 2021. In this critical fight, we must clarify what constitutes antisemitism, through local and national proclamations, and remain vigilant for mutating forms of antisemitic hatred, so that we can all avoid being bystanders in our communities. A slate of events for the entire week of Hannukah can be found here. We can in concert with each other make meaningful progress against antisemitism and other forms of bias and discrimination. More information about our range of programming and resources can be found at ShineALightOn.com.
We cannot remain on the sidelines when it comes to antisemitism. The danger will not recede unless we act against it. And in so doing we act not only for ourselves but for the entire society. No one is ultimately safe in an environment where hate freely circulates. This Hannukah, let us raise our voices and take action against antisemitism.