Steven Windmueller
Is it Good for the Jews?

The Jews Poisoned the Wells: Anti-Semitism in our Times

It is essential to understand that society has jettisoned a seventy-year time frame where the memorialization of the Holocaust was seen as sacred and essential to humanity’s understanding of itself and its inherent capacity to commit evil. Two lessons were conveyed during this period: a fundamental push back against political hate and genocide as a problematic proposition and a particular and distinct acknowledgement and sensitivity to the uniqueness of the Jewish historical experience. The social contract constructed in the aftermath of the Second World War gave universal meaning to the atrocities of the Nazis.

Today, we are entering a new era where those principles of social conduct have not only been rejected but are being replaced by a new political code that seeks to minimize the importance and place of the Shoah in human history and to accept the notion that the politics of race, religion and culture are permissible avenues for expressing grievances and for exercising revenge, influence and power. One can now employ the Holocaust as an essential and convenient tool in the current warfare directed against Israel, Judaism and Jews.

Adding to this new moment in time, we are about to experience a deadly confluence of events that is undoing the political climate for Jews.

An impending economic disorder brought on by the Coronavirus and the onset of key transformative political events may well create a scenario where Jews will be simultaneously dealing with anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activism on multiple stages at one moment in time!

The current barometer places three high profile issues before us. Beyond the Coronavirus and its resulting economic dislocation, the annexation of portions of the West Bank by the State of Israel, as proposed under the Trump Peace Initiative and scheduled for implementation this summer, may add another dimension to the contemporary anti-Jewish environment. Israeli and American Jewish analysts expect a significant push-back by both governments and anti-Israel factions in response to such actions that the newly formed Israeli government is likely to undertake.

Finally, as the United States is within six months of its Presidential election, we will see the ratcheting up of the political climate. This contest will likely bring its own dimensions of political hate rhetoric as we witnessed in a more gentler scale in 2016. Extremist groups, some energized by Charlottesville, Pittsburgh and Poway, will use the election cycle to target and attack the “dominance” of Jewish influence and power, reintroducing old anti-Semitic images and stereotypes.

Each of these storylines can be seen in its isolated and independent context. Yet, there is a possible summitry in understanding these activities being blended with one another. This confluence may generate its own distinctive brand of hate politics.

We need not remind ourselves of the high profile of American Jewry, adding a dimension to this moment in time. Similarly, the prominence that Israel plays international political circles ought not be lost on this moment.

The Virus and the Jews:

The Coronavirus has already generated a significant amount of anti-Semitic backlash.[1] The virus’ legacy will be the economic and financial upheaval in its wake. Unemployment, business closures, shortages of key goods and services, leaving at least for the moment a period of fiscal uncertainty. Many experts believe that as we move into the “recovery stage” we are likely to see even more messages and expressions of social unrest. There is growing concern in some quarters of sporadic incidents of violence to the economic conditions developing on the ground in response to the loss of jobs and the limited access to food and shelter.

The deep global economic undoing that will result from this pandemic will possibly lead to an uptake in anti-Semitic behavior. Scarcity produces anxiety, anger and hate.

The expressions of hate already represent an assortment of traditional hate messaging:

  • Seeking to Place Blame: The virus is being employed as a bio-weapon in their continuous attacks on Jews, Israel and Judaism. Out of desperation and fear in trying to understand what is happening, individuals and groups employ attacks against an array of groups including Asians, Jews and immigrants!
  • Using the Virus as a Political Tool: This situation affords anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activists an opportunity to continue their war against the Jews. Traditional haters are employing the virus as part of their battle plan against Jews, Judaism and Israel.
  • Identifying Jews as the “Beneficiaries” of this Virus and Focusing on how Jews are “Profiting from COVID-19”.
  • Drawing upon Traditional Conspiracy Theories about Jews: Many antisemitic conspiracy theories posit that Jews have undue global influence and that they manipulate events to expand their power, often citing specific actors who may or may not even be Jewish.
  • Introducing an Array of anti-Jewish Symbols and Nazi Comparisons
  • Employing Traditional anti-Judaism Messages. The assault shifts from blaming “the Jews” to a condemnation of Judaism as a belief system. Jewish tradition is targeted as problematic, sinful and anti-Christ. 
  • Equating Zionism with the Pandemic as a Means of Delegitimizing the State of Israel. Israel’s enemies have already embraced this messaging as another example of their war on the Jewish State.

Annexation as a Political Weapon:

Plans for Israel to annex parts of Judea and Samaria this summer will create its own anti-Israel response. The Trump proposals are scheduled to be carried forward by the government of Israel beginning in July. The plans under consideration will fundamentally change the geo-political roadmap of the Palestinian-Israel story.  As Ed Robin and I noted a year ago:

“Internationally, severe diplomatic, financial and legal problems would likely result. …Reaction from the European Union might well include concrete measures, including political, economic and arms supply sanctions. Russia and China might well join in opposing Israel’s actions.” 

Beyond these international and diplomatic challenges, are we not likely to see a series of violent responses in the Arab World and beyond? Indeed, a number of these expressions will extend beyond public opposition, launching an extensive round of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic messaging.  The rhetoric of hate speech and the potential for violent attacks on Jewish and Israeli citizens and institutions could sadly be the new reality.

The 2020 Political Campaign and Whiteness:

 The political culture of 2020 has given space to the voices of hate, both left and right, to offer their angry perspectives on the status of Jews. This dual-edged war is directed on the political right toward questioning the status and place of America’s Jews, just as it affords the political left an opportunity to marginalize Israel. In both scenarios, Jews as “white folks” has been introduced as the defining and common measure.[2]

 “The new anti-Semitism reintroduces the issue of “race” and “nationality” into the mix, as Jews are being challenged about their “whiteness” and their legitimacy as Americans.”

When They Come for the Jews: Three Principles 

  • In times of economic chaos and disorder, Jews are often identified as targets, accused of being responsible for the unfavorable conditions.
  • In disruptive political conditions, one of the oldest anti-Semitic canards is being reintroduced involving “Jewish influence and power.”
  • During past occasions of world pandemics and plagues, Jews were labeled as being responsible for “poisoning the wells”! The need to place blame and establish cause allows for individuals and groups to be able to reintroduce one of the oldest canards in human history.

Now, in this new age of anti-Semitic rhetoric and action, we are entering a moment in time as where all three of these emerging news-stories are likely to be in play.  Enemies of our community and the State of Israel are likely to target Jews, identifying us as the collective villain in connection with these events.

Adding to our concerns, we should note that “over half (54%) of Jews in America have either experienced or witnessed some form of incident that they believed was motivated by antisemitism…”[3]

A Misreading of these Storylines:

By way of full disclosure, those who have read this selection, prior to its publication, shared their “pushbacks” arguing that this piece seems overly sensitive and excessively pessimistic, as it seeks incorrectly, in their minds, to draw uneven and disconnected connections among isolated events, and finally that it is predictive and therefore problematic. Some have suggested that merely “predicting” the outcomes, you create the reality!  These critics worry that this article introduces specific negative scenarios that need not play out.

Reflections:

 I contend that we are now moving from one moment in history to another, as we witness society reverting to the oldest modality of hate, anti-Semitism.  Exiting this past 70 year window, where the message of the Shoah focused humanity on the evils of hate politics, only to see our contemporary society re-embrace the messages of genocidal violence, racial prejudice and religious hatred.

As a community who has lived through centuries of hate, we must prepare for the unfolding of a difficult moment as encounter a new war against the Jews, featuring a renewed political and religious assault.

[1] https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/hate-in-the-coronavirus-age/

[2] https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/whiteness-as-the-new-measure-of-anti-semitism/

[3] https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/survey-on-jewish-americans-experiences-with-antisemitism

 

About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
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