Last year, I was honored to attend Yom Kippur prayer at Toronto’s largest Conservative synagogue, Beth Tzedec. The synagogue generously opened its doors to non-members that evening (most Israelis will not know, but one must normally buy “tickets” to attend High Holiday services in North America).
As I stood there, among hundreds of Jews, I felt safe and a sense of belonging. I could let my guard down and just be who I am.
I say this for two main reasons.
First, the feeling was one of emotional and cognitive safety. The egalitarian atmosphere and the comfortable feeling I had, when I stood there with my family, enabled me to connect to Jewish tradition without feeling compelled to believe or to fulfill “commandments” that clash with my way of life and contradict my moral principles.
The second reason I felt safe was due to physical security. I learned that being a Jew in North America means being safe.
However, I couldn’t be more wrong. In retrospect, already full year before the tragic events in Pittsburgh, warning signs appeared on my own computer. The results of a survey of 468 university students I had done with Prof. Jeffrey Kopstein started rolling in. One question we asked was: “Do Jews use Christian blood for ritual purposes?”
Let’s start with the good news: 47% of respondents “strongly disagreed” with this statement. The bad news, however, is that the rest (53%) were not so certain.
But wait!!! There is more. Even more alarming is that six percent were pretty sure this is true—that Jews use Christian blood for ritual purposes.
Think about it for a moment. In a different context it might sound almost funny, but three people out of 50 – in the educated population in the US, believes that when I sit with my family around the holiday table, it may be the blood of my Christian neighbor leaving a stain on my tablecloth.
This sort of traditional anti-Semitism is one I thought had disappeared a long time ago.
When you hate one, you hate them all.
Usually, it is the words of leaders that mobilize anti-Semitic beliefs into violence. Trump and other right-wing leaders have tapped into a deep reservoir of hate and white supremacy in the last few years.
Although Trump rarely talks about Jews, research shows that racism against minorities never ends with the initially targeted group. What starts with the Mexicans moves on to other groups. Disgust and fear may be present among the majority, but the true source of prejudice is the desire to rule over and dominate others.
Netanyahu is an intelligent man. He knows his history. As the prime minister of the only Jewish state, he has responsibilities, not only for the safety of Israel’s citizens but also for the safety of Jews throughout the world.
When Bibi supports extreme right-wing leaders, such as Trump in the US, Bolsonaro in Brazil, or Orbán in Hungary because of their unconditionally support for Israel at the UN, he is throwing the Diaspora Jews under the bus.
Last week a toxic brew of political extremism (opposing a Jewish refugee agency and “George Soros”) and anti-Semitism prompted a white nationalist to kill 11 Jews in a synagogue.
Of course, the hate spewed by the Israeli right in and outside of Israel did not cause the tragedy in Pittsburgh. But, when we realize that anti-Semitic views are still out there, we cannot ignore the risk — of our Israeli government making friends with extreme right-wing leaders.