By Patricia Levinson, Communications Chair, Hadassah International
Are we too sensitive about antisemitism? After all, in the United States in 2022 there are no longer quotas for Jews at universities. Jews know that their bid on a home will not be turned down simply because they are Jewish. Jews do not have to avoid professions where they know that they will never be permitted to advance and achieve their full potential. Jews are no longer routinely excluded from country clubs, golf courses, and other venues where important business is done. We have reached the highest ranks of government, academia, law, medicine, commerce and industry.
Yet, in our politically polarized country, saying the unthinkable has somehow become acceptable. It is now not uncommon to hear antisemitic tropes used casually by politicians and in the media. White supremacists spew “Jew Hate” rhetoric at marches. Even Holocaust denial is freely expressed. But we tend to tell ourselves that these are just words. It does not seem to affect us directly. After all, we are fully accepted in society. We are no longer regarded as a minority that is discriminated against.
But is that true?
We must face the fact that recently our synagogues have been under attack and Jews have been killed or held hostage simply because they are Jewish. In some cities, Jews have been attacked on the streets because they were wearing clothing that obviously identified them as Jews. Major US media outlets continue to hold Israel to impossible standards they apply to no other country, and in December the United Nations passed another three resolutions against Israel.
For me, this antisemitism is getting frighteningly close. Not only was the Holocaust Museum in my hometown of St Petersburg, Florida recently defaced by antisemitic graffiti, but this week in a blatant display of antisemitism, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis refused to condemn a Nazi rally in Orlando, a ninety-minute drive from where I live.
And then there are the new antisemitic tropes promulgated by those who, knowing that they cannot eliminate and defeat Israel militarily, are trying to achieve their goal by isolating and delegitimizing Israel, the historic Jewish homeland. Their campaign portrays Israel as a pariah nation. The language used casts aspersion not only on Israel, but on those who support Israel. It is not only blatantly anti-Zionist; it is blatantly antisemitic.
The Palestinian Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement and other organizations that propagate anti-Zionist antisemitism on university campuses have become far more strident. Identification with Israel has become a litmus test that has resulted in exclusion of and discrimination against Jewish students and pro-Israel advocates on America’s college campuses. While attending institutions of higher learning, our children and grandchildren are increasingly afraid to express their support of Israel.
There is a remarkable amount of ignorance about antisemitism in the US. A recent NBC News story showed “a shocking lack of Holocaust knowledge among millennials” with sixty-three percent of millennials and Gen Z unaware that six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and over a half of the survey respondents thought that the toll was under two million.
Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA), knowing that the issue is so important, devoted the entire January-February 2022 edition of Hadassah Magazine to exploring the different facets of antisemitism in the US.
Confronting antisemitism requires a clear understanding of what constitutes antisemitism in 2022. HWZOA is actively lobbying to ensure that government, academia, and social media in the US adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which has already been adopted by many countries around the world.
IHRA cites several examples of antisemitism, one of which is: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
The canard “Zionism equals Racism” came out of the antisemitic hate fest that was the First United Nations (UN) Worldwide Conference on Racism in Durban in 2001. The argument presented at the time was that Israel is an “Apartheid State,” and therefore a racist endeavor. This was an important linchpin of the Palestinian campaign to delegitimize Israel, as passage of anti-Israel resolutions by the UN (and there are many each year) provide an aura of legitimacy to the tropes employed to vilify Israel. The Amnesty International report issued this week is a perfect example of this ongoing antisemitic campaign against Israel.
So, what is trotted out as proof that Israel is an Apartheid State? Today, Palestinians point to the “Separation Wall,” which they call the “Apartheid Wall,” constructed during the Second Palestinian Intifada (uprising) as “proof positive” that Israel is an apartheid state and therefore racist.
What is this “Separation Wall,” and why was it built in the first place? Most people living in the US today have no idea that it was built during the Second Intifada (2000-2005), to prevent the spate of terrorist attacks organized by the Palestinian leadership to kill and injure hundreds of innocent Jews and Arabs living in Israel. It seemed that almost every other day there was another suicide bombing carried out by a child or young man who had been encouraged to video his last will and testament, strap on a vest laden with a bomb and detonator, and with the cry “Allahu Akbar” step onto a bus, into a restaurant, or into a crowd on the street, and kill himself along with as many of the people around him as possible. Residents of Jerusalem, Jewish and Arab alike, dreaded getting on a bus to go to work every morning.
The Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) in Jerusalem, with its world class trauma unit, bore the brunt of caring for the victims of these attacks. During a visit to Hadassah Hospital at Ein Kerem in 2001, I personally witnessed the aftermath of a suicide bombing of innocent civilians on a Jerusalem bus. I watched from a hospital window as the seemingly endless stream of ambulances arrived in the courtyard below. One after the other they disgorged casualties. The skilled medical staff rushed out of the Trauma Unit to unload each patient. A doctor did a quick triage, and the victim was assigned to the correct place for immediate treatment. The hospital social workers quickly identified victims, helped families to find their loved ones, and counseled people whose loved ones had been killed.
That scene will never leave me. I will never know how many lives were saved by the dedicated staff of the Hadassah Medical Organization and how many died that day.
By mid-August 2002, Israel knew that the status quo was not tolerable. The government had the responsibility to protect all Israelis, both Arab and Jewish, from the terrorism of suicide bombers. With ongoing talks to achieve a peaceful solution to the Israeli /Palestinian conflict going nowhere, the government decided that the most effective way to prevent the terror that had already claimed many hundreds of innocent victims, was to build a “separation wall,” designed to follow the old armistice “Green Line” wherever possible. In 2003, building of the wall started. With each kilometer of construction, the number of terrorist attacks decreased. By the time the wall was completed in 2005, suicide bombings in the area had ceased. The separation wall was not a racist endeavor. It was simply an effective way to end the bloody toll of terrorism and the suffering of its victims.
Antisemitism in the form of anti-Zionism is unfortunately still alive and well today. However, we can stand tall as Jews and Zionists and counter the ongoing slander and demagoguery.
Each of us has the power to heal our world, to raise our voices and to make a difference.
I hope you too will join Hadassah in standing up for what is right – the safety of the Jewish people, fighting hatred towards Jews, and standing in solidarity with Israel. We all need to call out anti-Israel and antisemitic agendas, rhetoric and ideology wherever and whenever we encounter it.