In the movie “Casablanca,” Captain Renault (falsely) claimed to be “shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here,” though he allowed it to flourish under his watch for years.
Likewise, after Charlottesville, the majority of the mainstream Jewish community seems to be shocked, shocked to find out that anti-Semitism is not only alive and well but flourishing. It is hard to understand how that can be since, like Captain Renault, the Jewish people have been seeing it for years. They just choose to look away. They were also warned that the anti-Israel sentiment that masked itself as “anti-settlement” or “anti-apartheid” was just old-fashioned anti-Semitism cloaking itself in a new, politically correct form.
Unlike the Jewish people with anti-Semitism, African Americans understand that racism always has existed in this country, still exists now, and unfortunately always may exist. They understand that even though our immediate past president was an African American that did not eradicate racism. It just drove it further underground during his presidency. Now that the racists see a more favorable political landscape, they are surfacing, like worms coming out after a rainstorm.
As a result of this understanding, the African Americans have a zero tolerance for racism, which they are quick to identify (albeit sometimes prematurely) and quick to address it. Anything that even smacks of racism are called out and handled. Paradoxically, the Jewish people (other than the Orthodox and those involved with or familiar with the large Jewish organizations like AIPAC, the federations, the AJC, etc.) seem to have 100 percent acceptance of anti-Semitism. In part, that is because it is much easier for most of us to hide our Judaism from the rest of the world. Unlike African Americans, who are immediately identified by the color of their skin and face prejudice constantly, as a result, the majority of the Jewish people are not immediately identifiable. Fortunately for us, for the most part, we can walk around and live our assimilated lives in any American community without having to contend with anti-Semitism. However, just because our skin color is the same as neo-Nazis’ and white supremacists’, we are fooling ourselves if we believe that they consider us as anything more than Other.
Due to our ability to hide in plain sight, as long as anti-Semitism does not affect the mainstream Jewish community directly, most Jews are happy to ignore it. Only when it affects the mainstream Jewish community or is so confronting as it was in Charlottesville does it become an issue to them. When synagogues and JCCs are targeted with graffiti and vandalism, it does not become a problem. It is somehow justified as an isolated incident or the acts of a crazy person. When Jewish people in France and Belgium are openly terrorized and routinely tormented, it is not even on the radar for most Jewish people in American. Moreover, when it occurs in Israel, especially when it is in the settlements, not only is it not an issue but a blame the victim game goes on to rationalize the terrorist behavior. (For example, “if they [Israelis] had not taken the Palestinians’ land they would not have been attacked.”)
In the early- and mid-20th century, Jewish people, as victims of discrimination, were instrumental in helping African Americans organize many of their lobbying organizations and succeed in the civil rights movement. Some of these tactics included fundraising and community organizing as well as challenging unlawful activities through the courts. This helped and continues to help African Americans fight the insidious racism that still exists in our country.
So now it’s time for the Jewish people, to learn from our African American friends and to stand up against discrimination once again.
This time, we need not only to fight racism, which we must continue to do but also to fight anti-Semitism. And we need to do it often and always. We need to oppose subtle anti-Semitism — for example, the idea that the Jews control Hollywood — and overt anti-Semitism, like what we saw in Charlottesville. We also need to do it with passion. We need to understand that an attack on any Jewish person because of our religion, even if this person looks different or prays differently, is an attack on all Jewish people. And an attack on Israel’s existence, not its political policies (which we should all debate) is an attack on all Jewish people.
We must follow the lead of African Americans and stand for zero percent tolerance for anti-Semitism. This will mean that occasionally we will be wrong and need to apologize. But even this will be a step in the right direction as people will understand again, as they did before, that like racism, anti-Semitism is not acceptable and never will be acceptable in the United States of America.
If we fail to do this, then we should be prepared to be shocked, shocked by the number of anti-Semitic attacks we will see. We also will allow the cancer of anti-Semitism to grow larger and stronger. And like the fight against cancer, the earlier it is identified and the more aggressively it is treated, the better the result will be. In the United States, we are at Stage 2 of anti-Semitism. If we allow this to get to Stage 3 or, God forbid, Stage 4, it may be too late to save the Jewish people.