Hate from the extreme right is easy to spot, easy to denounce. Hate from other places is not always acknowledged, much less called out. And this is unfortunate.
For instance, when one of the former leaders of the Women’s March decided that Zionists cannot be feminists and that Americans who are pro-Israel are not true progressives, she was called out by those of us in the Zionist progressive sphere. Non-Zionist Jews didn’t seem to have a problem. Nor did non-Jewish progressive women.
When Democratic politicians used antisemitic slurs to talk about Jews especially in relation to Israel, the same held true, only this time instead of just non-Jewish progressive women staying silent, it was the Democratic party.
Similarly, when Zionist LGBT folks were excluded from an LGBT gathering in Chicago, progressive Zionists spoke up. Non-Zionist Jews did not. Muslims who are aware that Israel is far more accepting than Muslim countries to LGBT people did not. In fact, non-Jewish LGBT folks didn’t call this bias out either.
I was upset with all of these instances, but I also recognized that if anti-Israel Jews themselves aren’t speaking up, it makes it all too easy for those anywhere on the left to dismiss. But let me be clear, anti-Zionism is antisemitism.
Having said that, I understand the resistance to acknowledging hate, let alone calling it out, when those “on your side” do things that are anathema to you because that can detract from the bigger issue, the larger cause at hand. But that is all the more reason why speaking up is important. Not saying anything tells people that some kinds of antisemitism are acceptable, when none ought to be. We lose credibility if we turn a blind eye to that which does not fit our narrative or advance our cause.
We see this blind eye pop up in everyday politics too. How many Trump supporters acknowledge even one flaw in his character? How many pro-Palestinian activists acknowledge their leadership’s oppressive and undemocratic tactics?
Nor are we Jews immune.
Far too many in the Jewish community who are upset with the anti-Israel position taken by the Movement for Black Lives in a paper on its site (like the Women’s Movement, it may stem from a BLM founder) use this as an excuse to not only withhold support from the Black community, but to do it in a way that showcases their own racist attitudes. Some progressive Jews are vocal in calling out this racism, but there is far too much silence.
There is also a huge blind spot within the Jewish community for the bias that Black and Brown Jews face as well. The silence that accompanies the ignorance speaks volumes. (See my blog from last week on why we need to remember we ourselves are a diverse community.)
A few weeks ago, I put together a blog with resources for combating racism. There is a plethora of opportunities to learn more and to support organizations, businesses and legislation that all Jews can take advantage of. I’d like to take this opportunity to share it again. There are no excuses not to help. But beyond that, there are no excuses not to call out racism within the Jewish community when you see it. As I wrote in another blog about where Jews fit in to Black Lives Matter, one organization does not define a movement.
And the likely truth is, that the majority of Black Americans could care less about the Movement for Black Lives’ platform regarding Israel. They want an end to inequality. An end to mistreatment by police. An end to systemic racism. That is what we should all want and what we should all be focusing on. Helping our country get there.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about another insidious kind of anti-Semitism that exists. It is not directed at those who support Israel, but at all Jews. And it comes from people who are not aligned with the far right.
There is a growing frequency of hatred towards Jews. In pre-COVID-19 New York, it took the form of verbal and physical attacks. A Jewish LGBTQ activist with a pink kippah on his head was accosted and told to take it off because he couldn’t be gay and Jewish. Mayor DeBlasio expressed sympathy that he had been attacked by a homophobe. But someone telling someone who is Jewish that he cannot be Jewish because he is gay is someone attacking one’s religious identity first and foremost.
Many attacks were on ultra-Orthodox, for other than kippah-wearers, they are most easily identifiable as Jews. This well-written piece from Vox offers wide coverage on causes and expressions of such anti-Semitism. The article brings up both the Black Hebrew Israelites’ contention that Jewish people are imposters who belong to the synagogue of Satan and Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam’s promulgation of conspiracy theories regarding Jews. Regarding Satan, Farrakhan said this of Jews in his much watched July 4 sermon, The Criterion:
Mr. Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL, you’re Satan. Those of you that say that you’re Jews I will not even give you the honor of calling you a Jew, you’re not a Jew. You’re so-called, you’re Satan. It is my job now to pull the cover off of Satan so that every Muslim when he sees Satan picks up a stone as we do in Mecca. When you know who Satan is you don’t have to kill him … . The stone of truth, that’s what you throw.
Allah says, “had we wished to take a pastime from before surely we would have done it. Nay we cast truth at falsehood ‘til we knock out its brains.”
Every one of you that knows the truth stand up and tell it from the mountaintop. Black people can’t take it no more. Wherever you are on the job, in the factory. I don’t care where you are, if you know the truth stand up on the truth and tell Satan … who the hell are you to try and pick my friends. Farrakhan is God’s man and you are from the enemy of God so to hell with you.
How many watched, listened and absorbed his messages?
A number of athletes shared Farrakhan’s words and sentiments. The Eagle’s DeSean Jackson’s misquoted Hitler (he had posted that white Jews know that Black people are the true children of Israel and that Jews have a plan for world domination, among other things) and other athletes used similar tropes to support him. But it s what happened next that I hope instead has a trickle effect.
The Steelers’ Zach Banner shared his depth of understanding. He wanted others to know what he learned in Pittsburgh, that the Jewish community is also a minority. And how communities ought to come together in support and understanding of each other. “We can’t preach what we’ve been preaching about Black Lives Matter and elevating ourselves. Once again, we can’t elevate ourselves by stepping on another person’s back to get there. We need to elevate ourselves for equality.” Banner gets it.
Even more encouragingly, Jackson also accepted an invitation from Holocaust survivor and honorary chairman of From the Depths Edward Mosberg to tour Auschwitz once Americans are allowed to travel to Europe again. He also accepted an invitation from the Patriots’ Julian Edelman; they will take each other to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and to the National Museum of African American History and Culture when they reopen. I would love to see the football players accompanied by cameras. A documentary about their shared journeys to mutual understanding would be impactful.
Kudos to DeSean Jackson who wants to understand. But what about those others who do not? Who is calling them out? Who is helping them get past their bias to a better place?
A few weeks ago, a group of armed Black men calling themselves the NFAC (Not F#@king Around Crew) peacefully protested at Stone Mountain, the birthplace of the KKK. It was a powerful visual to see in a state where open carry is legal but more often carried out by white men. It turns out that their leader, Grandmaster Jay, has shared antisemitic posts and misquotes by Hitler on Twitter. This does not mean that his group feels the same way, but like athletes and television celebrities, he has followers.
Even more recently, we discovered that Nick Cannon shared the kind of antisemitic content that Farrakhan preaches. On his podcast, Cannon not only said that the Black people are the true Hebrews, but “also spoke about conspiracies linking Zionists, the Rothschilds and the Illuminati, and praised controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, saying ‘every time I’ve heard him speak, it’s positive, it’s powerful, it’s uplifting… for whatever reason, he’s been demonized.'”
Farrakhan has long been cited as someone promoting antisemitic and homophobic views, but many on the left have downplayed this aspect. I can’t help but wonder how many others walked away from his July 4 sermon and shared what they learned. Rhetoric that pitches one group against another can be dangerous. Who else recognizes this and will say something? It is not enough for Jews to speak up about the danger inherent in the words that both the Nation of Islam’s Farrakhan and the Black Hebrew Israelites share with those who will listen.
As Zach Banner pointed out, fighting on behalf of any one group does not mean taking away from any other . Equality is not a zero-sum game, a winner-loser scenario. We can all win. But the only way we can truly move ahead is to acknowledge when the groups we associate with practice problematic behavior. Turning a blind eye hurts our own credibility and doesn’t solve anything. Let’s help others while also helping ourselves be better people.