Words matter – reflection on fear and hatred of the other

At this time, the discussion is rightly centered on the African-American experience in America. After the events involving George Floyd, following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, that indeed is the proper topic for action and discussion. But it is not the only one – and if we are truly to move forward as a nation, we must reflect on how we can all do better to respect other communities beyond our own.

I am Jewish in America – an American Jew. There are only 14 million Jews in the entire world – about half in Israel and about half in the United States, with some small-by-comparison population centers in EU and other places. No group in history has been more persecuted; no group in the world constitutes more of a minority. We talk now – and properly so – about institutional or systemic racism. No group in history has been more treated in this systemic fashion, including in modern times, than Jews. Antisemitism is on the rise around the world, and nowhere more than in the United States.

The evil people who marched in Charlottesville – what were they chanting? It was “Jews will not replace us.” Our people – and yes, Jews are a people, not just a religion – have suffered murder in our synagogues and our homes, here and abroad.

After these events, and others, there were some protests. But not on the scale we are seeing now. Jews, the victims of yet another act of violent antisemitism in Europe, with no justice for the murder, did not set fire to buildings and automobiles or loot stores, in Europe or in the United States. There were solidarity statements and moments – but nothing like we are seeing now. What was the difference?

Antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred, and it morphs over time. As Yossi Klein Halevi has pointed out, Jew-hatred becomes whatever is the fashion at the time. Here is a short video of his superb description of antisemitism from an event that I helped put together in my role as Co-Chair of the Advisory Board of DePaul Law School’s Center for Jewish Law and Judaic Studies. This 3-minute video is a must-watch, and as succinct and complete a definition of antisemitism as one will ever find.

I support Black Lives Matter – the concept, not the organization. I make this distinction because like many progressive movements, Black Lives Matter, for all the good of its main mission, has been contaminated by antisemitism. Black lives do matter, but the organization is infected with the very prejudice that it purports to decry. From almost its inception, BLM has an anti-Zionist plank in its platform and supports the antisemitic BDS movement. Look at the picture at the top of the article. Notice the person to Martin Luther King’s right in the march to Selma, linked arm in arm. It’s Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Jews have always been supportive of the rights of African-Americans.

The same is true for other progressive movements – they are all for equality and rights, except for rights for Jews, even as Jews otherwise support the principles of the movements. The Women’s March rejects supporters of equality and rights for women if the supporters are Zionists. Organizers of LGBTQ groups and rights – I 100% support the rights of the LGBTQ community – have also committed antisemitic conduct, refusing to permit the participation of LGBTQ members who are also Zionists. .

In recent days, we have seen any number of worthy, thoughtful, and heartfelt messages from many communities, with calls for togetherness, with calls for action and healing. No one should ever have to worry about “running while Black,” like Ahmaud Arbery. No one should have to be concerned that their status and self-identity being used as a weapon against them, nor should they have to fear for their livelihoods, indeed their very lives and the lives of those they love, because of that identity.

And yet, my wife fears to wear her Star of David necklace when we go to certain areas of the United States, or when we travel abroad other than to Israel. The antisemitic BDS movement and its supporters literally advocate for an end to Israel, putting the lives of my American-Israeli daughter and granddaughter at risk. Where is the space, except within the Jewish community itself, for discussion about that?

At this time, when we remain physically isolated by coronavirus and when we feel the pain of our African-American brothers and sisters, our colleagues and our friends, let us resolve to not be divided by factionalism, by identity. Let us remember that we may disagree on politics or solutions, but that does not mean that the people on the other side of the disagreement are evil. Polarization, in the end, is the truest enemy. People of good faith can have honest and very vigorous disagreements, and yet like and respect each other. Let us resolve to give the benefit of the doubt to the good faith of the other – to respect the right to disagree without denigrating the person.

Words matter. It does not matter whether they are spoken from persons who lean right or lean left. As I said in one of my earlier articles: “After now-Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed, one progressive protester outside of SCOTUS held up a sign that said “F**k Civility” (except that he did not uses asterisks). THAT is the problem, more than anything. And THAT is what we need to spend our time working on.”

We are indeed, all in this together – and how we treat each other, the words that we choose to describe each other, the language of our discussion, is the key. Let’s never forget that.

About the Author
David H. Levitt practices intellectual property and commercial litigation law in Chicago, and is a pro-Israel activist.
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