For years, I have wanted to brush off the signs of growing anti-Semitism as an exaggeration, an example of wrongly extrapolating a broad societal trend from the acts of the demented few. Decades ago I even wondered if an organization like the Anti-Defamation League was any longer necessary. Why a Jew even came within a couple hundred votes of winning the vice-presidency of the United States.
However, it is now undeniable that the deep societal divisions that are rending the social fabric of our nation have clearly loosened the sources of anti-Semitism as well. White supremacists and radical Islamists point to different ills that they believe plague our society, but it is pretty unnerving that they find common cause in blaming the Jews.
As the manifesto by the California synagogue shooter attests, besides the centuries-old false anti-Semitic narratives, his animus arose from the belief that Jews are part of the liberal elite supporting large-scale immigration that is changing the complexion of America and challenging historical white power and privilege. Hateful Muslims have their own set of bigoted tropes, but a modern core claim is that American Jews exert disproportional political power to advance a pro-Israel foreign policy, including continued colonization of oppressed Palestinians.
We Jews cannot take any solace in a belief that modern anti-Jewish bigotry is isolated to the political fringes. Indeed, it is being mainstreamed.
Europe is an anti-Jewish mess. Openly anti-Semitic, far-right political parties are gaining strength throughout the continent; Holocaust denial legislation has succeeded in multiple eastern European parliaments; and overt anti-Semites like Viktor Orban have a vice-grip on political power in places like Hungary. The venerable British Labor Party is wracked with anti-Semitism throughout its ranks, leading a Jewish member of parliament to bolt Labor, claiming it was “sickeningly institutionally racist.”
It is far better here at home, but warning signs cannot be ignored. In too many communities, and even in the halls of Congress, opposition to the Netanyahu government and Israeli policy has far too easily taken the form of classic anti-Semitism with Rep. Ilhan Omar often leading the way. Brazen anti-Jewish rhetoric and violence from the far right is too often only hesitatingly criticized in the mildest of terms by our president and his enablers in the White House.
There are no quick fixes for rising anti-Jewish vitriol. If they existed, we Jews would have used them centuries ago. Indeed, our own community is so divided – on Israel-Palestine, on domestic politics, even on the basic question of “Who is a Jew?” – we could probably never agree on a unified Jewish response to anti-Semitism anyway.
In light of this, it is really incumbent on each individual and each community to address our modern peril in the way that makes the most sense to them.
I, for one, agree with the rabbi from the California synagogue who lost a finger, and almost his life, in last week’s attack. He wrote that the times call for being “brazenly Jewish.”
For me, being brazenly Jewish means being bolder and more vocal in calling out injustice when I see it. The injustice of Christian Sri Lankans being slain by the bigotry of ISIS; the injustice of thousands of Egyptian Muslims being locked up for opposing a tyrannical government; the injustice of the destruction of 73 Jewish gravestones in a Romanian cemetery; the injustice of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
As is said in the book of Proverbs: “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous and terror to the evildoer.”
It is high time we started turning the tables on the evildoers and brought some joy to the hearts of the righteous.
David Schanzer is professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.