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[KE CyberTorah] The Many Hued Garment of Anti-Semitism


The Many Hued Garment of Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism is real. It clothes itself in various ways and survives and metastasizes in surprising ways. We are used to – and in some ways inoculated against- neo-Nazi and white supremacist anti-Semitism. Our familiarity with its tropes and language means we can easily recognize it and be on guard against it. The risks of this flavor of anti-Semitism have increased in recent years, in part due to the ability of people to form micro communities of hate via social media, but at least we know it when we see it.

By contrast, there is a newish flavor of anti-Semitism that clothes itself in anti-Israel rhetoric. This flavor is much harder to recognize because there are valid issues and criticisms of Israel. Further, there is an even wider range of acceptable criticism with which we might disagree but that has a legitimate place in world discourse. As a result, we can’t always recognize when those concerns or criticisms jump into actual Jew hatred.

A few examples. People criticizing settlement policy, the status of the West Bank, or the Gaza blockade all have interesting criticisms. While we may agree or disagree, or even experience a de-legitimization of Israel, it all can and does fall into criticism of Israel rather than anti-Semitism. However, when those critiques are leveled against all Jews or fail to accord any legitimacy to the idea of a Jewish state, I believe they are stepping over into anti-Semitic tropes.

An example: Michael Che, an SNL comedian, commented a couple of months ago on the vaccination rate in Israel. He commented on a news item that half of Israel had been vaccinated and quipped, “Yes, the Jewish half.” This factually incorrect observation commented on JEWISH identity and implied falsely that Israel was privileging its Jewish majority over Arab Israelis. Arab-Israelis, who make up 20% of the population, received doses alongside Jewish Israelis and in many cases were the nurses giving the vaccines. Further, Palestinians had chosen NOT to enter a vaccine agreement with the Israeli government. This observation was anti-Semitic.

In similar vein, saying Jewish Israelis are engaging in western style colonialism, displacement, and imperialism, also crosses from criticism of Israel into anti-Semitism. It ignores the reality that the majority of Jewish Israelis are from Arabic lands from which they were expelled since the formation of the State. Further, it ignores the valid land purchases by the pioneers. By contrast, criticizing the expulsion of Arabs from Lod has legitimacy because it is focused and based in actual historical events.

Part of what is so confusing about the new anti-Semitism is that it arises from people and causes with which many of us associate. People from whom we are used to listening, like John Oliver, then engage in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric and we are caught off guard. Further, Israeli’s actions get used to legitimize actual abhorrent anti-Semitic attacks on people and property in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and elsewhere.

We have friends and allies. I urge all of us to look carefully at our own connections and to speak out wisely, with love and caring, when we see people being pulled towards anti-Semitism. We are blessed to live in a country that has historically been so good to the Jews as a people. Now is a moment that requires vigilance and deep interfaith connections to sustain our nation’s revulsion of anti-Semitism.

Shabbat Shalom-
Rabbi David Booth

Please note there will be no CyberTorah next week due to Memorial Day.

Tue, September 26 2023 11 Tishrei 5784