It’s time to have a national conversation about antisemitism. Not an abbreviated one that starts with neo-Nazis and ends with the alt-right. No, a real one.
For the mainstream media and many public officials (cough, Bill de Blasio, cough), it’s been convenient and even preferable to discuss antisemitism in that one, narrow way. Like a predictable movie, the narrative about American antisemitism has long been that it’s a far-right problem. It’s true, the far-right has always been antisemitic. I’ve yet to meet any Jew who would say otherwise.
The less convenient corollary is that antisemitism is not confined to the far-right, not least because the political spectrum is increasingly egg-shaped, especially where Jew hatred is concerned. When discussing Jews, the language of the far-left and far-right is increasingly overlapping, which is no coincidence, according to a new report from Zachor Legal Institute and StopAntisemitism.org. It’s why activist Linda Sarsour references David Duke, who praises Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Antisemitism is the great unifier, ideologically aligning those who may dress differently but think similarly. Unless and until that’s widely accepted, it will be significantly harder to push antisemitism back to society’s fringes — and we must. It’s not only a matter of safeguarding the lives of Jewish citizens, but also of protecting American democracy. Widespread acceptance of conspiracy theories like antisemitism is not a mark of a healthy, vibrant society.
Antisemitic Violence Has Risen
In little more than a year, antisemitism has turned deadly three times for American Jews. On Oct. 27, 2018, a gunman murdered 11 Jews gathered for prayer at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. On April 27, 2019, another gunman attacked the Chabad of Poway, California, taking the life of another praying Jew. Then last Tuesday, three people were murdered at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey.
The victims in Jersey City included store owner Leah Minda Ferencz (age 33), Ferencz’s cousin Moshe Deutsch (age 24), and store employee Douglas Rodríguez (age 49). The attackers also killed Detective Joseph Seals, a father of five. These deaths were totally unnecessary. Yet as heinous as this attack was, knowing the intended target was likely the 50 children attending the Jewish school beside the grocery store is even more horrific.
For Jews who’ve watched antisemitic violence rise first overseas and now here at home, the Jersey City attack recalls the assault on the Paris area Hyper Cacher in January 2015, when “an Islamist gunman killed three customers and an employee” at the kosher market, which burned down precisely three years later. Such attacks are not random. They clearly target Jews.
Reports indicate that Jersey City attackers Francine Graham and David Anderson attended “an anti-Semitic Black Hebrew Israelite church in Harlem.” A neighbor also reported overhearing Anderson repeatedly listening to recordings of Louis Farrakhan, a virulent antisemite with links to the initial leadership team of the Women’s March and congressional Democrats, who has been photographed with Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. That is to say, the attackers appear to have been inspired by sources that were neither white supremacist nor of the right.
Leaders Must Be Honest About Antisemitism
Antisemitism takes numerous forms. For the safety of American Jews, it’s time society takes all those threats seriously.
So it’s not helpful when New York City’s mayor doubles down on his insistence that antisemitism is a right-wing problem, telling New York public radio’s Brian Lehrer last Friday, “We have to have an honest conversation. … There are folks who identify on the left who are saying and doing antisemitic things although it has not taken a systematic violent form. … I think there is a lot of evidence in this country, not just in terms of antisemitism, but violent acts in general … that’s coming from the white supremacy movement.”
This is an epic refusal to acknowledge reality. Ongoing attacks on visibly Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn have been violent. They have occurred for years now, and white supremacists are not perpetrating them. Just this month in Brooklyn, a Jewish woman was called “the F… Jew with the wig,” as another woman threatened to throw her onto subway tracks, and three teens stoned a Jewish girls’ school bus, shattering a window.
We Must Condemn Antisemitism, Not Downplay It
Downplaying deadly attacks on Hasidic Jews and explaining the Jersey City attacks as some sort of response to “tensions” in the community or gentrification by relative newcomers, as the Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker have, would be considered victim-blaming in other contexts.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, police are investigating the Friday night attack on a Persian synagogue in Beverly Hills. Bizarrely, in spite of religious ritual items, such as Torahs, being mistreated inside a synagogue, police say there are “no overt signs of antisemitism.” Have words lost all meaning?
It just shouldn’t be this hard for our leaders and the media to recognize and condemn antisemitism. Without widespread pushback, antisemitism could become normalized.
History’s already broadcast numerous episodes of this same show. A society that can’t truly tolerate its Jewish minority quickly becomes a dangerous place for other religious, racial, and ethnic minority groups, too. If we’re going to prevent a rerun of some of history’s worst chapters, we must stop antisemitism now.