The recent conflict in Gaza, and the reckless actions of politicians looking to exploit it, are stoking the flames of antisemitism. I saw this danger firsthand when I lost 11 fellow-worshippers in a brutal attack on my Pittsburgh synagogue less than three years ago.
Tensions are understandably high after the deaths of at least 12 Israelis and 248 Palestinians over 11 days of fighting in Gaza. Regardless of one’s opinions on Israel, however, there is no excuse for the recent spike in hate crimes against Jewish Americans.
Joseph Borgen was singled out for wearing a kippah — a Jewish head covering — by pro-Palestine protestors in Manhattan. He was attacked and beaten while they shouted “Dirty Jew,” and “Hamas is going to kill you.”
Borgen says he now fears wearing his kippah outside, and he is not alone. Just one week after the Gaza crisis began, 193 reports of antisemitism were made to the Anti-Defamation League. They also found more than 17,000 tweets posted with some variation on the heinous phrase “Hitler was right.”
I lost all my great-grandparents in the Holocaust. My parents struggled against antisemitism for decades in the Soviet Union before managing to escape to the United States. As part of seven million American Jews, they thought they’d be safe here. Yet now, our synagogues, neighbors, and very identities are under attack.
Much of this recent vitriol is based on dangerous Twitter posts and statements by activists and politicians equating the “government of Israel” with “all Jews.”
The antisemitic “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a propaganda pamphlet published in Russia more than 100 years ago, spread the stereotype that all Jews are connected in some conspiracy to control global events. Since then, millions of innocent Jews around the world have been persecuted for their perceived “connection” to wealthy Jewish bankers or revolutionary Jewish politicians.
The pro-Palestinian activists and alt-right fanatics who are harassing and assaulting their Jewish neighbors because they take issue with the government of Israel are no different. Not only are they perpetuating bigotry, but they’re hurting their own cause.
The state of Israel was established in 1948 as a safe haven for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe, and has since defended itself in eight recognized wars (and countless terrorist attacks). The more Jewish people feel threatened in the United States and abroad, the harder we will fight to defend and preserve our homeland.
There is nothing antisemitic in advocating or protesting for a Palestinian state; I’ve done so myself. But rhetoric matters. In calling Israel an “apartheid state” that’s engaging in “ethnic cleansing,” politicians like Rep. Ilhan Omar, D.-Minn., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., pour gasoline onto an already perilous fire.
By spreading falsehoods against Israel, they have inspired despicable hate crimes against innocent American Jews. After months of investigating and lambasting Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, they should be the first to know venting frustrations online can translate into violence. Antisemitic online propaganda radicalized the shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue three years ago and continues to perpetuate hate crimes today.
I never imagined I would have to fear going to synagogue or wearing my kippah outside, or somehow be “held accountable” for a war going on across the ocean simply because I look different. Today’s injustices are manifestations of genocidal, millennia-old stereotypes that our families fled around the world, only to see them stoked again in our home country.
I pray a cease-fire lasts and Palestinians and Israelis get the peace and autonomy they all deserve. Like it or not, Israel will continue to defend itself, as is their right. To all the antisemites, terrorists, and their enablers online: the proud American Jewish community isn’t backing down either.