This Anti-Semitism. And This Anti-Semitism. And Us.

The next two statements will each annoy, at various levels, some part of the organized Jewish community that is represented within JCRC:

  1. Rising anti-Semitism and its increasing mainstream toleration on the left in the United States and around the world is a serious concern that we need to name and address as a community.
  2. Rising anti-Semitism and its increasing mainstream toleration on the right in the United States and around the world is a serious concern that we need to name and address as a community.

Barely a day goes by that someone within our community isn’t raising one of these concerns to me. I share them both.

Rarely does that same person raise the other concern. More often than not, that person tends to identify themselves with a world-view sitting in partisan opposition to where they articulate the problem coming from. Simply put, we are a community divided; not in our concern about rising anti-Semitism but in our lack of shared understanding about which forms of it are of consequence and concern for us.

And too often, rather than agreeing on the multiple threats facing us and collectively heeding the call to address them, we allow ourselves to be splintered as we argue amongst ourselves about which anti-Semitism is worse.

Like many of us who sit at the center of our communal politics and debates, I tend to come down on the side of Elu, v’Elu, This and This (to poorly re-purpose the rabbis of the Talmud). Cannot both be true? Cannot both forms of rising anti-Semitism be a threat at the same time?

It ought not to be a partisan nor controversial statement within our Jewish community to say that we face an existential threat if left-wing denial of our national identity as a Jewish people is normalized.  Or that dismissing the fact of our people’s historical origins in and enduring connection to our homeland is inherently anti-Semitic. And yes, that this ideology and the conclusions it draws threaten the safety and the future of the world’s largest Jewish community.

It ought not to be a partisan nor controversial statement within our Jewish community to say that there is an existential threat if right-wing denial of the equality of individuals and ours as Jews is normalized. Or that the advance of a politics of white supremacy and racial nationalism, of “blood and soil,” that places blame on the international and cosmopolitan Jew, puts at risk everything we’ve achieved through enlightened liberal democracy. And yes, that we’ve seen this before.

We, who strive to reflect the broad center of our community, must commit ourselves to confronting the existential threat from both extremes of the political spectrum. We can and should debate strategies for confronting them, and even weigh the best use of our finite resources in doing so, but we dare not diminish either as a real and significant threat.

The need to bridge our differences and uphold our responsibility for confronting both these threats is all the more urgent precisely because our fractured communal conversation results in our being less effective than we need to be in combating both. My own sense is that the most effective members of our community to confront the left-wing threat would be those who themselves authentically sit within the progressive world. And, conversely, the most effective voices against the right-wing threat are those of us who sit comfortably in conservative spaces. I tend to think that those speaking out against anti-Semitism from across a political aisle aren’t terribly effective speaking to an audience that they don’t particularly respect or understand on other matters. But those who’ve acted courageously in holding their own ideological peers accountable – and often enduring inordinate online abuse as a result – have inspired awe and admiration.

At times like this I think of that Nazi propaganda poster displaying “the Jew as centipede” crawling over the globe. One eye of this caricatured “international Jew” has a dollar sign; the Jew as capitalist. The other eye has a hammer and sickle; the Jew as communist. If the worst of the worst could paint us, in one fell swoop, as a threat from the left and the right, then surely we can name the threat to us today from both the left and the right.

This and this. Both must be fought. And we must all be in this together.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy