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By Harrison Heller

“How to Fight Anti-Semitism” is a must read. Whether you are Jewish or not, this recounting of anti-Semitism and how to fight back is essential. In today’s America, where we thought anti-Semitism was an afterthought until Charlottesville and Pittsburgh, author Bari Weiss gives a chilling and thought-provoking look at this thought virus.

Before diving in to the book, it’s important to understand the meaning of anti-Semitism. According to Merriam-Webster, anti-Semitism is “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.” This is the correct definition, but in her book, Weiss describes anti-Semitism as “not even a solid idea or singular theory. It is a shape-shifting worldview that slithers away just as you think you have it pinned down and, in so doing, stays several steps ahead of anyone trying to clobber it.” We should also define Judaism. Is Judaism a religion? An ethnicity? A way of life? Weiss says, “Judaism is not merely a religion, and it is not merely an ethnicity. Judaism is a people. More specifically, it is a people with a language, a culture, a literature, and a particular set of ideas, beliefs, texts, and legal practices.”

Many Americans put anti-Semitism and racism in the same basket. Is anti-Semitism the same as racism or is it a subset of racism? In American society, Jews are considered white. However Weiss asks, “Were there laws in Maryland saying that Jews couldn’t hold public office? Yes. Was that the same as human beings in the Old Line State being bought and sold as property? Absolutely not.” She continues, “Are Jews barred from country clubs? Yes. But are Jews singled out and discriminated against, not least by law enforcement, because of an immutable physical characteristic? Most definitely not.” According Weiss, if anti-Semitism is a subset of racism, it whitewashes the Jewish people. The majority of Israel’s Jewish population is of Mizrahi decent (Middle Eastern and North African heritage) and 12-15 percent of America’s Jewish population is comprised of people of color. She explains the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish prejudice. One example she gives is that of a gentile father who prefers his daughter not marry a Jew. This is anti-Jewish prejudice. However, this man does not hold the belief that the Jews hold a secret control over the government. That belief would be anti-Semitic. Weiss closes her definition of anti-Semitism by stating, “In the eyes of the racist, the person of color is inferior. In the eyes of the misogynist, the woman is something less than human. In the eyes of the anti-Semite, the Jew is… everything. He is whatever the anti-Semite needs him to be.”

One area frequently discussed is whether anti-Semitism is unique to the left or to the right. The answer is simple – it has found a home on both extreme ends of the political spectrum.

Weiss notes that on the extreme left, anti-Semitism exploits the moral fear within people. They place sole blame for the continued conflict between Israelis and Palestinians on the Jewish State. This moral fear causes some Jews to downplay their sympathies, or entirely abandon their support for Israel. The Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Movement, focuses on getting governments around the world pull their support of Israel. The group does not protest Israeli policies, but they wish to isolate and pressure Israel until the Jewish State collapses. Omar Barghouti, co-founder of BDS said, “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine… [only] a sellout Palestinian would accept a Jewish state in Palestine.” Some far-left groups also use the extreme end of victimhood to shame Jewish business owners and academic leaders of their Jewishness and their support for Israel.

Those on the far-right use tactics such as fear, neo-fascism, and Nazi ideology to instill fear in the community. George Lincoln Rockwell, a U.S. Navy veteran who served during World War II and the Korean War, founded the American Nazi Party in 1959. Inspired by Black Muslims, those on the far-right started to merge religion with white supremacy, and thus gave rise to such Christian Identity groups as The Order and America’s Promise Ministries. Today, these groups have merged and found a home in what is now called “The Alt-Right.” These groups instill fear by promoting the conspiracy theory that the Jews control the government and Hollywood. Far-right white nationalist groups are starting to find homes on college campuses across the country.

On both extreme ends of the political spectrum, it is the lack of knowledge and compassion that led people down these various paths. While these sound like different paths, they are one in the same.

As far as how to fight back against anti-Semitism, I don’t wish to include any spoilers in this review, but simply encourage you to read Weiss’ book.

Volume 74. Number 1. 2020

 

When the new administration took office on January 20, 2017, they failed to appoint a special envoy to head the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.  Even after an 86% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the first quarter of 2017 with over 145 bomb threats to Jewish institutions and multiple Jewish cemetery desecrations, the position astonishingly remained unfilled.  As of July 1, 2017, the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism is officially closed, ensuring that no one within the administration of President Donald Trump is specifically working on combating anti-Semitism.

“The State Department’s closing the office is both short-sighted and ill-timed.  Anti-Semitism remains a grim reality in today’s world and must be vigorously addressed.  I’m quite frankly surprised given the positive actions by Ambassador Nikki Haley in fighting anti-Semitism at the United Nations, one finds the State Department’s actions baffling.  I find myself asking if the ghost of John Foster Dulles is in the room,” said JWV National Commander COL Carl Singer.

After the Global Anti-Semitism Act of 2004 was signed into effect by President George W. Bush, the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism has laid out a working definition of anti-Semitism as well as kept a tally of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the globe.  This is particularly important because the new definition of anti-Semitism includes anti-Zionist activities that have crossed the line into anti-Semitism, which we all sadly know far too well can and does happen.

This year, a German court ruled that a 2014 bombing of a German synagogue was not anti-Semitic, but rather, it was anti-Zionist – even though the synagogue was targeted specifically because it was a Jewish institution and not an Israeli consulate.  Because of the definition set by the special envoy to the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, this kind of attack would be considered a hate crime in the United States, not a simple act of arson, and it would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

When questioned in June about the special envoy position, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was non-committal about appointing an envoy and he insinuated that having a special envoy was counterproductive to fighting anti-Semitism.  He explained that people who are responsible for implementing U.S. policy would somehow decide it was not their responsibility to fight anti-Semitism because someone else is already doing it – fighting anti-Semitism is everyone’s responsibility.

After the office was closed on the first, Shoshana Simones, a 29 year old Make-A-Wish “wish manager”, pulled into her home after her Fourth of July vacation to see a swastika and the word “Jew” spray painted in black on her home with her husband and young daughter in the car.  These types of incidents will continue to persist until this administration decides to make fighting anti-Semitism a priority.

Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. urges the administration and Secretary Tillerson to immediately appoint a special envoy of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism and have a working staff actively combating anti-Semitism.  As the philosopher Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” and good men are indeed doing nothing right now.  JWV is committed to fighting this evil as we have always done.  We ask people to write and call their representatives and senators, urging them to tell the administration to appoint a special envoy.  If you need help finding your representatives, please contact JWV National Headquarte