February 28, 2020

Fight Fire With Fire

Democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind speaks at a press conference with American and Israeli Jewish leaders and supporters of Israel. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

“Kvetching doesn’t do much,” Dov Hikind, a former Democratic New York State assemblyman, told a crowd of Republicans on the Upper West Side of Manhattan last week. “We each need to take action.”

The words Republican and Upper West Side aren’t typically used in the same sentence. But if any Democrat could draw Republicans out of this politically correct ’hood it is Hikind. In the past year, one could be forgiven for forgetting that Hikind, who regularly has taken on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, activist Linda Sarsour and the congressional “Squad,” is a Democrat.

After serving in the New York Assembly for 35 years, Hikind retired in December 2018, just as anti-Semitism in New York City began to spike. The son of Holocaust survivors, Hikind has been outspoken to the point of brashness about how de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have failed the state’s Jewish community. And don’t get him started on New York Sen. Chuck Schumer or Rep. Jerry Nadler. “Why the passivity in defending our people?” was one of the nicer things he said that evening.

He called the lack of condemnation from Democrats for Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) “deplorable.” “Bad people get away with so much when good people are silent.” 

He saved the worst, though, for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who has called for diverting U.S. aid from Israel to Hamas and has made Sarsour his official campaign surrogate. “With Jews like Sanders, we could end up in gas chambers,” he said.

Hikind’s rhetoric has been called inflammatory, and in any other point in our post-Holocaust history, I might agree. But we’re living in a time when Democrats in Congress regularly perpetuate anti-Semitic tropes and tweet blood libels, and the Democratic establishment —  even Jewish Democrats — say nothing. Groups like AIPAC pander and appease — and the problem continues to get worse.

“You should all be wearing Stars of David on the streets of New York City. Show the world who you are.”

If there ever was a time for brashness, it’s now: Time to fight fire with fire.

“My parents were guilty,” Hikind told the crowd. “Guilty of being Jews. It didn’t matter what kind of Jew you were: No Jewish blood was to contaminate society.”

Hikind reminded us that the Holocaust started with swastikas on synagogues, attacks on random Jews and blaming the Jews for every problem in society. “How exactly is it different today?” he asked. 

“Let’s not forget that Hitler was democratically elected with full knowledge of who he was,” Hikind said. “ ‘Mein Kampf,’ which outlined his ideas, had already become an international bestseller. 

“But fear is not the answer,” Hikind repeated throughout the evening. The answer is taking action and being proud. “You should all be wearing Stars of David on the streets of New York City. Show the world who you are.”

Hikind, 69, has been a longtime advocate for Jews; he was especially influential in helping to free Soviet Jewry. Last year, he started Americans Against Antisemitism (AAA) because de Blasio had “no plan, no answers, just blamed Trump” for the horrific rise in anti-Semitic assaults.

AAA was established “to bring together a broad cross-section of Americans who are prepared to combat growing antisemitism when and where it’s needed most,” according to its website, adding, “Through engaging educational content and social media communications, AAA is building its partnership network and volunteer base so that we can continue to mobilize activists on the ground to hotspots of antisemitism throughout the country. It’s only through public pressure that change can be effected, and it’s only through unity that we can generate effective pressure.”

Hikind then turned his attention to President Donald Trump. “There has never been a president that’s a better friend of the Jewish people and Israel,” he said. “The most important thing we need to do right now is make sure Trump is re-elected.

“I’m going to be asking Jewish Democrats: Take a vacation from the Democratic Party. We have to make sure he wins again, not because you love him. Because we have no choice.”

Karen Lehrman Bloch is editor-in-chief of yofi magazine.