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Pitting Jews Against One Another Is Never the Answer

If you want to fight anti-Semitism, fight anti-Semites.
[additional-authors]
February 9, 2021
Graphic by erhui1979/Getty Images

On February 3, 2021, an article appeared in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, titled, “Democratic Lawmaker: Antisemitism Can’t Be Beat Unless Palestinian Rights Are Respected.” I could not believe the title, so I read the article to discover that in a panel called “How Biden should fight antisemitism,” hosted by organization IfNotNow, United States Representative Andy Levin from Michigan said, “Unless Palestinian human rights are respected, we cannot fight antisemitism.”

Not only do I think the statement (and concept) is false, I also believe the notion — offered by a Jewish representative — to be irresponsible. The victim of hate is never responsible for the hate they receive. Jews understand this clearly when it comes to other communities. African Americans do not bear responsibility for bigotry and racism against them. The LGBTQ community bears no responsibility for hate and discrimination against them. Jews do not bear responsibility for anti-Semitism. We have to make this clear on our own behalf. Jewish leaders must stand up for our own community as well.

Jews in Israel also definitely do not bear responsibility for anti-Semitism in America. Israel, or any nation’s policies, for that matter, can always be debated. However, to suggest that Israeli policy is responsible for the dangerous level of anti-Semitism here in America is scapegoating Jews “there” in Israel against Jews “here” in America.

to suggest that Israeli policy is responsible for the dangerous level of anti-Semitism here in America is scapegoating Jews “there” in Israel against Jews “here” in America.

As a grandchild of four survivors of the Holocaust and as a congregational Rabbi, the Jewish value of Kol Yisrael Aravim Zeh La’Zeh — that all Jews are responsible for one another — stands at the foundation of my Jewish identity. (I also believe that Americans should be responsible for one another.) Any concept that pits one group of Jews against another cannot be good for the Jewish people. Ever. Any attempt to do so is a cheap political trick by a salesman of the highest order.

Were we to believe Representative Levin for a moment, and were we to imagine that the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians sits as a core component of anti-Semitism in America, how can we understand anti-Semitism in America in the 1930s and 1940s, before there was a State of Israel? Levin’s argument dissolves quickly when examined, but unfortunately, the damage of the panel has been done. The viewers of the panel heard a message that affirmed their preconceived false notions about Israel.

If you scapegoat Israel in hopes that you might curb anti-Semitism, you will ultimately be disappointed on two counts. First, Israel will continue to succeed, both in terms of peace agreements with its regional neighbors and with its ingenuity. Second, anti-Semitism will not diminish, as it is the most ancient, resilient, constant form of hatred around the world.

Here in America, anti-Semitism has flourished in the past few years in the form of synagogue shootings, public rallies in Charlottesville and Washington D.C., and in drafts of the currently proposed Ethic Studies curriculum in California. Currently, several members of Congress —on both sides of the aisle — have displayed a pattern of utilizing anti-Semitic tropes in their rhetoric. The suggestion that Jews “there” are to blame only reveals the potency of the newest variant of anti-Semitism, anti-Israelism.

Jewish leaders have stepped up in recent times to protect minority rights across the country. It is time we do the same for ourselves.

If you want to fight anti-Semitism, fight anti-Semites.


Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz is the Rabbi at Adat Shalom in Los Angeles, directed the documentary “Roadmap Jerusalem” and is pursuing his PhD at Claremont Graduate University. 

 

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