Answering a Friend Who Becomes an Antisemite

We need to know who our friends are, and who are not.
November 30, 2023
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She’s Black. 

I’m Jewish. 

(Notice I didn’t say White.)

(Notice, I don’t even know what to capitalize any longer.) 

She’s a thought leader and activist in the Black community. 

We met when I asked her to speak to my class at USC. 

She asked me a lot of questions about Judaism. 

So I invited her to our house for Pesach. She jumped right into the seder discussion. She was an enlightening and contributing participant. 

She came to synagogue with us for the Neila service on Yom Kippur and stood in line to talk to the Torah, a custom in our community. 

But then, a short time after, during a flare-up on the Gaza border several years ago, she told me in a text that she was standing with her Palestinian brothers and sisters, and aside from me, she couldn’t look another Jew in the face. 


It wasn’t the support for Palestinians that got me. It was the “can’t look another Jew in the face” part. I wrote her back that as a researcher at a major L.A. institution, she wasn’t doing justice to her profession. How much had she really studied about the situation to make such a harsh comment? Not to mention that I felt she was also betraying our friendship. If I wasn’t the only Jew she could look in the face, she was asking me to betray my own people.

A few weeks later, she called, offering to take me to dinner as an apology. 

I went. I felt it was my Jewish responsibility to engage in dialogue. I wanted to share our side of the story, given that this intelligent, curious, well-read woman was open and contrite. 

My wife always tells me I’m too forgiving. 

It’s my nature. Or, was my nature. 

Until last week, when she texted me this: 

Gary …

Know that I honor, love and respect you.

But my heart is pained by the sufferings of the Palestinian Nation.

To me, they are Black people.

And those who were nearly exterminated by the Nazi regime apparently have taken Hitler’s Modus Operandi to heart.

If you become angry with me as a result of these thoughts … I will understand.

I will always love and respect you for who you are and what you represent.

But I will never, ever support Zionists.

Langston Hughes asked:  What happens to a raisin in the Sun?

Well, now we know.

Wishing you, Dana and the kids a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Celebrate your love for each other.

And please know that I honor you and respect you.

Know that!!!

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. 

This time, I had to stop and think, before I wrote her back.

I had vowed to myself on October 8 that I would no longer be intimidated by anyone to speak out boldly on behalf of my People. (Notice the cap letter).

None of Us can afford to be intimidated any longer. 

It’s now a matter of survival. 

But first, as a marketer and communication professional, I had to do my own analysis. 

She told me she honors and respects me, but in the same breath, associates my people with Nazis.

She told me she will always love and respect me for who I am and what I represent, but in the same breath, tells me she will never support what is dearest to my heart—my Zionism. 

By speaking from both sides of her mouth in such a hurtful manner, she lost me. She had no credibility left. 

Then I asked myself some big questions and gave myself answers: 

1. Question: What empowered her to even write those words? Answer: She was not speaking for herself alone. She was speaking on behalf of the segment of her community in which she moves.  What she said reflects the internal discussion they are having about Jews. Those discussions empowered her. 

2. Question: Why did an educated, intelligent leader of her community feel she could get away with that? Answer: She believed she was standing up for her people, now allied (ally is a really dangerous, loaded word these days) with the “Palestinian Nation.” She was on a righteous mission. 

3. Question: Could I imagine writing something like that to her about Black people? Or to anyone about any people, telling them that their people are horrible? Would I?  Answer: No. It’s racism in one of its worst forms. 

4. Question: How empty was her original apology several years earlier? Was I a fool for accepting it?  Answer: She was seriously apologetic at the time. But inside, she must have been struggling with her ambivalence. Then the segment of her community kicked in with their new discussions and she returned to her hatred, believing it is noble. Was I a fool? I’m still struggling with that. Is an antisemite always an antisemite? I don’t know. The world has sure returned to its antisemitism. 

So, with all that in mind, along with my resolve to stand up for my People, I responded boldly and directly, with no empty gestures of salutations: 

And what would you do if 250 Black people were being held hostage? 

And 1,200 Black people murdered, raped, children killed in front of their parents, parents killed in front of their children, babies baked to death in ovens?  

And the perpetrators threatening to do it again and again until every Black person all over the world was dead? 

Would you be asking for a ceasefire? Would you be blaming Black people coming to their rescue? 

Or would you be blaming the perpetrators who use their people …. the mothers, fathers and children, the sick and the dying as human shields?  

Would you be blaming the defenders who warn the people to leave and get out of harm’s way? 

Or would you blame the perpetrators who don’t let them leave? 

Would you blame the perpetrators who claim there is no way for them to leave … the same perpetrators who figured out how to breach a billion dollar wall for their barbarism and figured out how to transport kidnapped people on motorcycles, golf carts and cars … and even use a hang glider to murder, rape and pillage like the Middle Ages … and tell me these same people can’t figure out to transport their people to safety? 

I’m a Zionist … a proud Zionist and Jew. 

Who are you? 

A dangerous, ignorant antisemite who I never want to hear from again.

A few nights ago, I was taken to dinner by three of my former students, now successful professionals. Three women: One is Armenian. One is French Senegalese, a Muslim. And the third is African-American. I prayed they would not bring up the war. But within five minutes they did. And all of them conveyed their concern to me about Israel and the Jewish People. They only wanted to know as much as I could tell them, about the war, about Israel, about the Jewish people, but also about how it affected me. 

I showed them the text. They were horrified. 

When dinner was over, they each gave me a big hug, something that would never have been permitted in this new sensitive environment when they were students. 

I’m glad we had that dinner. It was very important given how I am still struggling with that recent texting war. And the suspicions of wondering — is this person an antisemite? — everywhere I go. It’s almost like post-traumatic stress. 

Israel and the Jewish people are in a battle for our vibrant existence. We have to stand up against the onslaught on our bodies and souls. We need to know who our friends are, and who are not.

Gary Wexler was recently honored by the National Library of Israel with the creation of The Gary Wexler Archive, a 20-year history of Jewish life told through the advertising campaigns he created for Jewish organizations in the US, Canada and Israel. 

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