The rise of high-profile antisemitic comments by Kanye West and Kyrie Irving have left the U.S. Jewish community shaken. It caught us off guard and we were blindsided by the reality that anyone would spout such hateful rhetoric or, worse, that hundreds of thousands of people could agree with these views. And yet, as evidenced by the “Kanye is right about the Jews” banner hanging over LA’s 405 freeway, or the audience laughter in response to Dave Chappelle’s “SNL” monologue, these hateful sentiments are not only being made by outliers.
We’re late on addressing antisemitism because we inherently believe it can be defeated or that once challenged, hateful belief systems wash away like spray painted swastikas on headstones. Unfortunately, antisemitism has attacked the heart of the Jewish community, spawning hateful rhetoric and denial of our existence. And in its quiet swaying and propaganda indoctrination, antisemitism has caused the global Jewish community to split into factions instead of remaining united as one people.
Today’s antisemitism most often takes the form of anti-Zionism that denies Israel’s right to exist. November 29, 2022 marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations vote, which affirmed Israel’s right to exist in a movement to ensure a safe haven for Jews for all time. In this way, Israel is the insurance policy for Jews worldwide. No matter what happens in the places we live, we are always welcome in Israel. If Israel had existed before World War II, the Holocaust might not have happened or the total scale of death and destruction could have been reduced, as European Jews would have had a safe, protected haven.
Israel is not without its problems, just like many developed countries. It struggles to navigate the labyrinth of national security versus equality, discrimination, changing political tides and coming to terms with what many would consider a very messy history.
And yet, on a global scale, Israel is held to a more rigid standard. When Israel is criticized, too many members of the Jewish community, blind to this antisemitic anti-Zionism, have joined the calls.
This begs the question, why are so many critical of Israel? Why is recognizing Israel’s right to exist 75 years later conditional on whether this fledgling country has “figured it out”? Jews have been living in this part of the world for more than 3,000 years. So why is it the Jews who are singled out and told they shouldn’t be allowed to live in their ancestral homeland? They are demonized for defending their rights and receive seemingly sharper criticism than other countries, even those who have played a role in European colonialism.
Further, Israel receives no praise or acknowledgment for the steps it takes to care for non-citizens within its borders. It treats Palestinians in Israeli hospitals and gives them the same standard of world-class care that Jews receive. Israel supplies the Arabs in Gaza with electricity, even as Hamas shells the Israeli power plant in Ashkelon. Israel shared the Mediterranean gas fields that it discovered with Lebanon. It is a flourishing democracy with Arab political parties that formed part of its current government. Further, Israel welcomes anyone who identifies as LGBTQ, and in doing so is an outlier in the Middle East.
When criticism and demonization of Israel is far harsher than the criticism of other countries’ faults, this is antisemitic. When criticism is denigration of Israel’s right to exist where simultaneously one does not denigrate the right to exist of other religious or ethnic groups in a land of their own, this is antisemitic. And when criticism delegitimizes Israel’s government and its people where one does not similarly criticize other nations for their shortcomings—this unique treatment of Israel is antisemitic.
Sadly, antisemitism will never go away. But if we unite and find common ground that Israel deserves the right to exist, we may be able to drown out anti-Zionism. In 2023, we must accept and denounce the existence of antisemitism, be vigilant of its current anti-Zionist form, and present a united global Jewish front to combat it.
Mike Leven is a business executive and visionary philanthropist. Inspired by Warren Buffett’s and Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge, Mike co-founded the Jewish Future Pledge to carry on his family’s commitment to Judaism. Mr. Leven currently serves on the boards of The Marcus Foundation, AEPi Fraternity Foundation, Birthright Israel Foundation, Board of Advisors of Prager University, HERSHA Hospitality Trust, and Independent Women’s Voice.