Purim and Jewish unease

The miraculous turn of event we celebrate on Purim did not really leave the Jews in a secure position.

March 1, 2018 21:03
3 minute read.
Purim in Hebron

Purim in Hebron. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The story of Purim as told in the Book of Esther is, among other things, a study in political antisemitism. Haman, the archetypal antisemite, a descendant of the Amalekites, leverages his favor with King Ahasuerus to launch a genocidal attack on the Jews.

The miraculous turn of event we celebrate on Purim did not really leave the Jews in a secure position. The same king who had gone along with Haman’s plan of extermination was still in power. Who could say how long it would be before the king would have yet another change of mind, tire of Esther and Mordechai, and turn against the Jews?

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To this day Diaspora Jews live in a perpetual state of unease, constantly on the lookout for signs of antisemitism that can undermine their position. Polls can always be counted on to vindicate the Jews’ apprehensions. The latest example, published just in time for Purim, is an annual Anti-Defamation League report surveying antisemitic incidents in the US in 2017. The ADL found that the number of antisemitic incidents was nearly 60% higher than in 2016, after the largest single-year increase on record.

There were 1,986 incidents, including 1,015 cases of harassment, 952 of vandalism, and 19 physical assaults.

ADL reports have tended to focus on what The New York Times referred to as “the invigoration of the far Right... on display at events like a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.” And the ADL report lends itself to this interpretation since it notes “a more than 250% increase in white supremacist activity on college campuses in the current academic year.”

Last year this time, in the midst of a rash of Jewish community center bomb threats and cemetery desecrations (most of which turned out to be hoaxes), the Jews of America were on edge as they hadn’t been in years.

It is only natural that America Jews be concerned first and foremost by the far-right variety of antisemitism. There is a long tradition among American Jews of fighting fascism. Jews’ embrace of socialism during and after World War II was largely part of the fight against extremism on the Right. Jews’ overwhelming embrace of the Democratic Party, which championed civil rights in the 1960s, is also connected to the visceral Jewish identification with liberalism and rejection of prejudices based on race or nationality.

Most American Jews did not vote for President Donald Trump. The issues advanced by Trump, those that set him apart and made him popular – anti-immigration, America First, anti-globalism – are opposed by most Jews, and are supported by groups that happen to also be blatantly antisemitic.

But Trump is no antisemite.

Indeed, the singular focus on the far-right variety of antisemitism misses a large part of the picture. There is today a high level of complacency – worryingly high we might add – when it comes to expressions of anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiments on the progressive Left.

US Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) and a number of other Democratic congressmen have in the past cooperated with organizations such as the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Code Pink, Jewish Voice for Peace and American Muslims for Palestine – all supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

Willingness to work with organizations that have more sympathy for a Palestinian political leadership that glorifies terrorism and terrorists, than for Israel, a state that strives to maintain democratic principles under the most difficult conditions, sends a problematic message and fosters a toxic environment for discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At least since the first exile well over 2,000 years ago in the days of Esther and Mordechai, the Jewish people has been painfully conscious of its precarious position. But there is a preoccupation with antisemitism on the Right supposedly triggered by Trump’s rise to power.

If the fate of Jews is to be perennially uneasy and they are worrying about antisemitism anyway, they should consider abandoning their inexplicable indifference to, or tolerance for, anti-Israel and antisemitic tropes on the progressive Left.

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