From Berlin to DC: Assault on Jewish symbols

But the very fact we are debating this shows how antisemitism and hatred of Jews has become commonplace in many countries.

March in Germany on May 2. (photo credit: Courtesy)
March in Germany on May 2.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In Germany, in late May, Jews were advised not to wear a kippah. In early June the DC Dyke March banned Jewish symbols, particularly the Star of David, which activists asserted was a “nationalist symbol” because it resembles the Israeli flag. In both cases there was pushback from the Jewish community and supporters who argued Jews should wear kippot in Germany and that a Star of David flag with rainbow colors should be allowed at the march.
But the very fact we are debating this shows how antisemitism and hatred of Jews has become commonplace in many countries.
In the 1940s Jews were sent to their deaths, forced to wear the Star of David, and rounded up in their kippot. Today the new hatred of Jews has decided to disappear any outward symbol of Judaism or the State of Israel, the only country in the world whose symbol is routinely banned.
The Western world’s sickening return to antisemitism has sought to replace the old hatred of “the Jew,” who was viewed as an interloper, wandering salesman and corrupt cosmopolitan, to a new antisemitism which once again holds up Jews as the paragon of all that is not acceptable in the West. Where once they portrayed Jews as borderless and cowardly, not manly farmers of the land like the “volk” in their “blut und boden” or blood and soil, now Jews are castigated as “Zionists” and extreme ethnocratic nationalists and their symbols accused of being too “nationalist.”
How can this be? How can the Star of David, which once Jews were forced to wear, now be banned as “nationalist?” A third of the world’s flags include a religious symbol, including 31 countries in Europe which have the cross, and 21 states with Islamic symbols. Of those, 13 have the crescent.
But only the Star of David is banned.
The crescent and cross symbols are broadly accepted. They are not deemed “nationalist,” and not accused of representing the crimes of any of the state or group they are associated with. No one bans the cross simply because far-right nationalists or the KKK may like it. No one bans the crescent or Islamic flags simply because the Islamic State or other extremist groups also may use the symbols. Only with Israel and only with Jews are we told that “the Star of David reminds people of Israel’s abuses. You should change it.”
Bret Stephens of The New York Times wondered on Twitter, on June 8, what the difference was between the intolerance of the Dyke March and far-right white nationalist Richard Spencer. Others wondered why Jews and the Star of David is the only symbol that others are allowed to culturally appropriate and demand it be re-designed to fit their events. For instance, one person suggested a flag with numerous little Stars of David as an acceptable flag for the DC march. One commentator, who appeared to support the ban, said that the gay pride flag with a Star of David does look like the Israeli flag.
Let’s examine these increasingly common attacks on Jewish symbols in a wider context. That Jews are being asked to even contemplate whether they should wear a kippah or be “allowed” to have a flag with a Star of David shows how the racists, thugs and bigots are winning. It’s admirable that the paper Bild ran an article with a cut-out of a kippah that readers could wear as solidarity. But this is Germany. If there is one country in all the world that must be sensitive and welcoming to Jews it is the country whose ideology of the 1930s led to the systematic murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust.
Why would it ever be unsafe to wear a kippah anywhere? We must ask that. If a woman wants to wear an Islamic headscarf she is permitted to. It is those who harass her who are the problem. If a Muslim man wants to wear a Muslim headcovering or an Arabic-style keffiyeh, he may do that. There’s no debating that.
Sikhs are not told that they might be attacked on the streets just for wearing their turbans. Almost every person in the world is permitted to dress how they want in places like the US and Germany when it comes to their cultural and religious clothing. Only one group is told to tip-toe and worry: Jews. Only Jews are systemically harassed for their religious clothing, whether it is frequent attacks in New York City or elsewhere.
Only the Star of David is accused of being “too similar” to the Israeli flag. We debate that as if this is a normal discussion. It doesn’t matter if the Star of David is similar to the Israeli flag. There is no other symbol in the world that appears on a flag that is ever said to be problematic because of that. Only the Jews. Only the Star of David.
There are places in the world where one can feel safe and at ease with the Star of David or a kippah. Those countries are generally in east Asia. But any country linked to the West or the Middle East often has an obsessive and rising antisemitism. It is so pervasive that we’ve got to the point where we even debate whether it is safe to wear a kippah, or whether or not having a flag with the Star of David might offend people.
It is so pervasive that hardly a day goes by without a story of an attack on Jews, Jewish cemeteries, Jewish places of worship or symbols in some country in Europe or North America. This is how the antisemites have successfully rebranded everything Jewish today to once again be the one thing that their societies reject.
Western countries spend a great deal of time debating whether it is the “left” or “right” that is responsible. This is a convenient way to hijack the discussion in order to politicize antisemitism and to always try to link it to something else. So we have to listen to arguments where UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is said to be antisemitic, or where New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says antisemitism comes from the “right-wing.”
Who are de Blasio’s “right-wing” antisemites. Just look up recent attacks in Brooklyn. The first occurred on May 6: Man assaulted, cursed as a Jew in Brooklyn. Then again on May 9: Video footage shows assault on a Jew in Brooklyn. And finally on May 12: Two identifiably Jewish men attacked in separate Brooklyn incidents. A teenager turned himself in for one of those attacks. Was he “right-wing?” There is no evidence that the attacks in Brooklyn are some “right-wing” wave of attacks, rather the elephant in the room is that they appear to be carried out by members of another minority group that has imbibed decades of racism in its ranks.
Similarly in Europe, most attacks are not from the traditional white supremacist far-right, but rather the Islamist far-right and an increasingly populist anti-Jewish rhetoric that is rising on the far-left and right. This isn’t a secret. Facebook groups connected to radical left groups openly mock the Holocaust and even deny that it happened.
It’s easier to debate whose fault it is than to fight against it. To be brutally honest, a lot of racism in western societies has been reduced primarily because of direct action against it. That means that people who express racist views are confronted for their comments and endure consequences. Minority groups understand that to confront racism also involves forceful protest against it. Imagine a march trying to ban flags associated with other minorities, and one can understand that a raucous might ensue.
Unfortunately in too many places the hatred of Jews, Jewish symbols and kippot has become more commonplace precisely because it is not challenged.
It begins with conspiracy theories about “Mossad,” the kind that the Iranian regime pushes on Twitter. It graduates to claims of “false flags” and “Israel is behind ISIS” and accusations that people are “Zionists.” It works on multiple levels. The level of the “thugs” who “spontaneously” attack Jews, and whose attacks are always whitewashed as “just some teens.”
It bubbles up among the Islamist extremists who almost always seek to target Jewish sites in Europe, alongside other terrorism. We don’t ask too many questions about why they attacked the kosher supermarket. “Random folk in a deli,” as the former US president termed it. Really? That’s like a KKK lynching being described as “random folk hung from a tree.” It’s not random. It’s targeted. It’s Kristallnacht, but on a smaller scale.
The way antisemitism works today is the constant obsession with Jews. The US candidate who blamed “the Jews” for “driving America’s wars,” or the UK member of parliament who claimed “the Jews” hadn’t learned the “lesson” of the Holocaust because of something Israel did. The Oberlin College professor who claimed that the “Rothschild’s” created AIDS or the DC councilman who claims the Rothschild’s control the weather, or the members of the Women’s March who blamed Jews for slavery.
See the forest for the trees. No one obsesses over any other group systemically in these countries the way they do Jews. They don’t blame Buddhists for controlling the weather, they don’t say that Hindus haven’t “learned the lessons” of their persecution because of something India does. There is only one small group, all the time, that is constantly attacked.
Every once in a while we get a more clear glimpse of this obsessive hatred when we hear that we shouldn’t wear a kippah in Germany or have a flag with a Star of David. The message: Tip toe some more. Be careful. A kippah could get you attacked. A Star of David offends people because of Israel. But one can bring a cross and wear a kippah in the style of a Catholic Cardinal, right? Well yes. And hijab and flags of devotion to Hizb ut-Tahrir? Sure. No problem.