Antisemitism continues to haunt us

There have always been internal divisions among Jews.

May 1, 2019 18:56
4 minute read.
New York Times cartoon depicting Netanyahu as a guide dog with Trump

New York Times cartoon depicting Netanyahu as a guide dog with Trump. (photo credit: THE NEW YORK TIMES)

The New York Times, arguably the most important newspaper in the world, chose to publish a cartoon depicting Donald Trump, the president of the most powerful nation on Earth, as a blind man wearing a kippah being led by a dog with the face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with a Star of David attached to the dog’s collar. This came less than a week before Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is yet another proof, if anyone needed one, that antisemitism is alive, kicking, and raising its ugly head again. Antisemitism is on the rise rather than on the wane.

This incident came in the same period as the shooting in the same United States just a few days later at a synagogue in a suburb of San Diego in southern California. A woman was killed in the shooting and another three people were injured. The perpetrator, 19 years old, did not hide the antisemitic motives behind his actions. “Every Jew is responsible for the planned Holocaust of the European race,” he wrote prior to his murderous act. It goes without saying that he did not fail to add the age-old claim that Jews control the economy and by extension the world.

These two incidents came after many others in recent memory. The number of antisemitic incidents in the US in 2018 were double those in 2017. If we had hoped that antisemitism would lower its head, lessen and possibly disappear altogether, we were wrong. Almost 80 years after the Holocaust and more than 70 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, this could not be further from the truth. This horrendous phenomenon will continue to accompany us, and it will continue to be a part of life for the Jewish people.

There are numerous ways to combat antisemitism. Jew-hatred is not predestination. The State of Israel and countless Jewish organizations are taking action to fight the phenomenon. There are, however, other and more basic ways to do this. One approach is, in fact, our reason for being here and for the continuation of Jews as a free people in our own land. The decisive and ultimate responses to antisemitism anywhere in the world are unity and solidarity.

There have always been internal divisions among Jews. Some of these led to disasters. We all know where baseless hatred can lead. The aspiration to unite might sound utopian to a people known for its argumentativeness. That being said, there is a difference between argument and internal debate; factionalism and irreconcilable rifts.

THE RECENT election campaign contained examples of unacceptable factionalism. Attaching stigma to parts of Israeli society is the opposite of unity. The attempt to drive a wedge between state institutions and the public who those institutions are supposed to protect is equal to tearing the nation apart. Those to whom unity matters cannot act in this way. You cannot say the end justifies the means and then, one moment later, turn around and call for unity. Leadership is more than acting according to the will of the electorate. Leadership also means being a leader for those who did not vote for you. Talking will not suffice. Leadership is tested in actions that are designed to bring people together.

This is not all, though. One of the most important elements of unity is solidarity. This important value says that the strong assist the weak. Solidarity is more than the transition of economic resources from the strong to the weak. Solidarity, however, can also be found in less practical areas in life, with other views, with different ways of thinking, with other ways of life, and also with different lives. Solidarity is the key to unity. You cannot unite with the other side without showing solidarity with their ways and needs. Solidarity requires you to get out of your bubble for the sake of others.

One of the most important elements in keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive is passing on the stories from generation to generation. The Holocaust is a tapestry of personal stories that make this horrendous story accessible. We are almost at the end of hearing first-hand accounts from Holocaust survivors, those who fully understand the meaning of a people without a state.

Protecting the unity of the Jewish people as a precondition for the existence of the State of Israel is our most important commandment to future generations. This is the most important aspect of our ability to survive in an age in which antisemitism is becoming less of a bad word internationally. This commandment cannot be kept without a leadership that knows to take responsibility for keeping this most important value.

Responsible leadership is high above short-sighted, electoral and personal considerations. Good leadership manifests itself in every decision and action taken in the pursuit of as much unity and solidarity. A good leader’s actions will be guided by this principle. This type of leadership does not only look after the security needs of the State of Israel. The importance of the State of Israel is obvious. The strength of the state and its people, however, are also measured in our social and ideological strength.

Leadership is for everyone, strong and the weak alike, supporter and the supported, believers and those who do not believe. First and foremost, leadership needs to look at the bigger picture and what is in the interest of the general public. Only a leadership meeting these criteria will be able to keep the most important commandments, those of unity and solidarity, for future generations.

The writer is world chairman of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.

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