Pittsburgh and the erasure of antisemitism

The continuous shoving of antisemitism to the sidelines is not only hurtful but it flies in stark contradiction to the facts.

By MICAH THAU
November 15, 2018 21:55
Pittsburgh and the erasure of antisemitism

Police near the "Tree of Life" synagogue in Pittsburgh. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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On October 27, the Jewish American safety bubble was abruptly shattered with the deafening bang of an AR-15 and the gunning down of 11 Jews praying at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

In the immediate aftermath, some on the Left blamed the attack on the president’s rhetoric, claiming that it emboldens white nationalists. The president, on the other hand, suggested that the lack of an armed guard endangered the synagogue. And some, like British lawmaker Jenny Tonge, unsurprisingly blamed Israel.

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Yet, while many are busy finger pointing, there is a quiet debate being carried out under the surface that is equally important, and that is whether to use the word antisemitism in describing the terrorist attack.

Antisemitism is defined by Google as: “Hostility to or prejudice against Jews.” Under that simple definition it would seem self evident that a mass murderer who runs into a synagogue yelling “All Jews must die!” as he slaughters innocent Jewish civilians should be called antisemitic. Yet, one may notice from a cursory glance at several condemnations of the attack that the word antisemitism is eerily absent. UC Berkley, for instance, referred to the shooting as a “hate-driven incident” and Columbia University initially failed to mention Jews at all. Similarly, other institutions and activists used vague and broad language in describing the motives for the attack.   

The choice to erase antisemitism from the discussion is a calculated one. In fact, the British Labour Party recently voted down a motion condemning the attack precisely because of its reference to antisemitism. This deliberate evasion is part of a coordinated effort to convince Jews that antisemitism is dead.   

The argument itself relies on the idea that Jews’ economic and social prosperity warrants their removal from the list of oppressed peoples. This is due to the progressive doctrine that economic and social power are intrinsically tied to systems that are themselves prejudiced against certain groups of people. Thus, success within such a system automatically places one as part of the system. Because social and economic power are indicators of acceptance, Jews, who are undeniably successful in American society, cannot be victims of antisemitism.
   
However, antisemitism historically has always behaved in a different manner than other brands of prejudices. Indeed, it has been in the midst of the utmost Jewish prosperity that the ugly face of antisemitism has reared its head and where the greatest Jewish tragedies have occurred, including the Inquisition and the Holocaust.

Today is no different. In 2016 the FBI found that Jews were targets of more hate crimes than any other minority group in the United States and last year the Anti-Defamation League reported a nearly 60% increase in antisemitic incidents. Evidently for Jews, progressives’ outcome-tied perspective on bigotry fails to be an accurate barometer. Jews are the outlier – fortunate yet despised, the ultimate progressive oxymoron.

Unfortunately, instead of admitting the flaws inherent in the tying of prejudice to social and economic stature, progressives have chosen instead to do something far worse: erase Jewish peoplehood altogether. At the core, there has been a profound but silent re-framing of Jews as those only belonging to a particular faith. Under this standard, a Jew could, in theory, reject Judaism and not be considered a Jew. This would make Jews only a religion rather than an ethnic group with a shared history and tradition. Moreover, it means antisemitism, an ethnic word, is obsolete because hatred against Jews revolves around practice rather than ancestry. 

Yet, even a superficial analysis of modern antisemitism shows this is false. Hitler, for example, targeted Jews who had assimilated, employing a genetic table to determine what level of Jewish ancestry was “criminal” in nature. Moreover, the age-old tropes painting Jews as manipulative and greedy continue to surround modern Jewish antisemitic targets regardless of their practice. From kippa-clad right-wing hero Ben Shapiro to secular liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros, no Jew is safe.


It is true that some Jews are converts and their Judaism is not inherited by blood, but rest assured, Robert Bowers shot up a synagogue because it was a gathering of Jews, not because it was a form of religious expression. As he said clearly: “All Jews must die.”

This is to say, Jews find themselves without true defenders.

While the president did refer to the attack as antisemitic, during the bulk of his presidency he has been willing to turn a blind eye to a brand of white supremacy surfacing in his base that is unsurprisingly hostile to Jews. One can hardly forget Trump’s assertion that there was blame on “both sides” following a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virgina, that featured chants such as “Jews will not replace us.”

Meanwhile, the far Left, while they are willing to fight “hate,” refuse to accept the existence of antisemitism, much less use the word. This is unacceptable. 

The continuous shoving of antisemitism to the sidelines is not only hurtful but it flies in stark contradiction to the facts.

It is high time to wake up and smell the swastikas. The uncomfortable conundrum of the Jew not fitting into a particular progressive agenda does not justify the systematic sidelining and, more importantly, the erasure of antisemitism. An antisemitic far Right and a Left that remains in denial is a toxic combination for the American Jew.

It is incumbent on all sectors of society to condemn the attack in Pittsburgh in clear and unabashed terms as an antisemitic terrorist attack. The word to describe the sentiment behind the attack is not “hate,” “prejudice,” or “racism.” The word is “antisemitism.” Use it.  

The writer is an author of the Eshel Pledge, has written in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and has a blog for the Times of Israel. He recently immigrated to Israel and lives in Modi’in as he prepares to enlist as a lone soldier in the IDF.

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