Most Israelis have very little personal experience with antisemitism, for better and for worse. It’s better, in that our lives here in the independent state of Israel are for the most part devoid of overt acts of antisemitism. After all, we do live in a Jewish state. But it’s also worse, since as a result of living in Israel, we’ve lost our sensitivity to this extremely important and Jewish issue, which has haunted us for the hundreds of years we lived in exile all around the world.
It’s comparable – excuse the comparison – to what happens when wild animals are brought to live in a zoo or safari; they lose their natural disposition to defend themselves.
It’s possible that this is what has occurred to us, too.
As a result, we here in Israel are indifferent when antisemitism rears its ugly head around the world. This is especially surprising when it comes to acts of antisemitism in the largest Jewish community in the Diaspora: the American Jewish community. The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs recently submitted a report on antisemitic activity in 2016. Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett pointed out that there has been an increase in the number of antisemitic incidents and outbursts, and that these types of remarks have even entered mainstream politics in the US and Europe. Now that this has been reported in an official government report, we can no longer claim, “But, we didn’t know....”
The Anti-Defamation League has been at the forefront of the fight against antisemitism for over a century. “It was happening before Election Day, but definitely since Election Day, we’ve seen an uptick,” said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” he added.
The Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s report also says that during the recent US election period, the volume of hate content that was spewed out on social networking sites increased greatly, specifically from the alt-right movement.
Other incidents were also noted, such as over 800 antisemitic attacks directed at journalists, as well as a significant increase of cases on US college campuses that took various forms: harassment, discrimination, graffiti, swastikas, antisemitic messages, verbal and even physical attacks.
We cannot turn a blind eye to these incidents. The Israeli government must engage in affairs of state first and foremost, but it must also keep its profound and longstanding promise to protect Jewish communities around the world, and the American Jewish community in particular, since it is the largest, richest, most prosperous and influential Jewish community in the Diaspora.
For many years, Israel has benefited, and it still benefits, from Jewish Americans’ power and influence.
They has opened doors to US presidents, Congress, the world of academia, Hollywood, arts and cultural institutions, the business world and even the sports industry.
American Jews have played a central role in all of these areas. These individuals reached these positions of power by honing their distinctive skills and working incredibly hard. Most of them of them are not ashamed to proclaim their Jewishness, and many of them are even proud of it. The great successes achieved by American Jews have also led to outbursts of antisemitic comments based on jealousy, competition, and dark feelings that are deeply rooted in society going back to the beginning of time.
Israel owes American Jewish communities quite a lot. They’ve always stood by us, and now that they are the ones suffering through difficult times, we must return the favor. And so, when Prime Minister Netanyahu refrained from publicly bringing up the issue of antisemitism in the recent joint press conference with President Donald Trump, the American Jewish community was hurt and disappointed. They expected – and rightly so – that Bibi would condemn these incidents loudly and clearly.
When similar incidents have occurred in other countries, such as France, the Israeli government jumped to condemn the outrageous antisemitism. Now that it’s happening in the US, however, it is dragging its feet. The sad conclusion is that Israel – including the prime minister – fears disrupting relations with the new administration.
This position, however, is false, unfounded and damaging.
Standing alongside the Jewish community would garner us support among Jews worldwide, the American Jewish community, and even the new US administration.
It’s not a question of divided loyalties, which is also an extremely sensitive issue, but an expression of our historical connection to fellow Jews wherever they may be.
This doesn’t mean that we are exempting the US administration from dealing responsibly with the current wave of antisemitism, and the Trump administration’s slow and sputtering response has brought with it grave disappointment and surprise. A number of administration officials have been replaced, but for the most part, the White House professional staff has remained intact and they are proficient in dealing with such issues.
Just last week, Vice President Mike Pence showed his support by stopping by a Jewish cemetery in Missouri where gravestones had been toppled, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions announced that he would deal harshly with the spreading antisemitism.
We have reached a crucial moment in the history of the Jewish people. If the US authorities do not take immediate action, the number and intensity of public antisemitic incidents will only grow. At some point, Americans will begin finding it difficult to differentiate between the Muslims immigrants who are being locked outside of America’s gates due to xenophobia, and their hatred of US citizens who espouse a different religion than their own.
President Trump holds the key.
He can claim he supports and loves Jews by turning around and pointing his finger at his Jewish daughter and son-in-law and their children, but he will have to do more than that. Trump must use his executive powers to stop the tsunami before it gets out of control. Soon, it will be too late.
If Bibi really does have a friend in the White House, then this is the time to ask him for a favor. Finally, on Wednesday morning President Trump spoke, too little, but not too late to take real action.The writer is an MK from the Zionist Union Party, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and head of the Lobby for US-Israel Relations.