You are not helping

May 4, 2019 23:10
4 minute read.
People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of antisemitic attacks

People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of antisemitic attacks in the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. The writing on the sign reads: "Antisemitism, islamophobia, racism - not in our name". (photo credit: REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES)

t has happened again. In the United States there has been another attack on Jews in a synagogue. The antisemitism that is everywhere, ever-present just beneath the surface, has again burst forth in death and destruction. The angst-filled wondering of what we can do to stop these horrific events begins anew. At this time of remembrance of the Holocaust, however, we must acknowledge that we already know how this story ends.

The first step to finding a solution to anything is to clearly define the problem. The problem here is that the ancient scourge of antisemitism has yet again transitioned from taboo to tolerable, or worse, to triumphant, a once-cloaked bigotry reinvigorated and purported to be something righteous. We cannot control what is in people’s hearts, but we can react strongly and directly to its expression. Distracting from finding a solution to the empowerment of antisemitism is quite dangerous. Often, however, we just can’t seem to help ourselves.

If you can only talk about guns, you are not helping. How can we keep guns from getting into the wrong hands? Should civilians be armed? There are many important questions, but talking only about guns right now is like obsessing about how to build safe buildings in the middle of an earthquake.

If you are talking about a general climate of hate, you are not helping. Today, there most definitely is an abundance of hate and anger, and media through which to express it and to find those with similar feelings. Indeed, there are some commonalities among the hates that we see today, but talking in generalities prevents finding solutions to specific problems. Like focusing on black lives mattering versus all lives mattering, a precise focus on antisemitism allows the development of crucially tailored solutions.

If you are pointing the finger at the other side, you are not helping. Last week, I reflected about how sadly remarkable it was that someone announced their presidential aspirations with a video that highlighted antisemitism. My comment was immediately seized upon by those on the Right hoping to discredit the Left, and those on the Left hoping to discredit the Right. The theme of antisemitism in 2019 was not something on which either side was able to focus. Donald Trump’s rejection of white supremacists has been weak, and the Congressional Democrat’s censure of antisemitic statements by its members has been timid and limited. The far Right has been responsible for heinous crimes, while The New York Times published a repulsively antisemitic cartoon.

EVERY TIME antisemitism is mentioned, each side rushes to blame the other. Yes, Donald Trump should immediately and unequivocally condemn white supremacists who proclaim their Jew-hatred, and the Democrats should directly and forcefully condemn any expression of antisemitism. But this is not about politics, and if one wants to prevent future violence, discipline and resistance to “whataboutism” are called for.

If you reflexively deflect or deny accusations of antisemitism, you are not helping. It has become commonplace to say that accusations of antisemitism are ways that Jews try to silence criticism of Israel. Well, guess what. That deflection has antisemitic undertones. It plays into the trope of Jews stifling free speech via their control over the media/government/Hollywood to manipulate good people.

We can look at the facts surrounding an accusation of antisemitism without conflating it with protection of Israel. Sometimes, accusations of antisemitism are denied by those who fear drawing attention to Jews, to Jewish vulnerability and victimization, and to Jewish kvetching. But when has ignoring bullying not encouraged the bullies?

If you allow the race, religion, nationality or social-economic status of someone expressing antisemitism to matter, you are not helping. Sometimes, people who express antisemitism are themselves victims of hatreds like Islamophobia, homophobia and sexism. Sometimes they are suffering personal deprivation and despair. Allowing their status as victims to dampen the vigor with which we address their expression of antisemitism helps no one.

In 2007, I heard a pillar of my community express homophobia and I reflected about how it seemed to be the last “acceptable” hatred. It seemed to me that if someone at a fancy private club or a backyard barbecue made a racist or antisemitic comment, they would be, at least publicly, shunned, but that homophobia would be ignored or condoned. In 2019, I feel certain that homophobia would be, at least publicly, shunned, while antisemitism would be ignored or, perhaps, justified.
Perhaps everything does come back in style. Perhaps public expressions of antisemitism are only put in the back of the closet every now and then, but never actually thrown out. What does it take for us to finally throw something out? It takes more than it going out of style. We have to believe that it will never again be something that we will want or be able to use. So too with antisemitism.
We need to talk about how guns endanger and protect us. We need to talk about how politicians and the media inspire anger and hatred. What we most need to talk about, however, is antisemitism, and we need to talk about it directly, with laser focus and clear, strong voices that do not waiver. We need to give no one a pass. We need leaders to continuously strip away distraction, diversion and denial. Our very lives are at stake.

The writer is a nurse and activist living in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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