Combatting antisemitism has been a work in progress for, oh, thousands of years. Jews have fought the scourge, resisted it, escaped it, confronted and protested it. Many Jews have even joined or assimilated with others to mitigate it. Theodor Herzl’s Zionist movement reestablishing the Jewish homeland occurred to liberate us from inhumanity.
And yet, antisemitism thrives, not only the traditional variety – pogroms, vandalism, bombings, verbal abuse, the distribution of propaganda – but all the new forms of Jew-hatred against a flourishing, eternal Jewish homeland.
This painfully old topic is front and center on my mind, ever since I ventured out on a cold Sunday morning to discover at the end of my driveway a plastic bag containing a couple of dozen pebbles and a flier basically blaming Jews for the coronavirus. Listed are names of people, government bureaucrats who are purportedly Jewish. Parenthetically, at least a couple of people on the list are not Jewish. Of course, prominent drug companies are listed because at least one of them has a Jewish top executive and, of course, he must be profiting from 5.3 million people who have died and countless others who have received immunizations.
As best as anyone can tell, perhaps 100 of these plastic bags were distributed in this part of Austin, an area that is a mile or so from a fenced Jewish community center campus that contains buildings housing Reform, Conservative and Orthodox congregations, and, of course meeting and recreational facilities. The same flier has been distributed in 16 states, to Jews and non-Jews in the US.
Such fliers, with Nazi earmarks, are disturbing, to say the least. The perpetrators just want publicity and want to instill some fear, so they go unmentioned here. Perhaps what is more disturbing, however, and even more worrisome, was the advice sent out by city leaders, Shalom Austin (the name of the Federation/JCC campus) and the Anti-Defamation League, a group that used to be more focused on battling antisemitism. They all urged people to file a report with the Austin Police by calling 3-1-1 or to go online to file a complaint. Anyone who goes through this exercise will find it easier to connect with someone in the Oval Office. The crux of the recommendations is: “Dispose of the offensive materials. The ADL and Austin Police Department have the samples they need.”
Days of investigating after the Sunday morning delivery have failed to turn up the individuals responsible for producing and distributing the leaflets, not to mention trespassing on a private street. While hate speech may be protected, the assaulting language is up for debate. Acknowledging that hate speech is free speech, let’s set aside that part of the problem for the moment.
THE LARGER component involves education and awareness about antisemitism by the generally younger demographic. It is a diaspora subject with which every organization and many governmental agencies are wrestling. They are doing so in a world that reflects new attitudes. The 2021 Pew Research study indicates that most Jews believe antisemitism in America has increased in recent years and they feel less safe now than they once did; 43 percent haven’t heard much about the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement; and over the past 12 months, 51 percent of Jews have experienced antisemitism, either by seeing anti-Jewish graffiti, being harassed online, being physically attacked or through another form of discrimination.
Fighting or confronting antisemitism requires education, and I’m not referring to reading or watching The Diary of Anne Frank. Do not discard the evidence. This is a teaching moment. How better to vividly show the reality of this hatred by using these leaflets as evidence that even in 2022, the world of smartphones and not very smart people is filled with individuals who have done what ancestors have done for thousands of years – perpetuate hate through propagandistic lies.
Sadly, police are handcuffed by laws and public opinion; and law enforcement is telling people who have received these documents to discard them. Keep up this behavior and we will find another generation to target the scapegoat that has been targeted for not worshiping the sun, stars and the moon; a divine, charismatic rabbi; or a prophet who is believed to have ridden his horse into the heavens.
First, we must have law enforcement. We must identify who produced and delivered this verbal assault; and communities must explain why this message is offensive. It is not either a right-wing, a left-wing or an extreme Islamist issue. It is all three. The propaganda is something that has been used for centuries, actually millennia. It is at the least unhealthy and hazardous and, at worst, calamitous.
When teaching antisemitism, focus on this single hatred. Folding antisemitism into other hatreds marginalizes antisemitism and yields somewhat of a smoothie for the anti-hate taste buds, one that goes down easy. Don’t confuse my message. We surely must battle hatred against other groups – African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, the LGBTQ community and any segment of the community that personally suffers.
When Jews come under attack, though, it’s all hands on deck against antisemitism. Anything short of this effort is simply unacceptable. Such actions are outrageous and deserve our outrage.