Has antisemitism been solved?

A recent JVP panel did little more than bury antisemitism deeper in the hierarchy of injustices.

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-Michigan) prepares to knock on doors in Detroit in October to encourage residents to vote in the US presidential election. (photo credit: REBECCA COOK / REUTERS)
REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-Michigan) prepares to knock on doors in Detroit in October to encourage residents to vote in the US presidential election.
(photo credit: REBECCA COOK / REUTERS)
Just months after the Anti-Defamation League reported that antisemitic incidents in the United States had risen to the highest levels since tracking of such events began in 1979 – a trend brought into especially sharp relief by synagogue shootings in Southern California and Pittsburgh – victory against this timeless scourge of the Jewish people can finally be declared. Or, at least, that is what one might have concluded had they listened to the much-anticipated recent panel hosted by JVP Action, “Dismantling Antisemitism, Winning Justice.”
The political and advocacy arm of the anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Peace, JVP Action had been roundly criticized (including by Emily Schrader in these same pages) in advance of last week’s discussion for convening a panel of progressive speakers who – when they were not reciting Hamas slogans, promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or calling for a binational Israeli-Palestinian state – equivocate on the unique threat of antisemitism.
However, as Rabbi Alissa Wise, the panel’s moderator and deputy director of JVP, rightly pointed out, Jews cannot hold a monopoly on discussions about antisemitism. And (my own note here), we should resist “canceling” those with whom we have disagreed. With that said, would it be too much to ask for this particular group of panelists to respect the seriousness of the topic, and help us move beyond their past hang-ups by engaging in a good-faith dialogue?
Apparently so.
Consider first the name of the event. Though at face value, “dismantle” seems like a perfectly reasonable synonym for “eliminate” or “destroy,” something we can all agree to strive for vis-à-vis antisemitism, the choice was far from innocuous. In using “dismantle,” JVP is attempting to recast antisemitism as a “political tool”; an objectionable mischaracterization that diminishes the consequences of a behavior that, even when accelerated in the political arena, has always transcended it.
Worse still, “dismantle” serves for JVP as a way to reimagine the fundamental nature of antisemitism. Rather than a pernicious and enduring set of attitudes and actions, we are told antisemitism is simply a “machine.” What exactly this means is somewhat unclear, though attempting to analogize something as enigmatic as antisemitism is, at the very least, likely to leave us wanting. Regardless of JVP’s purpose for this redefinition, depicting antisemitism as “a machine...made by humans [that can]...be undone by humans” is pure hubris.
Inevitably, such facile representations beg the question: Was it but for political impotence, or a lack of sufficient effort, that Elie Wiesel, Daniel Pearl, Simone Veil, and countless others were unable to “dismantle” the deadly hatred aimed at them and their fellow Jews?
Antisemitism is a deeply-seeded manifestation of anger, fear, conspiracy and ignorance. It has existed for millennia, it is with us now, and it will persist so long as there are Jews. For my part, PBS’s likening of antisemitism to a virus that “mutates and evolves across cultures, borders and ideologies” is the more discerning of the analogues on offer.
AFTER BEGINNING the conversation with recollections of antisemitism she faced as a child, Rabbi Wise inexplicably (or, perhaps, quite strategically) changed the topic to Israel’s military presence in the West Bank. This pivot from the panel’s purported raison d’être was all the permission the other members needed to refrain from ever substantively addressing antisemitism.
From then on, the panelists offered platitudes but mostly worked to couch antisemitism amid a jumble of “intersectional” themes. Ultimately, by linking all forms of bigotry – antisemitic, anti-LGBTQ, anti-black – and proclaiming that the perpetrators of each are “all the same people,” the distinct features of antisemitism were all but lost.
Hate often looks and feels the same when distilled to its elemental forms and expressions, but antisemitism is atypical in that it targets a group based on perceptions of undue influence rather than inferiority. Needless to say, it’s a narrative quite apart from that which, say, drives a white racist toward prejudice of blacks. It is no intellectual triumph to comprehend that fighting different presentations of intolerance entails different approaches.
One also could not help but wonder whether there was a double standard at play. Had the panel gathered to discuss anti-black racism, and that issue had been treated tangentially in favor of other injustices, would the moderator have been as accommodating? Whatever the answer, in my own estimation, antisemitism and all other forms of bigotry are challenges each worthy of being considered on their own. Perhaps that would be missing the point of “intersectionality” and “allyship” but how, then, to square the increasingly exclusionary stance of progressive movements toward Jews? Could it be that progressive boilerplate like “togetherness” and “solidarity” is more style than substance?
As it turns out, the requisite condition for hosting a constructive dialogue on antisemitism is an interest in actually discussing it. With this detail conspicuously absent, it was no surprise that a moderator like Rabbi Wise, and panelists such as they were, would happily bypass the core issue to dance around progressive themes that, even if they resonated at a politically correct frequency, accomplished little.
Esteemed panelist, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, responded to accusations of antisemitism – for, among other things, once lamenting the toll the Holocaust took on her Palestinian ancestors without mentioning the plight of its Jewish victims – by reminding the audience that their fight was hers and that bigotry would find no quarter under her leadership. She concluded her remarks with words meant, no doubt, to reassure Jews everywhere: “I don’t hate you.”
Well, fair enough, Congresswoman. And know that you are welcomed with open arms in the fight against antisemitism. However, in light of the failure of you and your colleagues to engage in thoughtful conversation, do not be surprised if we have some questions for you in the meantime.
The writer is a management consultant and former Marine Corps intelligence officer.