What can Israel do to help fight rising antisemitism in the US?

"On the streets, it’s getting to be Kristallnacht. Kristallnacht is the climate.”

People gather at Grand Army Plaza in solidarity with the victims of the attack in Monsey. (photo credit: AMR ALFIKY/ REUTERS)
People gather at Grand Army Plaza in solidarity with the victims of the attack in Monsey.
(photo credit: AMR ALFIKY/ REUTERS)
Noted Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt wrote a piece on The Atlantic website on Sunday, following the machete attack in Monsey, New York, describing how Jews in Europe, and also on US college campuses, are increasingly hesitant to openly identify as Jews.
The headline to the piece was, “Jews Are Going Underground.”
On Wednesday, 92,500 Jews, most of them ultra-Orthodox, jammed into the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to celebrate the end of the 13th seven-and-a-half-year Daf Yomi cycle and the completion of the study of the entire Babylonian Talmud. Their answer to The Atlantic headline: “No we’re not.”
Saturday night’s attack at the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey has traumatized US Jewry, especially since it came just three weeks after the shooting attack on a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, and following a week of physical attacks and harassment of Jews on the streets of New York, a city where Jews – if only because of their sheer numbers – have long felt comfortable and secure walking the streets identifiably as Jews. One might feel uncomfortable walking in downtown Louisville with a black hat and earlocks, but in Brooklyn?
Writing on the Arutz 7 website, novelist Jack Engelhard wrote, “On the streets, it’s getting to be Kristallnacht. Kristallnacht is the climate.”
Kristallnacht? Really? Kristallnacht, that pogrom throughout Germany and Austria on November 10-11, 1938, when dozens of Jews were killed and synagogues and Jewish stores throughout Austria and Germany were ransacked, as the police and authorities stood by and let it happen?
No, this is definitely not Kristallnacht, for a thousand different reasons, one of which is that the US government and police are not standing by, encouraging, aiding and abetting the antisemites.
Consider, for instance, this tweet by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday night, as that gathering at the MetLife Stadium was taking place:
“As we celebrated #SiymuHaShas at @MetLifeStadium today, we held the victims of the horrific anti-Semitic attacks in Jersey City and Monsey in our hearts. We will drive out darkness with light by always standing with our Jewish community. Anti-Semitism and hate have no home here.”
No, those words from the governor of New Jersey do not add up to the “climate of Kristallnacht.”
Were it Kristallnacht, moreover, one would expect a stronger response from the State of Israel, the Jewish state set up in part as a refuge for Jews, and a state that has shown it will go to great lengths to rescue embattled Jews around the world.
In 1949 it brought Jews here from Yemen on Operation Magic Carpet, in 1951-52 from Iraq on Operation Ezra and Nehemia, and in 1984 and 1991 it airlifted Jews to Israel from Ethiopia on Operation Moses and Operation Solomon.
SO WHAT IS Israel’s responsibility to American Jewry right now? How can it help? What should it do?
Were the collective Jewish community in the United States in dire physical danger, that would be one thing. But it isn’t. As a result, so far Israel’s top officials have issued statements of support for the victims of attacks, condemnation of the antisemites, and vague notions of cooperation and assistance in the fight against antisemitism.
For instance, President Reuven Rivlin issued a statement after the Monsey attack saying he was “shocked and outraged” by it.
“We are praying for the rapid recovery of those injured. The rise of antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem, and certainly not just the State of Israel’s problem. We must work together to confront this evil, which is raising its head again and is a genuine threat around the world,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting that Israel “strongly condemns the recent displays of antisemitism, including the vicious attack at the home of a rabbi in Monsey, New York, during Hanukkah. We send our best wishes for recovery to the wounded. We will cooperate however possible with the local authorities in order to assist in defeating this phenomenon. We offer our assistance to every country.”
Those are carefully worded statements, intended to send a message of support for the Jewish community, without antagonizing either the local governments or the Jewish community by implying that they cannot deal with the problem.
Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman is the only politician who hinted that the antisemitic incidents should spur American Jews to make aliyah.
“Again and again, we are witnessing the dire consequences of antisemitism,” he said in a statement. “Alongside the deep grief and best wishes for the injured, it is important to know that the main solution to such phenomena is immigration to Israel.”
Historically, calling for the Jews to emigrate from Western countries after antisemitic attacks has not been a winning formula.
hen-prime minister Ariel Sharon was roundly condemned when, after a spate of antisemitic attacks in France in 2004, he said, ‘’If I have to advise our brothers in France, I’ll tell them one thing: Move to Israel, as early as possible.”
He was slammed both by French government officials and French Jews, who said he had overstepped his bounds.
Netanyahu was similarly slammed when he hinted at the same solution to antisemitism in January 2015, after terrorist attacks in Paris killed 17 people, including five Jews at a kosher supermarket.
“To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray; the State of Israel is your home,” he said, triggering angry responses by the French government and the organized French Jewish community.
In each case, it was clear that the local Jews did not want to be lectured to by Israeli officials about the need to “come home,” and that if they wanted to do so, they would.
Which is why Israel’s overall sense of responsibility to protect and assist Jews in free, Western countries is different than it was toward Jews in Yemen, Iraq or Ethiopia. Over the years, Israel’s position has been that it does not have a responsibility for the physical or economic welfare of Jews living of their own free will in countries where they could leave, if they so desire.
The first thing that Israel must do in the face of the antisemitic incidents in the US is realize that its impact on the matter is limited.
It can listen to the concerns of American Jews, it can empathize with them, it can speak discreetly with US officials about what it thinks needs to be done to better secure Jewish institutions, or to perhaps consider certain legislation that could stem the antisemitism, but it is not going to send demobilized veterans of elite IDF units to ask for US work permits so they can stand guard at synagogues and Jewish schools.
It won’t do this for two reasons. The first is that it is simply unrealistic, as there are so many institutions that could be potential targets of attacks (the Monsey attack took place at a rabbi’s home). The second is that this is not something that Israel would tolerate in its own country.
For instance, Israel would not let the French send in guards to watch over the Benedictine monastery in Abu Ghosh, nor would it allow the Greeks to send demobilized soldiers to guard various Greek Orthodox properties in the land.
So if Israel can’t send people to help secure sites, how about money? Is it Israel’s responsibility to help fund security for Jewish institutions abroad?
The Jewish Agency actually has a fund for providing security means to small Jewish communities abroad, and the reinforced door that prevented a shooter in Halle, Germany, from entering the synagogue there on Yom Kippur and slaughtering the worshipers was paid for by that fund.
Should this money now be sent to secure institutions from Tallahassee, Florida, to Spokane, Washington? Obviously, that, too, is an unrealistic expectation, and a financial burden Israel cannot bear.
So what can Israel do, realistically?
First, it must, as American Jews should, realize that this is a global problem, and not one restricted to one country or another. As such, it can look at the laws of each country – and, in fact, each US state – to see where there are holes in the laws and try to deal with the local governments to try to close them.
Each country has its own legal milieu. For instance, Holocaust denial is illegal in France and Germany, while it is protected as free speech in the US.
Israel can also assist in dealing with hate on social media, helping – with its advanced technology – grassroots efforts to identify antisemitic posts on the Web, and have them removed. Social media are a vicious breeding ground for antisemites, who often find validation and legitimization there for their acts of violence.
Right now this is done in bits and pieces by various ministries, but there is not one ministry with overall responsibility and authority on the matter. Israel could consider consolidating all those efforts and setting up a central address for dealing with this issue.
Following the Monsey attack, however, the bigger question is not what Israel can do to help stem the problem in the US – since Israel’s reach is limited – but, rather, what American Jews themselves need to do..