Antisemitism in America: ‘Now Is the Time to Avoid Hyperbole’
COMMENTARY

December 12, 2021 by Mary Sanchez
Antisemitism in America: ‘Now Is the Time to Avoid Hyperbole’
Synagogue.

In late October, Jewish Americans saw the release of a report confirming what many intrinsically felt and feared.

Antisemitism is on the rise. One in four American Jews said they’d been targeted by antisemitism during the past year. Four out of every 10 changed their behavior, with 22% deciding it best not wear or display anything that might denote their faith, according to the American Jewish Committee.

If you’re not Jewish and haven’t seen many overt displays for Hanukkah this year, which ends Monday, Dec. 6, maybe that’s why.

Centuries old tropes are working their way into modern politics and debates of social issues. And in part it’s being done, often unwittingly, by people who think they are being woke, progressive and thoughtful regarding Middle East conflicts.

The most heinous examples of antisemitism like, outright violence, are widely castigated as hate crimes; swastika’s spray painted on a synagogue, Jewish cemeteries vandalized, or the stunning display of antisemitism shown at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. There, white nationalists marched in 2017, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and “blood and soil,” an English language version of a Nazi slogan.

Less boldly, people who would never see themselves aligned with those marchers are nonetheless adopting code words, with little to no understanding of their antisemitic roots and meanings. “Globalist,” “elitist” and “cosmopolitan” are examples. Americans might not recognize antisemitism, even when it’s tumbling from their own mouths.

Each can be used to infer that Jews wield an enormous amount of power, and that they are too wealthy, too educated and too intelligent to be oppressed.

College students and others who are eager to be seen as a voice for the voiceless are especially vulnerable to this error. It’s a line often crossed in the fervor to weigh in on Palestinian struggles, to appear “woke.”

Jewish leadership has been educating the broader public for most of the year on these matters. The work has been tagged this Hanukkah season with “Shine a light on antisemitism.”

For someone wanting to invest the time and thoughtful contemplation necessary to unpack the stereotyped views that we’ve all absorbed just by being alive in America, a great start is the early June discussion titled “Understanding Antisemitism In This Current Moment.” It was led by Gavriela Geller, Executive Director Jewish Community Relations Bureau/AJC and Sarah Markowitz, also of the Greater Kansas City area bureau. It’s excellent and available on YouTube.

“You can stand up for Palestinian rights and you can do that without using hyperbolic rhetoric,” Geller said. “Words matter.”

She also pointed out that antisemitism is persistent and versatile. It is often reshaped around modern issues, maintaining the inference that Jews are diabolically powerful, that they’re not to be trusted, and disloyal to national interests in deference to Israel.

Both the left and the right make use of tropes, painting Jews as both Marxist, socialist conspirators, as well as Capitalists. Conspiracy theories propagate under such twisted thinking.

There are also inaccurate definitions of Zionism used. The term refers to a belief in Israel’s right to exist. Most American Jews, nearly 97%, would consider themselves Zionists. They also overwhelmingly support a two-state solution to Palestinian and Israeli conflicts.

However, that does not mean that they always agree with the policy and actions of the Israeli government, Geller emphasizes.

Simply stated, criticism of Israel is not antisemitic. The problems come when people conflate terms, when they hold Jews “collectively responsible” for actions of Israel.

It’s exacerbated by not knowing history, geography or applying current Western concepts of terms like “colonizing,” to the Middle East. Referring to Israelis as “colonizing” as if they are interlopers, like the settlers who stole land from indigenous tribes of North America is another common offense.

In truth, both Palestinians and Jewish people are indigenous to the land, meaning they both have historic, ancestral ties there. Jews have never been entirely absent, despite claims to the contrary, Geller said.

They stressed being specific and allowing for nuance. And for people to be aware that they don’t inadvertently defame all Jewish people in their criticism of Israeli policy. Likewise, overreaches in labeling, like the accusation that Israel is a white supremacist nation, also offend. Those claims deny the high percentages of Israeli Jews who are Black and brown; with connections to Ethiopia, India and other parts of the world.

There are even efforts to accuse Israel of recreating the genocide of the Holocaust, but this time, they’re framed as the Nazis.

Actor Mark Ruffalo apologized in May after he insinuated on social media that Israelis were committing “genocide” on Hamas during fighting that carried on for nearly two weeks before a cease-fire.

“It’s not accurate, it’s inflammatory, disrespectful & is being used to justify antisemitism here and abroad,” Ruffalo wrote, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. “Now is the time to avoid hyperbole.”

More broadly, the time to avoid hyperbole is always.

Many North Americans realize that their understanding of Middle East politics, history and culture is scant. That should be reason enough to guard against uninformed views and errant word choices. And yet, many still persist in doing it anyway.


(Readers can reach Mary Sanchez at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @msanchezcolumn.)


(C)2021 Mary Sanchez. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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