America is not immune from antisemitism

America is not immune from antisemitism

Aliza Lavie

As antisemitism in America is rising, it is time for both leadership to take an action


Over the course of just a few months, anti-Semitism again became commonplace in the United States. It started on social media, with hateful tweets directed at Jewish journalists and politicians. Julia Ioffe, a Jewish refugee to the U.S. from the Soviet Union, was among the first to receive death threats and images depicting her face photo-shopped into the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The ADL, in a report about rising anti-Semitism during the U.S. election, found that 2.6 million tweets from August 2015 to July 2016 contained anti-Semitic language. In the past few months, Internet hate devolved into destruction of Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Brooklyn. Over just the last two months JCC’s across the U.S. received 118 bomb threats, which brought chaos as schools, nurseries, and other facilities were forced to evacuate. Buildings across the country have been spray-painted with swastikas. This anti-Semitism must stop, and we all—Jews, Americans, Israelis—must stand against it.

Unfortunately, this anti-Semitism is not a new phenomenon. The sight of broken tombstones marked with Jewish names and “Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet,” and images of babies in cribs being rushed out of JCCs into freezing weather, hearken back to darker times. Jews across the world instinctually recognize these sights. They remember what we have been saying for seven decades: “Never again.” We in Israel hoped that the United States, the best friend of the state of Israel, would be able to insulate itself from the anti-Semitism sweeping Europe in places like the UK and France. Yet here it is, rearing its ugly, familiar head.

However, even in America, anti-Semitism was never obliterated. Certainly, the wave of hate that appeared over the past year—and that gives no sign of dissipating—represents a new iteration of anti-Semitism. But periods of relative calm for America’s Jews still yielded horrific instances of anti-Semitism. Three people were shot and killed at a JCC in Kansas City three years ago. For years, it was accepted that Jews could be denied membership at exclusive country clubs and in certain neighborhoods. The history of anti-Semitism in the States is long and well documented, so I will not rehash all of it here. What matters is that American Jews are beginning to sense that anti-Semitism is entrenched in their society in a way they have not felt, as a community, for many years. In my conversations with American Jewish leaders, I sense that Jews feel surprised by this change.

As a member of the Knesset, I have made it my priority to stand proudly alongside Jews living in the Diaspora. The Jewish state is not only a home for Jews living in Israel. Israelis bear a certain responsibility to remind Diaspora Jewry—and in this moment, American Jews—that there is another place for Jews. This country was established on the idea that Israeli is responsible for all Jews around the world, wherever they are. We are not strangers to the reality of having to rush children to safety in the face of violent threats.

Yet just because Israel retains its status as a haven for Jews, we in Israel must speak out against anti-Semitism and hatred in other parts of the world. The 2016 presidential campaign in the U.S. rested on undertones of resentment and bigotry, first against Mexicans, and then Muslims—the list continues. History teaches us that wherever hatred like this emerges, Jews, too, will soon become a target. And in the face of continued bomb threats, swastikas, and hate speech, Jewish communities in the States must join together to fight hate.

We must be clear that anti-Semitism will not simply pass if we don’t talk about it or consider how to stop it. To create safer communities for American Jews, people must work across religious boundaries—both within Judaism and with other religions—and ideological divides to form coalitions to work with law enforcement and government officials. On March 7, all 100 U.S. Senators signed a letter urging the Trump administration to offer increased security and other resources to Jewish institutions. This showing of cooperation is heartening, and I hope that we will see more of it in the fight against global anti-Semitism. I also hope that American Jews do not lose sight of the fact that their government has a responsibility to protect them.

Here in Israel, we, too, have work to do to counter anti-Semitism in the States. The Knesset has devoted a significant amount of time recently to discuss this trend. On March 7 I spoke on the Knesset floor on this topic to further bring it to my colleagues’ attention. I called on members of the Knesset, on Israeli mayors, and on local government officials and public figures to speak out against any manifestation of hatred. As elected officials, we have a responsibility to reach out to our counterparts in the U.S. and express our concern. We are part of this struggle, and we must use whatever resources we can to fight anti-Semitism.

This also means we must hold President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu to account. When Netanyahu met with Trump a few weeks ago, we heard complimentary words shared between the two leaders, but very few comments concerned American anti-Semitism. A reporter asked Trump about rising American anti-Semitism, and in response, the President discussed his electoral victory and his Jewish friends. Netanyahu almost let the question slide—until he added, “there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and of the Jewish state than President Donald Trump.” As Prime Minister of the Jewish state, Netanyahu has a responsibility to advocate for Jews in the United States who do experience anti-Semitism. I urge Prime Minister Netanyahu to continue to talk with the President and bring this troubling rise in anti-Semitism to his attention.

Lastly, Jewish communities and organizations will have to accept this new reality even as they work to change it. American Jews should exercise caution and pay attention in ways they might not be used to—keeping an eye on their neighborhoods, looking for suspicious behavior at synagogues and JCCs, and thinking about personal safety. This cautionary outlook is second nature for many Israelis, but I know that for American Jews, it might feel frightening and overwhelming. But by encouraging cooperation between American Jews and Israel on this matter, I hope to bring the problem closer to a solution that will make America safer and more comfortable for Jews. And I want to make clear: Israel will always be the homeland of all Jews. When Jews in the Diaspora face threats and hatred, we will stand by them.


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