The Politicization of Anti-Semitism

In the October 24 issue of Mishpacha magazine, popular in the Orthodox Jewish community, columnist Jonathan Rosenblum interviewed Jonathan Neumann, author of the excellent book dismantling the false equivalence between Jewish values and liberal activism, “To Heal the World?” Rosenblum closed by asking “what, short of an outbreak of violent anti-Semitism, might recreate a feeling among young Jews as being members of a unique people.”

While Neumann’s answer remains instructive, the intervening days have shown that the premise was wrong. An outbreak of violent anti-Semitism transpired that same weekend, but a celebration of Jewish unity has not resulted. For many Jews, liberal activism came first.

I feel I have yet to process adequately my grief and sorrow regarding the horrific slaughter at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. This is due not only to denial, but also to how I learned about this atrocity.

As a Sabbath-observant Jew, I knew nothing about what had transpired until after nightfall, when I had returned from synagogue and started up my computer. I happened to look at social media before the news.

So the first thing I read was not the report of the worst anti-Semitic crime in U.S. history. What I read first was that it was my fault.

The blood of the victims was not yet dry, and already people were diverting our attention from the simple fact that Jews are still murdered for being Jews—and not hesitating to blame Jews for anti-Semitism, in classically anti-Semitic fashion.

The question for Trump-haters was why the president was to blame. By that, I do not mean an incredulous “why” as in, “Why would Trump be responsible for the actions of an individual who opposed him?” Though this is a good question given that the shooter opposed Trump specifically because Trump is “surrounded by kikes” and “there is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation.” Trump-haters had had no such questions; for them, blaming the president was a given.

Rather, a better word to describe their leap in logic is “how.” They proposed to show “how” they justify this improbable connection. They offered multiple, mutually contradictory rationales, connected by nothing other than the writers’ pre-existing hostility to the president. Others incriminated Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with no greater consistency other than that it aligned with previous opinions of their target.

Consider that many of those who say this barbarian felt empowered by Trump also claim that anti-Semites in Gaza turn to violence because they feel powerless. There is no consistency, for none is required. Their underlying concern is not understanding anti-Semitism, but understanding how to leverage anti-Semitism for political gain. For multiple Jewish writers, tweeters, and pundits, partisan agendas come before Jewish unity. It is possible that this thoughtless division is an even greater tragedy than this attack itself.

Anti-Semitism is a unique form of hatred. Xenophobia says the “other” is shiftless, worthless, and criminal. The Jew, on the other hand, is conniving, resourceful, plotting. The “other” robs banks; the Jew controls the banks. And one of the basic anti-Semitic ideas is that hatred of Jews is something other than Jew-hatred, and that to the extent that it is Jew-hatred, the Jews brought it upon themselves.

No one likes to be hated, and without a clear theological understanding of why anti-Semitism exists, it is comforting to pretend that it is going away, or tied to a political ideology that we can hope to eliminate. And thus it is understandable why Jews fall into this trap. Understandable, but horribly wrong.

Anti-Semitism is found at the extreme ends of all political movements; it does not stem from only one. That Louis Farrakhan referred to Jews as termites, while the Tree of Life murderer referred to a “kike infestation,” is no coincidence. Their ideology is the same, at least when it comes to Jews. The image of Jews as parasites was common in Nazi literature, and long before.

It is true that anti-Semitism increased in 2017—if we include the 163 bomb threats against Jewish community centers made by a mentally disturbed Israeli teen and the Obama volunteer who was stalking his former girlfriend. Of the 12 violent hate crimes against Jews in New York State, nine—fully three-quarters—were in Brooklyn and directed against easily identified Orthodox Jews—the vast majority of whom (more than 90 percent) support President Trump. Not one of the perpetrators has been identified as a white supremacist. So the leftists are not merely wrong, but are engaged in blaming the very Jews who clearly have a better grasp on the nature of anti-Semitism than they do.

No explanation of the Pittsburgh massacre is valid that does not address the shootings at the Overland Park, Kansas JCC in 2014 and the U.S. Holocaust Museum in 2009, and the Crown Heights riot of 1991. It must also encompass the Hypercacher killings in 2015, why synagogues from France to Denmark are defended with armed troops less than 75 years after the Holocaust . . . and the Holocaust itself. Finally, it must explain why international media reported a rioting mob in Gaza—gathered in order to “rip down the border, and rip the Jews’ hearts from their bodies”—as a “peaceful protest”  and simultaneously described the precision elimination of 50 terrorists in that mob as a “massacre.”

Jews cannot pretend that this hatred afflicts only those of particular political affiliations. That delusion only makes all Jews less safe.

Jew-hatred is not about politics. It is tied to no other agenda. As it has been for thousands of years, it is about hatred for God, Torah, and values—and the same genocidal mission shared by Haman, Hitler, and Pittsburgh synagogue shooter: “All Jews Must Die.” It cares not whether a Jew is conservative or liberal, religious or secular, rich or poor.

That is exactly why all decent people must fight it, and why all Jews must continue proudly to identify as Jews. Together.

Photo Credit: Justin Merriman/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

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About Rabbi Yaakov Menken

Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the Managing Director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, the largest Rabbinic public policy organization in America.