The growing panic about antisemitism isn’t a reflection of reality – The Forward

The growing panic about antisemitism isn’t a reflection of reality – The Forward

The most obvious explanation for the current “antisemitism” is not a grand meta-narrative of American or European history, but rage at an ongoing war in which Israel’s conduct has received widespread international condemnation

A large share of the ADL’s alleged “antisemitic” incidents appear to be expressions of hostility toward Israel, rather than antisemitism

Excerpted from an essay by Rabbi Jay Michaelson in The Forward

American Jews are being whipped into a panic about antisemitism…

For example, two widely circulated recent essays in The Atlantic, “The Golden Age of American Jews is Ending,” by Franklin Foer, and “Why The Most Educated People in America Fall for Antisemitic Lies,” by Dara Horn attribute the rise in antisemitism to the resurgence of an ancient, timeless hatred, rather than the obvious proximate cause: a brutal war, which is producing images of unthinkable horror to be streamed daily on social media.

In Foer’s 11,000-word piece, few sentences mention the ongoing catastrophe in Gaza, where more than an estimated 32,000 Palestinians have been killed so far. “I don’t want to dismiss the anger that the left feels about the terrible human cost of the Israeli counterinvasion of Gaza, or denounce criticism of Israel as inherently antisemitic — especially because I share some of those criticisms,” he writes.

But that is, effectively, exactly what he does, ascribing the increase in antisemitism to anti-liberal trends in American culture, and describing antisemitism as “a mental habit, deeply embedded in Christian and Muslim thinking, stretching back at least as far as the accusation that the Jews murdered the son of God.” The war is barely even an inciting incident.

Horn, like Foer, largely dismisses concerns about the war. The word “Gaza” only appears six times in her essay. Yes, she writes, there are “the many legitimate concerns about Israel’s policies toward Palestinians and the many legitimate concerns about Israel’s current war in Gaza.” But those “cannot explain these eliminationist chants and slogans” — e.g. “Palestine from River to Sea” — “the glee with which they are delivered, the lawlessness that has accompanied them, or the open assaults on Jews.”

There are numerous omissions in this short passage: How many protests are gleeful? (Few that I’ve seen.) What percentage are lawless? Is “‘river to the sea” always ‘eliminationist,’ despite what many pro-Palestine voices insist?

Most significantly, though, both Horn and Foer write as if this is the first time in history that a war or catastrophe has provoked bigotry. But this is always the case. Just as Islamophobia rose after 9/11, and just as anti-Asian hate rose with the onset of the pandemic, so antisemitism is rising now. One could even say the same about anti-German and anti-Japanese stereotypes in the 1940s.

None of this is to excuse these spikes in bigotry, or to deny that the bigotry exists and is dangerous. It is only to note that the most obvious explanation for the current eruption is not a grand meta-narrative of American or European history, but rage at an ongoing war in which Israel’s conduct has received widespread international condemnation.

No, anti-Zionism is not antisemitism

Second, the moral panic conflates legitimate anti-Zionism with illegitimate antisemitism.

Foer’s essay begins with a harrowing account of a Jewish high school student in Berkeley, California, who was “scared” by “a planned ‘walkout’ to protest Israel.” I do not doubt that this student was scared. But what actually happened? A misguided political protest, along with unsubstantiated rumors of “phrases shouted in the hallways, carrying intimations of violence.” It is not antisemitism whenever Jewish people are upset by anti-Israel actions or statements.

Foer also reports secondhand accounts of Jewish students at other schools in the Bay Area being targeted and harassed in ways that are clearly antisemitic. But he lumps these incidents together as if they are the same, which they are not. Protesting against Israel, however misguided or disturbing, is not antisemitic; harassing Jews is.

Foer asserts, without support, that the left “espouses a blithe desire to eliminate the world’s only Jewish-majority nation … valorizes the homicidal campaign against its existence, and seeks to hold members of the Jewish diaspora to account for the sins of a country they don’t live in.” Notice the elisions: Foer blends together anti-Zionism, support for a “homicidal campaign,” and targeting Jews. (Even the caricature of anti-Zionism is incorrect, as many on the left support a democratic state where Jews would still be a majority, but all would have equal rights.)

This conflation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism is far greater than a few articles. As reported in the Forward, after Oct. 7, the Anti-Defamation League changed its criteria to define a much broader swath of anti-Zionist activity as antisemitic; anti-Zionist protests account for 1,317 of the 3,000-odd “antisemitic” incidents the organization tracked in the three months after Oct. 7. As Forward reporter Arno Rosenfeld wrote, “a large share of the incidents appear to be expressions of hostility toward Israel, rather than the traditional forms of antisemitism that the organization has focused on in previous years.”

… I am a progressive Zionist. Even if the dream seems dim today, I believe in a two-state solution with justice for Palestine and security for Israel. But while Foer’s language of “a nation of their own” sounds benign in principle, in practice, it has meant a nation that displaces another people and denies its 5 million members basic civil rights. Moreover, an entire generation of American progressives has grown up during a period in which Israel’s right-wing governments have successfully undermined any efforts toward peace and coexistence. It is not antisemitic to oppose this. For many people, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, it is just….

Terrified, tribalistic and isolated

The moral panic over antisemitism isn’t just factually unsound. It’s helping make American Jews more isolated and paranoid.

It’s obvious that American Jews are feeling disoriented, terrified and traumatized by Oct. 7, as well as by much of the world’s mixed response to that day’s horrific violence. The trauma of the last several months — experienced, in various forms, by Jews, Muslims, progressives and many others — has contributed to the degeneration of our public discourse on the war.

But our moral panic is at once born of this trauma and making it worse. It has caused Jews to become even more terrified and tribalistic. It has undermined our solidarity with other vulnerable groups at precisely the time at which we are threatened by the nationalist right. And it has fed the illiberal campaigns of right-wing culture warriors, who have preyed on American Jewish fears to further their own agendas. We are being fed a diet of hyperbole and misinformation, and we are reacting out of fear…..

Finally, the consequences of this fatalistic view that antisemitism is everywhere, and that it can never be eradicated, are dark indeed. Professor Shaul Magid has called it “Judeo-Pessimism,” taking a cue from “Afro-Pessimism,” a view that holds that racism can never be eradicated.

For Judeo-Pessimists, antisemitism is a kind of immortal, recurring hatred that simply is part of Western culture; again, Foer describes it as a “mental habit, deeply embedded in Christian and Muslim thinking.” As such, antisemitism can be fought but never destroyed.

The natural endpoint of such a view is perpetual paranoia, together with an extreme form of right-wing Zionism. It tells us that we cannot trust the international community, and can only trust Jewish strength. It dismisses human rights concerns, since the oppression of our enemies is the regrettable price of Jewish survival. Because if we are always and everywhere oppressed, then the Jewish future lies not in engagement with wider society, but in our strength in opposition to it…

Read the full essay here.

Rabbi Jay Michaelson is a contributing columnist for the Forward and for Rolling Stone. He is the author of 10 books, and won the 2023 New York Society for Professional Journalists award for opinion writing.

The Forward was founded in 1897 as a Yiddish-language daily, the Forward soon became a national paper, the most widely read Jewish newspaper anywhere. By the 1920s its circulation outstripped The New York Times. The English Forward was launched as a weekly in 1990. Its perspective on world and national news, and its unparalleled coverage of Jewish arts culture and opinion have made it the most influential nationwide Jewish media outlet today.


Facts about the Israel Gaza War essential for Americans to know – Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh (Photo from video)



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