Arriving to New York just in time to see the trees transforming into a collage of beautiful orange and auburn making me reminiscent of my childhood and the mountains of leaves cushioning our fall as we jumped without fear. Over the past few days, I have had the opportunity to meet with a wide range of local leaders and acquaintances who are as up to date as ever about the election results in Israel, the midterm election results in America, and of course the herd of elephants in the room; the tsunami of anti-Semitism and attacks against Jews hitting the shores of Jewish communities everywhere.
From the warm confines of their heated offices and homes, things don’t look so bad, and for those who fled to Florida, things look even better. At times it seemed as if Israel and the modern-day Islamic crusade against the Jews were light years away. Many people I met seemed to express a subtle smugness. The underlying attitude was: “As much as I care about Israel, and as much as I am concerned about the unprecedented anti-Semitism on the streets, on campuses, against Jewish businesses, and everywhere on the internet and social media; here in America we have a different reality; we don’t have to prepare our suitcases as many are doing in most European countries. All we have to do is simply mind our own business and the current wave of Jew-hatred will pass over us.”
My Jewish brethren in America fail to understand that the highly vocal and successful campaigns by the BDS organizations aided by progressive Jewish organizations have taken over the discourse in academic circles and campuses placing Israel and Zionism beyond the pale, representing everything wrong in the world. This poisonous discourse has spilled over onto the internet and has become a vocal influential minefield of Jew hatred. Extending this all-encompassing accusation of Jews as individuals and as a community of being the guilty party and responsible for all the woes of society, has hit home; no one is safe, and Jewish schools, JCC’s, Jewish businesses, Synagogues are all under perpetual “lock down” expecting and preparing for the worst. It’s imperative to appreciate that this tsunami of hatred of Israel and of Jews is not related whatsoever to Israel, to the settlements, or even to the so-called occupation. It is not because of the Corona pandemic or the war between Russia and the Ukraine, it’s not because of opposition to Trump or support of Biden; it is not because of what the Jews do, but because of who we are and what we represent in the minds of those who hate us.
As Matt Friedman, a former AP reporter and author has written; scholars of Western history have explained that at times of confusion and external dangers, and when society is unable to provide answers that make these threats go away, negative sentiment tends to revolve around Jews. Discussions of issues of the time often end up as discussions about Jews. In the late 1800s, French society was riven by the clash between the old France of the church and army, and the New France of liberalism and the rule of law. These sentiments erupted around the figure of a Jew, Alfred Dreyfus, accused of betraying France as a spy for Germany. His accusers knew he was innocent, but that didn’t matter; he was a symbol of everything they wanted to condemn. During the 1920s and ’30s, Germans were preoccupied with their humiliation at the end of World War I. This morphed into a discussion of Jewish traitors who had stabbed Germany in the back. Germans were preoccupied as well with the woes of their economy–this of course revolved around Jewish wealth and Jewish bankers. In the years of the rise of communism and the Cold War, communists, concerned with their ideological opponents, talked about Jewish capitalists and cosmopolitans or Jewish doctors plotting against the state. At the very same time, in capitalist societies threatened by communism, people condemned Jewish Bolsheviks. This is the face of this recurring obsession. As the journalist Charles Maurras wrote approvingly in 1911, “Everything seems impossible, or frighteningly difficult, without the providential arrival of anti-Semitism, through which all things fall into place and are simplified.”
Despite Israel being the one of the smallest nations in the Middle East, population wise and land mass, and American Jews being one of the smallest minorities in all of the United States; Jews wherever they may be, have been unwillingly assigned the role of being the universal symbol of the ills of the West; poverty, colonialism, nationalism, militarism, and racism. This is not because of the Jewish settlers or the mighty IDF, or even Hollywood, but rather it is because Israel and today’s Jews are the heirs to the “Jewish banker” of the past. When moral failure raises its head in the Western imagination, the head tends to wear a skullcap.
From Kanye West, to Kyrie Irving (despite his apology), to David Chappelle and even from Tucker Carlson, theories of conspiracy have increasingly invaded our screens. Have no doubt, when conspiracy theories are on the rise and being heard everywhere; anti-Semitism is waiting in the wings just waiting to emerge and explain why everything is so bad, and who is responsible. Conspiracies almost always begin by rejecting rationality, logic, facts, and even common sense as explanations for what’s happening in the world, and in the United States in favor of supposedly clandestine and behind the scenes manipulations. Once a celebrity or broadcaster or even a witty comedian has convinced themselves and the audience that an invisible hand is working behind the scenes with his magical wand, then it’s only a double click away from discovering that the invisible manipulator, and the magical wand belongs to no other than the Jew.
Denial can be an effective defense mechanism; it can help us deal with harsh realities as we assemble internal resources that empower us to respond to external threats. Denial can do good, but it can also create a mentality of complacency and a false sense of smugness. I am not in favor of packing suitcases and planning escape routes while at the same time I cannot condone the pervasive mindset found among so many that I have meet with; “keep out of the subways, keep off the streets of Manhattan, make sure the guards at Shul are armed, and lets all wait till it blows over”.
It’s not going to “blow over”, and its not going away, if anything it will get worse. So as I continue with my yearly visit to New York, I can only hope and pray that my prophecy will be later rather than sooner.