On Jewish Reaction
To Anti-Semitism Ignite Debate
By Samantha Dubrinsky,
BJF Director of Community Impact
A recent opinion article in the New York Times entitled “Anti-Semitism Is Rising. Why Aren’t Jews Speaking Up?” in the New York Times has the Jewish community in a buzz. Two involved members of the Birmingham Jewish community immediately sent it to us at the Birmingham Jewish Federation wanting to be sure we saw it.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents have increased by 57% over the past year. New York Times journalist Jonathan Weisman, who wrote the controversial article, cites this statistic and goes on to contend that this represents a crisis the Jewish community needs to get ahead of and, he feels, that the organized Jewish community is not being proactive in addressing growing anti-Semitism.
“If not quite a crisis,” Weisman writes, “it feels like a proto-crisis, something to head off, especially when the rise of anti-Semitism is combined with hate crimes against Muslims, blacks, Hispanics and immigrants. Yet American Jewish leaders — the heads of influential, established organizations like the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federations of North America — have been remarkably quiet, focused instead, as they have been for decades, on Israel, not the brewing storm in our own country.”
“But,” he continues, “American Jews need to assert a voice in the public arena, to reshape our quiescent institutions and mold them in our image. And Jewish leadership must reflect its congregants, who are not sheep.”
“If the vinyl banners proclaiming ‘Remember Darfur’ that once graced the front of many American synagogues could give way in a wave to ‘We Stand With Israel,’ why can’t they now give way en masse to ‘We Stand Against Hate’?” he asks.
Weisman’s article prompted several responses from the Jewish community, one of which appeared in Haaretz, a liberal Israeli publication. The article in Haaretz, written by Allison Kaplan Sommer, entitled, “Why The New York Times Got The Fight Against Anti-Semitism Wrong,” argues that Weisman does not provide much evidence to support his position and takes offense to the comparison of “the reluctance of US Jews to speak out [today] to the European failure to prevent the Final Solution in World War II.”
“In today’s charged environment,” Sommer explains, “the American-Jewish community is often simply too divided to define what anti-Semitism is — making it impossible to combat it in a unified fashion. Nearly all Jews can call out an anti-Semite sporting a Nazi uniform or a Klan robe. But without such clear visual cues, anti-Semitism is too often in the eye of the beholder.”
Sommer goes on to say that Jews on the left and right have become finger pointers. There is no prevailing center or moderate perspective, Sommer argues and cites the American Jewish Committee and Jewish Federation of North America’s effort to create a unified, balanced approach towards these issues.
“So no,” Sommer continues, “American Jews have been anything but shy or hesitant about denouncing anti-Semitism. But they do it much more vehemently when the anti-Semitism exists in the opposing political camp. Rallying behind any particular organization, as Weisman urges, isn’t really necessary. Neither is abandoning interest in or engagement with Israel.”
Both articles have important points and we at the Birmingham Jewish Federation have often found ourselves toeing the fine line between speaking out against something that many feel is wrong and presenting ourselves as a partisan organization.
The important take away from these articles is to remember that while the Jewish community has vastly different opinions, our love for a good argument (I mean, discussion…) unites us. We can each have our own opinion, but we will always have something in common — our privilege of being part of the Jewish community.
And, while we may be living in an era where we distinguish ourselves as Jews from one another based on politics, our views on Israel, and/or our approach to religious worship, for the anti-Semite those distinctions do not matter.