Until the last minute, Jews in Germany refused to believe that they could be harmed by their German co-citizens.
We cannot, of course, compare Germany in the 1930s with today’s European countries – and certainly not with the USA – but some of the Jews now living in those countries have something in common with that generation in Germany: they are not always prone to identify and diagnose those who are harassing them – and even less to draw the necessary conclusions.
This was also clear after the horrible slaughter at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when the different streams in American Judaism expressed themselves in different and sometimes contradictory ways – including responses that had more to do with their political opposition to US President Donald Trump than with reacting forcefully to the words of the murderer, that “all Jews should be killed” – instead of presenting a united stance.
In Israel, too, unfortunately, the official rabbinical establishment harmed Jewish solidarity when it failed to call the site of the murder a synagogue (because it was Conservative) – and only Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement put it right.
In Europe, antisemitism has deep roots in Christian tradition, both Catholic and Protestant (the Catholics had the Inquisition, while the German reformer Martin Luther composed an antisemitic diatribe in the 16th century that would not have shamed Julius Streicher and Goebbels), in addition to other antisemitic diatribes, including the usual economic ones, all of which are now on the rise as a result of the growing number of Muslims in Europe, and particularly in France and in Germany.
In America, the situation is different. While in the past there had been antisemitic incidents there, similar to those in Europe though less frequently, as well as cases of “genteel” antisemitism, mainly among “WASPs” – set against this was the Biblical tradition of the Founding Fathers and the spirit of freedom and equality in the American heritage – as well as the identification of many Americans with Israel. And indeed, the founding of the State of Israel also has accorded American Jews a more prestigious and respected status than in the past.
However, in recent years the situation has in some respect worsened – for which some blame Trump. Even though he has never shown a trace of antisemitism – there are those among his opponents and in the media who see a connection between his nationalism and acts of violence against minorities, including Jews. It is doubtful whether factually and statistically there is indeed a rise in these incidents, but that’s the perception.
BUT IN addition to the violent antisemitic acts of the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazis and the skinheads on the right, which notwithstanding the massacre in Pittsburgh are relatively few in number, today there is an increase in antisemitism particular on the American Left, which is potentially far more dangerous in the long term.
The most extreme expression of this is the BDS, an organization that calls for a boycott and delegitimization of Israel. This organization claims that its boycott is “only” directed against the “occupation” and the settlements, but even the statements of its own leaders and supporters, such as the author Alice Walker, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, The Color Purple, leave no doubt that its real intention is to deny the Jewish people the right to a state and to erase Israel from the map.
BDS is also responsible for violence against Jewish students at several universities in the United States. Not to be outdone, another famous Israelophobe, Michelle Alexander, a writer and civil rights lawyer, published an article in The New York Times (at which she is regular op-ed columnist) titled “Breaking the Silence on Palestine,” replete with anti-Israel innuendos and falsehoods. Particularly serious is the influence of BDS in the Democratic party. As the op-ed columnist Ross Douthat wrote last week in The New York Times, under the heading “Racists to the Right, Anti-Semites to the Left,” this party could in the not-too-distant future “become the home of a new generation of left-wing representatives with prejudices and paranoias.”
Douthat mentions the Women’s March (which took place two weeks ago), whose organizers included none other than the extreme antisemite Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, and where had there not been a last-minute intervention by the official party leadership, some marchers would have waved placards with antisemitic and anti-Israel slogans.
All this poses a serious dilemma for the Democratic Party – but even more so for the majority of America’s Jews for whom this party has always been their political home and which has traditionally attracted most Jewish votes. How will American Jews in general, and the liberal majority in particular, react to these trends – will they draw the necessary conclusions and confront them – or will they be struck by blindness, like those Jews in Germany in the 1930s?
The writer is a former ambassador.
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