In the depths of the Civil War, as Confederate sympathizers undermined the Union war effort by encouraging soldiers to desert, Abraham Lincoln asked, “Must I shoot a simple soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch the hair of the wily agitator who induces him to desert?” I could not help thinking of that quote as politicians piously proclaimed their commitment to fighting hate crimes while giving a free ride to those who incite antisemitism.
As Jews were assaulted and bricks were thrown through windows of shuls, politicians loudly proclaimed they would crack down on hate crimes. Celebrities lined up to denounce all forms of hate. Some even managed to bring themselves to actually denounce antisemitism. The perpetrators of antisemitic crimes should be held accountable for their actions. The full force of the law should be brought down on them. But that is not enough. Those who provoked them must also be called out.
I believe in the First Amendment and the right of free speech. People have the right to express their opinions no matter how outrageous. But I expect our leaders to use their right of free speech to call out antisemitism. It is not enough to crack down on the disturbed individual who threw a brick through a shul window; they must speak out against those whose incendiary words are spread to their millions of followers on Twitter and other social media platforms.
I do not believe that every politician who disagrees with us is an antisemite. There is room for honest debate about the policies and actions of Israel’s government. When we denounce well-meaning people as antisemitic, we are guilty of hyperbole. We are needlessly antagonizing potential allies and missing out on the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue that can convince people of the justice of our cause.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism includes:
“Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
Making mendacious, dehumanizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective – such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government, or other societal institutions.
Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms, or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II.
Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel or the alleged priorities of the Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism to characterize Israel or Israelis.
Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.”
This definition has been accepted by the United States government, the United Nations, and the European Union.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called Israel an “apartheid state,” and accused Israel of committing “massacres.” Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib has retweeted “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free,” a slogan calling for the destruction of Israel, and tweeted that Israel threw an 8-year-old child into a well. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has accused Jews who support Israel of “pledging allegiance to a foreign country,” and of paying off members of Congress to support Israel by saying, “it’s all about the Benjamins.” She called Israel’s recent acts of self-defense “terrorism.” In criticizing Israel’s actions, Congressman Jamaal Bowman tweeted, “enough of Black and brown bodies being brutalized and murdered, especially children.” Anti-Israel protests feature posters associating the Magen David with the Nazi swastika and accuse Israel of “genocide.”
Criticism of Israel is legitimate. But accusing the only Jewish state in the world in terms with heavy emotional and moral connotations usually used to describe Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and the massacre and the slaughter of close to one million Tutsis in Rwanda is beyond the pale. More than 6,500 Rohingya Muslims were killed in one month by the military in Myanmar. China has imprisoned more than 1 million Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps. In Bashar Assad’s Syria, more than 100,000 civilians have been butchered and more than 5 million refugees have flooded Europe. Yet it is only Israel’s self-defense that inspires outrage from many on the progressive left. It is the world’s only Jewish state whose very right to exist is challenged. When politicians, celebrities, and the media portray the Jewish state - and by extension the Jewish people - as being uniquely evil, they are creating the atmosphere that justifies antisemitic hate crimes.
Do not just take my word for it. Actor Mark Ruffalo, a progressive champion of the Palestinian cause, recently Tweeted: “I have reflected & wanted to apologize for posts during the recent Israel/Hamas fighting that suggested Israel is committing ‘genocide.’ It’s not accurate, it’s inflammatory, disrespectful & is being used to justify antisemitism here & abroad.”
Cracking down on hate crimes in general and antisemitic crimes in particular is necessary but not enough. Elected officials, celebrities, the media, and corporate leaders must call out those whose toxic words are creating the atmosphere in which antisemitic crimes have skyrocketed.
We will soon have the opportunity to make our voices heard. The anti-Israel progressive left is fielding candidates in our neighborhoods in the upcoming Democratic Primary. Some organizations, with “Jews” or “Jewish” in their names, such as Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and the Jewish Vote, are making common cause with our most dangerous enemies, claiming that they represent the Jewish community. By voting in large numbers and supporting pro-Israel candidates attuned to the needs of our community, we can send a powerful message.
The ranked choice voting system gives us the opportunity to support outstanding candidates as our first choice, while ranking other candidates, whose views we may not share but who are preferable to their opponents, to ensure the defeat of those who are hostile to the concerns of our community.
You can check if you are able to vote in the primary online at vote.nyc/page/am-i-registered or by phone at 1-866-868-3692.
You can vote early in person between June 13 and June 20 or on Primary Day June 22 at your usual polling place between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. To find your early voting location and hours or your poll site on Primary Day, go to www.findmypollsite.vote.nyc .
To vote by absentee ballot, go to www.vote.nyc/page/absentee-voting-0