by Rabbi Yaakov Menken in Newsweek
Less than a century after the Holocaust, antisemitism is sweeping across America to a degree unimaginable a few decades ago. Though just two percent of the U.S. population, Jews are the most targeted religious group in America. An identifiably Jewish person is several times more likely than a member of any other minority to be a victim of a hate crime. But don’t expect to hear this from DEI officials; many of them are guilty of antisemitic bias themselves.
That well-paid diversity advocates pronounce Jews, those whom the Nazis massacred for being non-white, to be beneficiaries of “white privilege” is only one symptom of the underlying disease. Wilful blindness to left-wing hate has allowed it to fester.
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Recognizing antisemitism is not always easy. It disguises itself behind facades that grant it respectability in different societies and cultures. It is the grandfather of all conspiracy theories, and the untrained ear will often confuse antisemitic bias with legitimate opinion and vice versa.
In Christian Europe, of course, that disguise was religion itself. The Enlightenment demanded a new, “intellectual” rationale, and “Anti-semitism”—the academic study of Jews’ purportedly inferior ethnicity—came into vogue. Today, of course, barefaced racism no longer has a cultural purchase; society’s supreme concern is respect for human rights. But this noble cause has been derailed, like religion and science before it, by antipathy towards Jews.
Modern definitions of antisemitism share predictable flaws: first, they often focus on the aforementioned facades rather than on the underlying hate. Still worse, they can be accused, accurately or not, of partisan bias. And finally, as the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks observed, “most antisemites do not think of themselves as antisemites.” In other words, antisemites will define antisemitism in ways that exonerate their own bigotry. Even those who dispute hateful positions may not recognize that they are opposing a familiar evil.
Classical Jewish thought, by contrast, removes the masks and identifies the underlying lies that antisemites tell themselves. Rabbi Naftali Z.Y. Berlin, dean of the foremost Rabbinic school at the end of the 19th century, specified two core superstitions: the idea that all Jewish property is stolen via fraud and deceit and that Jews, deeming themselves superior, denigrate and harm everyone else.
These two red flags are unambiguous. Given that Rabbi Berlin passed away decades before Adolf Hitler rose to power, no one can accuse him of political partisanship. His intent was merely to inform Jews regarding the hatred they faced.
This brings us to something I call the Promised Land paradox. The story of the Promised Land is part of common parlance. Everyone knows what it is, where it is, and to whom it was promised—and how central it is to the faith of Moses and the Jewish people. Yet millions of Americans, including many who claim to value both religious tolerance and human rights, have adopted a fictional narrative built upon a European colonialist term for that Jewish homeland: Palestine. To the community of Rabbinic scholars, the source of this revisionist history is sadly familiar.
In this alternate reality, descendants of Arab marauders are “indigenous Palestinians,” whose homeland, by miraculous coincidence, happens to trace the borders of modern Israel. The Jews, in other words, are “stealing” Judea, precisely as Rabbi Berlin predicted.
Note, by the way, that “Palestinians” referred to Jews for over 2,000 years. There was no sizable Arab population in the Holy Land when the Palestinian Talmud was written, and even in the 1930s, the “Palestinian” soccer uniform featured the Star of David. Today, “Palestinian” is used to racially exclude those same Jews and to call them “colonialists” for returning home.
Despite multiple attempts by Arab armies to repeat the Nazi genocide in modern Israel, Israel provides its Arab citizens with superior health care, higher education, and the right to vote. Yet it is demonized with words like “oppression,” “brutality,” and “ethnic cleansing.” This is incomprehensible without recourse to Rabbi Berlin’s trenchant observation: antisemites consider Jews inherently bigoted against others.
There is no debate among Rabbinic scholars, even those who steadfastly oppose modern Zionism, that boycotts of Israel for alleged theft of “Palestinian” land are rooted in classic antisemitism. Those who claim otherwise are at least ignorant, if not worse, about antisemitism and its manifestations.
In the end, it is insufficient merely to deny that Israel is a racist, apartheid state. The reality is that only a racist would call Israel an apartheid state—a racist of a particularly malignant and dangerous form.
Political scientist Joseph Overton posited that in every society there is a range, or window, of acceptable ideas. Rabbi Sacks said that antisemitism, or any hate, becomes dangerous in a democracy when it moves from the fringes into a mainstream party, the party’s reputation is not harmed, and those who protest it are vilified. He was not speaking about America, but his words apply today: hatred of Jews, when expressed against Jewish self-determination in the Jewish homeland, has moved into the Overton window—and into Congress.
For all the initiatives that have and can be taken against antisemitism, the most crucial is to restore the Overton window to a humane place.
In early 2019, former congressman Steve King was reported to have endorsed white supremacy. From that moment until he was voted out, he was persona non grata. It was nearly impossible for him to find cosponsors for proposed legislation.
By contrast, 10 Leftists in Congress recently endorsed racist bias against Israel, even boycotting Israel’s own left-wing president when he came to address them. Yet other Representatives, including several with outstanding records of fairness and friendship towards Jews and Israel of their own, have continued to cosponsor legislation from those 10.
That is what must change for the Overton window to again encompass only positions compatible with a civilized society. Congress must, in a bipartisan fashion, repudiate racism in its ranks—even when expressed against Jews.
Originally published in Newsweek
Photo Credit: Ted Eytan