Netroots and Anti-Semitism

T-Shirt sold at Netroots Nation calling for people to “Resist Racism, Sexism, Zionism, …”

The Netroots conference has met annually since 2006, and serves as a think-tank for progressive political activists and bloggers especially from the Daily Kos for which the conference was originally known as Yearly Kos. Last week was the first time it was held in Philadelphia, so I decide to give it a try and connect with fellow progressives, strategize on issues of common interest, and learn about various Presidential candidates. Instead, I was frustrated by the idealogical purity required by many participants.

Judaism has informed my progressive values such as standing up to hate, welcoming the oppressed, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and protecting the environment. Moreover, in foreign policy I see Israel as an example (albeit imperfect) of these values and the only true democracy in the Middle East.

I know that there are many on Daily Kos and elsewhere on left who do not share my views of Israel, and I was a bit worried when I browsed the biographies of the Netroots speakers and the attendees and found that all of the references to “Israel” were parts of references to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) and related groups.

Nevertheless, I was heartened to see a panel scheduled entitled How We Fight Anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, it would have been more accurately entitled “How we fight accusations of Anti-Semitism.”

The moderator and panelists spoke well about the threat of anti-Semtism on the right. Trump may not have invented racism or anti-Semitism, but he has certainly given cover to racists and anti-Semites. Anti-Semtism is now more socially acceptable, and what was once said in whispers or dog-whistles is now overt. GOP leaders spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. If even a small number of people are influenced by these memes and come to believe that George Soros and the Jews hate America and are organizing an invasion of illegal immigrants from the South to take our jobs, spread disease, commit crimes and engage in terrorism, then attacks like those at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue are not surprising.

However, the panelists went too far when they claimed that anti-Semitism on the left is entirely a fiction devised by the right in order to divide and conquer the Democrats.

There is some truth to what the panelists said about the Republicans. For example, the GOP accused Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Holocaust denial when she used the term “concentration camp” to describe the detention facilities which the Trump administration uses to hold refugee children. This is an accurate use of the term “concentration camp,” that is, a place where undesired people are collected in overcrowded conditions. Often life in these places are unhealthy, difficult and dangerous. Perhaps some of those who object to AOC’s terminology do not understand the distinction between concentration camps and death camps. However, the true purpose of these accusations was to divide the Democrats and distract from criticism of the President and his immigration policies.

In contrast, when Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar says support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” it is unknown whether her comments stemmed more from ignorance or from anti-Semitism. Either way she deserved to be corrected. Indeed, the Democratic leadership were right when they condemned her.

But we must not bury our heads in the sand and deny every accusation of anti-Semitism. The Republicans do not have a monopoly on anti-Semitism. Nor must we defend ourselves with “what-about-ism.” Even if White Nationalism is a greater threat, we are hypocrites if we white-wash any anti-Semitism on the left. In fact, we probably have more influence over our allies than over our opponents, so attention to lesser transgressions of our allies is worthwhile.

In Judaism, we have the notion of Tocheichah (constructive criticism). I hope that this article is read in this spirit. I do not point out fault in order debase my friends but rather to help them understand how we can all do better.

Doc Jess attended the panel with me and she had a similar reaction to mine, and walked out. (See the Democratic Convention Watch website for more about her experience at Netroots Nation.)

I stayed behind and waited until the end in order to ask a question about the reality of a certain amount of anti-Semitism on the left. I hoped to describe my frustration when I would happen to join a political rally for a progressive cause only to find that it had been co-opted by an anti-Zionist group.

The panel ended without an opportunity to ask this question, so I continued on to the next event on my agenda — a rally on Arch Street against the mass incarceration of children on the border. There was a large crowd and I was glad to hold a sign high and help protect the rights of these children.

However, soon the crowd was led in a chant repeating the refrain “No Walls Anywhere: Not America, Not Israel.”

All of a sudden, as a supporter of Israel, I no longer felt welcome.

I believe in freedom of speech. If the person with the megaphone wanted to hold a rally in favor of the BDS movement, then he is certainly welcome to do so. But please do it one block away, or an hour earlier or later. If you think your cause is right, then advertise it and like-minded people will come and support you. But you should not take a rally intended to support immigrants and refugees at the US boarder and turn it into a rally about Israel. Either you are co-opting the crowd which someone else organized, or you are engaging in bait-and-switch and tricking people like me into seeming to rally in favor of a cause they would not otherwise support.

I tried to be heard, but to no avail. I saw other people in the crowd who seemed similarly distressed by the turn which the rally had just taken. I then separated myself from the group and returned alone through the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

One of the panelists from that morning recognized me and expressed her regret that insufficient time had been allotted for questions and I had been unable to ask mine. I took the opportunity to tell her what concerned me about the panel and how the rally I had just left was a perfect case in point. She was surprised that I do not support BDS and told me that if I do not support BDS then they have no need for me at a rally of any kind.

I do not necessarily see eye-to-eye with the candidates I support on every issue, but there is a saying in politics, “If you agree with me on 9 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist!”

Similarly, if we adopt a narrow view of politics and shun the support on a given issue of anyone who does not support us on another issue, then we are doing ourselves harm. We should embrace a wide tent and welcome the support of anyone who is generally supportive of many of our goals. That is the way to build a majority and win elections. Similarly, in Congress, we should seek common ground and create alliances and co-sponsor bills even with legislators that diametrically oppose us on other issues. [Editor’s Note: Former President Obama recently made a speech against rigidity among Progressives: “you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues, and when that happens, typically the overall effort and movement weakens.” Also, an article about Black Lives Matter adding criticism of Israel to their agenda.]

There is much to do, but we can make progress one issue at a time. If instead we shun those who lack ideological purity, then we will accomplish nothing.

Anti-Semitism in Europe Today and What it Means for America

Photo by OsamaK https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:OsamaK

Eldad Beck is a multilingual, Sorbonne-educated Israeli journalist based in Europe. He has spent the past several years walking about the streets of Berlin, Paris, Budapest, and other cities listening to the people. According to him, anti-Semitism is alive and well in the hearts and minds of regular Europeans. The trends in Europe may be a roadmap for the Jewish community in the United States.

Since he covers the whole continent, he spoke of the situation in several countries. For the sake of brevity, we will focus on his experience in Germany.

Mr. Beck was curious about what young Germans think about Jews these days. Do they know what anti-Semitism is, and if it exists in Germany? Why is Israel so negatively seen in Germany?

He asked a class of college students about the news media. What do the reports say, and how does that make them feel? The students analyzed all the major German newspapers. They discovered that whether they were politically to the left or to the right, regardless of the other conflicts in the Middle East, all of the publications have an anti-Israel slant.

Mr. Beck wondered how Germany arrived at this place. He asked the students why they think Jews are negatively portrayed. The students shared three reasons that German gentiles don’t like Jews.

The first is that they feel like there are many Jews in Germany. Mr. Beck asked them how many Jews they thought live in Germany. They thought the community numbers one million. In reality, the Jewish population of Germany is two hundred thousand.

The second reason Germans don’t like Jews is that they think that there are many Jews in politics, with an outsize influence. The truth is that there is not a single Jewish politician serving in the Bundestag.

The third reason the students gave is that there are many Jews in the media. There are very few Jews in the German media.

How did these German college students come to have these beliefs?

They never learned about anti-Semitism. These young Germans were never taught about the process in Germany that led up to the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is only one part of the hatred of Jews. It is possible to have anti-Semitism in places where there are no Jews.

The hatred of Jews started as a religious hatred. The issue was over who has the true religion. When Jews were faced with a choice of life or death, they could change their religion in order to save their lives. This is what occurred during the Inquisition.

The Inquisition was the root of the second type of hatred of Jews, a hatred of a race. Jews who converted to Catholicism, or “New Christians,” were not really considered clean by the Old Christians.

“Semite” replaced the word for “Jews” in Europe. Historically, anti-Semitism was hatred of Jews, and of no other Semites.

The State of Israel was founded after the Holocaust. Zionism was not a response to Nazism. It had originated much earlier, in the late 1890s, with Theodor Herzl.

Anti-Zionism is the political hatred of Jews. According to the anti-Zionists, Jews are not allowed to have their own state. In Europe, the word “Zionist” is a curse.

Germany has a double crisis. There is a revolt against the elites and a conflict between “old” Europeans and “new” immigrants and refugees. The one point of agreement between all these people is their hatred of Jews. This engenders all sorts of conspiracy theories.

One such theory is that Angela Merkel is a Jew. Mrs. Merkel supports Israel. She promotes good relations between Israel and Germany. Some Germans compare what the Nazis did to the Jews with what Israelis do to the Palestinians. This is a way for them to clean their conscience and memory from the Holocaust.

Germany has allowed so many Muslim immigrants into the country that the Germans now feel threatened by them. The German authorities refuse to acknowledge Muslim anti-Semitism. When anti-Semitic attacks occur, the police are afraid of interfering and escalating the situation. In 2014, three men of Palestinian descent threw a Molotov cocktail at the Wuppertal Synagogue near Dusseldorf. A German court ruled that this is considered a legitimate expression of anger at Israel.

Mr. Beck concluded that the difference between today and the past is the existence of the State of Israel. Jews all over the world have a country they can go to. Standing by Israel is one of the best guarantees against all forms of hatred of Jews. The fight against hatred must not stop. The battle today is against the existence of the State of Israel. Those who oppose Israel want the Jews to be weak and dependent on them. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement is not a boycott movement. It is a movement to annihilate the Jewish State. The political slogan chanted by members of the BDS, “Palestine from the river to the sea,” means all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This means the destruction of the State of Israel.

There are 1.6 million Jews in the European Union. 38% of these Jews are considering immigration. 80% will not wear external Jewish symbols such as a Star of David or yarmulke, or go to Jewish public events. If the Jewish community in the United States does not open its eyes to the threats against it, it will inevitably face the same situation.

Resisting Anti-Semitism: Past and Present, Local and Global

Swarthmore College will host a landmark symposium, “Resisting Anti-Semitism: Past and Present, Local and Global” that will feature moderated discussions among scholars from all over the world and a keynote address by Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum.

Co-hosted by Atshan and Rabbi Michael Ramberg of the Interfaith Center and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, the all-day symposium will bring together academics, rabbis, activists, and artists, among others, with expertise in three regions – North America, Europe, and the Middle East and North Africa – and engage them in conversation with each other and the Swarthmore community. Enriched by diverse perspectives from the distinguished panelists, symposium participants will gain a deeper understanding of the form of prejudice and violence, an enhanced commitment to opposing it, and a strengthened ability to do so.

The 10 panelists include academics with varied specialties from institutions in the US and Israel, rabbis from North America and Europe, activists from around the US, and the author of Call Me By Your Name André Aciman, who will share his experience growing up Jewish in Egypt. Keynote speaker Sharon Kleinbaum has played a pivotal role in efforts to combat both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as the lead Rabbi of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York, the largest LGBTQ synagogue community in the world.

The event is free and open to the public.

Book Review: “Not Our Kind”

"Not Our Kind" book cover showing a woman with her back to us.

“Not Our Kind”

As a Jewish student at Vassar College, Kitty Zeldis was considered “not our kind” by the WASP elite. She joked to a friend that she should have been named “Katherine Anne Worthington” to fit in with the gentile environment, rather than the Jewish name her parents had given her. This experience was the inspiration for her recent novel, “Not Our Kind.” [Read more…]

Sharing Stories Across Generations

By Rosie Gertzman

This spring, students from the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy Holocaust Education and Reflection Club (HEAR Club) loaded up a bus and headed to Wesley Enhanced Living (WEL) in Media, a senior living facility previously known as Martins Run. The eighth- through 11th-grade students embarked on a day of sharing, learning and growing with the WEL residents. It was a day filled with laughter, tears and thought-provoking questions. [Read more…]

Professor Posts Anti-Semitic Message on an Official University Site

Sixty organizations – Jewish, Christian, educational and civil-rights-focused – have demanded an immediate investigation of anti-Semitism at San Francisco State University (SFSU). For years, the campus has been a hostile environment for many in the university’s Jewish community. Jewish students have reported numerous acts of harassment, discrimination, intimidation and suppression of speech at the hands of anti-Zionist students and faculty. But this time, the discrimination is in plain view on a university social media platform. [Read more…]

Why Israel Should Not Be Extolling President Trump

Photo by Wayne McLean (Jgritz) http://www.waynemclean.com/

Jerusalem. Photo: Wayne McLean

Israel is going gaga over President Trump, largely for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There are over 110 “God bless Trump” signs in Jerusalem. There are plans to name a future rail station near the Kotel (Western Wall) after Trump. The Jerusalem Friends of Zion Heritage Center put up a four-story display thanking him. But, there are many reasons to reconsider the abundant praise.

A major reason is that Trump, along with a majority of Republicans, is in denial about climate change, an existential threat to Israel, the US, and the world. Despite the overwhelming consensus of climate experts and the many recent severe climate events, Trump is the only major world leader denying climate change. He has pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris climate pact agreed to by all of the 195 nations attending, including Israel. He appointed a climate denier as director of the US Environmental Protection Agency. He also has filled many other important positions with those who deny anthropomorphic global change. He is doing everything possible to eliminate or weaken recent efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, claiming that he is freeing businesses from regulations.

Israelis should be especially concerned about climate threats. Due to climate change, the Middle East is becoming hotter and drier and, according to military experts, this makes violence, terrorism, and war more likely. If the rapid melting of polar icecaps and glaciers continue, the coastal plain that contains most of Israel’s population and infrastructure will be inundated by a rising Mediterranean Sea.

Israel is already facing the effects of climate change, now in the fifth year of a severe drought. The water level of the Sea of Galilee is at a 100 year low, much of the Jordan River is reduced to a trickle, and the Dead Sea is shrinking rapidly.  Water experts warn that if the Sea of Galilee continues to shrink, it could become a salt sea like the Dead Sea, as underground springs release saline water into it.

Another important reason is that Trump’s policies are contrary to basic Jewish values in terms of concern for the disadvantaged, the stranger, the hungry, and the poor. Rather than improving Obamacare, which provided health insurance to tens of millions of Americans, Trump supported health legislation that would have caused up to 32 million Americans to lose their insurance and others to pay higher premiums. Rather than supporting efforts to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure (given a grade of  D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers), Trump and Republican legislators pushed through a tax bill that greatly benefits the wealthiest Americans and large, profitable corporations. This will increase the U.S. national debt by up to $1.5 trillion, giving the Republicans an excuse to carry out their long-time desires to cut social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and environmental and health protections.

Then there is the issue of Trump’s character. As NY Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens, a former chief editor of the Jerusalem Post, put it in a recent article, Trump’s character involves, “lying, narcissism, and bullying.” He continues: “In place of the usual jousting between the administration and the press, we have a president who fantasizes on Twitter about physically assaulting CNN. In place of a president who defends the honor and integrity of his own officers and agencies, we have one who humiliates his attorney general, denigrates the F.B.I. and compares our intelligence agencies to the Gestapo.” Do we really want to honor such a person and make him a role model for our children and grandchildren?

In addition, lavishing praise on Trump is adding to the current split between many American Jews and Israel. Almost 80% of American Jews disapprove of the job Trump is doing, according to a September poll by the American Jewish Committee. So when they see how Israel is going overboard in praising Trump it adds to the alienation many Americans feel due to recent Israeli decisions on prayer at the Kotel, conversion, and other issues. This could reduce the moral, political, and financial support Israel receives from American Jews.

Yes, but doesn’t Trump still deserve praise for his strong support of Israel? Somehow negative things about Trump’s positions and statements about Israel are being ignored. For example: Trump has not kept his pledge of seeing that there would be no space between the US and Israel, as he has demanded several times that Israel limit settlement construction. Trump’s $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia reduces Israel’s qualitative military edge. In his Holocaust remembrance statement Trump omitted any mention of Jews. Trump appointed white supremacists to senior positions and retweeted neo-Nazi propaganda on several occasions. He failed to quickly condemn anti-Semitism several times. He has left the post of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism vacant since taking office. He ended President Obama’s tradition of hosting a White House Seder. He compromised Israeli intelligence by sharing top secret information with Russia. Since Trump became president there has been a sharp increase in incidents of anti-Semitic and other bigoted statements and acts. There are many other examples.

Trump deserves praise for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but not to be lionized, for the reasons above and more. Of course, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, always has been and always will be. But the nations of the world will only acknowledge that if it is part of a comprehensive, sustainable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Trump’s pronouncement about Jerusalem is good for Israel’s morale, it did not change the overall situation. It did cause much resentment among the Palestinians, other Arabs, and many nations, led to some violence, showed further evidence of widespread opposition to Israel’s position on Jerusalem through the votes in the UN Security Council and General Assembly, and resulted in a further decrease in the potential of a peace agreement. Also, Trump again signed a waiver so that the US embassy will not soon be moved to Jerusalem and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that it will likely not be moved during Trump’s current term.

Yes, the peace process has been basically dead for some time, and the Palestinians certainly deserve much blame. But Israel needs to do everything possible to obtain a resolution of the conflict in order to avert continued and possibly increased violence and diplomatic criticism, effectively respond to her economic, environmental, and other domestic problems, and remain a Jewish and a democratic state. Many Israel strategic and military experts agree with this assessment, including all the living ex-heads of the Shin Bet. Of course, Israel’s security has to be paramount in any agreement.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island

 

Why Anti-Semites Oppose the Marcus Nomination

–Naomi Friedman

Kenneth Marcus.

Note: In January, 2018, the Senate committee that oversees education approved the nomination of Kenneth Marcus. The full Senate needs to confirm his nomination.

Kenneth Marcus, founder, president and general counsel for the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, has dedicated most of his career to fighting for civil rights. Marcus was nominated by President Trump for the position of assistant secretary of education for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Meanwhile, anti-Israel groups have been aggressively working to block his confirmation. [Read more…]

Sen. Scott Wagner Berates George Soros With Anti-Semitic Comment

Pennsylvania state Sen. Scott Wagner, a wealthy Republican and a Trump supporter who is running for governor of the commonwealth, has had some run-ins this year with political trackers. Trackers are campaign hires responsible for videotaping opposing candidates, with the goal of recording politically useful gaffes. In May, Wagner was captured on tape assaulting a tracker like a violent thug. Three months later, in the following exchange with a tracker about billionaire George Soros, Wagner came off as an anti-Semite: [Read more…]

Local Rally Denounces Right-Wing Extremists in Wake of Charlottesville

 

Rally held at Linwood Park. Photo: Sam Haut.

Over the weekend at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a Confederate statue, neo-Nazis and white supremacists skirmished with counter protesters. The rally left three people dead and many more injured, causing shock among people across the country.

Blessing Osazuwa, a sophomore at Drexel University, was one of the many horrified by what was happening in Virginia and felt she had to do something. Her need to act turned into a rally called Stand Up for Love that was held at Linwood Park in Ardmore on Sunday evening, with about 300 people in attendance. [Read more…]