Jews Need to Unite and ‘Go On the Offensive’ Against Antisemitism, Assert Leaders
By Dmitriy Shapiro
(JANUARY 28, 2022 / JNS) Jewish leaders at a virtual panel hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, held on Wednesday to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday, were told by experts that the community should unite and go on offense against antisemites across the political spectrum.
The hour-long event was moderated by Conference chair Dianne Lob, who discussed antisemitism with former Obama administration Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Ira Forman, his Trump administration counterpart Elan Carr, and Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC).
All three agreed that in the past decade, antisemitism has been growing, as indicated by data from the Anti-Defamation League, the FBI, and other organizations.
“One of the things I think we’ve all seen since 2017 is the end of certain taboos about saying things about Jews, as well as others, that four or five, six years ago people would have thought twice about saying this,” said Forman, pointing to the conspiracy theories about the Rothschilds and the coronavirus pandemic on the political Right and Left.
“If we only criticize antisemitism from our political opponents and not people in our own party, our own ideology, we really aren’t caring about antisemitism. We’re really not battling antisemitism. We’re just using the platform of antisemitism to wage war against our political opponents,” said Forman. “And those are those of us on the Left, like myself, those on the Right, have done too much of this and we have to end it.”
Carr followed Forman, saying that the fact that antisemitism is rising just eight decades after 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust speaks to the insatiable hatred and bloodlust for the Jewish people. Post-Shoah, he said, it was taboo to be a Jew-hater, compared to the uptick in antisemitism seen in the past 10 to 15 years.
He pointed out that one more contemporary contributing factor was social media and the internet.
“It is terrifying how much more efficient and how much more fast the process of radicalization happens online. And all three sources—ideologically diverse as they may be—all three sources of Jew-hatred are making remarkably efficient use of the internet and social media to drive their venom at the speed of a click around the world,” said Carr. “That’s the far-Right—these ethnic supremacists on the far-Right—the anti-Zionists and Israel-haters on the Left, and militant Islam.”
Carr said those challenges should not be met with censorship. He said Jews have to “counter the tsunami” of online antisemitism, which doesn’t only target Jews, but is a primary factor in other maladies such as racism and polarization, “fraying the very fabric of our republic.”
He agreed with Forman that another change was the mainstreaming and legitimization of hatred against Jews, which he said in the past have come mainly from the Left.
“Obviously, on the right—as dangerous and vile and disgusting as the haters on the Right are—essentially still they remain largely in the fringes, in the margins, as repulsive as those margins are,” he said. “We would never have imagined that these things would be said … in classrooms, never mind by radical-Left campus groups, but preached by professors in class, in high schools in Manhattan, on the best college campuses … in polite company, and really, really propagated in a way in the halls of Congress as well. And this is really, really an urgent crisis because the moment that the hatred of the Jewish people becomes accepted, becomes mainstream, becomes tolerated and becomes preached, becomes orthodoxy in certain circles, it will grow and metastasize, and that is something that is new.
“That is a deep and urgent challenge for all of us as we really share this common cause of fighting this ancient scourge,” he said.
‘You’ve Got to Take the Fight to the Enemy’
Lob posed how such assaults don’t become the new normal in light of direct attacks on synagogues, including the Tree of Life Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh; Chabad of Poway, California; and the recent hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.
Forman said security alone cannot fight antisemitism; the Jewish community has to enlist allies from outside the community to help.
He told about a story from the 1990s when a brick was thrown through a window of a child’s room, which had a menorah, by a white nationalist in Billings, Montana. While the area’s Jewish community was very small, the town’s entire community united, including putting menorahs in their windows to show that the white nationalists were not welcome there.
“Unfortunately, sometimes rational arguments alone and don’t move people,” said Forman. “But people are moved when they know that they’re being ostracized because what they say is so abominable.”
“We have to consider this a priority to harden and protect Jewish community assets,” said Carr.
“But, you know, I’m a military officer. I know firsthand from my experience that if all you do in the face of such a threat is simply to kind of circle the wagons and protect your asset, then really you’ve lost and you’ve got to be proactive. You’ve got to take the fight to the enemy.”
An example he said, is to use the resources the community already has, such as intelligence on antisemitism, to monitor and be proactive against threats.
He agreed with Forman that the Jewish community has to start “ostracizing and shaming expressions of antisemitism, wherever they come from. Regardless of the ideological source, the community has to come together and make clear this is unacceptable. [It] might be protected speech under the First Amendment, but it is morally outrageous.”
Manning said there needs to be more education about why Jews are so concerned about antisemitism, saying that Americans know something about the Holocaust, but not the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades. Even some Jews, she said, see antisemitism as a lower level of discrimination. One of the positives she has seen during her time in office was that colleagues come to her and say that they want to join her whenever she wants to speak against antisemitism or about Israel.
‘When Do You Give Those People More Oxygen?’
Mort Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, asked if Jew-haters should be ostracized, then why haven’t Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) been called out by the Democratic leadership, taken off committees, and publicly condemned by name?
“That would go a long way to show that Congress will not tolerate in a serious way, antisemitism,” he said. “Why do you think that hasn’t been done?”
Manning noted that she has called out Omar and gotten a lot of blowback with the first three meeting requests she received from people upset that she called Omar out from rabbis.
As far as the leadership, she says there has to be a balance between calling something out from the “highest mountaintop” as opposed to not.
“When do you give those people more oxygen than they deserve? When do you help them create a platform that helps them raise even more money?” she said.
She pointed out how much cash Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) is able to fundraise when her statements are challenged.
“I believe the same is probably true with Ilhan Omar when she makes a very antisemitic comment. She probably raises a lot of money,” said Manning.
Still, she pointed out when she and her colleagues fought for the standalone Iron Dome funding bill in the House of Representatives, which passed 420-9 votes, it demonstrated that while the anti-Israel wing of the Democratic party may be very vocal, they have little impact on legislation when it comes to Israel or antisemitic incidents.
This article was originally published in JNS and can be viewed here.