By Steve Feldman, Greater Philadelphia ZOA Executive Director
(DECEMBER 7, 2022 / PHILADELPHIA JEWISH EXPONENT) As any coach, athlete or sports enthusiast knows, if one is not even on the playing field, there is no chance of winning. Even if one’s opponent falls flat on their faces, the best one can hope for is a tie if you are not at least present.
Philadelphia’s government hosted an event and issued a proclamation on November 29 that places the city as a participant in an international observance created to delegitimize Israel and Jewish rights. Philadelphia also endorsed Arab violence against Jews via a promotional poster that featured three clenched fists and three Palestine Liberation Organization flags.
The event, proclamation, remarks by a City Council member at the event and the bellicose poster serve as reminders that the Jewish community and supporters of Israel need to challenge our enemies and their enablers — to be on the metaphorical playing field — although it is no game.
Today for Jews in America, physical and emotional well-being are jeopardized; the ability to freely observe our religion is at stake in some cases, as is our right to freedom of speech/expression such as in support of Israel and Zionism. Rampant attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions, and the incessant incitement of hatred and resentment against Jews have gotten us to this juncture. Our future here rests on what the Jewish people and our friends and allies do in response to the attacks and intimidation, as well as proactively.
Jewish persons today in America who wear garb or a symbol that easily identifies that person as Jewish are being violently attacked; many are afraid to hold an Israeli flag or wear an “I support Israel” shirt or hat — Jewish or not — for fear of attack; synagogues, other Jewish institutions and Jewish events require unprecedented security. Those who are determined to harm Jews have been emboldened.
They are emboldened by celebrities who sow resentment and hatred of us.
They are emboldened by elected and appointed officials, politicians and political operatives.
They are emboldened by news media in its various forms.
They are emboldened by religious leaders.
They are emboldened by social media “influencers” and prominent podcasters.
They are emboldened even by some within the very Jewish community that is under attack who aid and collaborate with those harming us.
And they are emboldened by our community’s weakness, indifference, apathy and fear. It is true that to stop the attacks and incitement we need more, and more-diverse tools than there are in a typical Swiss Army knife, and each of these tools must be utilized — both the quiet, behind-the-scenes tools and the public tools activists have employed for generations.
In proclaiming “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” in Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney and other city officials committed an atrocity against the Jewish people by echoing a dastardly United Nations-led expression of regret that Israel was re-established and that Jews finally again had self-determination in our homeland.
The city claimed it was not political. But the violence-themed posters and Yasser Arafat’s blood-drenched PLO flags contradicted officials. As one communal leader from another organization put it: “It looks like Philadelphia is calling for jihad.” The poster included the imprimaturs of Kenney’s office of the city representative and his department of immigrant affairs. Officials claimed the purpose of the event was “to celebrate the rich and significant contributions Palestinian community has made to our beautiful city” — but they could have done that on any date.
Nov. 29 is significant. It is a date that Jews have celebrated since 1947 thanks to the United Nations partition plan vote paving the way for a Jewish state on land where Jews are the indigenous people.
Arabs and Muslims see that date from a different perspective: Many refuse to accept an independent Jewish state in the Middle East and reject Jewish self-determination. On the 30th anniversary, Nov. 29, 1977, the United Nations voted to in essence reject the Jewish state and Jewish indigenousness. Thus: The date and the poster and the presence of PLO flags are indeed political.
The city had a public ceremony outside of the city’s Municipal Services Building across from City Hall on Nov. 29.
For the second consecutive year.
Last year, Israel’s consul general pleaded with Kenney to cancel the event or at minimum not to speak at the event. Kenney ignored him. Local Jewish communal leaders including those from the Zionist Organization of America’s Greater Philadelphia Chapter reached out to Kenney and his staff to express concern about a second event. Concerns and pleas to cancel it were again ignored.
Greater Philadelphia ZOA took an additional different path: We showed up at the event at noon on Nov. 29, and we stood tall, proudly waving our American and Israeli flags, and some of those who participated in our protest vigil also displayed signs in support of Israel and our people’s rights.
Greater Philadelphia ZOA and our activists, and others who joined us went onto the playing field. We showed up; we showed that the Jewish people will always be there in support of the Jewish state of Israel, our right to self-determination and in defense of our heritage and history. If the city opts to do this again, we will be there again — and we invite all of the Jewish community, all of the pro-Israel community and all decent people to be there with us.
Meanwhile: Philadelphia has not had an event to celebrate its Jewish immigrants, nor has it had an event to specifically honor its Israeli immigrants.
Steve Feldman is the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Zionist Organization of America.
This op-ed was originally published in the Philadelphia Exponent and can be viewed here.