COMMENTARY: We must confront Anti-semitism directly
It has been weeks since the heinous Pittsburgh shooting in which 11 Jewish worshippers were massacred in their most sacred quarters by a Nazi terrorist. This past November also marks 80 years since the Night of Broken Glass saw the destruction of Jewish homes, schools and synagogues at the hands of the Nazis who would go on to slaughter 6 million of Europe’s Jews.
Today, a quick flirt with anti-Semitism is a bipartisan enterprise. Admittedly, I have never seriously pondered a threat to my own safety or that of my community for I had never taken political rhetoric seriously. What a mistake that was. While worries of anti-Semitic terror have undoubtedly persisted in Jewish psyches, beginning even before the Holocaust, it has never become as pervasive as it has in recent weeks in the minds of Jewish-Americans.
It has taken weeks for me to collect my thoughts on recent events. It was most difficult for me to grapple with the fact that pervasive anti-Semitism has flooded our political discourses right under our noses.
As a society, we are slowly getting better at pointing out anti-Semitism when we see it. The outpouring of support after last year’s violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville was indicative of this growing solidarity. Yet, where the ancient phenomenon is equally as pervasive among social justice movements, we fail to extinguish the flames of anti-Semitism which have spread exponentially among movements which are otherwise worthy of our support.
Figureheads of this problematic discourse, Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez, the leaders of the Women’s March national team, have unabashedly endorsed their ties to Louis Farrakhan, dubbed “America’s Leading Anti-Semite” by the Anti-Defamation League. He has lauded Adolf Hitler as a “great man” and just two weeks before the Pittsburgh shooting, he called Jews “termites,” as to implicitly endorse the genocidal goals of this so-called “great man.”
Only some weeks before Pittsburgh, Sarsour had urged a listening crowd not to “humanize” Israeli Jews in situations of terror plaguing their communities in Israel. Anti-Semitism serves an express role to dehumanize Jews to the point where the worst becomes acceptable. Sarsour received no significant condemnation for her outrageously hateful statement. She has seemingly accused Jewish-Americans of dual loyalty and has even downplayed and diminished the very present reality of anti-Semitism.
Often viewed as one of America’s most prominent social justice activists, Sarsour’s thumbs up to anti-Semitism are not only an affront to Jews, of whom an estimated 70 percent are Left-leaning voters, but to the social justice efforts she claims to represent. One cannot simultaneously fight for justice while trampling on that of another.
In academia, hostility to the Jewish community is often taken as a given. Here at Rutgers, the thriving and diverse Jewish community has seen anti-Semitism in the academic realm with multiple professors in the public spotlight in 2017. Only a few months ago, Rutgers’ Center for Women's Global Leadership suggested that a “struggle for justice” includes calling out Zionism as a form of racism, a preposterous assertion that most Jewish people would find quite offensive. A concerned email asking for clarification from the center’s executive director went ignored.
In her book, Jasbir Puar, a professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, accused the Jewish state of maiming Palestinians in order to control them and propagates the ludicrous and baseless claims that Israel’s pro-LGBT legislative record exists for the sake of propaganda. A legal definition of anti-Semitism would unequivocally support such a label on the aforementioned. Rutgers unabashedly lauds Puar’s grievance scholarship which many have dubbed a modern “blood libel.”
Jews have long fought for change alongside other marginalized communities in the United States and have a historic place within the civil rights movement. When Jews do not feel safe in the company of activists and scholars who will not, at the very least, decry anti-Semitic hatred targeted at Jewish people's very existence, we have a serious problem to face as a society.
In early October, weeks before the Pittsburgh attack, Amanda Berman of the Zioness Movement, who is working toward positive change in progressive spaces, spoke at Rutgers University about engaging in progressive causes without checking one’s Jewish identity at the door. Berman discussed the need to make change in these important and influential movements like the Women’s March.
It is only now that I realize the urgency of her words. If we do not seek change now, we can only expect to confront more anti-Semitism in movements claiming to be progressive and yet, for Jews, are nothing of the sort.
We need to clean up our politics. Discourse on the far-Right and far-Left are undeniably often tinged with anti-Semitic sentiment that, at the very least, deserves condemnation. While anti-Semitism emanating from both sides of the aisle are equally condemnable, movements on the Left that claim to support progressive values should aim to do just that – and that means being inclusive and sensitive to an overwhelmingly progressive Jewish segment.
Only days after the paralyzing anti-Semitic attack in Pittsburgh, I traveled to attend the shiva of an elderly victim. In Jewish tradition, shiva is a period of aiding mourners in overcoming their grief. And the grief was inconceivable. How does one overcome the grief and agony of a loved one’s murder at the hand of a Nazi in the 21st century? Some victims had even witnessed how good defeated the cruelest of anti-Semitic regimes in history only to be murdered by an anti-Semite in the United States in 2018.
So where do we go from here? We need to get better at calling out anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head.
Joshua Gannon is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in Middle Eastern studies and political science.
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