This past Rosh ha-Shanah, I spoke about anti-Semitism in America, and I acknowledged then that I rarely speak about it. Of course, no one could have predicted the massacre in Pittsburgh, or anywhere else in our country. In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh massacre, I spoke about it on Shabbat and wrote in the newsletter and my blog. And now, again.
Anti-Semitism is found primarily, though not exclusively, at the extremes of society (and our country, politically, is becoming dominated by extremism.) Historically, anti-Semitism can be found among the religious and the non-religious, men and women, the under-educated or the highly educated. It can be found bottom-up -- spurred by ordinary people; or top-down -- led by the intellectuals and political leaders.
Purim is a story of top-down anti-Semitism, Haman’s hatred for Mordechai leading to a decree against all the Jews of the Empire. In America, we are familiar with various initiators: anti-Semites have included populist white supremacists in the form of neo-Nazis and the KKK, and the Pittsburgh murderer, and from otherwise esteemed leaders like Henry Ford (1920’s), Charles Lindbergh (1930’s), and Father Charles Coughlin (1930’s).
One source that has recently gained attention is from the extreme left. In recent decades anti-Semitism has fomented from the radical anti-Israel left. Now, it is found in the new leaders of the Women’s March. I summarize and highlight from a recent column by Elliot Kaufman, in the Wall Street Journal:
Two of the group’s leaders, Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory, “in the reporter’s paraphrase,” said: 'Jewish people bear special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people' and were leaders of the slave trade.” You will recall that these were the oft-repeated accusations of Louis Farrakhan, who also publicly smeared Jews and Judaism: Jews were “the children of the devil,” and Judaism is a “gutter religion.” Indeed, three of the four leaders of the Women’s March (the others include Linda Sarsour and Mari Lynn Foulger), are unabashed admirers of Louis Farrakhan. Sarsour, Mallory, and Perez praise Farrakhan. Mallory called him GOAT (Greatest of all Time); Sarsour: “May God bless him.” They have been asked repeatedly to repudiate Farrakhan, but they refuse to do so. Farrakhan’s disciples are gaining power and prominence.
On the extreme right, radical conservative spokeswoman Ann Coulter has made a series of incendiary comments. She has been accused of using the term “globalist” as a code word for defaming Jews. Her tweets include: “Sandy Koufax is a globalist.” “Paul Newman is only half globalist.” When ex-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan recently learned that he had Jewish DNA, Coulter, who backed his white-supremacist challenger in 2016, sarcastically tweeted, “Another reason to love him!” (Back in 2007, Coulter, a committed Christian, in an exchange with Florida Congressman Ted Deutch, who is Jewish, said she “hoped one day all Jews would be perfected.” Now Dennis Prager defended her that espousing this mainstream Christian evangelical belief is not anti-Semitic. Others disagree.)
Even outside of the US, a new controversy is bubbling about Prime Minister Netanyahu. In an attempt to build international support, he has cultivated many new foreign leaders. But many are extreme right-wing authoritarian, and some in Europe have been allied with those who have minimized their country’s role in the Sho’ah. Does developing support for Israel come at the expense of local Jewish populations’ past experiences and their present and future challenges? (For further reading, see NY Times articles by Michelle Goldberg (December), Jonathan Weisman, Matti Friedman, and Batya Ungar-Sargon from the Forward.)
The question that faces the American public and our political leaders is whether these bigoted views will be clearly and definitively rejected, or gradually creep into the mainstream. Will the spokespeople be elevated, formally or informally, into leadership? Will anti-Semitism in America bottom-up into national leadership?
Recently, in an interview with the NY Times, Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa rhetorically asked, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” For those comments, and his history of accentuating the white race, King was (a) condemned by Democratic and Republican political leaders; (b) highlighted in news shows and excoriated; (c) reprimanded by the House; and (d) stripped by the Republican party of all his committee assignments, rendering him politically impotent.
What will happen to Sarsour, Mallory, and Perez? Is there comparable media coverage? Leadership must not only explicitly reject the message, it must not associate with the messengers; else it will be an enabler. If it does not dissociate itself from the anti-Semites, if it welcomes purveyors of anti-Semitism, bad times are ahead for Jews, and for America.
We, at Traditional, as at many American synagogues and Jewish institutions, are already literally bearing costs. The Board has decided to employ a security guard for Shabbat, holydays, and special events, to deter and prevent would-be assailants. It has decided “that it is better to be safe than sorry.” Here, we need your support, as the letter sent to you explained.
Our holidays carry enduring vital messages. Purim celebrates redemption from anti-Semitism in the Persian Empire of the 400’s BCE. Throughout history, there were popular- and elite-led anti-Semitic movements and actions, many religious, some secular. The pattern recurs. First, we were verbally smeared, then generally discriminated against, then legally disadvantaged, and in the end, often exiled, wounded and murdered. At each juncture, people, particularly leaders, had a choice. With our own efforts, and with God’s help, I pray that we are redeemed from this false and malicious trend, as we were 2,400 years ago. Come celebrate Purim with us. “All Jews are responsible for one another.”