It might not have been the kindest thing during my trip to the Holy Land to tell Israelis, who were just bombarded by 1,500 Islamic Jihad rockets and are stuck in the excruciatingly painful fracas over judicial reform, that American Jewry’s house is on fire and that the Jewish establishment there is failing to subdue the flames.
But that was the theme of my talk at Jerusalem’s Begin Center last Monday. It was a book launch for the just-published collection of essays Betrayal: The Failure of American Jewish Leadership, which I co-edited with Avi Goldwasser.
Indeed, antisemitism in the US is careening out of control. According to the FBI, Jews are more likely the targets of hate crimes than Blacks, Latinos, transgenders, and Muslims combined. Nearly every Jewish institution has security, many with armed guards. This is not the country we grew up in.
Antisemitism in the US: Where is the assault against American Jews coming from?
The assault – ideological and increasingly physical – comes simultaneously from four major ideological camps.
Who are our adversaries? First, the white nationalists who attack us based on that older Jew-hatred we’re familiar with. Today, they update their classic picture of the Jew as conniving, greedy, powerful behind the scenes, with the charges that we are the ones who invented multiculturalism and are the ones behind the rising tide of Third World immigration that they believe will remake America.
Second: Black racists – including Black academics, politicians and followers of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Many believe Farrakhan’s lie that the Jews were the masters of the Black slave trade. More recently, Blacks are taught that the Palestinians are just like them: oppressed “people of color.”
Third: radical Muslims, many from antisemitic cultures, who carry an ancient religious hatred and are further inflamed by their tribal support of Palestinians. In American mosques, imams preach hatred of Jews. Muslims have attacked Jews on America’s streets.
The fourth camp consists of anti-Israel radical progressives who now include the most energized segments of the Democratic Party – the Squad. Israel, they preach, is a racist/apartheid state where Jews oppress indigenous, innocent, indigent and, importantly, darker-skinned peoples. This narrative has grown over four decades into support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Recently, progressives supported Nakba Day rallies in more than 35 American cities.
All of this did not happen overnight. It built up over about four decades, slowly.
The book, which has received praise from Dennis Prager, Daniel Pipes, Leil Leibovitz, Ken Levin and Gil Troy, is a collection of 22 essays (an expansion of an original set published in White Rose Magazine, published by Karen Lohman Bloch).
Some pieces are by prominent thinkers and writers – Alan Dershowitz, Jonathan Tobin, Morton Klein, Thane Rosenbaum, Caroline Glick and Richard Landes – who analyze our situation and explain how and why Jewish leaders are failing us. Other essays are by unsung Jewish activists who document the incompetence, the ignorance, even, yes, the perfidy of their local Jewish leaders who refuse to stand up and fight back, or worse, who misguide us about our actual situation.
By “the failing Jewish establishment,” we mean the legacy organizations: the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Community Relations Councils, the Federations, along with most of the Rabbinate. The lone exception among legacy groups is the Zionist Organization of America, led by the courageous and indefatigable Morton Klein. The other groups that are bravely fighting our adversaries – CAMERA, StandWithUs, Club Z, Endowment for Middle East Truth, Aish HaTorah, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Students Supporting Israel, and more – were launched as grassroots groups, precisely because the Jewish establishment was failing.
As our writers describe, the Jewish establishment first failed to intervene against the media defamation of Israel. It then failed to stop harassment and intimidation of Jews on campus. It now is failing to stop anti-Israel education in America’s public high schools, exploding across the nation via ethnic studies curricula and critical race theory. Finally, it failed to recognize the long-term threat of the growing radicalization of the historically moderate American Muslim community.
My talk described how this happened. I used examples from my experience as a Boston Jewish activist who helped lead grassroots Jews to resist. As the essayists describe, the Boston experience is mirrored across the country – and in Canada.
WHAT HAPPENED to the West’s Jews? As the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explained, antisemitism is a virus that morphs predictably: Whatever is any society’s worst sin, that is what the Jews are charged with. In the religious epoch, Jews were the killers of the Christian God. When race “science” – eugenics – was all the rage, Jews were racial vermin. In capitalist societies, the Jews were hated as communists; in communist societies, we were despised as capitalist exploiters. When having a nation-state was the way normal people expressed their values, Jews were cursed as rootless cosmopolites. And so today, when globalism and internationalism are the reigning virtues, Jews are cursed for their state.
Once we were tainted, stripped of having the moral high ground – which, for a while, the guilt and shame from the Holocaust provided – all hell could be loosed against us. Well, the virus mutated into anti-Israelism, or Palestinianism, and Jews worldwide are tainted as oppressors. The “new antisemitism” pierced our post-Holocaust shield.
The Jewish establishment left us practically defenseless in the face of this new mutant strain, and that is why – I know it’s a serious charge – we are in this awful situation.
To make matters worse, a new “woke-progressive” ideology that is undeniably and inevitably anti-Jewish has defeated classical liberalism in many key institutions and has become an accelerant to the mounting antisemitism.
Classic liberalism believes in equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion and/or sexual orientation. It welcomed and supported Jewish life in America. The new ideology – which goes by many names: woke, progressivism, political correctness, intersectionality, etc. – insists instead on equal results. If there are fewer Black or Latino lawyers proportional to their numbers in society than there are white or Jewish lawyers, that proves that society is unjust and racist. Those who achieved success did so by exploiting the underachieving minorities. Success in life is proof that you have oppressed or have benefited by the oppression of Blacks, Latinos, women, homosexuals, etc. As Jews are among the most successful, we are by implication the biggest oppressors.
And all of this ideology is being taught in American public schools. Its principles are required in law schools, medical schools, corporate boards. Fewer and fewer Jews are getting into Ivy League schools, fewer are being hired by corporations, and fewer are sitting on boards of philanthropies.
The Jewish establishment is now fully trapped. It put all our eggs into the imploding liberal basket. It made alliances with all the minority groups, and now these very groups have turned on us and have become Palestinianists and antisemitic. Our leaders are flummoxed and confused. They need to be pressured, convinced, humiliated and shamed to do a massive rethink.
To help organize grassroots activists to challenge and change our leadership, we created The Jewish Leadership Project (www.jewishleadershipproject.org). Our book prescribes steps that our leaders must take to stem the tide of animus.
We are in danger at a watershed moment. But we are an accomplished community, with very talented individuals. We can and must find proud, brave and competent leadership to secure a better Jewish future.
The writer is a longtime Jewish and human rights activist, speaker and writer, who today is president of The Jewish Leadership Project. firstname.lastname@example.org