An overview of Evolve’s pieces on antisemitism from historical, political and theological standpoints.
Those of us in the United States who remain wary as a result of the collective traumatization of the Holocaust—not to mention the narrative of Jewish history as a vale of tears—may have wondered for the last 70 years whether and when our sense of safety living in the United States would prove illusory, as it did in Christian Spain and in Germany.
After Charlottesville and Pittsburgh, we know now—if we had ever forgotten—that we are not universally loved. There are nativist white supremacists who demonize us and hope for our demise, and their rhetoric is now somehow public and not considered deplorable by everyone. How worried should we be?
Rabbi David Teutsch (“A Pittsburgh Perspective”) affirms that in one significant respect, the United States is different than Europe. Attacks on Jews in the United States evoke impressive shows of sympathy, solidarity and support from groups across the spectrum. We are not alone, Teutsch observes, and the wisest strategy is for us to continue to strengthen alliances and relationships with other groups with whom we share common values and devotion to democracy. In his essay, “The Danger of Antisemitism in America,” Teutsch locates the primary danger as coming from the white nationalist movement, not from critics of Israel.
Professor Reena Sigman Friedman (“Antisemitism in Europe and America in the Modern Period: Historical Perspectives”) recounts the positions of scholars who believe that America is exceptional in the extremely low level of antisemitism and of others who question that positive assessment.
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling (“A Brief History and Update on Antisemitism”) views the centrality of antisemitism among white supremacists as continuous with the cyclical waves of anti-Jewish sentiment through the centuries. There is a long history of Jews being demonized and blamed for contemporary problems. He urges us to form coalitions with other groups who are also targeted by the right-wing white nationalists. He believes that anti-Israel criticism on the left can be, but is not always, antisemitic; sometimes, it is legitimate criticism that should not be taken as an antisemitic attack.
Rabbi Shai Gluskin (“Is It Antisemitic to Consider Zionism a Colonial Project?”) urges us to distinguish between those who see Zionism inaccurately as a colonialist project (like France in Algeria) that must be expelled, and those who classify it as settler colonialism (like the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa), in which the task is to extend equal rights to the indigenous population. Many Palestinians are now using the term “settler colonialism.” It is an error, he argues, to hear that as an antisemitic desire to expel Israeli Jews. Rather, it is a new opening that could allow for mutual recognition.
Rabbi Toba Spitzer (“Beyond Erasure: A New Look at Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism”) offers several persuasive perspectives. She observes that just as anti-black racism is baked into the souls of all Americans—white people and people of color, liberals and conservatives—through four centuries of cultural conditioning, so is antisemitism an unavoidable condition of all members of Western civilization. After two millennia of Christian oppression of Jews that have aimed, in one way or another, at making Jews disappear, Jews have consistently tried to blend in, if not assimilate, out of an internalized antisemitism. It makes sense; non-Jews become uncomfortable when Jews are distinctive. Zionism sought to end this “erasure” once and for all; we would be a free people in our own land, in the words of “Hatikvah,” but instead, this erasure was transferred to the Palestinians, denying that they are a people, wishing them away. No reconciliation can occur until each side ceases wishing the other out of existence.
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