Idaho Faith: Jews Need Help to Fight Anti-Semitism

Rabbi Dan Fink

Rabbi Dan Fink

During last month’s hostage crisis in a Texas SynagogueJews across America thought nervously, “There, but for the grace of God, I go.”

When the rabbi and congregants bravely escaped, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. But our anxiety persists.

Sadly, for Jews today, just going to services is an act of courage. We know that the epidemic of violent anti-Jewish hatred will break out again. It could happen anywhere, including here in Idaho. To proactively fight anti-Semitism, we need to consider what it is, where it comes from, and what we can do to combat it. Here are my brief thoughts on these questions.

I believe the clearest definition of anti-Semitism is prejudice, hatred, or violence against Jews as Jews. Like other forms of oppression, anti-Semitism is based on ugly stereotypes and misinformation. The Jewish scapegoat often invokes conspiracy theories that falsely accuse us of greed, malevolence and disloyalty. These tropes date back centuries, promulgated by medieval Christian and modern secular regimes. Unlike most expressions of bigotry, anti-Semitism uses a myth of Jewish power to blame us for all sorts of misfortunes in the world.

This helps explain why anti-Semitism has always come from both sides of the political spectrum. Historically, fascist anti-Semites have castigated Jews as dangerous communist radicals, while Marxist revolutionaries have ridiculed us as capitalist oligarchs. Today, too, anti-Semitism thrives on both the far right and the far left, as well as among radical Islamists such as the alleged Colleyville shooter.

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The Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Brandon Bell Getty Images

On the right, anti-Semitism is inextricably linked to white supremacy; as an example, consider the Klansmen, neo-Nazis and militias who Parade in Charlottesville chanting: “The Jews will not replace us! I believe that here in Idaho, this form of anti-Semitism poses the greatest threat.

Idaho is home to many rogue groups whose extreme anti-government views often veer into classic anti-Jewish conspiracies — and too many politicians in our states court these groups as their political base. The fact that most of these people are armed to the teeth reinforces our distrust of them.

On the left, anti-Semitism usually comes in the guise of anti-capitalism and anti-Zionism. To clarify: The problem is not opposing capitalism, but exploiting anti-Semitic stereotypes around Jews and money. Likewise, there is no inherent problem with criticizing Israel and its government. Israelis and American Jews frequently do this, just as we criticize our own government when we disapprove of its actions.

Anti-Zionist rhetoric crosses the line into anti-Semitism when, in the words of Natan Sharansky, “it delegitimizes or denies the Jewish people‘s right to self-determination; demonizes Jews by portraying them as evil or blowing Israel’s actions out of proportion; or holds Israel to a double standard.

This type of anti-Zionism also draws on historical anti-Jewish stereotypes. Examples of anti-capitalist and anti-Zionist anti-Semitism would include both Rep. Ilhan Omar’s suggestion that American Jewish support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins” and instances where some college campuses and progressive groups effectively silence even prospects liberal Zionists.

Finally, anti-Semitism plays a crucial role in radical Islamist ideology. I hasten to note that in most American communities – including Colleyville and here in Boise – Jews and Muslims have strong and friendly ties and work closely together. Islamist extremists, on the other hand, use the same anti-Semitic tropes we have seen before, demonizing Jews as powerful perpetrators of evil conspiracies.

Many blame Jews for 9/11, and it’s no coincidence that the Texas shooter targeted a synagogue because he absurdly believed Jews had the power to free a federal prisoner with just one phone call notorious convicted of murdering American soldiers.

This brings me to the crucial question: how do we combat anti-Semitism? For one thing, acknowledge it and speak out against it, especially when it comes from your side of the political spectrum.

Liberals and Muslims are opportunely quick to condemn anti-Jewish heinous acts by those on the far right, as in Pittsburgh and Poway, California, but may be reluctant to address the anti-Semitism of some progressives and Islamists. Meanwhile, conservatives who are vigilant against radical leftist and Islamist anti-Semitism too often turn a blind eye when the perpetrators come from the furthest fringes of their own party. Our challenge is to unequivocally recognize and condemn anti-Jewish bigotry within our own chosen communities.

To turn back the rising tide of anti-Semitism, we ask for your partnership, to unite with courage and integrity to make our community safe for the Jewish community and for all of us.

Dan Fink is the rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel.

The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from different faiths and perspectives.

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