The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

A call for a better conversation about antisemitism


Having gone to bed numb and speechless, once again, to the news that another Shabbat had passed with American Jews being gunned down in their Synagogue—occurring six months to the day after the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history—I ask my fellow Grinnellians to carefully consider ways that we can work together to improve and elevate our own discourse on antisemitism amid the steepest rise in attacks on Jewish people worldwide in decades.

To begin, here are some facts: In 2017, Jews were the targets of 58.1% of “religiously motivated hate crimes” in the United States, according to the FBI. 2017 also saw a 57% increase in antisemitic incidents over the previous year, which included an astonishing 94.1% rise in antisemitic cases reported in K-12 schools. These distressing variables have been trending upwards for years now.

Lest one think it is purely an American phenomenon, however, CNN’s recent omnibus survey of European attitudes towards Jews yielded profoundly troubling results for the continent where one out of every three Jews on the face of the Earth was murdered by the Nazis and their local collaborators less than 80 years ago. In countries such as Poland and Hungary, over four in 10 respondents believed that “Jews have too much influence in business and finance around the world,” and over a third said the same in regards to political affairs, echoing long-established antisemitic myths and conspiracies. This parallels the resiliency of arguably the greatest global stronghold of antisemitism, North Africa and the Middle East, where a 2015 Anti-Defamation League Global Survey found that 75% of respondents held antisemitic views. In many ways, even after being targeted by numerous massacres in a matter of months, antisemitism still remains a slightly more distant, though increasingly close, reality in the United States when compared to the experiences encountered by the small Jewish communities in Europe and the almost non-existent ones remaining in North Africa and the Middle East, where daily, street-level hostility and threat has remained a fact of daily life.

With this troubling portrait of a global antisemitism in mind, I implore the Grinnell community, which prides itself on advocating for the safety and well-being of marginalized communities, to extend the same level of support to your Jewish peers. Though different in both its history and nature than other bigotries, the effects of antisemitism remain just as deadly. Antisemitism is a complex phenomenon which has existed in some form for over 2,000 years, transforming from a political into a theological, and then biological and racialized phenomenon over such time. It has lived on both the left and right historically, and on each side the Jew has served as a symbol upon which prevailing societal fears and myths are projected. Throughout history, Jews have been framed as both capitalist and Communist, political elites, biological bottom dwellers, and many other harmful stereotypes.

If you would like to learn more about antisemitism, and how the Jewish community seeks to confront it, I implore you to discuss, and, most importantly, to listen, to a large swath of Jewish peers, faculty, and institutional leaders, and consult experts on the subject, such as the pre-eminent American writers on antisemitism today: the historian-author Deborah Lipstadt, and journalist Yair Rosenberg of Tablet Magazine. I also encourage you to learn more about the history of antisemitism and the Jewish people, whose roots as an indigenous Middle Eastern people that were forcibly expelled from their homeland into two thousand years of exile, play a critical role in understanding the issues and endless persecution Jews faced throughout the Diaspora and continue to challenge today. But most critically, I ask that you take the easiest initial step to fight antisemitism, which is to merely acknowledge that it exists – that it actively harms and threatens the lives of our friends, families, and selves in 2019. I ask you to acknowledge that it is not made up or manufactured – that instead, it is all too real.

This does not preclude bad actors from cynically exploiting antisemitism as a political football, as attempts at manufacturing outrage are often accomplished on both the right and the left. However, the best way to combat this is to center Jewish voices in any conversation on antisemitism. These issues are not political wedges or social media “likes” for us. Antisemitism is a matter of life and death. Any time it is exploited for politics, no side wins. Only Jews lose.

As the Chabad of Poway, a synagogue very much the same as the Chabad shul I have attended my entire life, buries Lori Gilbert-Kaye, of blessed memory, treats its wounded, and works to repair its irreparable injuries, I ask that you take this opportunity to consider how we can lift up and protect the visibility of Jewish voices in our own campus community.

At a time when white supremacists in the West are increasingly targeting Muslim, Latinx, Black, and other marginalized communities, standing in solidarity with targeted peoples could never be more important. Together, we shall work to fight this White Supremacist scourge that may take many forms, but whose effects are almost uniformly deadly.

May Lori Gilbert-Kaye’s memory be a blessing, and may we each strive to create our own corner of a more loving, understanding, and repaired world.

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