On Monday, May 31, The American Jewish Committee hosted a virtual discussion on the intolerable rise of antisemitism across our country. AJC CEO David Harris recently returned from a solidarity mission to Israel.
Harris described the aftermath of 4,000 rockets from Gaza as Israel’s determination to live, affirm life and with an undiminished hunger for peace. “Recently, we celebrated four more Arab countries normalizing relations with Israel. Our visit was prompted by Hamas, its Iranian sponsor, and its Islamic Jihad cousin determined to counter that widening circle of peace and fulfill their mission of destroying Israel. Israel will not allow them to succeed.”
While AJC is a strictly nonpartisan organization, Harris fears a changing Democratic Party. He noted, “The traditional Democratic Party was strongly supportive of the US-Israel relationship. A not-insignificant fracturing segment of the party is beginning to resemble the Jeremy Corbyn vision of the British Labour Party. We saw a new attempt to racialize the conflict; an attempt to bring intersectionality into this conflict between two national movements over geography. It’s never over race, but to superimpose race on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; to suggest that Israelis are the whites, and the Palestinians are the browns and blacks in the conflict. In the United States, some believe being part of a community of color must, without question, extend their support to the Palestinians. This is wrong on facts, and a function of the changing dynamics of American society and politics. This conflict is really about two indigenous peoples, Jews and Arabs, and not trying to force an outside narrative onto it.”
Harris continued, “There’s the celebritization of the conflict. Previously, we would go to news sources and make up our own minds. In a post-news source world, celebrities have millions of followers on social media, shaping the debate.
“In Europe in the early 2000s, there’s far-right, populist, xenophobic, neo-Nazi variants of antisemitism. The most recent deadly forms are Jihadists shouting Allahu Akbar. A third form, leftist antisemitism, isn’t as deadly except that it wants the elimination of one nation on Earth, the only Jewish-majority nation. The far-left claims to be ‘anti-antisemitic,’ heirs of the Anti-Fascist movement. They have this blind spot: Israel has no right to exist and they organize around BDS, courts and flotillas.”
“Jews were on the outside of American society, but not as far out as African Americans,” Harris stated, “so our fates are intertwined. Commitment to civil rights, then social justice, doesn’t obligate us to support everything out of the African American community, any more than expecting everyone’s support for anything out of the Jewish community.”
Harris continued, “We’re living in a post-truth world. How do we fight misinformation in a world which no longer cares? In Israel’s democracy, Israeli Arabs are citizens with full rights, sit on the Supreme Court and are ambassadors of Israel. Hamas is a terrorist organization, linked to Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. Its goal is not peaceful settlement, but annihilation of Israel. Hamas is also homophobic and misogynistic. How can Americans, raised in a liberal democratic society, support a reactionary group like Hamas or stand on the 50-yard line between Israel, which simply wants to survive, and Gaza? In 2005, they gave Gazans the opportunity to govern themselves for the first time in their entire history; something Egypt and the Ottoman Turks never allowed.”
“People are going along with this, taking paths of least resistance,” warned Harris. “The easiest thing to do is to say, I oppose antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, I oppose….. You may think you’re online; you’re safe. Now, there are times to oppose any of the above. No one should misunderstand. We, at AJC, aren’t suggesting that the only challenge facing America is antisemitism, but we’re saying there was a hardcore left-specificity to antisemitism in these situations, as opposed to Pittsburgh, Poway and Charlottesville, which were the hard-right. Bland statements that refer to everything are actually meaningless. This cannot be the new normal. We cannot become Marranos living in the United States, who, within the home, are proudly fully Jewish, but behind closed curtains. Outside the home, they hide their Jewishness; that is not America. We haven’t lived in this country since 1654 to now think about a conversation about Marranos.”
Using FBI reports, Harris showed 60% of hate crimes are motivated by religion. Jews are 2% of the population, but 16% of the targets. He urged, “We need Jews who care enough, and are angry enough, outraged enough or shocked enough not to go into hiding, into a crouched position, but stand up proudly affirming our identity, and the centrality of Americans federalism as the driving force of this country.”