Is it possible that our fight against antisemitism has become so loud and alarmist that it could backfire and become counterproductive?
We rarely ask this question, perhaps because the imperative of fighting Jew-hatred seems so obvious. Why would anyone question it?
Indeed, I receive endless emails from multiple Jewish organizations urging me to “join the fight” against the rise of anti-Semitism. This fight has become so ubiquitous that it has begun to define, in many ways, Jewish identity in America. More and more, what really pumps up Jews is not their Jewishness, but the fight against the haters.
I love a good fight as much as anyone, in particular when it means defending my people. But to be effective, what should this fight look like? I’d like to suggest that rather than being loud and alarmist, our fight against Jew-hatred should be less noisy and more strategic.
Acting quietly, of course, doesn’t fit the American way. In America, when we see something we don’t like, our reflex is to cry out, condemn, demonstrate, make noise, fight back. Jews fighting anti-Semitism do the same thing—we raise hell.
This may make us feel good, but it doesn’t really work. No matter what the slogans say about “ending” this or that evil, the world’s oldest hatred is not going away until the Messiah shows up. That doesn’t mean we abandon the fight; it means we pivot to fight from a position of strength.
A position of strength means being more quiet, strategic and legal.
Why quiet? Because the louder we get and the more we make a fuss, the weaker we look. We remind the haters they have the power to scare us and rile us up. Jews are not losers. Carping and protesting about people hating us undermines our winning qualities. We lose our mojo, our confidence, our sense of humor—all those admirable traits that have helped Jews contribute so much to the world.
Let’s face it—American Jews will never win the Victim Olympics. Since the world already sees us as successful, high-achieving winners, why not make it work to our advantage? If people won’t give us the sympathy they give to victims, how about the respect they give to winners?
Why strategic? Because we can’t lose sight of the big picture—to reinforce Jewish identity and nurture Jewish pride. A strong identity is rooted in what we are for, not what we are against. It’s true that activists can raise more money by fighting against something, but we can’t allow our enemies to define our Jewish identities.
Physically protecting ourselves and our Jewish spaces is strategic, and it must continue. But it won’t build Jewish identity. All the protective measures and loud demonstrations can’t nurture our identity as well as one enlightening and inspirational Shabbat experience.
Why legal? Because if we’re going to fight, we might as well aim for impact. Have you noticed how no matter how many millions we pour into fighting antisemitism through traditional methods, things only seem to get worse? My favorite fighters are the legal minds—they fight in clear, precise ways, with legal consequences that are enforced by a system of laws.
Initiatives like the Lawfare Project, Shurat HaDin and the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department, among many others, are good examples of a quiet and strategic approach.
Similarly, our cover story this week by Lori Lowenthal Marcus, which digs deep into the California Ethnic Studies curriculum, is another case of fighting smart. Lori works for the Deborah Project, a non-profit law firm that has launched a lawsuit to combat and expose the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel elements of the curriculum, and how these elements are stealthily infiltrating our schools.
Speaking of schools, I attended this week the annual Jewish Education Awards, sponsored by the Milken Family Foundation and Builders of Jewish Education. Every Jewish denomination was present. Speaker after speaker spoke about the power of Jewish education, about instilling pride and knowledge of our heritage, about the miracle of Jewish peoplehood.
Since I was working on this column at the time, I couldn’t help notice that, despite the incessant exterior noise about anti-Semitism, no one brought up the need to fight it. They didn’t have to. Jewish educators fight anti-Semitism in their own way, by championing pro-Semitism.
We all want to prevail against the plague of Jew-hatred. We’ll have better odds if we fight like proud winners rather than defensive victims.
David Suissa is editor-in-chief and publisher of Tribe Media Corp and the Jewish Journal. He can be reached at [email protected]. This article was originally published by the Jewish Journal.