What Really Is Anti-Semitism? Understanding and Addressing Hate

By Simma Lieberman

I’ll always remember the first time I saw the numbers tattooed on the arm of my friend’s mother. She was one of the survivors of the Nazi death camps where 6 million Jewish people were systematically imprisoned, tortured and murdered by Hitler and his Nazis.

We were raised with the recent memories of the Holocaust, the fear of it happening again and the knowledge that it wasn’t safe to be Jewish—so don’t get too comfortable.

My mother told us stories of being chased by Christian kids as they yelled “Christ killer,” and we heard and read stories of children and adults recounting the horrors.

We heard about the organized genocide of our people, and the medical experiments conducted on children, babies and others. We heard about the forced marches where people who couldn’t keep up were shot and left. And we heard about more atrocities that were unimaginable at the time.

At the same time, our families tried to make us feel safe and think that it couldn’t happen here. But when I was 8 years old, I was sitting in synagogue with my father on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, when a I heard marching and yelling. I looked up and saw a group of teenage boys at the door of the synagogue throwing rocks and nails at the people and calling us names.

,I remember wondering, “How can people who don’t know us hate us so much?” I  decided that the only way for us to be safe was for us to get to know people who were different than us.

Today anti-Semitism, like any other kind of ism, shows up in different forms. Some of it is easily recognized, like when white supremacists march through town saying, “Jews will not replace us,” Rev. Louis Farrakhan expressing his hate for Jews and quoting from the Elders of Zion, a book of lies and hate, or the violent attacks and murders of Jews in synagogues, communities and institutions. Some of it is subtler, like attacks against George Soros and other Jews in ways that appeal to the stereotypes of hate and ignorance. And some of it is from elected officials who support white supremacy, or from “so-called good Christian” politicians who say they love Jewish people, and that we will burn in hell if we don’t accept their beliefs.

Being critical of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic despite what some people may want us to believe. Peter Beinart a Jewish writer for Israeli newspaper Haaretz breaks it down in his recent article https://forward.com/opinion/419988/debunking-the-myth-that-anti-zionism-is-anti-semitic/

There are some people who are anti-Semitic and anti-Israel, while there are anti-Semites who are pro-Israel (so-called Christian Zionists) and some white supremacists who think it’s a good way to get rid of Jewish people in the U.S.

According to the FBI, crimes against Jewish people were up by a third in 2017 with 938 reported. Many don’t get reported.

While we need to pay close attention to the growing threat of white supremacy in the U.S. and other parts of the world, we need to pay even closer attention to the smaller micro-incidents that may or may not get reported. Examples of these incidents are the high school students photographed with swastikas and holding their arms out in Nazi salutes, having such a great time that they posted their actions,  https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/03/04/swastika-made-red-cups-nazi-salutes-newport-beach-students-condemned-abhorrent-anti-semitic-activity/?utm_term=.8d3354607304

Or the people at work or at your school making jokes about Jewish people and advancing stereotypes of Jewish conspiracies to take over the world, or anywhere else. If this kind of anti-Semitism is not called out because you think it’s not as serious as white supremacist violence, these actions will become normalized, ”kids just having fun,” and creating an environment of hate, bullying and violence.

This is true for similar incidents like these related to race, homophobia, Islamaphobia  or toward any previously marginalized group.

•Learn about anti-Semitism and what specific actions and tropes are anti-Semitic.  (Remember that all criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic and that there are many Jewish people who are critical of Israel)

What You Can Do

• Read the history of Jewish people (as well as the history of every other group )

•Talk to Jewish people about what is offensive and hurtful and have meaningful conversations

• At work, don’t assume that everyone celebrates Christmas and insist on having a Christmas party

• Chanukah is not the Jewish version of Christmas. They have nothing in common.

• Talk to and  learn about Jews from different parts of the world and the cultures within Judaism

• If you have Jewish people in your workplace, don’t schedule meetings during the High Holy Days (Just like  you should not plan meetings over lunch during Ramadan if you have Muslim employees)

• Speak up when you hear anti-Semitic comments or people making jokes about Jewish people at work. This includes not allowing people to generalize about all Jewish people.

• Just like you call out anti-Semitic comments and behaviors, be sure to do the same when you hear racist, homophobic, Islamaphobic comments and actions. Don’t excuse  people even if they are from your group.

• Don’t assume one person can speak for all Jewish people

Simma Lieberman is a diversity and inclusion/culture change consultant.

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