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The explosion of antisemitism across the world during the last two months has been hugely concerning for Jewish communities. The facts speak for themselves. Synagogues, cemeteries and Jewish property have been vandalized, while Jews have been verbally harassed and physically attacked across Europe and in the United States, with many more targeted online. In the UK, a 250% rise in antisemitic incidents was recently recorded. Similar spikes were documented in other European countries and in the United States, writes Brig. Gen. (Res) Sima Vaknin Gill.
The sheer intensity of antisemitic incidents has abated, but nobody should be lulled into a false sense of security. Far from it. In fact. progressive circles are in danger of accepting a pernicious ‘new normal’ in which the battle against Jew-hatred is being ‘cancelled.’ As a result, they are fanning the fire of antisemitism.
There are many painful questions to be asked. Why did Israel’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza, unlike any other conflict in the world, become a green light to intimidate and attack a minority community? Why are Jews and Jewish communities uniquely ascribed responsibility for actions in a decades-long, geo-political dispute thousands of miles away? Perhaps the most disheartening question of all, is why Jews were left feeling abandoned in their hour of need by the very progressives who preach tolerance and social justice?
Part of the answer can be found in the dangerously simplistic binary world view which has gripped progressive circles. This lens sees only privileged and under privileged (based on race not wealth), oppressors and oppressed. In this context, Jews are unjustifiably viewed as white and privileged, while Israelis are automatically seen as wicked oppressors. Jews and Israel have found themselves on the ‘wrong’ side of the progressive fence, thanks to a manufactured and frankly antisemitic stereotype.
We are now witnessing the very worrying consequences of this deeply flawed group think. The last two months has seen not only an indifference to Jewish fears among progressives, but a hostility towards them. Too often, voicing concerns over antisemitism is treated as an affront, something of a threat to other minority groups.
At the end of May, chancellor of Rutgers University, Christopher J. Molloy, and provost, Francine Conway, issued a brief message expressing sadness and deep concern over “the sharp rise in hostile sentiments and anti-Semitic violence in the United States.” It also referenced the overall racial injustices in the United States, mentioning the murder of George Floyd and attacks on Asian American Pacific Islander citizens, Hindus, Muslims and others. Incredibly, just a day later, Molloy and Conway made an apology, saying “it is clear to us that the message failed to communicate support for our Palestinian community members. We sincerely apologize for the hurt that this message has caused.”
Similarly in June, April Powers, a black Jewish woman and head of diversity and inclusion initiatives in SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) issued a simple and patently uncontroversial statement, saying “Jews have the right to life, safety and freedom from scapegoating and fear. Silence is often mistaken for acceptance and results in the perpetration of more hatred and violence against different types of people.” Lin Oliver, the organization’s executive director soon backtracked, saying “On behalf of SCBWI, I would like to apologize to everyone in the Palestinian community who felt unrepresented, silenced, or marginalized,” while Powers resigned over the ‘controversy’.
In a logic twisted beyond belief, to raise concerns over antisemitism, or to express sympathy for Jews facing intimidation and attack, is deemed offensive. We find ourselves in a progressive world turned on its head. Those concerned with equality and social justice should proudly demonstrate solidarity with any minority under threat. Increasingly, what they are doing is worse than simply ignoring antisemitism. They are censoring, ‘cancelling’ attempts to stand with Jews facing hatred and fearing for their safety.
Those who genuinely do care about the welfare of Jewish communities, who are appalled by the prevalence of antisemitism, are too often silenced or bullied into ‘fixing’ their ways. It amounts to a progressive ‘totalitarianism’ which censors the boundaries of acceptable thought. In a world of black and white, this outlook dictates that Jews and Israel must be placed on the dark side of history.
Unless progressives wake up to the dangers of such self-censorship, they will be facilitating a potent long-tail antisemitism. While paying lip service to the cause of equal rights, they are instead singling out one sole minority undeserving of solidarity and protection. In doing so, progressives are doing the work of the racists for them. They are leaving the door wide open to an antisemitism which they claim to abhor.
Brig. Gen. (Res) Sima Vaknin Gill is the former Director of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, co-founder of Strategic Impact consultants and a founding member of the Combat Antisemitism Movement.