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To Fight Anti-Semitism, American Jewry Should Learn from Early Days of Amnesty International

Pittsburgh was a wake-up call to a Jewish community often focused on combating threats to others. Today, anti-Semitism not only survives but flourishes on both Right and Left, and Jews need to confront it. In doing so, Jews would strengthen internal unity and increase their credibility by borrowing a page from Amnesty International’s early days.

One of the deepest problems hampering the American Jewish community in both recognizing and confronting rising anti-Semitism is political polarization. Jews concerned about anti-Semitism among Islamists and the Left have sometimes been blind to danger from the Right. Likewise, those focused on anti-Semitism from the Right have had little to say about it on the Left and among Islamists.

Evidence of mounting anti-Semitism is all around. The FBI reported a 37% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes last year. The ADL reported a 67% upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents (not necessarily amounting to crimes) and a doubling of same on college campuses.

And because it is an equal opportunity hatred, it is not limited to one ideology.

Well before Pittsburgh, white supremacists frequently targeted Jews. In 2014, KKK leader Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr., murdered three people outside Jewish organizations in Kansas. In 2009, neo-Nazi James Wenneker von Brunn killed a guard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Recently re-elected Republican Congressman Steve King (Iowa) gratuitously endorsed anti-Semitic Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy. During the 2018 campaign, Republican groups in Alaska, North Carolina, and Washington, and Republican candidates Tyler Diep (Calif.), Ed Charamut (Conn.), and Todd Stephens (Penn.), attacked Jewish candidates with anti-Semitic tropes.

At the same time, anti-Semitism thrives among Islamists and the Left. On December 10, 2018, ISIS supporter Damon Joseph was arrested for plotting a synagogue attack in Ohio. Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (aka Carlos Bledsoe) shot up the home of a Little Rock rabbi and firebombed what he believed was a rabbi’s house in Nashville, days before attacking a Little Rock army recruiting station in 2009.

Over the past eighteen months, at least six imams (Raed Saleh Al-Rousan of Houston, Ramadan Elsabagh of Garland, Texas, Abdullah Khadra of Raleigh, North Carolina, Aymen Elkasaby of New Jersey, Ammar Shahin at the Davis Islamic Center in California, and Mahmoud Harmoush of Riverside, California ) were caught on tape preaching violence against Jews, and at least three of them called for Jews’ death. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has openly uttered anti-Semitic slurs such as comparing Jews to termites, describing Hitler as a “very great man,” and calling for Israel’s destruction.

Despite Farrakhan’s rampant anti-Semitism, the Democratic Party has often been extremely reluctant to criticize him, and several Black Caucus members maintain ongoing ties with him. Keith Ellison’s history of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism long predated his elevation to Democratic National Committee deputy chair. In 2016, Congressman Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) likened Israeli Jews to termites. State candidate Maria Estrada (D-Calif.) posted anti-Semitic comments on Facebook and praised Farrakhan. Estrada, newly-elected Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), as well as the Democratic Socialists of America, all support the boycott movement against Israel.

Organizers of Chicago’s 2017 “Dyke March” ejected a number of Jewish women for carrying a rainbow flag with a star of David. The following month, the reporter who broke that story was forced out of her job with LGBTQ newspaper Windy City Times. This year, participants openly displayed Palestinian flags during the march.

Women’s March leaders – including Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez – reportedly set an anti-Semitic tone from its beginning. Sarsour has accused Jewish progressives of dual loyalty, blamed the ADL and Israel for promoting police brutality, and claimed Zionists could not be feminists. Sarsour, Mallory, and Perez all support Farrakhan.

In confronting this threat, the Jewish community should strive to speak with one voice. It could learn from Amnesty International’s early days during the Cold War. To avoid being labeled as the tool of a single ideology, Amnesty carefully selected prisoners of regimes from a variety of political camps. For every prisoner of conscience it championed behind the Iron Curtain, it selected another from the Western world and a third from the developing world.

Jewish activists and organizations should adopt a similar approach to fighting anti-Semitism in America. We would expand our credibility and base of support by targeting anti-Semites from both Right and Left in equal measure, thereby lifting the movement above claims of partisanship.

Sadly, there are many anti-Semites from which to choose. Potential activists would be more likely to feel welcomed and valued in such a movement regardless of their politics. Potential supporters outside the Jewish community would be more willing to listen to, endorse, and act upon its complaints if they see it as sincere and not a mere partisan vehicle.

One could argue that such evenhandedness falsely equates Left and Right, and firmly believe that the problem is more significant on one side than the other. Maybe, but the same argument could have been made against Amnesty International, yet it still achieved a measure of success in bringing attention to the plight of prisoners of conscience. Moreover, the benefits of uniting the Jewish community for the struggle and increasing the integrity of its protests could be critical to its success.

The silver lining of the Pittsburgh massacre is that it seems to have awoken Jews to the need to stand together in fighting the scourge of anti-Semitism regardless of its source. Borrowing a page from the major British Jewish newspapers, over a dozen American Jewish papers and news services published a joint editorial condemning anti-Semitism and urging unity.

Several individuals have condemned and called for a boycott of the Women’s March – which, in the past, has drawn strong support from the Jewish community – due to its anti-Semitism. The march’s founder, Teresa Shook, called for its leadership to step down.

After the Pittsburgh shooting, it’s all hands on deck.

[Photo: CNN / YouTube ]