Antisemitism And Our New Political Reality

When I studied for my PhD in Jewish studies, I often had occasion to engage with antisemitism as a historical subject and intellectual exercise. However, since the election of Donald Trump, antisemitism has become a contemporary concern with practical implications and a frequent topic of conversation.

There are those who are worried, aware, some for the first time, that being Jewish might really separate them from other Americans.

There are those who are scared, collecting escape money or buying guns for self-protection. Not surprising given how essential the migration has been to Jewish survival.

There are those who see no threat at all. Not surprising given the general power and influence the Jewish community has achieved in the United States.

To ignore the shift in tone about antisemitism is to bury our heads in the sand. There has been a shift.

The negative tone of the Trump campaign encouraged hatred more generally and stripped back the façade of civility that disguised currents of antisemitism that were hidden in my lifetime.

What has been revealed is ugly and clearly frightening to many. Twitter is awash with attacks on Jews. Jewish reporters have been targeted. Swastikas have appeared in peaceful neighborhoods.

It is easy to lay all of this at Trump’s feet but there is concern on the left as well. On college campuses, left leaning students have increasingly felt comfortable marginalizing Jewish students and denying the historic experience of antisemitism. Some of this has been tied to anti-Zionism and disagreements with specific policies of the Israeli government but not all of it.

Since the election, many liberal and progressive groups have been putting out lists of groups with whom they stand, and my left-leaning Jewish friends have been feeling uncomfortable because despite the rise in antisemitism often Jews are left off these lists.

Jews are both being seen and not being seen. And many of us are uncomfortable.

We should not ignore that discomfort.

As we feel it, we should remember that  there are many in other minority groups who are feeling similar discomfort. Unlike Jews, other groups such as Muslims and Latinos have been explicitly and repeatedly targeted by Trump and are facing the potential enactment of policies that will immediately cause them physical and emotional harm. For groups, like the LGBTQ community and African American community which have generally not felt fully secure and safe in the United States and the hatred unleashed by Trump is shaking their foundation. Victims of sexual assault (read -the majority of women) and the disabled, no matter their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation are also feeling vulnerable. And Jews who fit into multiple groups are feeling the effects ever more so than others.

So while I know that the rise in antisemitism is triggering historic and understandable fears, I encourage each of us to assess the realities of the discomfort we feel. While we are likely to feel increasingly uncomfortable, the real dangers to others may be more pressing and in need of immediate action.

Connecting and supporting other minority groups will help all of us. Building coalitions across lines and recognizing the complex intersections of oppressions is one of the most essential tools we have to mobilize against hate. And when we reach out we may be surprised to find that there are already others ready to support us.

Coalitions, however, will never be perfect. We will not agree on everything with those with whom we partner, but by being in dialogue we can move the conversation and reality forward.

Trump supporters, having now won, should press him to disavow the culture of bigotry more generally and antisemitism in particular.

Liberal and progressive Jews can call out the antisemitism in the spaces that they inhabit even as they work across differences.

The challenges posed by antisemitism are many and will include the need to come together as well as address the divisions that abound among us. Antisemitism does not distinguish between Orthodox and Reform, between supporters of Israel and anti-Zionist. We will need to develop ways of talking with each other across our own internal differences.

Whatever the lens through which we see the current landscape, we have an obligation to fight against the hatred and fear mongering, for our country, our community and for ourselves.

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