Following the ninth violent anti-Semitic attack this Hanukkah in the New York area — the accused perpetrator of which has just been charged with federal hate crimes — a lot of people, Jews and non-Jews, are wondering what to do, how to respond and how to help. We appreciate the outpouring of support and while we are not members of the Hasidic Jewish community which was targeted in New York, we are Jews and Jewish professionals. We are in coalition with many communities and offer our thoughts how to respond to rising anti-Semitism.
What is happening in New York is horrifying — and it also seems specific, and likely the product of generations of racial tension fed by both anti-Semitism and racism.
What is happening in New York is horrifying — and it also seems specific, and likely the product of generations of racial tension fed by both anti-Semitism and racism. For one thing, the suspect, Grafton Thomas, is black. We are accustomed to anti-Semitism (or antisemitism, as we and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) prefer to spell it) from white nationalists and neo-Nazis. When it comes from communities of color, from other people who experience daily oppression, it is confusing. We don’t know how to respond. Someone very wise once said that when we are attacked in our most vulnerable place, we often reflexively respond from where we perceive our power. When white Jews experience anti-Semitism, one impulse might be to respond from our whiteness, to lean into racism. We must resist those impulses.
It’s impossible to discuss what might be motivating these attacks without an understanding of the role anti-Semitism plays in narratives about gentrification and poverty. Anti-Semitism is not just a blind hatred of Jews — it is often tied to conspiracy theories about Jewish economic and political power. The Jews running the banks. The Jews as the landlords.
Just as capitalism absolutely depends on racism in order to justify exploiting black and brown bodies for labor, it also depends on anti-Semitism to scapegoat the Jews and obscure the wheels of its own violence. Poor people are told it’s the Jews who are to blame for their poverty and oppression. Oppressed people are driven apart and pitted against each other. That’s the whole point. It’s so painful — and as we see, violent — when it works the way it’s intended.
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It’s everyone’s responsibility to challenge hatred, and this hate is designed to divide and weaken us. We won’t fight it by turning on our neighbors. And if you’re looking to blame communities of color for their anti-Semitism in order to deflect your own responsibility, you’re doing it wrong.
For Jews, in the face of our vulnerability and fear, we must continue our work to end racism and poverty, sexism and transphobia. We must grapple with the truth that the very mechanisms we seek out to shore up our own safety might put others at risk and push us further apart.
For Jews, in the face of our vulnerability and fear, we must continue our work to end racism and poverty, sexism and transphobia.
It’s a tragic irony that these attacks in New York have hurt the most visible Jews — the Orthodox — who often live in proximity to the communities targeting them, because they are also often poor. They have been scapegoats and victims, the violent attacks on them are a horrific tragedy that we need to work harder to prevent, and they should be, at the very least, a wake-up call: For Jews, who are now experiencing the regular violence that many other communities have before us, and who are now faced with decisions about safety and security and isolation and solidarity; For non-Jews who are confused about where that violence is coming from and how best to be an ally.
For Christian and Muslim clergy members, please use your pulpits and platforms to speak out against anti-Semitism. And make certain to join us in our work to dismantle the intersecting systems of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and Islamophobia.
President Donald Trump and evangelical Christians cannot claim that their support for Israel makes them somehow immune to anti-Semitism, especially when the president claimed after the happenings in Charlottesville, Va. that Nazis are “very fine people” and invited renowned anti-Semite pastor John Hagee to the White House Hanukkah party and repeatedly says to Jews that their loyalty is with Israel, not with America.
This president and his administration have done more to inspire the white nationalists and anti-Semites than any public leader in a generation. We call upon all elected officials — especially those in the highest offices in the land — to denounce this violence and call upon every person in the land to reach out across and fulfill the Biblical injunction to love our neighbors.
And while we call on leadership to denounce anti-Semitism, we know that the greatest impact will come from the grassroots, from communities joining together.
Learn about anti-Semitism so that you can challenge these narratives when you encounter them.
Lean into solidarity rather than hate and isolation.
Reach out to people who are afraid and hurting.
Don’t let fear keep you from asking questions.
Don’t let fear keep you from being Jewish in public.