What is anti-Semitism? How does it show up today? How should we fight it?
On Tuesday morning, Congressman Josh Gottheimer (D-5th Dist.) and Elan Carr, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, addressed these and similar questions at the offices of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey in Paramus.
“The rise in anti-Semitism and hate and bias incidents in northern New Jersey has reached an alarming level,” the federation’s CEO, Jason Shames, said in introducing the speakers. “As our great American society divides and civil discourse wanes, acts of bias increase.”
Roberta Abrams, the federation’s president, noted that over the last 18 months, the organization’s priorities have had to shift from “issues of social welfare and identity building” to “focusing on the safety of the Jewish community.
“This past school year, there were 15 separate incidents of anti-Semitism in our schools,” she said.
Mr. Gottheimer, who is Jewish, noted that when he went to Congress in 2017, “I immediately joined the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism,” where he and his colleagues had urged the Trump administration to fill the special envoy position quickly. Mr. Carr was appointed this February, two years later. “I believe they made an excellent choice,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “His appointment sends a strong message about our government’s commitment to fighting anti-Semitism globally.
“Anti-Semitism is on rise here at home and around the world,” he continued. “In recent months, swastikas or other anti-Semitic slurs have been found in front of a home in Teaneck, at schools in Glen Rock, Ridgewood, Emerson, and the Pascack Valley. That matches the national trend in which K-12 schools surpassed public areas as the locations with the most anti-Semitic incidents in 2017. We have also seen growing numbers of incidents on college campuses. It’s alarming, and we must act.”
Mr. Gottheimer noted his votes in Congress against anti-Semitism “and all forms of bigotry,” his co-sponsorship of Holocaust education legislation, and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. “And last year, the president signed into law the Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act, legislation I co-sponsored, to criminalize new threats against schools and Jewish community centers,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “The increase in incidents here at home also mimics an alarming, larger worldwide trend” featuring a rise in “anti-Semitism and xenophobia,” he added.
He cited Poland, where the ruling party “sought to criminalize mentioning ‘the Polish nation’ in any recounting of the history or memory of the Holocaust.” He noted that in Britain, “more than a dozen lawmakers have resigned from the Labor Party in disgust with the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and the failure to address anti-Semitism within the party’s ranks.”
He also attacked the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. “While most Jews do not believe that criticism of Israel is by itself, anti-Semitic, they believe it becomes so when manifested in certain ways, including 70 percent who say that boycotts of Israel or Israelis are indeed anti-Semitic,” he said. “Like that of all nations, Israel’s leadership is not perfect, and I certainly disagree with some of its decisions. Look, there will always be a legitimate debate about our foreign policy.
“But we should refuse to accept the smear that Israel is an ‘apartheid state,’ or the idea that freedom of speech affords people the right to harass Jewish students. We must not allow false claims about Israel’s human rights record to be accepted, particularly given Israel’s location in a region in which women and members of the LGBTQ community are often denied fundamental rights.”
He said that he and his bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus support the House resolution to oppose the boycott of Israel and work toward a two-state solution, which passed that evening with a vote of 398 to 17.
“The scourge of anti-Semitism has infected human societies for centuries,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “It is the hatred of Jews, drawn from simple words, ideas, and stories, which has led to violent pogroms, the slaughter of six million Jews in the Holocaust, the murder of 11 Americans praying in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the April shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California. We cannot allow these ideas to fester, to go unchecked, or to be further embraced, either here at home, or abroad.
“We must continue to act to address anti-Semitism wherever and whenever we see it — on the right, and on the left.”
Unlike Mr. Carr, who spoke later, Mr. Gottheimer was implicitly critical of President Trump.
“Anti-Semitism isn’t the only ‘ism’ affecting our society — we have seen attempts to point fingers using racist dog-whistle language in recent days,” he said. “You don’t tell Americans to go back to where they came from. And when white supremacists and neo-Nazis feel they can openly chant ‘Jews will not replace us,’ as they did in Charlottesville in 2017, we have a problem.
“I supported the bill condemning all forms of discrimination and I condemned the tweets. But anti-Semitism is a distinct problem that transcends race and ideology, with anti-Semites found on the extreme right and on the extreme left, and even in the center.
“The recent resurgence of nativism only underscores the vital importance of the special envoy’s mandate and the urgency of our need to combat global anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, hatred, and intolerance. Because, here in the greatest country in the world, we must heed the Anne Frank’s words, ‘Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.’”
Mr. Carr, who also is Jewish, said that there are three sources of anti-Semitism, “all equally vile.”
They are “the ethnic supremacist far right, the Israel-hating radical left, and militant Islam. Three sources that should hate each other more than anything else on earth, but are united by their hatred of the Jewish people.
“The kind of anti-Semitism that today is sweeping the world, sweeping Western Europe, and sweeping the halls of academia in the United States is often called the new anti-Semitism. There is nothing new about it.”
Mr. Carr said that his grandfather, who was from Iraq, was arrested for being a Zionist. But the nature of his trial proved that his offense was not political but anti-Semitic. “He was accused of handing out Zionist propaganda at a rally in Baghdad. Putting aside the question of whether that should be a crime, he wasn’t in Baghdad. At the trial, he told the judge, ‘Your honor, I wasn’t in Baghdad. I can bring witnesses that I was working with British officers in the port of Basra that day.’
“The judge said, ‘You’re challenging the accusation against you? For that, you get two years above the sentence that was already decided.’
“So it’s not about being a Zionist. It’s about being a Jew.”
“Today we have the global BDS movement seeking to suffocate the Jewish state. We understand this obsession with Israel is part of a strategy of delegitimizing and isolating and ultimately destroying the Jewish state.
“We will fight this scourge anywhere and everywhere it rears its ugly head, whether it is here at home, in Europe, in Latin America, or in the Middle East, where anti-Semitism is alive and well in some countries that are strong allies of ours.”
Mr. Carr concluded on a positive note. “We have real cause for optimism,” he said. “We have assets in this fight, and I believe we will turn the tide, not just contain this metastatic cancer but roll it back.
“Asset number one is this administration, committed in an unprecedented fashion to the fight against anti-Semitism, to the protection of the Jewish people throughout the world, and the protection of the State of Israel.”
“Asset number two is that because anti-Semitism is so open and notorious, non-Jewish leaders throughout the world understand they are in a fight for their lives. They stand up with eloquence and passion and say this is a disgrace.”
And the third asset is Congressman Josh Gottheimer, whom Mr. Carr praised. “At a time of heartbreaking polarization in our country today, the fact is Congressman Gottheimer has been a leader in bipartisanship,” he said. “He is making a difference in one of the critical issues facing our country. The Jewish people understand the dangers of gratuitous hatred among the citizenry. We learn that it was sinat chinam” — baseless hatred — “that cost the Jewish people their sovereignty.”