Shifting Grounds?

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JEWS ARE JITTERY. There is a sense of unease in the Jewish community. Jewish Community Centers across the U.S. have received threatening phone calls. There have been reports of acts of vandals in Jewish cemeteries. Some fear the new administration may be a catalyst for a rise in hostility towards Jews.  This has pushed some Jews to wonder, “Is the golden era of American Jewry is a risk? Has the ugly head of anti-Semitism reared its head in the United States? Is our community in jeopardy? “

These questions have been amplified by some shrill voices in the Jewish community, such as the newly appointed head of the ADL Jerome Greenblatt.

He declared “that the Jewish community, has not seen this level of anti-Semitism in mainstream political and public discourse since the 1930’s”. Has the ground shifted in the American Jewish community, lets dig a bit deeper and analyze the developments  In the thirties a Jewish graduate from law school has a small chance of overcoming getting a job at a prestigious law firm. For that matter chances are he would have never been admitted to Harvard or Yale. It he wanted to join a country club or purchase a house, there were neighborhoods and clubs where Jews were banned. One of the most popular radio programs was the notorious anti-Semite Father Charles Coughlin. Jews in countries of risk faced immigration quotas and State Department renowned for its hostility to Jews. In the thirties Anti-Semitism was acceptable to mainstream Americans.

We live in a totally different era. President Obama’s chief of staff and later Secretary of Treasury was an orthodox Jew Jack Lew. Ivanka Trump posts pictures on Instagram of hamentachen baking in the White House. Housing developments do not have covenants banning Jews, not do colleges have Jewish quotas. Jews do not need to build their own hospitals because they cannot get quality medical care. Israel is the top recipient of Foreign aid and the new administration has its back in the UN. There has there been any actual terror attacks against Jewish targets in the US like in Europe. Even the TV drama Chicago Med has black religious Jew as a major character. In my mind Jerome Greenblatt has sullied the reputation of the ADL with irresponsible remarks. Jewish leaders like Greenblatt are raising the level of anxiety of American Jews instead of acting with responsibility.

We need to focus on the real issues and challenges we face.  The most serious has been the repeated threats to Jewish Community Centers throughout the US.  We do not know-as of this writing-who is behind it. A few of the calls were done a by a left-wing blogger who had it out for his Jewish girlfriend.

While there may be a few other copy cats, the vast bulk are clearly a grave issue and seem to be emanating from one source. The FBI is actively investigating and has been in contact with Jewish leaders. There are been press reports that it may be an overseas actor, possibly with the goal of instilling anxiety in American Jews. Some of the political left have said that these threats are caused by the emergence of the right wing activists stroked by new Trump administration. The facts are, we don’t know who is behind it.

While we must remain vigilant. At the time we cannot let anti-Semitism be hijacked by any side. In my mind those that today claim that Trump is the cause of the anti-Semitism are just a mirror image of those who asserted Obama was not born in the US or is a  Muslim. Both  contentions are without any basis of fact. Both are using fear to advance a political agenda. The Jewish community cannot allow the concern of Anti-Semitism be part of these partisan arguments or be used for political purposes.

Vandalism at Jewish cemeteries have also brought much unease. Facts are that in the last ten years there has been many other cases of such vandalism. However they recived local attention. Lately, they have been propelled to the front page due to the phone threats to Jewish facilities. It is doubtful if they are connected. One report of vandalism in a large older Jewish cemetery in Brooklyn was discredited by police and even the New York Times.

(Which for years ignored reports of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries, but amazingly in the last two months has made it a major issue)  There are other concerns are questions about  the emergence of the new right wing political movement in the US as well as more strident political activism by anti-Israel forces on campus.

At this point, the data is unclear if it is right-wing anti-Semitism. There is no question there is an uptick in such conversation on social media, but there have been no anti-Semitic attacks. Does this represent a change in attitudes in the US, or is it just the case of the guy who would complain to his buddies “about the Jews” now does it on Facebook. It’s important that this be monitored, but there is still a question of if there is a real societal shift underway, or if it is just that marginal voices have found a megaphone, social media.

The anti-Israel groups on campus are a grave issue. We have experienced this at UCI, where the Muslim Student Union has spearheaded efforts to undermine Israel. They have used threats and intimidation. Last year, a group of Arab Students activists terrified a  group of Jewish students who were watching a movie about high school graduates enlisting in the Israeli army. The Jewish community has mounted a major response to this, many Jewish groups have launched initiatives to deal this threat.

We can’t let our fears or emotions drive the policies of the Jewish community. Jewish leaders should not stoke fears of anti-Semitism. Nor should we allow anyone, on either side of the aisle use anti-Semitism to advance a political agenda. We must remain vigilant and act responsibly.

Most importantly we should remember as the Lubavitcher  Rebbe stated time and a again that “America is a Medina Shel Chessed-a country of kindness and compassion.” The U.S. was the first country that extended full protections and rights to Jews in the Bill of Rights over two centuries ago. It is place

where Jews can rise to the greatest heights in business, academics, and politics and be judged for our actions not our religious beliefs. It stands strongly behind Israel in a world which is hostile to idea that Jews can chart their own destiny in their historic homeland. America is great blessing to Jews, we need ensure that this is not compromised and that our children will continue to reap that blessing.

Readers Note: My criticism ADL leader Jerome Greenblatt is not a reflection of the respect of I have for the local efforts of ADL.

Rabbi David Eliezrie is at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. His email is rabbi@ocjewish.com.

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