Anti-Semitism Semitism is a hatred that never goes away. Once upon a time it was a hostility to Jews because they rejected idol worship in the ancient world. At other times and places, the fact that Jews lived differently bothered many. There were blood libels, pogroms and even accusations of Deicide. Not too long ago, people suggested that Jews control the banks, the media and Hollywood. Today, anti-Semitism has taken a new guise in attacking Israel, the Jewish homeland, with the rationalization that it’s only criticizing Israel’s policies. Though some really do share in that honest debate, many, like some new members of Congress, clearly have another agenda. They won’t tolerate the fact that Israel exists, and, as one member famously put it, support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins.”
The Sages of the Talmud explain the reason behind anti-Semitism in a theological context. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, one of the greatest sages, tell us of the Roman Emperor Hadrian who quashed the Jewish revolt in 130. “He entered in the Holy of Holies (in the Temple) and acted with disrespect.” The account quotes King David who earlier asserted, “If the anti-Semites could, they would take ladders and reach up to heaven to do battle against G-d Himself.”
The Rabbis explain that because they can’t, they battle the Divine messenger, the Jewish nation. The ancient scholars teach that Jews came to society and proclaimed the belief in one omnipresent G-d, who advocates for justice, compassion and concern for others. On a deeper level, Judaism teaches that morality is not transitional and based on the morals of the time but rooted a value system transmitted by G-d to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.
For those who reject these ideas or believe in others who claim to be prophets it creates an inner conflict. They overcome the moral dissonance by hating the nation that was mandated to transmit that message to the world.
We have seen two examples of reactions to anti-Semitism in recent weeks, one in our community and the other in Congress.
In the first, students from a high school in Newport Beach posed for a photo, giving Nazi salutes over a swastika. The school district reacted with great leadership. Working together with Rabbi Mintz and Chabad of Newport, they arranged for Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss, the stepsister of Anne Frank, to share her story with the students. There were rallies, and an educational curriculum on the Holocaust is being prepared to be taught at the school.
Sadly, the U.S. Congress did not show such leadership. Its members have not had the courage to stand up to the repeated anti-Semitic remarks by Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. In various statements, she attacked American Jews for their concern for Israel. Instead of calling out her anti-Semitism explicitly, Congress passed a slap-on-the-wrist resolution condemning every hatred and bias known to man. Omar continues to serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee—chaired by a Jew who sadly did not have the conviction to remove her—despite her animus towards Jews and Israel. Congressional leaders sidestepped the issue instead of confronting it. This moral failure will only empower more bigotry in the future.
The Newport Mesa Unified School District gave us confidence that our place as Jews in the US is secure. The Congress of the United States did the opposite. Let us also work to ensure that it will not happen again.
RABBI DAVID ELIEZRIE IS AT CHABA/BETH MEIR HACOHEN IN YORBA LINDA, HE CAN BE REACHED AT RABBI@OCJEWISH.COM