HomeMay 2023What is Antisemitism?

What is Antisemitism?

We no longer live in a safe and secure 20th century 

    Over the next 12 months, I will be writing a series about antisemitism.
    While I am passionate in my zeal for Judaism and the Jewish community, and spend a good deal of time railing on social media and to anyone who will listen about antisemitism, when it came to writing this first article, I was at a loss.
    Usually, just one of my social media posts on the subject can be longer than an average article. Yet when it came time to actually write, nothing. In fact, this first article was supposed to be in the January issue. So why now? Was it writer’s block? Maybe. Was it lack of interest in the subject? Never.
    What it was, I realized, was that I absolutely did not want to write yet another “antisemitism is bad” article covering material that anyone reading this has probably seen countless times. So, my goal for this column is to (G-d willing) bring something new (a daunting task) to a subject that has unfortunately become a “regular” part of most of our lives. I hope I can pull that off.
    About 20 years ago I had one of those thoughts that I knew made sense, but hoped I was wrong about.
    To start, I realized as a typical Gen Xer that when I was growing up, antisemitism, real antisemitism—the kind my parents and grandparents experienced—seemed like something from the past. I thought I was incredibly fortunate to have grown up a generation after the end of the war, which at that age seemed like an incredibly long time ago.
    I grew up around people who had experienced World War II, including my father, a veteran of that war, and lots of people who had Yiddish/German/Polish accents, including Holocaust survivors who my family and I were very close to. But to me, and I think to all of us, that was the distant past. Gone. Over. The “old days.”
    My big realization? I realized that I didn’t grow up in a world so horrified by the Shoah, so advanced, so enlightened that hating us just because we are Jewish was an extinct phenomenon.
    Instead, it dawned on me that I grew up during a temporary and historically very rare period in which antisemitism did not disappear; it just became socially unacceptable. It was no longer cool, trendy or fashionable to speak openly about hating Jews.
    The Holocaust was part of living, or a culturally recent memory for all of us. In the ’70s and ’80s when I was growing up, movies and miniseries like “Holocaust” and “The Winds of War” were shocking in their rawness, and helped to keep the Shoah front and center in the public consciousness, much as “Roots” did for slavery.
    Obviously, Holocaust education was more common then, and meeting a survivor was a common occurrence, especially if you lived in Los Angeles or New York. We kept saying “Never forget.” But forgetting wasn’t the problem.
    The problem was that while everyone seemed to understand how shocking, unprecedented and purely evil the Holocaust was, what was actually happening was that the hatred of Jews for simply being Jews had just gone underground.
    And not just underground for neo-Nazis and white supremacists, as we had assumed, but underground for ALL of the same types of people who had previously been allowed to express their antisemitism openly and casually.
    Back to my big realization: If antisemitism had merely gone underground, I realized that it would be back and would resume its ugly place as the constant bane of Jewish life it had always been—except that the game changer this time is that now we have Israel. (More about that in a future column.)
    That is exactly what is happening.
     The night before writing this, I heard about the incident in which television and podcast commentator Joe Rogan not only defended Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a world-class antisemite, but repeated the tired “Jews/money” trope.
    I don’t know about you, but I’ve been relentlessly bombarded with this kind of thing for the last 10 to 20 years. I think we all feel that what has changed is that comments like Rogan’s aren’t only regular, but they have become socially acceptable in a way that has not been true since the pre-war era. It has become acceptable to say the things that we all thought had been consigned to the social dustbin.
    What are we doing about it?
    We as Jews spend an awful lot of time hand wringing about “process” items like “the formal definition of antisemitism.” (More on the pathetically weak and feckless approach of almost all Jewish organization in a later column.)
     We all know what antisemitism is: It is the hatred of the Jewish people simply because we exist. Period.
    And as I watched the Pittsburgh shooting, the Poway shooting, Ilhan Omar proclaiming that Israel “hypnotized” the world, and that support for Israel “is all about the Benjamins,” Rashida Tlaib erasing the map of Israel in her office (and flying a “Palestinian” flag outside of that office), Kanye West spewing his ignorant stupidity, Marjorie Taylor Greene talking about those nefarious Jewish space lasers, or listening to the party that produced “AOC” (the National Socialists, I mean the Democratic Socialists of America) chanting “from the river to the sea,” I KNEW something had changed. The social cost of open antisemitism no longer existed. In fact, it was quickly regaining the cachet it carried throughout each previous era.
    I am going to be extremely honest in this column. That’s how I do it. Some people may be offended.
    I have no intention of supporting a political “side.” My ONLY side is the Jewish people. In fact, I can’t believe that so many of us haven’t circled the wagons yet (sorry Israelis, you may have to look that phrase up). Far too many of us seem to believe that we still live in safe and secure late 20th century America.
    We don’t. That America doesn’t exist anymore.
    As Jews, we need to wake up and realize that the thing that older people always warned about, that the world could be incredibly dangerous for us, wasn’t just real, but that we once again inhabit that world, and it’s one much closer to their world than the one we grew up in. I also want people to understand that being Jewish isn’t just about the Holocaust or people hating us, it is a 100% positive and great thing. We won the lottery of life because we get to be Jewshy. Judaism, and our entire experience, is overwhelmingly positive. In our day-to-day lives we should focus on that.
     This is, however, a column about antisemitism. So while I may appear to be negative here, I am never pessimistic about being Jewish or the Jewish people.
    If I do get political, please remember that it is with the best intentions.
    Am Yisrael chai. 

Joshua Namm is a longtime Jewish community pro, passionate Israel advocate, and co-founder/co-CEO of Moptu, a unique social platform designed specifically for article sharing and dedicated to the principle of free speech.



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