There’s a popular tweet going around shared by many in my Millennials generation by “The Conscious Kid” which is an organization dedicated to “parenting and education through a critical race lens.” With almost 2 million followers, it is highly influential to this generation’s activists dedicated to anti-racist education — a noble and important effort we must acknowledge if we care about a better future for every American. Anti-racism asks that people not merely be passively against racism but actively work against it.
The tweet going around social media states, “You can’t be anti-racist without also condemning anti-Semitism, which is also rooted in White Supremacy.” Now, there is much truth to this, obviously, and I very much appreciate that “The Conscious Kid” came out with it, in light of the ongoing anti-Semitic comments coming from a wide array of athletes to celebrities — but let’s pause a moment. Anti-Semitism goes so much deeper and if people are now willing to look inward at their biases, and hold others accountable, are Jews allowed to ask that society does the same for them? After the brutal killing of George Floyd, the Jewish community stood side by side with those demanding justice, recognizing the very real problem of racism in this country. We understood that the moment was not about us, and we respected that fully. But alas, as it always does, anti-Semitism reared its ugly head, not once, not twice, but enough that we cannot be silent.
The last few weeks we’ve witnessed an uptick in age-old anti-Semitic rhetoric on social media, mainly inspired by the rabid anti-Semite and homophobe, Louis Farrakhan who is deeply influential to the Black community among many celebrities, musicians and athletes with huge platforms and millions of followers. Many say he represents a minority, but he has a following that shares his anti-Semitic vitriol in musical artists like P. Diddy with 17.1 million social media followers, Ice Cube who has 17.8 million followers, Nick Cannon and Desean Jackson (who have both since apologized for their blatant anti-Semitic comments) with a combined 5.3 million followers. Even superstar Madonna with 15.3 million followers shared a clip of his which has so far garnered over 700,000 views.
If you take the time to read the comments on the apology written by Nick Cannon you will see dozens of his fans tell him not to apologize, stating: “you were right!” Comedian Chelsea Handler, shared a video of Farrakhan from 30 years ago on the topic of racial prejudice with her 3.9 million Instagram followers. Even in the face of intense criticism to remove it she said, “I wasn’t thinking about the anti-Semitic thing…I don’t want to take down the post because I felt the message was powerful and a lot of people did.” Handler, who is Jewish later did remove the video and issued an apology, but her casual apathy for the “anti-Semitic thing” speaks volumes. Tamika Mallory, an influential leader and former chair of The Women’s March has still not apologized for calling Farrakhan the G.O.A.T., Greatest Of All Time. We’ve witnessed the hashtag #Jewishprivilege circulate enough so that A-list Jewish celebrities like Sarah Silverman felt the need to respond to the absurdity of calling Jews privileged. I need not list the anti-Semitic comments, or violent attacks on the streets of Brooklyn; murder sprees in Monsey, New York, Pittsburgh and Jersey City, New Jersey from just the last few years — to convince you that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the United States. The question is, where is this coming from? The answer is a myriad of places, and the hard part for people is acknowledging that.
Anti-Semitism is not rooted in white supremacy – as we know it is the world’s oldest form of hate. Given that activists are currently asking society (calling on their friends, family, jobs, corporations, organizations, even hair accessory brands) to do this “inner work” confronting their racial biases, is it OK now for Jews to ask society to speak up against anti-Semitism and more importantly to learn about from where this vast conspiracy theory stems? It’s one thing for people to apologize and promise to do better. It’s another to learn about why what they said is not just hurtful but hateful and dangerous.
In her brilliant book, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism” former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss points out that anti-Semitism is, in fact, ancient and existed hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. In early Christianity however, Weiss points out the notorious line in book of Matthew, “’His blood is on us and our children,’ the Jews say a line so historically destructive that even the unrepentant anti-Semite Mel Gibson did not translate it in the English subtitles of his film the Passion of the Christ, though it is spoken in Aramaic.’“ She goes on to explain exactly why this is so important:
"My intent here is not to blame thousands of years of Christian doctrine—not at all—or to suggest that because Western civilization grew out of these roots, it is somehow fundamentally doomed. It is simply to point out that the historical and intellectual depth of the anti-Jewish conspiracy. If the Christian Bible is the most important book in Western civilization and Jesus is that civilization’s most important figure, the Jews’ rejection of him and his message means that anti-Semitism is baked into the very foundations of the world we inhabit."
If “anti-Semitism is baked into the very foundations of the world we inhabit” then activists asking society today to take a good hard look in the mirror must do the same for anti-Semitism. How many Americans know the origins of the “blood libel”? How many Christians are familiar with the history of their religion as it relates to Jews? How many Catholics know that it was not until 1965 that the Catholic Church officially denied the collective responsibility of Jews for killing Christ? Yes, 1965. How many pogroms and Jewish children were burned at the stake throughout history because of this idea? An untold number. Jewish history is wrought with one horrific account to the next of such brutality, and I’m not including the Holocaust.
We all know the threat of neo-Nazis and white supremacists and what their ideology states — and I’m not downplaying its seriousness — but when a superstar like P. Diddy with his over 17 million followers propagates anti-Semitism by promoting a message that states the Jews are “Satan,” in a world with only a few Holocaust survivors left to tell their stories, the dangers cannot be understated. This type of language must be clearly and unequivocally denounced, and yet some are even unapologetic. In a climate of cancel culture what does it say about the state of a society when figuresas popular as P. Diddy and Madonna can share that rhetoric and it goes unchallenged by the rest of stardom?
It is not only a Western phenomenon which is what makes anti-Semitism so unique and so dangerous. It is alive and well throughout the Muslim Arab world and has been for hundreds of years. How many people in this country know that? Just last summer on a popular Egyptian talk show, a professor revived the blood libel saying that Jews use human blood for ritualistic reasons but that today it is the work of only “extreme ultra-Orthodox Jews.” How many know that there is an onslaught of anti-Semitic hatred throughout the Muslim world — and from leadership in Turkey to Iran — that blames Jews for having invented the coronavirus? There are countless examples across the modern Muslim world of blatant centuries old anti-Semitism, not just the Arab world, to point to.
This is to say nothing of Israel’s annihilationist enemies or the far-left anti-Semitism we see in the form of anti-Zionism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. It’s naïve to assume we can solve the problem of world-wide anti-Semitism, today, tomorrow or ever, and it is far too layered to explicate it in this short piece, but those of us who care about making sure we root out racism can and must educate ourselves and society writ-large on what exactly is anti-Semitism. As Weiss profoundly says: “anti-Semitism is baked into the very foundations of the world we inhabit.” Figuring out why that is, learning about the different roots and manifestations of the world’s oldest hate is an endeavor I implore my fellow Americans to attempt.
To learn more about anti-Semitism and the different manifestations it takes, see our new initiative: None Shall Be Afraid. Take our pledge and share with your friends. Anti-Semitism is everyone’s problem and we all have our part to play in combatting the oldest form of hate.
Rebecca Rose is Associate Director of Development & Special Projects at B’nai B’rith International. She holds an M.A. in Political Science in Security and Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.
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