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In a Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed, former B’nai B’rith International President Tommy P. Baer expresses deep concern that criticism of Israel, particularly in the context of its war with Hamas in response to Oct. 7, is escalating into blatant anti-Semitism – and that such anti-Jewish hate must be confronted with decisive action and moral leadership.

Read the op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, or below.

Dateline Israel, Oct. 7, 2023: We know all too well the barbarism inflicted by Hamas terrorists upon innocent Israelis on that date. How more than 1,200 Israelis of all ages and genders, including hundreds of teenagers attending a peace concert, were brutally tortured and murdered. How 250 were taken hostage. How the terrorists joyfully filmed their brutality. Not since its War of Independence has Israel suffered so great a loss; not since the Holocaust have the Jewish people suffered so great a loss in a single day.

Dateline United States, some nine months later: Also, not since the Holocaust have the safety and security of the Jewish people been so threatened. The escalation of antisemitism that also poses a threat to our national character as a free and inclusive society enshrined so eloquently in our founding documents is real, troubling and dangerous. Decisive action and moral leadership is required to confront this scourge. A society that fails to condemn such acts of hate and bigotry is a failed society and must bear responsibility for the consequences of its inaction. Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace laureate, defined indifference as “the most insidious danger of all.”

The marginalization of Jewish students and the abridgement of their religious freedom, in colleges and high schools across the country by their fellow students, aided and abetted in many instances by their professors, teachers and permissive administrators, cannot be attributed solely to Israel’s retaliation against Hamas. Israel’s response was fodder for those with a preexisting anti-Israel bias, which has morphed from anti-Israel sentiments to anti-Zionism to Jew-hatred; and the pro-Palestinian movement has morphed into pro-Hamas and thus a war against the Jews.

The recent vicious attack by neo-Nazi thugs against Jews outside a synagogue in Los Angeles is but one such example of violence. Chants of “From the river to sea, Palestine will be free” are words of incitement calling for genocide, and are not entitled to free speech protection. Demands by antisemitic goons that Zionists identify themselves is not free speech, but hate speech.

The Middle East issues are complex, borne of a complex history, constantly subjecting Israel to shifting standards of scrutiny. Self-defense is conflated with aggression, retaliation is conflated with genocide. However, the atrocities committed on Oct. 7 require no providing of context. There is no ambiguity, no nuance. Only terror.

Much has been reported and written of the horrors of that day. Readers are challenged to distinguish between fact and fiction, truth and propaganda, information and misinformation. So it is with an article published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on June 16 (“Actually, no. There is just the one Richmond”) written by members of an organization calling itself Richmond Jews for a Free Palestine.

The authors could have achieved a degree of credibility by simply calling for a cease-fire, the release of all hostages, the end of Hamas control of Gaza, and the rebuilding of Gaza under a more enlightened government. They did none of that. With only a passing reference to the events of Oct. 7, the authors have gone far beyond any legitimate criticism of Israel in the conduct of the war.

In a litany of half-truths and historical omissions, the authors have equated the hostages held in Gaza with the terrorists held in Israeli jails; callously accused the Israelis of using the Holocaust as the justification for the war in Gaza; and most egregiously have accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing;” all with expressing their pride in marching “alongside our Palestinian friends at protests” and without a single mention of Hamas culpability. Not one. It gives credence to the adage that just because it is in writing doesn’t mean that it is sanctified.

Calls for peace and the end of suffering in the region should be embraced by all parties to the conflict. But peace will only come, as said by Golda Meir, Israel’s former prime minister, when the Arabs love their children as much as they hate Jews.

Tommy P. Baer, an attorney based in Midlothian, is former international president of B’nai B’rith and a member of the International Board of Directors of B’nai B’rith. Contact Baer at