October 13, 2015

Jew hatred at neo-Nazi demonstrations in Toledo aren’t much different from the thinly veiled version of anti-Zionism bared at the United Nations. And at rallies against U.S. involvement in Iraq, it’s difficult to know why Israel and the Jews are mentioned so frequently.

News we don’t hear much though, is about the good guys who are succeeding. Facing up to antisemitism and preventing it from taking root is possible today because of the growing resolve in the Jewish community to not let antisemitism go unchallenged.

College campuses have been a primary battleground in this fight, and often the animus towards Israel easily morphs into antisemitism. Student activists who react to these campaigns against Israel have recently received help from a number of Jewish organizations who educate and guide their responses. Most importantly, students on campus no longer feel that they are alone, especially when they are joined by members of the local Jewish communities and previously inactive faculty. They come together to insure fairness towards Israel and soon create campus majorities who see that singling Israel out for punitive treatment not afforded any other nation could be motivated by more than just anti-Zionism. This is very similar to what happened at Yale several years ago.

Mainline Protestant churches, pushed by strong anti-Israel factions, also moved towards disinvestment from companies with anything to do with Israel. But here too reason prevailed and most were persuaded to temper their anti-Israel stance. A coordinated effort to make Israel’s case to each of these denominations was successful. Ethan Felson, the former head of the Hartford Jewish Community Relations Council and now at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in New York, was at the center of it. An active dialogue and aggressive advocacy expressing Israel’s right to exist in peace and security won the day.

And last week there was more encouraging news on the international front. Twenty-six rabbis, who met earlier this year with Jordan's King Abdullah II, were mobilized by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies to protest plans to bring a vicious antisemitic program to Jordanian television. A modern-day version of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” this program was produced in Syria and shown on Iranian television. The bold and assertive action of these rabbis and Holocaust scholars moved King Abdullah to pressure his networks to keep this poison off the air.

It was fitting that the Wyman Institute was the catalyst for this response since they constantly take us to the history that tells us Jews cannot be silent in the face of antisemitism. Jewish leaders like Rabbi David Saperstein, director of Reform Judaism's Religious Action Center, and Rabbi Charles A. Kroloff, vice-president for special projects of Hebrew Union College and other distinguished names from different streams of Judaism applied this lesson and made common cause of this issue.

When antisemitism rose throughout Europe 70 years ago, most American Jewish leaders were reluctant to speak out, and we know too well the results of their silence. But today, Jewish groups, communities and individuals provide the leadership for Israel’s other friends and join together to speak out against hatred. On the campuses and inside the Church hierarchies, the divest-from-Israel campaign has been slowed or stopped, and this gives Israel’s enemies pause and encourages her friends. And King Abdullah, from a country officially at peace with Israel since 1994, recognizes his responsibility to keep antisemitic programming out of his country. Outcomes in each of these areas would have been much different without united action of the Jewish community.

Hopefully, these important successes are part of a continuing trend. Those who desecrate graves, distribute antisemitic books, or follow antisemitic agendas must know that the Jews of today are not the quiescent “Jews of silence” of the 1940s. They will recognize that their actions will not go unnoticed and that they themselves will be held to account for what they say and do.