Jews are scared. And angry. Over the past year and a half, Jewish Americans have experienced hate-based violence aimed at members of our community at a level not seen in recent memory. Simultaneously, we have seen anti-Semitic acts of violence committed across Europe, and a rising tide of hatred against Jews there, also at a level not seen in recent memory. Just six months ago the German government’s commissioner on anti-Semitism warned Jews in his country against wearing a kippah/yarmulke in public.
The worst of these recent acts—in fact the worst attack on Jews in the history of our country—was the murder of 11 Jews worshipping in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. They were targeted because of the murderer’s belief that Jews were helping immigrants of color and Muslims come into the United States. As is the case with most of the anti-Semitic acts for which some kind of ideology can be determined, the Pittsburgh terrorist was motivated by white/right-wing nationalism.
However, the most recent wave of anti-Semitic violence—coming, it seems, almost daily in the last couple of weeks—against Orthodox Jews in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area appears to have been committed largely by black people. In New York City, looking at the first nine months of 2019, 33% of those arrested for committing any kind of crime linked to anti-Semitism (these are overwhelmingly acts of vandalism rather than acts of violence) have been black, while 60% have been white. Overall, Jews represent 13% of New York City’s population. The percentage of hate crimes committed in the city last year that were aimed at Jews is more than four times that.
Shamefully, some right-wing demagogues have used the demographics of the perpetrators to pit blacks and Jews against each other, seeking to drive a wedge between the two communities most loyal to the Democratic Party, as well as to create a divide between Jews and the progressive movement itself. Their only aim is to benefit Donald Trump and his Republican allies. Increasing tension and even hatred between Jews and blacks—which, let’s not forget, renders invisible black Jews and Jews of color—causes such snakes no shame because they are, in a word, shameless.
The right-wing New York Post has published multiple examples of this kind of hateful and deceptive rhetoric. One such article stated that “some black leaders even promote anti-Semitism,” while another claimed that “liberals are allowing anti-Semitism to flourish.”
On 4chan—which represents the beating heart of right-wing hate-mongering—they gloried in a the success of a fake Twitter account created with a Jewish-sounding name that sought to further exacerbate black-Jewish tensions over the recent attacks. Other similar examples of this bullshit abound across social media.
So let’s be clear, there’s no evidence that the black community—whatever that would even mean given the diversity within the group of people who identify as black in this country—has a particular problem with anti-Semitism, or that it bears any special responsibility beyond that of any other group to call out that form of hate.
Yes, there are prominent African Americans like Louis Farrakhan who promote hatred of Jews. His foul bigotry creates real harm, as does the support for him shown by a small number of progressives of color, including leaders of the Women’s March. However, there are also high-profile white Christian leaders—including the current occupant of the White House—who have stoked anti-Semitism, not to mention others who have directly spewed hate against Jews. Jewish Americans rightly expect members of all such communities to condemn those who do so. Supporters of Trump have largely disappointed us on this front.
The point is that Jews are facing violence from multiple sources, motivated by different forms of hatred. Recognizing and acknowledging that is important, whereas downplaying or ignoring it—even if due to a well-intentioned desire to avoid adding fuel to right-wing attempts to divide black and Jewish progressives—makes Jews feel gaslighted, and thus abandoned by those whose support they assumed they could count on. Anti-semitism in America does not come solely from the right, or solely from white Christians, even if that’s where the large majority of it comes from. That reality makes the Jewish community especially vulnerable. We need support from every community.
Thankfully, we have seen exactly that in recent days, and in a quite public way. New York City and State officials—white, black, brown, and more—all spoke out to condemn the recent anti-Semitic attacks in the region. Public menorah lightings all over the country show Jews that they have friends and allies.
New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, announced a series of concrete measures “as part of the City’s commitment to the prevention of hate crimes and anti-Semitic attacks.” Mayor de Blasio stated: “Fearing the next act of terror will not become the new normal for our Jewish neighbors. In New York City, diversity is our strength and we respect the traditions of all who call New York City home.”
Near the epicenter of the recent attacks, hundreds attended a rally against anti-Semitism last Sunday at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza:
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and City Council member Brad Lander joined demonstrators who included members of Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Sikh communities.
"Stand up, Fight back!” the crowd chanted, as well as “Jewish lives matter.”
The rally organized by the UJA Federation of New York along with other groups that will take place on Sunday, January 5, offers an opportunity to those who want to demonstrate their allyship to come out and stand with Jews, and stand up against anti-Semitism. The rally bears the title “Solidarity March: No Hate. No Fear.” From the website:
MONSEY. BROOKLYN. JERSEY CITY.
When anti-Semitism strikes our community, we stand up and stand together.
This Sunday, January 5, we will march through our streets — proud, united, and strong.
The 1.5 million Jews of our great city and region will not stand down.
We will not be intimidated.
We invite New Yorkers of every background to stand with us and say no to hate and no to fear.
Meet at Foley Square at 11:00 am
We will march across the Brooklyn Bridge to Cadman Plaza
It was vitally important for those who are not black to show up and declare support for racial justice and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The same goes for those who are not Latino to rally against the mistreatment of the mostly Latino immigrants and asylum-seekers being held in despicable conditions by the Trump administration along the Mexican border. And it was key for those who are not members of a Native American tribe to support or participate in the protests at Standing Rock.
It is equally important for those who are not Jewish to do the same by rallying against anti-Semitic violence and hatred. All of these actions help reassure members of vulnerable communities that they are not alone, and shows that those who commit acts of hate or who support various forms of oppression do not speak for all the members of their racial, religious, or ethnic group. Right now, Jewish Americans urgently need that reassurance. We need our allies to stand with us.
Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)