Splendid Isolation will not defeat antisemitism
American Jews feel alone in their fight against antisemitism. Responses from the Jewish community are not effective, and a fresh approach is needed.
The Jewish-American comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted recently: “Why do mostly only Jews speak up against Jewish hate? The silence is loud.” In response to the alarming rise of antisemitism, New York Congressman Ritchie Torres recently commented that combatting it should not be the sole responsibility of the Jewish community.
American Jews feel alone in their fight against antisemitism. Responses from the Jewish community are not effective, and a fresh approach is needed, emphasizing building bridges and shared understanding.America did not become antisemitic overnight. In the past, social norms had ensured that antisemitism was denounced within mainstream political and social discourse in the U.S., and it came with a price tag. However, the erosion of the sense of urgency around antisemitism has allowed its current rise.
Polarization in America has normalized antisemitism, creating a “with me or against me” mentality. Progressives often divide people into the oppressed and the oppressors based on skin color and socioeconomic status, leading to “the Jewish erasure.” This erasure trivializes antisemitism by suggesting Jews are Whites and framing it as a rich people’s problem.
While it may be true that most American Jews are Ashkenazi and have white skin, labeling them “White” is misguided and problematic. It is wrong to categorize people based on their skin color, and particularly, this framing fails to capture the diversity of the Jewish people and especially that of Israeli society. If at all, the term “white” carries historical baggage that Jews have been subjected to for decades. This was evident when Whoopi Goldberg made the absurd statement that Nazi genocide was between “two groups of white people.” Despite Goldberg’s apology, it is important to recognize the underlying social implications of her words.
Within this misleading and oversimplified framework, if Jews are White, it’s easier to latch on to the false notion that the Jewish State is a White colonial enterprise. During Israel’s war with Hamas in May 2021, for example, the Israeli army was framed as a white colonial army fighting against an organization of brown, indigenous people, Hamas. As expected, the framing resulted in an increase in antisemitic rhetoric and violence against Jews in the U.S.
The Jewish community’s efforts to combat antisemitism have only yielded short-term successes, and they are losing the battle. Jewish organizations often provide tactical solutions such as “Hasbara,” which are not effective nor relevant to the challenge.
More than half a century ago, Jews joined forces with African-Americans and other allies to fight against racial discrimination within the civil rights movement. Now, however, Jews face rampant antisemitism and exclusion from intersectional social spaces. This has made the tactics of the Jewish community largely ineffective, as they are often conveyed in an echo chamber. The Jewish community is talking to itself.
A fresh approach is needed to address the rise of antisemitism. Efforts should focus on diverse partnerships with other minorities, deploying a strategy of counter-intersectionality that emphasizes the similarities between the different kinds of bias and prejudice resulting from the current political dynamic. Engaging potential third-party validators, such as Rep. Richie Torres, is key. Leveraging the Abraham Accords to build bridges with American Muslims and Arabs is an example of an effort, which the Reut Institute is leading.
Second, framing the Jewish erasure as a threat is another goal. Today, many progressive Jews are internalizing the binary framework accepting their “whiteness,” viewing Jewish communal organizations as part of the social power structure they oppose.
Third, considering the growing criticism from liberal circles of Israel’s policies, several Jewish organizations have decided to distance themselves from Israel. This thought will likely expand following the forming of the new Israeli government. But this approach is destructive to Jewish identity and will only encourage antisemitism. It will undermine Arvut Hadadit, a fundamental value of Jewish identity, and exacerbate the problem. By being able to stand united, Jews will not be standing alone.
Eran Shayshon is the CEO of the Reut Institute. This op-ed is published in partnership with a coalition of organizations that fight antisemitism across the world.