Most Jew are finding this Christmas season sobering, as pro-Palestinian rallies, often resounding with Jew-hating jeers, keep turning violent. Since Oct. 7, 70% of American Jews report feeling less safe than they once did.
Jews keep debating how to fight antisemitism. Yet, all Americans should confront this evil. Jew-hatred is not a Jewish disease – it’s a non-Jewish one.
Beyond violating American values, the bigots are lashing out at America’s most defining national symbols, from putting bloody hand prints on the White House gates to defacing Lincoln Memorial Plaza with “Free Gaza” grafitti. Why aren’t more Americans objecting?
It’s an old story. In targeting Jews, Jew-haters often attack liberal-democracy, Western values, America’s core identity, civility itself. The hooligans who menaced the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting applauded the Hamas bloodbath and endorsed genocide, chanting “End the Settler Zionist State.”
Protesters waved posters with swastikas. They peddled Jew-hating stereotypes suggesting that Jewish money and power seduced President Biden, whom they branded “Genocide Joe.” And, as usual, fusing anti-Zionism with anti-Americanism, they shouted: “NYPD, KKK, IDF… they’re all the same.”
America has a long tradition of peaceful protest – this isn’t it. Who rips down posters of innocent people, babies, the elderly, kidnapped from their homes? Do we really want fellow citizens menaced by masked, aggressive, hooligans anytime we disagree with one another?
Americans should look at how these anti-Israel protesters are importing autocratic bullying into American democracy, normalizing it, and ask if this is the tone we seek in the public square.
Yet, when 290,000 people marched peacefully in Washington in November to support Israel and denounce antisemitism, fighting Jew-hatred looked like a Jewish concern. One former student emailed: “It was both empowering and extremely lonely – in that mostly Jews showed up.”
Traditionally, non-Jewish Americans showed up to fight Jew-hatred too. George Washington’s 1790 Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport said America’s government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” It’s in America’s DNA – Europe’s religious persecutions were not welcome here.
Sadly, that vow wasn’t always fulfilled – but Washington shifted responsibility away from the victims, targeting the victimizer.
Seventy-two years later, President Abraham Lincoln opposed a rare act of official American antisemitism. Gen. Ulysses Grant’s General Order No. 11 expelled Jews from Western Tennessee in 1862. In overriding Grant, Lincoln explained that “to condemn a class is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad.”
Most presidents have echoed Washington and Lincoln – including an apologetic President Grant after his election. Unlike in Enlightenment Europe or today’s Middle East, American leaders have consistently condemned Jew-hating incidents.
But this is a grassroots, mass effort too; every decent American must combat Jew-hatred, and all forms of bigotry. Cowardly silence has never silenced haters.
It’s time for individual Americans to stand tall, reaching out to Jewish friends who are feeling blue, feeling scared. Symbolic gestures, comforting words, can reassure fellow Americans feeling harassed – while repudiating the bigots.
Remarkably, it’s precisely that soothing tone, that empathy, the three Ivy League presidents failed to convey in Congress during their now-infamous testimony.
By contrast, and more typically, in December 1993, thugs shattered a 6-year-old’s bedroom window displaying Hanukkah decorations in Billings, Montana. The Billings Gazette printed a menorah as a centerfold. Thousands of Montanans then displayed paper menorahs in their windows too. One billboard proclaimed: “Not in Our Town! No Hate, No Violence. Peace on Earth.”
Therapists teach that feeling community support – and linking your suffering to a broader mission – helps heal traumatized war veterans and hate crime victims. The freed Soviet Refusenik Natan Sharansky survived nine years in the Gulag prison system, aided by gestures of worldwide “solidarity” from activists, which reminded him of his “deep attachments” ideologically and communally.
Five years ago, a week after an antisemite murdered 11 Jews worshiping in Pittsburgh’s “Tree of Life” synagogue in October 2018, I visited my brother’s family in Kemp Mill, Maryland. That Sunday evening, 250 parishioners of St. Andrew Apostle Catholic Church snaked toward Kemp Mill Synagogue, carrying candles.
In medieval Europe, when locals marched on synagogues, things ended badly for the Jews, especially when fire was involved. This walk ended, American-style, in hugs, thank yous and toasts celebrating religious and national unity. Strangers who were neighbors soon became friends.
Adlai Stevenson eulogized Eleanor Roosevelt in 1962 by saying she would “rather light candles than curse darkness.” Too many Jews have been cursing darkness, alone, since Oct. 7. This holiday season, their non-Jewish friends should start lighting candles – and lightening their load.
Let’s keep making those traditional, all-American, symbolic gestures that defend America, fight the hate, and, occasionally, blossom into genuine unexpected friendships.