The ceasefire in Gaza seems to be holding, but on the streets of Los Angeles, Paris, London, Chicago –wherever Jews live – a new front has opened up. The battle against openly voiced hatred of the Jewish people and calls to annihilate us is just beginning.
At one of the many anti-Israel demonstrations in front of the Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard, one marcher proclaimed his goal. Against a blue and white Israeli flag with a swastika replacing the Magen David, large, evenly spaced letters shouted out what some our neighbors may have thought before, but never had the chuztpah to proclaim publicly: “Upgrade to Holocaust 2.0.”
The sign was not challenged. Not by the organizers of the demonstration, which included both Muslim groups and the ubiquitous anti-war ANSWER organization, nor by the other participants. Across the globe, from Florida, to Germany to Australia unchallenged chants—“Death to The Jews”, Israelis are Nazis”,“Jews to the Ovens”, often spawned hate crimes.
Consciously or otherwise, strategists for the Palestinian cause can claim several victories, despite the crushing military blow to Hamas in Gaza.
Hamas has become – at least for now – the authoritative voice of the Palestinian struggle. Tens of thousands around the world did not demonstrate for “justice for Palestine,” for a peaceful two- state solution, but for Hamas’ victory. Protesters would not be “confused by the facts:” that Hamas is a terrorist organization which glorifies death – the death of Israeli civilians, and the death of its own children, whom it assiduously trains for martyrdom. As Hamas becomes the icon for worldwide support of the Palestinians, pious protesters easily move under banners that just weeks ago seemed beyond the pale. For the sin of protecting its citizens from terrorist missiles, the Israeli military is cast as “war criminals” and Israel the “Nazi” Jewish state. All of Israel, not just territory captured in ’67, is declared an “illegitimate entity,” such that an “occupied” people’s wanton terror aimed at civilians is now cast as legitimate resistance.
Ironically, Gaza is shaping up to becoming a large scale Jenin, where the world first absorbed as truth reports of the slaughter of Palestinians that turned out to be entirely fraudulent. The emerging revised casualty figures for the Gaza campaign now put the number killed at about nine hundred, with Israel providing names that link seven hundred of them with Hamas fighters, not civilians. The damage, however, is already done, as Israel-bashers seized the moment, deploying selective images of carnage in Gaza to unleash a wave of anti-Semitism rocking communities throughout the world.
Gone is the pretense of using the word “Zionist” in place of “Jew”. Jews are now targeted as Jews. In Amsterdam, the streets near Anne Frank’s hiding place resounded with calls to”Gas the Jews”; from Madrid to Montreal, from London to Melbourne to Oklahoma City to Washington, DC, protesters proudly pump placards “Israelis are Nazis” and “Kill the Jews”. Synagogues are torched in France. Muslims walk into stores on Golders’ Green Road in London, announcing, “We will kill you.” School principals in Denmark tell Jewish parents that their children are not welcome, because they will offend Muslims. German police removed an Israeli flag from the balcony of an apartment to appease anti-Israel protesters. Boycotts of Israeli and of Jewish businesses – are no longer the domain of the lunatic fringe. In Rome from whose streets their grandparents were hauled off to Auschwitz, Jews – not Israelis - are threatened with economic warfare.
January 27th marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the world’s largest Jewish cemetery. It is observed as the European Holocaust Memorial Day. Officials in Catalonia, Spain (a country in which more than 50% of secondary school students in a recent Spanish poll said they would not want to sit next to a Jewish classmate) canceled its participation this year because of Israel’s action in Gaza.
In Chicago, four synagogues were vandalized on the Sabbath by Hamas sympathizers. This, after a CAIR spokesman brushed aside complaints about antisemitic material, chiding Jewish leaders for caring less about the humanitarian disaster in Gaza than about words on “cardboard paper.” This was quite a dramatic departure from CAIR’s stance regarding the ink and paper of the infamous Danish Mohammed cartoons.
Here in Los Angeles, the deployment of antisemitism in service of Hamas got even less attention from MPAC. Instead, Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs County, upbraided Mayor Villaraigosa and Sheriff Baca for their temerity in publicly defending Israel’s right to defend herself against terrorism. These veteran politicians do not understand the bigger picture, Mr. Al-Marayati insists, for such support he warns will enrage the greater Arab world. Claiming to oppose extremism, he nonetheless offers an excuse for Hamas – and those who refuse to condemn as morally wrong the targeting civilians in rocket attacks, of using one’s own civilian population and infrastrucuture as human shields, of training children as suicide bombers. And as for missiles in mosques and booby-trapped Korans – well, no hestiation there either: “Militarism fuels extremism, and religion becomes a vehicle for resistance,” he writes. He wrote nothing, however, about Jew-hatred in the streets of Los Angeles.
He could have. His counterparts in England did not shy away from the task. There, a group of imams from every strain of Islamic thought, writers, and academics signed a letter expressing their grief over the deaths in Gaza, but at the same time condemning the rising wave of anti-Semitism: Protests against Israel should have nothing to do with violence against Jews, they wrote in a letter circulated to 1200 imams around the country.
Jews must not remain silent. We must condemn each and every incident of antisemitism, and not become inured to their rising wave. We dare not accept new rules of engagement dictated by apologists for terrorists. We must insist that political officials, religious leaders, and our friends and neighbors to condemn all hate speech and incitement, even when protected by law; that the media help expose this phenomenon and those behind it. Muslim groups who constantly warn of the threats of Islamophobia must know that silence is unacceptable when the tables are turned.
Last week many religious leaders were present at the historic inauguration of Barack Obama. Our new President had much to say to Muslims and while these words were aimed at those abroad, they have relevance in our own country: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. … for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”
As we mark the 64th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we are witness a campaign that seeks to punish Israel and cower her Jewish supporters by cynically leveraging participation in Holocaust commemorations to alleged misdeeds of the State of Israel. To them we should all send this message-loud and clear: “Those who cannot respect live Jews can save the crocodile tears they shed only for dead ones.”
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Rabbi Cooper is the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center
Rabbi Adlerstein is the Center’s Director of Interfaith Affairs