The rash of physical attacks against Jews in Brooklyn and Manhattan began almost a year ago. We have cellphone and street camera footage of many of the attacks, and they are coming from assailants bellowing “Allahu Akbar” and from younger black and Hispanic men often yelling “dirty Jew.” They sneak up on Jewish-garbed citizens using bricks and stones, breaking bones and smashing eyes. There was no mainstream media discussion about this until a few weeks ago, and the major Jewish establishment organizations were basically silent as well. Even now, none of these Jewish organizations are flexing their muscles or evincing anywhere near the type of outrage we should expect.
You can be sure that if the attackers were white or Jewish and the victims Black, Muslim, or Hispanic, the establishment alphabet Jewish organizations (ADL, AJC, NYF, JCRC, Conference of Presidents, and Federations) would be the very first organizing protests against racism and pontificating about something rotten within American society.
My grievance is not why general society is doing little, since most Americans have no clue about what is happening in Boro Park, Williamsburg, or Crown Heights. But the major secular Jewish organizations do know! Nor am I perplexed about why this is not at the top of the list of many officeholders and politicians. After all, the “machers” from the Jewish organizations are not knocking down their doors nor raising Cain — something Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, CAIR, and Ocasio-Cortez would certainly do if their people were being assaulted by outsiders. Beyond doubt, the establishment Jewish organizations would themselves be knocking down doors right alongside them. They, as they always do, would be proclaiming “how the most important Jewish value is the protection of minorities and fighting racism.” Actually, it is President Trump who has made more of an issue over anti-Jewish remarks coming from the mouths of high-profile members of minority communities than our own Jewish establishment “leadership.”
Many of those running Jewish organizations and non-Orthodox synagogue and temples have for decades made helping other minorities the centerpiece of their ideological life and, thus, will never spotlight the anti-Semitism coming from members of the minority community, since it would shatter all they believe in. It might get in the way of “dialogue,” which is their most precious template, though it usually is a dialogue of what we Jews can do for you and not what you can also do for us. Years after the 1992 Crown Heights pogroms, the ADL finally acknowledged that its unwillingness to defend the Lubavitch community was a fear of jeopardizing their loyalty to the Black civil rights movement.
Preoccupation with black civil rights is for most Jewish groups “their spiritual life and the continuum of their days.” We can also add sexual lifestyle rights, abortion-on-demand, open borders, and promotion of Muslim immigration. Jewish groups are in the forefront of demanding even higher levels of Islamic immigration, knowing full well that it’s precisely the recent influx of Muslims into Europe that accounts for the last fifteen years of beatings and murder of Jews in France, Belgium, and Germany. These Jewish organizations call their support of Islamic immigration a “Jewish value,” ignoring that a cardinal Jewish value is protecting Jewish life and safeguarding Jews.
Many American Jewish leaders, including rabbis, consider these issues more important than mere tribal Jewish concerns, while others have convinced themselves that it constitutes Judaism itself, universalism taking precedence over those matters of Jewishness that are labeled “parochial” and “tribal.” For them, more important than Jewish survival is the survival of progressivism and left-liberalism, their guiding light. They have redefined Judaism as leftwing progressivism. This is their “religion” and they are zealots for it. Even the few Jewish holidays observed have been stripped of the uniquely Jewish component and replaced by universalist themes that abhor the Jewish particular.
A people in constant need to display to others or affirm their own moral superiority will eventually not defend itself and puts its survival at risk. Virtue signaling is but another form of social climbing.
This devaluing of things specifically Jewish explains how Jewish organizations have allowed Jewish children on college campuses to be bullied, spat upon, harassed, and forced to renounce support of Israel. The ADL and big-city federations have the funds to counteract the BDS movement on campuses, the know-how in doing so, and the clout and savvy to demonize the movement and the Muslim students behind it as full-fledged racists not acceptable on campus. But they haven’t. In fact, the ADL has assertively come out against those states proposing legislation against BDS.
Some Jewish organizations have jelly-like offered programs speaking of the downside of general “hate and intolerance,” unwilling to call it by its real name: anti-Semitism. These Jewish leaders would invoke the specific term Islamaphobia if the victims were Muslim, likewise with anti-Black or anti-Hispanic activity.
Nor does it help that many of the college deans and professors are themselves Jewish and have chosen to protect their jobs rather than stand up for Jewish students; something Black or Muslim professors/administrators would never do to their people. (Ron Lauder is refreshingly singular in announcing that he is no longer donating to Columbia University, which this week is sponsoring Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, a proud and vocal anti-Semite.)
This obsession to universalize everything Jewish sends a message that the Jewish people and their needs are insignificant and must take a back seat. Even the Holocaust has been universalized by many Jewish organizations and rabbis so that now detention centers at our southern borders are labelled “concentration camps,” and ICE and Homeland security as Nazis, and Trump, the lover of Zion and Brooklyn’s Jews, as Hitler. By universalizing Judaism they belittle its need for existence as something in and of itself.
Worse, many have fashioned an avant-garde Judaism that consists of belittling Jewishness and being over-the-top critical of Israel while adoring its enemies — Peter Beinart/Thomas Friedman Judaism. They sit around in their Upper West Side salons and bash Jewish Jews and Israel. No Irishmen or Frenchmen in America want to dismantle Ireland or France. In contrast, an awfully high percentage of American Jews invest enormous time, energy, and money into trying to bring down and defame the country of their origin, Israel. This form of self-hate is pathological and unique among mankind. Something craven, suicidal, and unnatural is happening within much of American Jewry.
It is true that establishment Jewish organizations and liberal rabbis vociferously condemned the attacks on synagogues during this past year. But those attackers were characterized as “right-wingers.” Jewish organizations are always eager to attack anything considered right-wing. But their silence in the face of dangerous, loud, and undeniable anti-Semitism coming from a wide variety of liberal/progressive sources, including the social justice warriors, leads to one inevitable conclusion. Major Jewish organizations will not imperil the Left or the “social justice” causes; they have chosen liberalism and the Democratic party over particular Jewish needs. Jewish politicians such as Chuck Schumer, Eliot Engel, Nita Lowey, Steve Cohen, Jan Schakowsky, and Adam Schiff, for example, have been silent about the Omar/Tlaib/Ocasio-Cortez anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel.
Furthermore, many Jewish groups will insidiously parlay anti-Semitism in the hopes of tarnishing Trump and his supporters and to further their decades-old efforts to characterize conservatives as anti-Semites and racists. A previous editor of the Forward once said: “Our greatest enemy is ‘majority-ism,’” in other words, the American white, Christian majority. Most Jews still feel that “minorities” are their allies and that white, Christian Americans are the ones to fear. Ari Gordon of the AJC said so recently when he announced: “Jews and Muslims are natural allies in fighting off the bigotry out there and protecting our shared democratic freedoms.” As a pulpit rabbi, especially during my Manhattan years, I was upset to hear the nonchalant bigotry of many brethren against southerners, whites, and Christians, especially patriotic whites who displayed their love of America. In the end, liberal Jews generally feel more comfortable around minorities and want to belong to the political and social Left, no matter what.
This past Sunday we held a rally in front of the NYC City Hall on lower Broadway regarding attacks against Jews in Brooklyn. I ended my speech by saying it’s obvious we can’t depend on the leaders of major Jewish organizations. They are not really leaders, rather big-shot bureaucrats. It seems we are witnessing once again the Rabbi Stephen Wise phenomenon of the 30s and 40s: leadership replaced by self-glorifying photo ops, fancy dinners, bland statements, meetings, and dialogue. We, the grassroots, will have to defend the Jewish people, defend ourselves in our neighborhoods. Self-defense is a biblical mandate, a mitzvah.
At the rally, we chanted: “Jews Fight Back.” It’s time Jews carried an aura of self-respect, an aura of self-value, so that would-be perpetrators know their attacks come with a downside for them.
Rabbi Aryeh Spero is president of Conference of Jewish Affairs, author of Push Back, and of Why Israel Matters to You.