Foreign Minister Yair Lapid stumbled badly last week – he attacked Jew-hatred subtly, thoughtfully. Weaving the particular with the universal, the world’s unique obsession against Jews with humans’ tendency to hate others, Lapid first described how the Nazis menaced his father as a 13-year-old Jew. Lapid then added that fighting Jew-hatred requires fighting all bigotry. Saying “Antisemitism isn’t the first name of hate, it’s the family name,” he claimed “the fight is not between antisemites and Jews,” but between “antisemites and everyone who believes in values like equality and justice and human love.”
Continuing his monthlong temper tantrum, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu accused Lapid of “flattening the concept of antisemitism” and “minimizing the uniqueness of the hatred of Jews in history.”
From the Left, Haaretz rejoiced – equally foolishly – that Lapid’s universalism “angered all those who argue and live their lives from a perspective of Jewish supremacy” – using an ugly Holocaust-spawned term that’s becoming mainstreamed.
Welcome to what passes for debate today. Knee-jerk radicals right and left eviscerate muscular moderates’ attempts at nuance. Rather than appreciating the quintessentially Jewish and democratic dance, integrating Jews’ unique story with our shared fate as humans, partisans hijacked Lapid’s words to advance their competing agendas.
The fanatics misread something glaringly obvious – confirmed from Herzl to Herzog, from Zionism’s founder to Israel’s new president.
In 1898, Theodor Herzl described Jew-hatred as “an ugly movement, first antisemitic, then anti-capitalistic, finally anarchistic,” treating it as a gateway to hatred: venom against some spills over into venom against others.
At the same global forum against antisemitism Lapid addressed, President Isaac Herzog targeted the poison social media spreads, warning: “Fear and hate loom over antisemitism. Fear and hate are spread by huge organizations, operations and systems, and tilt the balance against Jews, and the right of Jews for self-determination with their own nation state.”
Going beyond Jew-hatred, this debate is about Judaism and Zionism. Today’s oversimplifying zealots “flatten” all three. Thoughtful, subtle, liberal democrats, Jews, Zionists, see things in three dimensions, balancing identity and freedom, liberalism and nationalism, our natural, instinctive concern for “us,” and our natural, human concern for “others.”
Lapid and Herzog also behaved bizarrely at that Forum: each spoke for less than 10 minutes. Hmm. Are Israel’s new leaders genuinely interested in robust, democratic dialogue, not know-it-allish demagogic hectoring?
Speaking succinctly, these two statesmen – it feels great to use that word again – addressed the big picture, implicitly inviting others to generate practical strategies against Jew-hatred.
HERE’S MY approach:
Jews should feel SAFE in every community with proper Security, Allyship, Framing and Education.
• Security First, from physical to emotional safety: strengthening locks, reinforcing windows, hiring guards, perfecting security systems, and training young and old. Adapting Great Britain’s Community Security Trust model, communities should train young people as guards.
While cultivating communal responsibility and a Judaism of the body, not just the mind and soul, this strategy restores the sense of empowerment haters steal from their victims. That Jew-jitsu, from feeling vulnerable, lost, defenseless to feeling strong, loud, and proud, remains Zionism’s greatest gift to the Jewish people.
• Allyship (as woke progressives might say) is what Lapid and Herzog seek. Leveraging the global spike in hatred into common cause with others neither flattens nor retreats. Humans often bond through shared enemies – and we need zero tolerance for haters, even if they agree with us politically.
• Framing: Actually, reframe the debate, while ending the silly debate about “which is worse, Jew-haters left or right” – they’re both evil!
Twenty years ago, Natan Sharansky identified the Three Ds: demonization, delegitimization and double standards. With a quarter of American Jews believing these lies, we must explain how phrases like “Israel apartheid,” “settler colonialism,” “Jewish supremacy,” “from the River to the Sea” and “Israel genocide,” singling out the Jewish state for what it is, not what it does, cross redlines – even when launched by Jewish leaders. We must call out these un-Jews seeking to undo modern Jewish commitments to peoplehood and statehood. Framing Jew-hatred as the most plastic hatred – adaptable, artificial, toxic, and occasionally lethal – and a people problem, not a Jewish problem – is essential, too.
As with any disease, careful diagnosing is key to curing. Jew-hatred is spiking online and on the streets, but not in workplaces, where our grandparents suffered. And Zionophobia updates the French hater Clermont-Tonnere’s fanatic formula refusing “everything to the Jews as a nation” but according “everything to the Jews as individuals.”
• Education : Understanding antisemitism and anti-Zionism often requires teaching Judaism, Zionism and democracy to Jews and non-Jews, in intimate settings and mass campaigns. Educational initiatives should include:
a. 10-part courses for entering college students, awakening them to woke identity threats and campus propagandizing, while teaching them to be progressive and Zionist, if they wish, or conservative yet still popular, if they choose.
b. less reactive, visionary exercises like Zionist salons based on reading texts about who we are, who we have been, who we can be, as Jews, as Zionists, as humans.
c. public campaigns pushing back: this Hanukkah, why not echo the people of Billings, Montana, who responded when someone threw a cinder block through a window displaying a hanukkiah in 1992.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if November 28, as Jews lit the first Hanukkah candle, millions decorated their windows with paper menorahs, essentially saying, “You hurt one of us, you hurt all of us,” and confirming Yair Lapid’s insight that this is a fight for “equality and justice and human love.”
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,and the author of nine books on American History, his book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.