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Israel needs an antisemitism czar

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The Jerusalem Post 23/06/2021

 

Israel needs an antisemitism czar

 

When Jew-hatred peaks, Jews traditionally mobilize – and unify. Yet today’s spike in antisemitism is sowing confusion. Too many American Jews refuse to recognize the Jew-haters within their own partisan camps. As a result, too many liberals blame Donald Trump for this latest Jew-bullying-binge. Even the Jewish Theological Seminary foolishly claimed the American violence that followed Hamas’s attacks on Israel “shares much with other hate crimes perpetrated in our society” – which is code for Right-wing Trumpians not Woke anti-Zionist pro-Palestinians.

Worse than this Zio-washing is the Israel-bashing: Too many liberal Jews attribute the rise in Jew-hatred to Israel’s acts of self-defense, blaming the victim. Amid such chaos, Israel needs an antisemitism czar to lead the fight with moral clarity and strategic creativity, while rejecting all bigotry one official leading the Jewish state’s fight against this global attack on Jews.

 

“Antisemitism czar” is doubly mischievous. “Jew-hatred” is a better, more primal, phrase; antisemitism sounds sterile, scientific, and somehow involving Arabs too. And, I know, most czars abused Jews – it’s like founding a “Bernard Madoff Integrity Institute.” But the title emphasizes that when many officials are partially responsible for something, nothing happens; during this crisis, one go-to person should be solely responsible – while coordinating with others.

True, we must break the nail-hammer dynamic wherein every problem requires another official – or ministry.  And the president and prime minister, the foreign minister and the Diaspora affairs minister, must all help combat Jew-hatred abroad.  It’s not just that the president and prime minister are too busy: as Zionists we don’t want to be only anti-antisemites. Our leaders must concentrate on building our Jewish democracy.

Similarly, one person should focus on fighting Jew-hatred on all fronts; our foreign minister has many fights on many fronts. The foreign minister’s leadership is critical, but occasionally other diplomatic, military or economic considerations will trump the fight against antisemitism. This government lacks a strategic affairs ministry, which rebuffed the worldwide delegitimization campaign. Meanwhile, the Diaspora affairs minister must ensure that combating antisemitism does not upstage the broader mission of strengthening the Jewish people, Jewish identity, Jewish consciousness, and the relationship between Israel and the rest of world Jewry. That more identity-oriented task is also broader, less defensive.

Israel’s campaign, finding allies to oppose the new anti-Zionist antisemitism, requires deft ideological framing, savvy educational marketing, and diplomatic coalition-building.

Currently, the Jewish world is panicking. Stories of Jews being beaten and cursed throughout the free world mount. Some Jews have taken down their mezuzahs, lowered their social profiles, removed their kippot. Others, proud and defiant, refuse to be cowed. Israel must help in this fight. This is not the moment to say “I told you so” about the Diaspora – but to ask, “How can we help?” This is not the time to preach “Come home,” but to reassure: “We’ve got your back.”

And it’s time to lead. Even the United States, which led the world in 2004 by establishing a special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, runs that office out of the State Department. That limits the mandate to combating Jew-hatred abroad. That American envoy needs an Israeli peer – and that Israeli peer should push for coordinators fighting antisemitism at home, not just abroad, in the US and every Western democracy. The Israeli envoy should help spread the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition acknowledging how much anti-Zionism is baked into modern antisemitism, to more countries, more jurisdictions, especially more universities.

This Israeli ambassador needs a profound understanding of the many ways Jew-hatred expresses itself. But a light touch is needed too, communicating that to activists and students, to Jews and non-Jews, while bringing greetings from Israel and the Jewish people to all those victimized by this longest hatred and most plastic hatred – rooted in the past but always assuming many different forms in the present.

Similarly, while challenging progressives to see the antisemites within their own progressive camp, this envoy must challenge right-wing Israelis to see the Jew-haters within some of Israel’s new right-wing “friends.” Confronting an ally’s bigotries doesn’t always lead to rupture; it can jump-start opportunities for education, amelioration and reconciliation.

None of this can be accomplished if Israel is a marginal player in this fight with responsibilities diffused or the mission undermined by underfunding.

One former US envoy against antisemitism recalls working most closely with two talented – but underfunded – Israeli diplomats in the Foreign Ministry. The ex-US diplomat advises that if fighting antisemitism “is a big priority for this government, there should be one point person, with resources – not just money, but staffing. And of course, the envoy should have some kind of real access to the higher levels of government” – meaning the prime minister and the foreign minister. This former official suggests that, to design such a role, the Prime Minister’s Office should convene “a few people who have a good understanding of world-wide antisemitism and team them with people who know how Israeli governments function internally and what resources Israel can muster for this job.”

Jew-bullying incidents surged by 75% in one month. This is the crisis of the moment. Israel and the Jewish people must not dither. Israel needs a leader devoting 100% attention to this growing problem, building alliances worldwide to make the longest hatred, and the most plastic hatred, yesterday’s hatred.In short, Israel needs a smart, eloquent visionary ready to take on this job, doing everything possible to make the job disappear because it’s become unnecessary.

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.

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Copyright © 2021 Prof Gil Troy, All rights reserved.

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