If you’re not worried, you’re not paying attention.
I definitely paid attention this past week, as a piece I wrote for Kveller about Ivanka Trump triggered remarks that went personal rather than political. In language very different from the usual Kveller discussions, comments, emails, and Tweets, I was called a “stupid judgmental bitch,” an “embarrassing twat,” a “Jew loser,” and a “piece of shit,” everywhere from Kveller’s Facebook page to my inbox.
Those statements are very, very different from, “I couldn’t disagree more with your opinion/piece, and here’s why.” The world I want for my children is one in which we disagree with vigor, but not vituperative fury. I want a world in which people stand up for their beliefs with discussion, not disgusting epithets. However, the comments are an accurate reflection of the world we seem to be living in these days—one of intense anger and personal vindictiveness, where name-calling is deemed an adequate substitution for disagreement. That anger and fury is everywhere—and we see it on the larger national stage every day, directed at all of us as Jews.
We don’t yet know how the history books will see 2016, but the divide between the political left and right feels particularly furious, bitter, and acrimonious. Both sides can agree on so few things, but anti-Semitism proliferates, sadly, on both sides of the ideological aisle. No political party has remained untouched by it, and sadly, neither party has taken an active or loud enough stance in denouncing it.
Recently, the Washington Post reported that the Amcha Initiative, a nonpartisan group that investigates anti-Semitism on college campuses, released a study finding that 287 anti-Semitic incidents occurred at American colleges and universities between January and June of this year—a 45% increase from the first six months of 2015.
As the dust swirls in election fighting, anti-Semitism has taken the national stage as well. Jewish journalists writing pieces perceived to be unfavorable to the Trump family have been deluged with electronic and actual death threats including Holocaust-style pictures of the journalists being put in ovens or shot in the head. Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump himself recently tweeted a picture in which what he called a “sheriff’s star”—a six-pointed star more commonly seen as a Star of David—was superimposed over piles of money as an illustration of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s corruption. Conservative commenter Ann Coulter wondered on Twitter if Bernie Sanders supporters would be “gassed.”
In the past week, a protester outside the Democratic National Convention burned an Israeli flag, a black bandanna obscuring her face, and a Democratic superdelegate from Georgia, Hank Johnson, referred to Israeli settlers as “termites,” a disgusting epithet which, when wielded, casts Jews as subhuman parasites. And a recent email revealed by WikiLeaks showed a May conversation in which DNC chief financial officer Brad Marshall suggested that the party should “get someone to ask” about Senator Bernie Sanders’ religious beliefs in order to make him seem less palatable than Clinton as a nominee.
Those of us who are proud Jews and proud Americans need to speak out against such hateful acts, regardless of our political stripes. We need to do so for our own sake, and for the sake of our Jewish children.
Each of my six children’s first names is Jewish—Hebrew, whether modern or Biblical. That was a deliberate choice: Their names are their “sheriff star” badges, signifying to the world that they are Jews. It is my hope to raise them not to be afraid, but rather, to be proud Jews—proud of who they are, proud of their heritage, and proud of their people.
I say this because, despite the clouds of hate that swirl around us, this is not a time to hide—rather, it is a time to stand up. Here are three ways we can all be braver in the face of anti-Semitism:
1. It is a time to decry anti-Semitism, regardless of political affiliation, wherever it is found, actively and loudly. We cannot let anti-Semitism be an acceptable, palatable form of bipartisan prejudice. Don’t absolve anti-Semitism by people you traditionally see as your allies. Instead, we must call it out whenever we see it, not apologize or make excuses for those who condone or espouse it. If you’re a Democrat or Republican or Independent, it doesn’t matter—what matters is that we cannot allow prejudice and hate to find a comfortable seat in this country. And in order to do that, we have to speak out against it wherever and whenever we see it, not sit back in silence.
Don’t let anyone forget that anti-Semitism matters and is just as corrosive as any other kind of ethnic or race-based or religious-based hatred.
2. Engage in discussion with those with whom you disagree. Yes, we live in a time where “discussions” can degenerate almost immediately into vituperative name-calling (see above). Take deep breaths, be patient. If we want a better world, in which people are not reduced to epithets, we need to model that world ourselves.
3. The whole world is a very narrow bridge, teetering over a chasm of hate. The important thing is not to be afraid.