Thursday, April 14, 2022

Intra-Jewish Antisemitism

The New York Jewish Week has an interesting story about a clump of fringe Satmar Hasidic Rabbis in New York who are urging their followers not to accept food donations from "Zionist" organizations, which in this case means umbrella communal organizations like the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. The Rabbis are "playing to the crowd" here, since as the article makes clear both they and their followers almost certainly are accepting donations from the Jewish groups they detest, they just are lying about it. So practically speaking, it is not changing anyone's behavior.

Nonetheless, it is interesting. There is, of course, the superficial irony of a group of Jews trying to shun the mainstream Jewish community by yelling about "Zionism", but from the right -- many will no doubt observe that this sort of rhetoric and conduct would, if done by (to pick a random example) some Reconstructionist congregation in Chicago, be immediately lambasted as a form of extreme antisemitism. But since it is the Satmar, it gets a pass.

Yet I actually do think there is more that has to be said beyond just the usual charges of hypocrisy. I do think it is true -- indeed clearly true -- that Jews can engage in antisemitism (though of course we should be extra-cautious about applying that label in reference to intracommunal debates and conversations). One example often given is certain behaviors by far-left anti-Zionists; another we could reference is some secular Jews joining with non-Jewish neighbors in raising hostile and conspiratorial complaints about Orthodox Jews who might be moving into their community. It's antisemitic when non-Jews do it, and it's antisemitic when, sadly, Jews do it too. The term "self-hating" Jew is deeply misleading and doesn't capture the phenomenon -- the persons who engage in this sort of behavior are very often quite proudly Jewish in other contexts. Rather, it is intra-Jewish antisemitism -- antisemitism from one faction of the Jewish community directed at another.

And, in addition to the examples I just gave above, one iteration of such intra-Jewish antisemitism that we need to start talking about is antisemitism emanating from the Orthodox community targeting their less traditionally observant brethren. As the NYJW article makes clear, the statement by these Rabbis targeting the umbrella New York Jewish organizations is part of a broader movement occurring within highly religious Orthodox Judaism that is -- and there is no other way to put it -- stirring up hate and antagonism towards non-Orthodox (particularly Reform) Jews. The story refers to articles in Satmar newspapers spreading stories about how Reform Jews, whom they characterize as "criminals and infidels" are "infiltrating" the community. It expresses outright horror at the prospect that they "build bridges and to unite the communities of the non-believers and Haredis in New York." If ever there were a case where "Zionist" didn't really mean "Zionist" but rather was a stand-in for "[Reform] Jews", this is it. The statement is motivated by, and an expression of, a deep, abiding hatred of a huge swath of the New York Jewish community.

And unfortunately, this not a problem that can be limited to a few fringe hot-heads amongst the Satmar (though if the Satmar's anti-Zionism is the hook that causes the broader community to finally recognize it as a problem, so be it). Four years ago I raised the terrible prospect of an out-and-out schism in Judaism where Orthodox Jews simply cease recognizing other Jews as Jews (this was prompted by an Israeli MK who blamed Reform Jews for causing earthquakes), and it does not feel as if things have improved since then. For example, anyone watching Jewish Twitter cannot help but notice the regular and repeated dismissal and denigration of the validity of non-Orthodox Jewish Rabbis -- especially women -- "Rabbi" placed in quotation marks, sneers about their ordination, and so on. It is behavior that, were it coming from non-Jews (and to be clear -- it often does) we would never have any trouble labeling it as antisemitic. More broadly, one could very easily categorize all the debates over permitting women to pray at the Western Wall, or the non-recognition of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in Israel, as a form of antisemitism directed at non-Orthodox Jews.

It is terrible disgrace that part of our conversation about rising antisemitism has to include antisemitism that is promoted by Jews, and it is a further disgrace that "antisemitism promoted by Jews" comes with multiple subcategories. Some of these are political -- far-left Jews cheering on the ostracization and shunning of their "Zionist" brethren, or reactionary right-wing Jews bolstering conspiracy theories about George Soros or "cultural Marxism". Others have religious overtones, such as when secular Jews try to obstruct or block their Orthodox peers from moving to their towns. And, sadly, another in that category is open, seething disdain by some Orthodox Jews directed at the non-Orthodox -- viewing them with hate, viewing their religious practices with disdain, in some cases refusing to view them as Jewish at all. It is, as I said, disgraceful -- and it's not easy to talk about. But talk about it we must. This is not a problem that is going to go away on its own.

1 comment:

LWE said...

In general, how similar are bitter inter-communal fights to bigotry against the community?