Wednesday, December 11, 2019

This Jew is Tired

It's been a rough week (he says, on a Thursday [dear God it's still only Wednesday -- DS]).

It began with President Trump once again dipping back into the antisemitism well in a speech before the Israeli American Council -- repeatedly treating American Jews as if we were Israelis and not American, calling us "not nice people" who would nonetheless vote for him because our great "wealth" was at stake.

It continued when Jewish communal representatives -- typified by the AJC -- could only issue the most mealy-mouthed half-condemnations (couched in lots of insulating rhetoric about how wonderful Trump has been as a friend of the Jews). One could see American Jews start to steam in frustration that, once again, antisemitism on the right would be given a pass (it already feels like forever since I wrote this, but it was actually just released on JTA a few hours ago).

Then a few days later, the New York Times put out what appeared to be a bombshell story contending that the Trump administration was going to issue an Executive Order reclassifying Jews as a separate "nationality". Already raw from the IAC speech, and mistrustful of our communal representatives who seemed to discount the threatening subtext of that speech, Jews boiled over -- furious at the prospect that American Jews should be viewed as being of any nation but America.

A few of us familiar with the civil rights context -- in particular, that Title VI only covers "race, color, and national origin", but not religion -- suspected that the EO was really just going to reiterate a policy interpretation dating back to the Obama and Bush administrations: that when antisemitism targets Jews on basis of actual or perceived ethnicity or ancestry, it is covered under the statute. But we found ourselves shouting into a void as people worked themselves into a greater and greater frenzy. Jews who a few days ago were singing the praises of neo-Bundism were now emphatic that Jewishness was "just" a religion -- a position which would, if adopted, remove Jews from the ambit of Title VI protections altogether.

I could see decades worth of civil rights progress unraveling in the face of an ever-increasing frenzy. Reflexive opposition based on incomplete information was making otherwise sensible people start putting out ideas that would virtually dynamite huge swaths of the legal apparatus standing against antisemitism -- and they were doing so under the banner of fighting antisemitism. And on a personal level, after spending literally years trying to draw attention to the mainstreaming of antisemitism on the political right, this is what gets the Jewish community to finally blow its top? This is what we rebel against? I was actually getting nauseous.

Thankfully, things died down a little today as the EO's text was actually released and people realized it was not redefining "Jew" out of "American". Attention now has shifted to the EO's implementation of the IHRA antisemitism definition -- a non-legal definition that was not designed for use in legal enforcement actions and whose vagueness and imprecision risks, if not managed carefully, chilling protected First Amendment activity.

But I scarcely have the bandwidth to dive into that issue (and boy does it ever need diving into), because while all of this was happening there was a shoot-out at a Jewish grocery store in New Jersey, killing five. At first, police said they didn't think it was "terrorism-related". Then the story shifted -- maybe the store had been specifically targeted. Now we've learned that at least one of the perpetrators was a Black Hebrew Israelite -- portions of which have long been associated with radical antisemitic activity. And that, in turn, has brought out some of the ugliest iterations of the Twitterati, who are just transparently delighted that this shooter was Black and are eager to let actual Black Jews know it. It's despicable. It's despicable that Black Jews aren't even allowed to mourn antisemitic violence without someone insisting they take responsibility for it.

Want to know one difference between being a White Jew and a Black Jew? When a White guy shoots up a synagogue, I don't worry that the next time I show up people at my shul will look at me and question whether I'm one of them.

But what we should really be focusing on is that this appears to be an antisemitic shooting, and it confirms what -- contra a particular sort of grievance-monger would have you believe -- is in fact very well-known and very well-attended-to in the Jewish community: that there is a branch of radical antisemitism in other minority communities that can and has turned violent against Jews. Black Hebrew Israelites do not fall neatly on a left-right spectrum (you should read this entire Emma Green column, and not just because it makes this point), and it's crude and debased to think that just because Black therefore Left. But regardless of where one situates it ideologically, it is certainly a distinct form of antisemitism that needs to be taken seriously as distinctive.

Not that anyone needed to tell us that. But by golly you can bet people will tell us that, over and over again, as if we didn't already know, as if we needed the lecture while we grieved.

What a week. What a terrible, tiring week.

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