America’s challenge, as violent anti-Semitism swells
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Op-ed

America’s challenge, as violent anti-Semitism swells

The measure of a healthy society is the degree to which it firmly and effectively banishes its extremists to the ostracized margins

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Onlookers including Orthodox Jewish residents stand on the corner of Forshay Road in Monsey, New York, December 29, 2019, down the street from the scene of a stabbing rampage that occurred late the previous day during a Hanukkah celebration. (AP Photo/Allyse Pulliam)
Onlookers including Orthodox Jewish residents stand on the corner of Forshay Road in Monsey, New York, December 29, 2019, down the street from the scene of a stabbing rampage that occurred late the previous day during a Hanukkah celebration. (AP Photo/Allyse Pulliam)

As the oldest hatred increasingly rears its head in the United States, it’s hard to resist the sense of helplessness.

Anti-Semitism from the extreme left, anti-Semitism from the extreme right, Jews demonized, synagogues shot up, and now a man with a machete breaking into a rabbi’s home and wreaking carnage on Hanukkah… and all this in what we liked to think was the uniquely tolerant United States of America. The temptation is to slip toward despair — to wonder impotently why the Jews are loathed, and why every golden age and every “Goldene Medina” sooner or later tarnishes and turns black.

But such despair achieves nothing. It’s self-defeating. It’s also unjustified.

The escalation of deadly anti-Semitic violence and vicious anti-Semitic rhetoric in the US is dire. It is despicable. But it can and must be countered.

It can and must be countered by responsible leadership, making insistently plain that such violence and such rhetoric have no place in civilized society, and that its perpetrators can claim no legitimacy.

It can and must be countered by bolstered law enforcement, with more funds and expertise devoted to more effective defensive and preemptive security measures — protecting Jewish targets, and thwarting nascent efforts to harm them. Jewish Americans, like Jews everywhere, have the right to live in safety and security, and the imperative to insist that the authorities do their utmost to ensure it.

It can and must be countered by more effective education and outreach: Human nature tends toward suspicion and mistrust of the unfamiliar; such hostility is harder to sustain in a climate of knowledge and interaction.

Watching from Israel

Modern American anti-Semitism is a heady cocktail of extremist hatreds, a common cause for improbable bedfellows from radical Islamists to white supremacists. It is conflated with opposition to Israel, the deepening polarization of American politics, the violence routinely pumped into impressionable young minds via smartphone, TV and computer screens, the cesspool of toxicity that flourishes on social media, and a whole host of other factors.

Watching from Israel as the globe’s only other substantial Jewish community comes under increasing attack, a first natural response is sorrow. A second is identification: we know only too well how it feels to be threatened, targeted, murdered for who we are. A third, for many Israelis, is to encourage American Jews to give up on the Diaspora and move here — throw in their lot with the world’s only Jewish nation-state.

Well, of course, we welcome aliya. We are proud that our resilience, over decades of hostility, means we can indeed serve as a refuge for Jews worldwide who need the protection of the historic Jewish homeland. But we would much rather that aliya be a matter of choice, not necessity.

America is not the Europe of the 1930s; its leaders are committed to protecting its Jews. It is not — not yet — the blighted anti-Semitic hotspots of Europe today, where the authorities are proving incapable of providing protection. But as 2019 becomes 2020, one can no longer blithely say that in America, unlike parts of Europe, all Jews can confidently lead proudly public Jewish lives. The tide of hatred is rising. It can yet, and it must, be turned back.

The American mainstream remains overwhelmingly committed to marginalizing the anti-Semites. What’s needed now is dedicated, steadfast action.

Every society has its dangerous extremists; the measure of a healthy society is the degree to which it firmly and effectively consigns them to the outlawed and ostracized margins. This is America’s test today. The future of America’s Jewish community hinges upon it. So too, one rather thinks, the future of the America we so love, respect and admire.

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