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Dec. 12, 2023- 29 Kislev 5784

12/12/2023 01:27:04 PM


The rising antisemitism of 2023 has caught many by surprise. The drumbeat of aggression turned into a steamroll of reports as of October 7, when Hamas burst through Israel’s defenses when Hizbollah opened rocket barrages from Lebanon and the Houthi rebels started sending Iranian missiles at ships in the Persian Gulf, and social media tiktokked a baseline of anti-Jewish sentiment into rising outbreaks of threats, intimidation,  disruption—even physical attacks upon Jews and symbols of Jewish identity. This is serious business.

The debate that once seemed important about anti-Israel, or anti-Zionist approaches has been overwhelmed by the current intertwining of Israeli and Jewish identities. Even in Medinat Yirsael—the State of Israel—one speaks of Jewish Israelis, Druze Israelis, Christian Israelis. These are distinctive identities, with the ethnic/religious differences among the citizenry kept transparent. All the citizens have a stake in the strength, integrity, and legal bases of Israel as a nation-state, member of the United Nations, and significant participant in many modern fields of industry, trade, and innovation. 

For the United States, Israel is a close partner—and has been the source of curious changes in law. Since taking up the ‘right of return’, which guarantees any individual of Jewish descent a place of refuge in the ‘homeland’ without swearing an oath of allegiance, military service in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) does not disqualify US Citizens. US Social Security benefits are collectible while living there. Children of US Citizens born in Israel are eligible for US Passports. Some of these rights pertain in other jurisdictions, but all have bolstered American immigration (Aliyah) for 75 years. They mark goodwill as well as the unique position of Israel as a Western-style democracy in the Middle East.

Following the October 7 incursion, Israel drew its forces and advanced technology together, launching a consolidated response into the areas Hamas has controlled since 2006: the Gaza Strip, including urban centers like Gaza City, Khan Yunis and Rafah, and refugees camps that have grown to be long-term settlements along the narrow strip of easily habitable coastline at the Mediterranean boundary of the Sinai Peninsula (ruled by Egypt). With a population often cited as 2.2 million, there are people in close quarters covering the bulk of Gaza.

Hamas set this stage—though with the assistance of multiple parties in the Arab world. And in their construction of a reticulated network beneath the surface, the cities, refugee camps and even institutions of social necessity like hospitals and schools, the ‘civilian’ population became hostage shields (quite collaboratively). How was this setup financed? Regular infusions of cash distributed by Qatar, and unreported funding from Iran and others, have certainly helped. So, too, have reported widespread siphoning of money and materiel from the general populace built, fed, clothed and armed Hamas terrorist efforts. These are now targets for Israel’s response to October 7, a pogrom that would make the ride of Cossacks seem amateur attempts at self-assertion.

Outside the Middle East, the noxious groups pushing the BDS [Boycott, Disinvestment, & Sanction] Movement, have turned their attention increasingly to diaspora Jews—Jews like the members of our Congregation Beth Israel, our students in high school and especially at Colleges and Universities. Anti-Zionism and antisemitism have been melded into a single weapon, seeking to destabilize, to ghettoize, to disenfranchise Jews and Judaism as a major component in American society. I regret how very painful that statement is.
On the Sunday in Hanukkah, this headline found its way into the New York Times:

“German Cultural Scene Navigates a Clampdown on Criticism of Israel A torrent of canceled events is threatening Germany’s reputation as a haven for artistic freedom.”

The article pointed to the legal steps the Bundestag—German Parliament—has taken to restrict and punish actions in the Republic since October 7. The irony is as inescapable as the outbreaks in France, the United Kingdom, Australia and Denmark—all less renowned for their antisemitic pasts.

A consistent spokesperson against this incursion into American freedom has been Rachel Maddow. Though not Jewish, she has been a clarion voice through her researched and thorough podcast exposes, including “Ultra explores a World War II-era prosecution known as the Great Sedition Trial of 1944.” Her intent, over a year ago, was to point to the danger of authoritarianism to the American nation. One need only do a computer search to find about Father Coughlin, whom the Catholic Church silenced, or Henry Ford—from whom many Jews refused to purchase vehicles for many decades, to learn of the insidious way that antisemitism allowed to grow unchallenged puts all minorities at risk.

Remember, like the Maccabees whose victory against the odds Hanukkah marks, we have our strengths in the face of adversity. Jews serve a catalytic role in society, heralds of equality, progress, and especially, justice we can voice opposition to the forces who would darken the future. As Peter, Paul, and Mary sang:

Light one candle for the Maccabee children
With thanks that their light didn't die
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied 
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand
But light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peacemaker's time is at hand…

May each Hanukkah light add blessing to your life.



Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784