Panel on the message of anti-Semitism: Speak up, fight back
(JNS) The main message that came out of a panel on anti-Semitism is that Jews everywhere can make a difference, and that everyone – Jews and non-Jews – can and should fight against the resurgent scourge of anti-Semitism.
The discussion at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem – organized by the Tel Aviv International Fair, the World Values Network and JIC Israel – brought together Natan Sharansky, a world-renowned Soviet dissident, human rights activist, politician Israeli and former Chairman of the Executive. the Jewish Agency for Israel; former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer; and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Speakers discussed the origins of anti-Semitism, its history and root causes, and what can be done to prevent the phenomenon from spreading.
Noting how he had been warned by others to walk the streets of Hebron or the Arab market in Jerusalem, Boteach began the discussion by pondering the extent of anti-Semitism in Israel itself and what can be done about it.
Sharansky, who spent nine years in prison in the former Soviet Union, retorted that he did not believe he was afraid to walk around Jerusalem with a kipah talks about anti-Semitism, saying he’s much more concerned with the idea that Jews can’t walk freely with a yarmulke in the free world.
“Terror makes no difference,” he said. “Even if you are an Arab living in Jerusalem, you have the same chance of falling victim to those who really want to destroy Israel and make Israel non-existent.”
Dermer said he thinks anti-Semitism in Israel “is a problem, and you have a mix of nationalistic reasons why these attacks are happening.”
“You have the import of what used to be European anti-Semitism in the Middle East in general and the Palestinian world in particular, the demonization of Jews and these crazy ideas against Jews,” he said. “That has changed in the wider Arab world in Dubai, the Gulf and elsewhere, but it is still an acute problem within Palestinian society.”
Responding to Boteach’s question on how to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate criticism of Israel, Sharansky said there was a need to deploy his methodology which he calls “The Three Ds”: demonization, double standard and denial of Israel’s right to exist.
People who use any or all of these elements, he pointed out, can be considered illegitimate critics of Israel.
Boteach turned to colleges, wondering if Jews had “lost the ability to directly influence non-Jewish students on American campuses.”
According to Sharansky, non-Jewish students are influenced by Jews who are afraid to show solidarity with Israel. “The best way to influence non-Jewish students is to bring home pride and a sense of meaning in their Jewish life, where they are connected to Israel,” he said.
Dermer added that there is a need to “restore the feeling that it can no longer be open to Jews. You have to fight. You have to make people pay a consequence for going after the Jews.
“No one should be surprised by the return of anti-Semitism,” he said. “And if you are surprised, that indicates historical ignorance. The real strongholds of anti-Semitism come from the intellectual classes. I don’t think you’re going to end anti-Semitism, but you have to fight it. And now we have a sovereign state to fight, and I hope the Jews of the United States and other Diaspora communities will stand proud and fight back because we now have the power to fight back, and we should use it.
“Jews have the power to defend themselves”
Sharansky also noted that not only is there a silent majority of Jews, but there is a small group of “very vocal intellectual leaders among the Jews who deny Israel’s right to exist.” We must mobilize the silent majority of Jews against them,” he said.
Responding to an audience member’s question about whether Israel should teach the world more about the Holocaust, Sharansky replied, “Of course we should. As much as the world wants to hear, even if the world doesn’t want to hear, we must teach. People say the Holocaust is a thing of the past. So we have to show again and again why this is not a thing of the past.
Dermer replied, “We must learn the lessons of the Holocaust, that Jews must have the power to defend themselves.”
Another audience member asked what individuals can do to fight anti-Semitism.
Sharansky said, “Start with the Jews. Try to convince them that it is very important for their own survival. Then it’s easy to switch to non-Jews as soon as you have Jews on your side.
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He explained that it is important and necessary to convince Jews who support the anti-Israel BDS movement why it is dangerous to their own survival.
Dermer suggested people buy Sharansky’s book fear no evil because readers can then understand how one individual can stand up to anti-Semitism and change the world.
“Everyone has to fight in their little corner of the country, and you never know what kind of impact that has on Jews or non-Jews,” he said. “The problem we have with a lot of young Jews is that the appeal of the universal is very strong. And it is very difficult for them to appreciate the particular. “What we need to do is make them realize that the values they most admire in Western civilization actually come from the Jews.”
Dermer highlighted the cause of social justice that is sweeping America.
“Now there is no major social justice statement. The idea of embracing widows abroad or caring for widows and orphans – all of that comes from the Jews, and most young Jews don’t know that,” he said.
“We have the ability to engage young people with all the great ideas of Judaism and make them realize that the foundation of the values they hold most dear actually come from the Jews,” he continued. “Then they will be proud of their Jewish heritage and tradition, which will make them better able to fight anti-Semites.”
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