By Cheryl Moore
Six weeks after the Tree of Life massacre, our neighborhood of Squirrel Hill is still in shock. You can hear it in the muted tones of conversations and see it in the pained faces. We still can’t quite believe that brutal violence took the lives of our loved ones. We still struggle with being the target of virulent anti-semitism. We shudder as we realize that phrases like “one of the most horrific scenes,” and “worst antisemitic attack in American history” are referring to something that happened in our home.
Yet, things always return to “normal.” The other day, as I drove through the park, another driver, merely a foot from my rear bumper, was wildly gesticulating and honking at me to go faster. As I watched him in my rear-view mirror, I marveled at how quickly the focus on behaving with kindness, gentleness and unity seems to fade. Some things, however, don’t fade. They are durable and tenacious. Sadly, one of these things is antisemitism.
Since the shooting, there has been much said about the pervasiveness of antisemitism on the extreme right and extreme left, urgently warning us to recognize the magnitude of the problem and to combat it. Indeed, over the years, we have all heard the hateful insults and the chanted threats. We have heard Louis Farrakhan call Jews “termites,” the Charlottesville marchers shout, “Jews will not replace us!” and Robert Bowers, the Tree of Life shooter, frantically insisting that “All Jews must die!”
Prior to October 27, when talking about antisemitism, those on the far-left pointed the finger at the far-right, and those on the far-right pointed the finger at the far-left. Post October 27, however, I hear more acceptance of the grim reality that strong currents of a very old hate are today openly circulating on both sides.
But what exactly is being said? There are of course, the old go-tos: Jews control the media, governments, and financial systems. Jews are greedy and cheap. Jews are guilty of killing Christ, using Christian blood in religious rituals, and dual loyalty. But there are newer iterations of antisemitism that are worth taking a moment to consider.
On the far-right, popular in just below the surface forums, antisemitism is disguised as pro-Americanism. These are the MAGA and America First crowds. Here, in addition to the stereotypical uneducated and poor bullies and thugs, we find educated professionals, current and ex-military, and thought leaders. To these people, the problem with the Jews is that we keep doing things that damage the United States. We support and protect immigrants and policies that encourage immigration and we fight for social justice. So, Jews are bringing criminals into the country to rape Americans and take American jobs, and Jews are responsible for the rest of Americans having to tolerate all of the snowflakes who want gender-neutral bathrooms and gun-control, and are both perpetrators and victims in #metoo stories. In his last tweet, Robert Bowers wrote, “ HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.” The Charlottesville marchers chanted, “Jews will not replace us!” Spike Lee’s “Blackkklansman” explores the Klan’s view of Jews as the great patrons of civil rights and communism. In what they consider to be their love of America and what they understand to be American values, the far-right is deadly serious in its intent to eliminate all threats. Should they perceive that Jews are “damaging” our political, financial or legal systems, they are prepared to take action.
Though it appears to have little understanding of the ideas upon which Israel was founded, the far-right loves Israel, which is seen as a feisty little country with a formidable army, control of its borders, and an unapologetic religious identity. So, the Jews in Israel are good Jews, and the Jews in America are bad Jews. The far-right also loves Donald Trump. It understands that he has issues, after all, his daughter married a New York Jew, but he is the opposite of politically correct, won’t be pushed around by American and world liberals, and proudly asserts that he is a nationalist. Trump is a take-no-prisoners fighter, which is very exciting to the far-right.
On the far-left, antisemitism is often disguised as anti-Zionism. In this post-nationalist era, Israel is accused of being a totalitarian, colonial, apartheid state, while countries which are true and consistent abusers of human rights, are ignored. Only the world’s single Jewish state is targeted for criticism, often being called upon to justify its very right to exist. Intersectionality dictates that women who identify as Zionists cannot also be feminists, forcing Jews to choose between pursuing the ancient dream of a Jewish homeland and safety net in the first and only place where Jews have had a continuous presence and fighting for women’s rights.
But the far-left does not only focus on Israel. To the far-left, Jews are privileged, the whitest of the whites, the rich capitalists, slum-lords and store owners who inflate prices to take advantage of people of color. Watch another Spike Lee movie, “Mo’ Better Blues,” for an example of the caricature. Sure, Jews marched with blacks in the American civil rights movement, but then, as soon as they were allowed, Jews moved to the suburbs, joined exclusive clubs, and became Wall Street bankers. Goldman, Lehman, Madoff, and Weinstein are Jewish names. The far-left is unapologetic in its embrace of Louis Farrakhan, who has very publicly described Jews as satanic, and regularly rants about Jewish power and abuse. Today’s identity politics often calls for unity against Jewish power. Many college campuses have become extremely hostile to Jews, with Jewish students being targeted for both subtle persecution and outright violence. In many arenas and in support of many important causes, Jews have been called upon to reject their faith. In many far-left circles, being Jewish makes our social justice activism illegitimate.
Both the far-left and the far-right believe that Jews use the Holocaust as a way for us to gain sympathy for ourselves and for the state of Israel, accusing Jews of exaggerating the number of victims and implying that Jews brought persecution upon themselves. The far-right mocks Jews for being pacifists and proponents of gun-control, claiming that if we were not so naively opposed to arming ourselves, tragedy would not have struck. The far-left asserts that the greedy, deceitful, thieving behavior of the Jews makes the Holocaust at least comprehensible.
After the October 27 Tree of Life massacre, at vigils and during prayer services, I was inspired by expressions of unity, solidarity and strength, and I remain hopeful that loving expressions of kindness will continue. We must, however, address antisemitism everywhere that it dwells. We must relentlessly put truth, facts and data in front of the arguments presented by antisemites. We must insist that our elected officials and community leaders do more than speak about unity. We must insist that they vigorously investigate and fight antisemitism. Perhaps surviving trauma makes us stronger, but it alone does not protect us from further harm. We have to recognize and respond to threats. In the history and future of human civilization, Jewish values and activism, which are often distorted to make us the object of hate, have and will be worth defending. I do not intend to ever return to normal. Please join me in fighting antisemitism in any and every way possible.
Cheryl Moore, B.A., M.B.A., B.S.N. is a Women’s Health nurse, living in Pittsburgh, PA.