End of Year Antisemitism Review
As we head into 2019, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on and recognize JFREJ’s collective efforts to begin addressing antisemitism in 2018. If you want to to join us in wrestling with this complex and important topic, sign-up here to receive updates and learn about opportunities to get involved in our work against antisemitism.
Vice president Mike Pence has been criticised for appearing at a campaign rally with a “Messianic rabbi” – who invoked Jesus while mourning the deaths of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Rafael Shimunov, who is on the board of directors for Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, tweeted that a Jewish rabbi would typically start a prayer with a Kaddish, a prayer for the dead, and a list of names of the deceased. Jacobs did not mention the names of any victims by name, but he did mention “Jesus the Messiah,” and “my Lord and Savior Yeshua” (another name for Jesus.) He also read a list of republican candidates for whom he asked the audience to pray. Shuminov continued to criticise the prayer in a Twitter thread, saying that the event “coopt[ed] our holiest traditions” and used it “to step on the dead.” He called Jacobs a “Christian rabbi.”
The Havdalah vigil took place at sundown, hours after the shooting and even before any of the victims’ names had been released. There were similar vigils Saturday night across the country, non-Jews coming together with Jews to express solidarity.
“I come to you with a very heavy heart broken in a million pieces based on what happened today,” Debbie Almontaser of the Muslim Community Network-NY said at a vigil in Union Square in Manhattan organized by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.
After a week of hate-fueled attacks, we examine the “dotted line” from incitement to violence. We dig deep into tribalism and how it widens the gulf between Republicans and Democrats. Plus, the history of antisemitic propaganda and how it inspires modern-day violence. Also, why is the GOP is running against California in midterm races around the country?
This week on CounterSpin: There’s a reason the man who murdered 11 Jewish people in a Pittsburgh synagogue also ranted online about some thousands of mostly women and children making their way from Honduras to the US/Mexico border to seek asylum. It’s the same reason torch-wielding marchers chanting “Jews will not replace us!” in Charlottesville in 2015 stopped to beat up a black man: White supremacists connect Jewish people and black people and immigrants (and LGBTQ people and uppity women) in a worldview, about an existential threat to them as white Christian Americans.
Other people also have a worldview that connects Jews, black and brown people, immigrants and other disadvantaged communities—connects them in coalitions that recognize their shared vulnerability, and work together for social and economic justice. We’ll talk about the relationship between antisemitism and white supremacy, resistance, and how media could be part of the solution, with the executive director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, Audrey Sasson.
Political violence and terrorism on this scale makes clear that it’s not the guns or the bombs, or even policy changes that can rip families apart and destroy lives that gives the right its power. Their single most effective and destructive weapon is an idea: white Christian nationalism.
Part of our Jewish community’s stumbling block to solidarity and allyship comes from the stories we tell ourselves, and how those stories shape us as a people. Our Jewish communities tell and retell stories of overcoming obstacles, of finding our way to liberation against all odds and of defeating our enemies in order to survive.
Kent goes on to describe the many times when Jews won their freedom in solidarity with others—and how so many struggles became more powerful when Jews stood up for them.
Fourteen protesters were arrested outside the Metropolitan Republican Club in the Upper East Side on Tuesday, following a sit-in demanding that the GOP confront and expel white nationalists from its own party.
The action, organized by Jewish activists affiliated with a range of progressive organizations, was held in response to this weekend’s synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh—the single most deadly attack on American Jews in the country’s history. As protesters sat shiva for the 11 victims, they sang Kaddish and banged on the doors of the GOP headquarters, while urging Republican leaders to more forcefully denounce violent extremism.
Sophie EG joined Rama Issa-Ibrahim from the Arab-American Association of New York to “talk about the rise of antisemitism and white nationalism — and how, despite our pain and trauma, and because of resilience and love and solidarity across difference, the Jewish community will outlive both.”
“It’s a very clear question: you either draw a line at white nationalist violence, or you don’t,” said Sophie Ellman-Golan, a member of The Jewish Vote, who helped organize Friday’s action at Golden’s office along with members of Yalla Brooklyn and the Muslim Democratic Club of NY. “It’s very clear Marty Golden does not. We’re asking him to fire Ian Reilly. We are asking him to unequivocally denounce white nationalist violence.”
Dania Rajendra On Shiva, Personal and Collective
In the wake of the mass murder at Tree of Life, Jewish protesters in New York held both our own particular grief as Jews, and our outrage rooted in solidarity—joining (or re-joining) the long list of the “directly impacted.” “We are here,” Tuesday’s protesters insisted, banging on the door of the Manhattan Republican Club. It was a message as much for other Jews as it is for the white Christian nationalists and the mainstream apologists. Muslim friends joined in solidarity. Part of the power of shiva is that it takes the mourner from the immensity of the absence of the dead to the insistence on the hereness of the mourner, and the others who join us in our mourning.
In November of 2017, JFREJ released Understanding Antisemitism, a 44-page guide designed to help organizations and individuals in progressive organizations and movements contend with the rise of white nationalism in the Trump era.
JFREJ’s efforts to explain and combat antisemitism come at a moment of deep contemplative struggle, as all those who are targeted or marginalized by this administration and its white nationalists backers search for a clear path out of the darkness and more clarity about how we got here in the first place.
And in the midst of this confusion and rancor we need to work effectively with new partners and communities on the left who may have limited exposure to Jews, while also navigating and responding to a wave of white supremacist hate speech and White House dog-whistles that target Jews.
As a community, we need to stand up and unapologetically fight for ourselves, with steadfast allies by our side, while at the same learning to make grounded, sensible assessments of the threats we face and the safety we actually possess. Solidifying our understanding of antisemitism — what it is and how it operates — will be key not only to our safety as a people, but also to our unity and our ability to form generous, mutually respectful relationships with our partners and neighbors.
Here are just some of the highlights of our work in 2017:
In August, in the wake of Charlottesville and with only 24 hours notice, we brought together 100 members and leaders of our community for an online discussion with JFREJ Executive Director Audrey Sasson, former JFREJ Executive Director Dove Kent and JFREJ board member Dania Rajendra. Entitled Conversation on Anti-Semitism, White Supremacy, & Confronting the Far Right, the space created an opportunity for us to be in community and to begin processing, collectively, the stakes of this moment — and you can watch a recording here. That same week, and in response to calls from our movement partners nationally, JFREJers took to the streets, rooted in our tradition. Organized by Yehudah Webster, Julia Carmel Salazar and JFREJ’s JOC caucus, over 60 people showed up to rally outside a white supremacist’s apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It was one way that JFREJ Jews of Color responded and reacted to the horrific events in Virginia.
In October, JFREJ Executive Director Audrey Sasson and JFREJ organizer Leo Ferguson previewed the release of Understanding Antisemitism with a presentation at the Women’s Convention in Detroit. Video of the workshop and further resources can be found here.
November was a big month for JFREJ’s antisemitism work! We released our new resource,Understanding Antisemitism: An Offering To Our Movement, the culmination of over a year of research and writing. As of mid-January, 2018, the paper had been viewed online over 29,000 times.
We followed this up with a webinar about the key findings of the paper, hosted by Audrey Sasson, Leo Ferguson, and Dove Kent, with special guests Rama Issa-Ibrahim, Executive Director of the Arab-American Association of New York, and Lisa Anderson, Vice President of Embodied Justice Leadership and Auburn Theological Seminary. The webinar had 255 participants and video of the online event can be viewed here.
Finally, JFREJ members, staff, and board all contributed to the public discussion of antisemitism in a series of powerful op-eds.
In The Forward, JFREJ member leader and Women’s March organizer Sophie Ellman-Golanresponds the events in Charlottesville through the prism of recent attacks on JFREJ allies Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez. She discusses the left’s responsibility to confront anti-Semitism even as we fight racism, and to have the hard conversations necessary to be a more united movement.
JFREJ member Jonah S. Boyarin published a powerful essay in Jewschool in the wake of the Charlottesville attack.
JFREJ member Jonah S. Boyarin and JFREJ Board member Dania Rajendra explain the impact of antisemitism on the left’s work toward social justice in Everyday Feminism.
JFREJ Staff Organizer and co-author of Understanding Antisemitism, Leo Ferguson writes about Linda Sarsour and the impact of false or inflated charges of antisemitism on the Jewish community in The Forward.
JFREJ member leader and co-founder of JFREJ’s Mizrahi caucus Yasmin Renée Safdiéwrites in the Forward about her struggle with antisemitism in progressive spaces and the need to integrate Mizrahim, Jews of Color and others into our understanding of the oppression.
We also earned a number of reported articles on our work, including Lilith’s “The Leftist Guide to Fighting Antisemitism That You’ve Been Waiting For,” +972 Magazine’s “How to deal with modern anti-Semitism? The Jewish Left is leading the way,” and Jewschool’s, “The Left and the New Fight against Anti-semitism.”
Collectively, these op-eds and articles, along with other write-ups were shared on Facebook at least 7,946 times not including Twitter and other sharing platforms.
We are proud of our commitment to the Jewish community in this political moment and our ongoing, evolving work to integrate an intersectional analysis of antisemitism into the fight against white supremacy and the white nationalist political right.
There is a way forward for our beautiful Jewish community — one that trades fear for clarity, rigidity for resolve, and isolation for solidarity. A path that that we choose not because it is safe, but because it leads to freedom. A path we can follow on even the darkest night because the way forward has been marked by those who have come before us; a trail crowded with friends making the same journey.
Thank you for taking the first steps with us on this journey, and stay tuned for what’s next.