It is incumbent upon all of us to actively engage in finding solutions to antisemitism.
Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle
By Julie Paris
April 20, 2023
As Israel approaches its 75th anniversary, there is so much to celebrate. Zionism, the belief that Jewish people have the right to self-determination in our ancestral homeland, has flourished from a vision to a reality. In its short lifespan, Israel has become a world leader and is considered a “start-up” nation in science, medicine, technology, archeology, agriculture, the arts, humanitarian relief and so much more.
Israel also is the only democracy in the Middle East allowing cultural and religious freedoms to all. For example, the recent judicial reform demonstrations indicate that its robust democracy is at work. Protesters on both sides were freely able to march in the streets without fear of government retribution; and there is now an opportunity for a compromise that reduces divisions and tensions.
Tragically, antisemitism has dramatically risen worldwide. In the U.S., where Jews make up only 2.4% of the population, we are the victims of 55% of religious-based hate crimes. On college campuses, attempts to silence Jewish and pro-Israel voices have threatened students’ free speech, leading to feelings of marginalization. Jewish students in middle schools and high schools have been confronted with Nazi salutes and Holocaust denial.
Our community witnessed how antisemitism leads to violence after the worst terror attack against Jews in U.S. history occurred at the Tree of Life building in 2018. This past year, there was verbal harassment of Jews in Greenfield, neo-Nazi flyers thrown on the doorsteps of Jewish homes blaming Jews for all the world’s ills and the Pittsburgh Racial Justice Summit, held at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, had a workshop on Jan. 21 that demonized Israel titled “Justice for Palestine with a Focus on the Killing of Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh,” with speakers who are supporters of the campaign to boycott Israel.
Modern antisemitism takes a variety of forms, including through social media platforms and in the halls of Congress. Kanye West and Bella and Gigi Hadid are constantly disparaging Israel to their millions of followers, thereby helping to normalize misinformation and assumptions about Israel.
These posts lead to antisemitic incidents that sometimes escalate to violence. “The Squad” similarly agitates against Israel in Congress. Rep. Summer Lee (PA-12) has fallen prey to their propaganda, signing onto their one-sided letter to President Biden urging a change in U.S. policy toward Israel.
Lee tweeted that the role Israeli police played in quelling violence inside Al-Aqsa mosque was “unjustifiable violence against Muslim worshipers whose only crime was praying during Ramadan” and used it as an excuse to call for ending U.S. aid to Israel. She conveniently omitted that the police were responding to Palestinian terrorists who barricaded themselves inside the mosque with stockpiles of fireworks and rocks. Lee also expressed uncertainty about Israel being an “apartheid state” at an event organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council.
In its April 14 editorial, the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle called Lee out on these and other actions, but just as importantly, noted her lack of response to meeting with the paper, even though she has been interviewed by other local media outlets. Lee’s district represents a large portion of the Jewish population in the region, and the paper is reasonably asking to meet with her to fulfill its mission to “inform Pittsburgh’s Jewish community about the issues they care about, including Israel.” Lee’s constituents need to know that she is open to hearing their concerns and to ensuring that their voices are being heard.
Lee’s refusal to meet with Pittsburgh’s Jewish paper of record is indicative of a larger problem. StandWithUs believes that education is the “road to peace,” to gathering information from both sides and making informed decisions. We hope that Lee will be open to considering different perspectives and to not excluding Israel and her constituents’ voices in making her decisions and her statements.
It is incumbent upon all of us to actively engage in finding solutions to antisemitism. Get to know your local school board members and elected officials. Bring relevant speakers to your communities. Utilize the resources of organizations such as StandWithUs, sign petitions and join their campaigns. SWU has campus and high school programs that select, train and empower hundreds of student leaders each year, including in Pittsburgh, to educate about Israel and combat antisemitism in their schools and communities. SWU also has a middle-school curriculum for U.S. Jewish schools, called Israel LINK. Resources include the Saidoff Legal Department, the Center for Combating Antisemitism, the Holocaust Education Center, the Katz Israel Education Center in Jerusalem, social media platforms and materials on a variety of topics and languages, among many other initiatives.
An important tool in combating antisemitism is to work toward the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism. Widely supported by the Jewish community, it has been adopted by more than 1,100 entities worldwide, including government entities, civic organizations, major institutions and universities. The IHRA definition is critical because we must be able to “define antisemitism to defeat it.”
In honor of Israel’s 75th anniversary, let’s commit to working together with greater unity to confront our challenges while celebrating Israel’s incredible accomplishments. PJC
Julie Paris is the Mid-Atlantic regional director of StandWithUs, an international nonprofit and nonpartisan education organization that supports Israel and fights antisemitism. Learn more at standwithus.com.
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