A rabbi speaks out on Mark Lamont Hill and the rising tide of open anti-Semitism

[Editor’s note: With the kind permission of Rabbi Neil Cooper of Temple Beth Hillel Beth El, we publish a letter he wrote to his congregation about the recent upsurge of open anti-Semitism.]

Over the past several weeks, we have seen a resurgence of anti-Semitism.  Here are a few examples from the news.

  • The number of anti-Semitic and hate crimes perpetrated against Jews has risen over the past couple of years precipitously. Within the last few weeks alone, we have seen murderous attacks on Jews gathered for Shabbat services in Pittsburgh, perpetrated by one aligned politically with the extreme right.  A similar attack with similar motivation and similar results intended was being planned in Toledo.  Fortunately, that attack was prevented.
  • Jewish students and faculty have become frequent targets on campus.  From the extreme left, the office of Professor Elizabeth Midlarsky, a Jewish professor of Holocaust education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti on November 28. 
  • Anti-Semitism, in the thinly veiled language of anti-Zionism, is becoming commonplace.  Prof. Marc Lamont Hill, a professor of Media at Temple University and a contracted contributor for CNN News delivered a speech at the UN (available on YouTube) that calls for a Palestinian State “from River to Sea.” The Professor of Media here, who knows the power and meaning of the words he chooses, means the eradication of the Jewish State.  And for those who differentiate between anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, the new Palestinian State that the professor and his supporters envision includes the expulsion, if not the termination, of all of the Jews of Israel. For Prof. Hill to distinguish here between the Israelis (all of whom are Jewish) to be excluded from the new State of Palestine, and Jews in general, is a distinction without a difference.  In addition, this type of language and racist ideology is protected and defended byTemple’s President Richard Englert who cites the concept of “academic freedom” defending Prof. Hill.

Marc Lamont Hill speaks at the UN (YouTube screen grab)

  • Anti-Semitic views are also tolerated by the print media under the banner of “Freedom of the Press.” Syndicated Columnist for the New York Times Michelle Goldberg used her space recently to explain that legitimate criticism of Israeli policies is not anti-Semitic (a statement that any reasonable person would agree with).  With that, she justifies the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) Movement as a demonstration of a difference of agreement over policy.  The BDS Movement, however, is an active and direct attack on the State of Israel.  It is intended to undercut Israel’s economy and force Israel to pass new policies.  The effect of BDS has been limited but it is the intent of BDS to cripple—if not destroy—the Jewish State.  This is an action directed only at Jews, which is an act of anti-Semitism.
  • The first Palestinian American, Rashida Tlaib, has been elected to Congress representing the 13th District in Michigan.  As a Congresswomen, she already stated her desire to see US military aid to Israel slashed.  She is also a vocal proponent of BDS.
  • There is currently a lawsuit that has been initiated against the Philadelphia Police Department alleging anti-Semitism against Jewish police officers.

It is not hard to make the historical analogy between the anti-Semitism that is reflected in the events of the past few weeks and events that occurred in Germany in the early 1930s.  Listed above are examples of anti-Semitism finding its way into the culture and consciousness of the extreme political right and the extreme political left. It has found safe-haven in academia and on college campuses.  It is protected within the news media.  It has now found its place in Congress.  It is alleged to be part of the culture of the PPD. In the UN, Israel is the most hated, most criticized and most condemned nation in the world.  

I bring this to you not as a call to arms and not to suggest that another Holocaust, God forbid, is around the corner.  But in a world that is increasingly hostile toward Jews, we are living at a time when we have the power to resist, the power to refute and the power to make our voices heard.  Unlike the political situation before WWII, we now can mobilize, raise our voices and put our pens to paper.  In the face of all of this, we are not powerless this time.  Today we can speak, write and protest.

Write a letter to the President of Temple University, Richard Englert, (1801 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122).  Protest the fact that Prof. Hill is being wrongly shielded and protected from censure by the concept of academic freedom.  He has been given license by the President of Temple University to espouse the obliteration of the State of Israel and condone the terrorist acts perpetrated by terrorists in the name of the Palestinians. 

Write a letter to the New York Times to protest and hold accountable a columnist who espouses BDS and believes it appropriate and moral, not simply to ignore the fact that Israel is the only functional democracy in the region, but to pressure Israel to change policies by way of BDS, threatening economic repercussions if Israel does not capitulate with the demands of those who are Israel’s enemies.

Israel is not perfect.  There is much within Israel that the Israelis I know would like to change and many things that I would like to see changed.  But change must occur through the democratic process—not by way of threats and blackmail.  Moreover, Israel is neither the worst nor the only country that should be scrutinized.  If repressive governments in nearly every other Middle Eastern country are not taken to task, if we make no demands on them, then singling out Israel for special treatment and punishment is an expression of racism/anti-Semitism and hate.

Anti-Semitism has been part of the world since the beginning of the Jewish People.  It is the oldest ongoing hatred in the world, and a hatred that we must view clearly and stand against.  It is our task to watch for the shades of anti-Semitism, to point it out when it surfaces, to condemn it when we see it and to raise our voices against those who would be complicit.  Anti-Semitism is part of this world.  We do not and should not delude ourselves into thinking that one day we will live in a world devoid of anti-Semitism.    Indeed, when we think that we have reached a moment in time when anti-Semitism no longer exists, that will be the moment when the next wave will begin.

Blessings from Israel,

Rabbi Neil Cooper

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