PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania — It is a just cause, poisoned by anti-Semitism.
The drive to end racism merits all our participation, and we should all stand against the anti-Semitic acts and attitudes that have attached themselves to this unexpected movement. We can do both, especially with the brazen hypocrisy displayed in the pogrom in the predominantly Jewish Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The Jewish community must demand an accounting for the May 30 rampage that left up to eight Jewish institutions scarred with offensive graffiti and many businesses vandalized. What was this if not a pogrom? Not to mention that the Black Lives Matter coalition which organized many protests characterizes Israel as an “apartheid state” in its platform.
Fortunately, some people have spoken out against this incident in the Los Angeles neighborhood and episodes like it, but it is far from enough.
“Nothing was done to establish and maintain law and order,” wrote Alex Glikin, a Soviet-Jewish émigré who moved to Sydney, Australia three decades ago. “The first task is stop violence and punish crimes regardless of the crime’s target.”
Longtime Israeli columnist Caroline B. Glick griped that the news media has neglected coverage of the Fairfax pogrom and that major Jewish groups have soft-pedaled their protests.
“The silence of the Jews of America in the face of rising anti-Semitism is stunning,” Glick wrote. “Why are American Jews refusing to stand up for themselves? Either they are afraid to speak up, or they are unaware of the danger, or they are part of the problem. ”
Before my sense of Jewish identity solidified, American Jews forcefully fought for the release of Jews from the former Soviet Union, and it worked. Yet in 2006, Jews here fell strangely silent when Hamas captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on Israeli land and held him captive in Gaza before releasing him five years later as part of a lopsided prisoner exchange. The reaction in Israel was extensive, but it was sporadic in America.
A series of murderous attacks of Jews in America were met with apathy during the last quarter-century until 11 Jewish congregants were massacred in October 2018 inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The backlash following the Pittsburgh massacre was spontaneous, coming from not only from Jews but most of our Gentile neighbors.
The travesty in Los Angeles was less drastic than the murders at the shuls in Pittsburgh and in Poway, California, but it rates a response just as strong. I feared that the Jewish community at large would behave as if nothing of consequence happened.
For example, Glick points to “the low-key responses…from the Jewish community. Aside from a pro-forma statement by the Anti-Defamation League’s Los Angeles office, the Jewish organization that proclaims itself the go-to-place for…fighting anti-Semitism has been mum. The modern Orthodox synagogues refused to condemn the rioters even as they quickly removed their Torah scrolls from their synagogues to protect them.”
Yet some official steps have been taken over violence not just against Jewish areas but in general. We can understand the outcry over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis while in police custody, but lootings, vandalism, fires, harassment of police officers and neighborhood disturbances stain the BLM movement. We can hope that critics can develop the response that is needed, though it has been slow.
The first known official act was Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz’s day-after statement: “The attack on our community last night was vicious and criminal. Under the guise of protest, some advanced their anti-Semitic agenda. These acts…are an affront to all people of the Jewish faith. We must never allow anyone, for any reason, to get away with acts of hate against our community and neighbors.”
Most impressive was Beverly Hills’s resolve to swiftly enact an ordinance and enforce it as soon as it was violated. A disturbing incident prompted the Beverly Hills City Council to vote 4-1 for an ordinance on June 16 to ban most nighttime gatherings of 10 or more people.
This past Friday night, 100 protesters visiting the legendarily wealthy city, independent of Los Angeles, disrupted traffic when they sat down in the middle of the street and subsequently marched around Beverly Hills, which is located a few miles west of the Fairfax neighborhood, The Los Angeles Daily News reported.
Police arrested 28 people -that’s 28 out of 100 – mainly for unlawful assembly. One suspect was arrested on suspicion of arson.
Even a Jewish city councilman in New York City politicized the violence in Brooklyn when he produced a campaign advertisement depicting boarded-up stores, looters, a burning police vehicle and an image of an Orthodox Jewish person being punched, The New York Times reported. Chaim Deutsch used the ad for a congressional Democratic primary last week, which he lost.
In Nashville, the organization called Proclaiming Justice to the Nations is attempting to organize clergy and researching the process of recalling local elected officials who fail to protect their citizens and property, the organization’s president, Laurie Cardoza-Moore, announced in a statement.
Pointing to “the vacuum…created by the Black Lives Matter movement,” she wrote, “We must take back the narrative and approach the issues we are facing from a biblical perspective so that we can truly seek repentance and reconciliation towards the healing of our nation”
Cardoza-Moore pointed out that Minnesota is one of 19 states that allows local citizens to attempt a recall process of their local officials. “Given the lack of leadership by the mayor of Minneapolis,” she wrote, “a case can easily be made…the process enables us to launch a media campaign and encourage citizens in other states across America to take action as well.”
New York Jewish Week quoted rabbis who criticized Black Lives Matter. “Be wary…because too often anti-Semitism converges within all of these movements,” said Rabbi Hershel Billet of Woodmere on Long Island, “even though it has no rational or historical relationship with this American political and social problem. Although we as Jews must support measures to oppose racism in America, there is…a complicated history between Black Lives Matter and the Jews.”
The same article related a hopeful anecdote suggesting that the current conflicts with BLM can be mended. A resident of Port Washington, also on Long Island, told Jewish Week that a protest organizer apologized when she learned that leaflets which she distributed listed BLM’s support for boycotting Israel. Then she took back the original leaflets and distributed different ones.
Engagement and other meaningful responses can work.
Bruce S. Ticker is a columnist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He may be contacted via email@example.com