For years now, it has been fashionable among thoughtful observers of the American political scene to pair every statement opposing anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish prejudice with the proviso that being hostile to some specific policy or policies of the State of Israel does not ipso facto qualify the holder of such an opinion as an anti-Semite. This has become so normal that most of us who listen carefully whenever non-Jews speak about anti-Semitism hardly even register the comment. And, of course, there really are people out there who merely oppose this or that policy adopted or pursued by one or another Israeli government without being motivated by some deeply rooted hatred of Jews but. I myself am in that category: don’t I personally oppose certain specific Israeli policies, and specifically when they are inimical with the kind of freedom of religion we Americans enjoy and but of which Israelis can only dream?
But then there are those who are specifically not opposed to some single policy of some specific Israeli government, but who are opposed to the State of Israel existing at all. In some circles, it is considered possible—at least in some extended theoretical way—to argue that such people too are not really motivated by anti-Semitism, that they are merely proposing an alternate political agenda for the Middle East: one that does not include a Jewish state at all. But within the Jewish world we know better, or at least most of us do. In that regard, I was very impressed by an essay published in the new journal Sapir just this last spring by Ammiel Hirsch, the rabbi of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan. Rabbi Hirsch is an interesting personality: an ordainee of the Hebrew Union College in New York, but also a member of the New York State Bar with a law degree from the London School of Economics and a former tank commander in the IDF. His prose is both articulate and intelligent. And his essay of last spring, “Judaism and Zionism are Inseparable,” made a strong impression on me. He didn’t really make any arguments that were unfamiliar to me. Nor did he adduce any sources I hadn’t previous read. But what he did do was say clearly and forcefully something I have been saying a bit less clearly and forcefully from the bimah for years: that rejecting the right of Jewish people to exist politically as well as spiritually is tantamount to denying Jews the right to exist at all and that there is no more precise definition of anti-Semitism that that. (To read Rabbi Hirsch’s essay, click here.)
And now I see that the most rabid anti-Israelists have come around to agreeing with Rabbi Hirsch. I am referring to the Mapping Project, undertaken by radical anti-Israel activists in Massachusetts and endorsed by BDS Boston, which last week published a map of 482 organizations that, in the opinion of its members, deserve to be “disrupted” and eventually “dismantled” because of their pro-Israel policies and politics. But only some of these organizations have anything specifically to do with Israel. And, so, on the list are local police departments, the offices of both of Massachusetts’ senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, the offices of the Boston Globe…and, in the words of the Boston Jewish Community Council, “virtually every Jewish organization in the Commonwealth, along with its leadership.” In other words, the far-left organizers of this undertaking—who were not quite so brave as to publish own names alongside their work—have come around to agreeing with Ammiel Hirsch that even if thinking Jews and Judaism have a right to exist and thinking that the State of Israel has a right to exist are not precisely the same thing, theirs is a distinction without a difference. And that being viscerally opposed to the existence of Israel should lead naturally to embracing anti-Semitism, and precisely because, in the end, there is no such thing as Judaism that doesn’t have Zionism—the belief in the right of the Jewish people to exist in its own homeland as an independent political entity—as one of its constituent elements. The lunatic fringe on the right—visible to most New York Jews only as a vile side-show at the Israel Parade each spring—joins the less-radical left in rejecting Rabbi Hirsch’s argument. But those of us who occupy the large middle ground between the extremists on both sides of the political spectrum understand that the Mapping Project—for all its horrifically vituperative rhetoric—has correctly seized a basic truth: that there simply is no possibility of being a faithful Jewish person without feeling a deep and ineradicable connection to the Land of Israel and, in modern times, to the State of Israel.
Nor is this “just” about attitudes and opinions. An essay by Gilead Ini published on the CAMERA website a few days ago noted that “the BDS activists behind the map appear to encourage violence against those on the list—including Jewish students, artists, worshipers, and philanthropists, and the organizations they support. (The organizations the appear on the map include such innocuous ones the Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston, the Jewish Arts Collaborative, and the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts.) ‘These entities [i.e., those organizations, including synagogues] exist in the physical world and can be disrupted in the physical world,’ the Mapping Project asserts and specifies that its members “hope people will use our map to help figure out how to push back effectively.’” Nor is the specific way the Mapping people hope to push back effectively left unspecified: the project’s website says specifically that its “goal in pursuing this collective mapping was to reveal the local entities and networks that enact devastation, so we can dismantle them….Every entity has an address, every network can be disrupted.” Also listed, by the way, are the names of the individuals in leadership positions in those institutions and organizations.
And so we see the extreme anti-Israelists among us crossing the line from merely opposing this or that Israeli policy to declaring war on Jews in general. And yet, for all I find their threats unnerving and beyond distressing, I think that their basic assumption—that to be a Jew other than in name only means to stand with Israel—is correct.
The question that remains is how the Jewish community will respond. To wave these people away as crazy haters who will eventually drown in the swill of their own poison rhetoric will not sound like a rational response to anyone familiar with the history of Germany Jewry in the 1930s. But what should our response be? All sorts of politicians have issued condemnatory statements—including Representatives Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Ayanna Presley (D-Mass.), Richie Torre (D-New York), Jerry Nadler (D-New York), and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), as well as Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy. So that’s comforting. A little. But the real question is not how many politicians are willing to condemn this kind of Nazi-style targeting of any and all Jewish institutions first for “disruption” and then for “dismantling,” but what exactly can be done to eliminate this kind of violent extremism from developing from threat to reality. To begin, we should ask each of the politicians who issued strongly condemnatory statements what they actually plan to do to make Jewish institutions and Jewish people safe. Words, after all, are cheap. And what American politician wasn’t on record opposing Nazi anti-Semitism in the 1930s with words?