On Purim we read about threatened violence against Jews propelled by one man’s political ambition. There are many examples in history of antisemitism in the guise of politics. Institutionalized objectification sets the stage for violence. The question for Jews in the modern world is whether or not we can come together to forestall the violence that takes root through the abuse of political processes.
A most potent antisemitic canard used for political gain has been the blood libel. Most effectively employed in Europe, the accusation that Jews used Christian blood for ritual purposes gave support to political power plays resulting in Jewish displacement, deprivation, persecution and even murder. As we know from the Torah reading for this week, we do not consume blood. See Leviticus 7:27:
כָּל־נֶ֖פֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר־תֹּאכַ֣ל כָּל־דָּ֑ם וְנִכְרְתָ֛ה הַנֶּ֥פֶשׁ הַהִ֖וא מֵֽעַמֶּֽיהָ׃ (פ)
“Anyone who eats blood shall be cut off from his kin.”
The blood libel, which is the complete opposite of our values and striving for holiness, has served the political purposes of malevolent leaders for longer than a millennium.
False accusations about Jews continue to pump through our polity, even as the United States was supposed to be a haven for Jews. Here we believe that politicians are not to have their long knives drawn. Here we ask that governments combat hatred so that no house of worship becomes a slaughterhouse.
Yet, the blood has been flowing in our nation, literally and figuratively. And the daggers are again pointed toward the Jewish throat. And if pointed at the Jewish throat, others are endangered too. The same hatred that resulted in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre was reinvigorated in Christchurch, New Zealand last week against Muslims. When visiting Charleston, South Carolina, last week I noted that Mother Emmanuel Church is a pilgrimage site to remember the victims of a murderous white supremacist.
I began to read Deborah Lipstadt’s new book, Anti-Semitism Here and Now, to gain a broader sense of our predicament. The newest iterations of anti-Semitism are neither unique to the right nor the left.
Representative Ilhan Omar’s attacks referencing Jewish wealth and “dual loyalty” put a spotlight on the issue. Omar’s anti-Israel sentiment was expressed through dangerous anti-Semitic platitudes.
Take a look across the Atlantic to see what is happening in England. The venerable left-leaning Labour party is being split over the anti-Semitic/anti-Zionist predispositions of its leader Jeremy Corbyn. Will the same happen in America as the Democratic Party struggles to address its own anti-Zionist members?
Anti-Semitic language has infused debate on the right as well, reported former Republican Max Boot this week. Support for United States intervention in foreign disagreements is deemed the work of neo-Conservatives, a code for Jewish influencers. Anti-semitism on the right is tangled up in the bourgeoning white supremacy movement. President Trump, who questioned President Obama’s citizenship, primes the pump of hatred when he stated that very fine people are on both sides of the melee instigated by angry white supremacists in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.” And Republicans were slow to condemn their own Rep. Steve King for his outlandish statements supporting white supremacy.
Such blood sport is predictable. Hannah Arendt wrote 60 years ago in The Origins of Totalitarianism that political anti-Semitism is more than Jew-hatred; rather, it is a pseudo-scientific ideology seeking to prove that Jews are responsible for all evils of the world. The elimination of evil is fair game in political realms.
Even condemnations of anti-Semitic statements have met with resistance. There was push back when leaders decried Rep. Omar’s statements. Those condemning Omar were accused of “weaponizing” anti-Semitism; alleging that leadership was looking to score political points rather than truly caring about the protection of Jews. Her defenders tried to refocus the debate toward Jewish political influence.
The Jewish defenders of Omar offered that vociferous critiques of powerful “Jewish” institutions like the State of Israel and AIPAC are not only fair game but obligatory for those who share progressive values. They ignored Omar’s record of repeatedly using anti-Semitic tropes followed by meetings with Jewish leaders that lead to vague apologies. Slurs, rinse, repeat.
I believe that we are inviting dangerous blood libel type accusations if we are divided as a community when we cannot uniformly call out anti-Semitic statements as unacceptable but rather make excuses for those leaders who offer such canards.
The new blood libel is the anti-Zionism that condemns Jewish support for Israel, intersecting oppression with Jewish political movements. The real intersectionality is at the font of anti-Semitism, where racism, fascism, and Xenophobia spew along with hatred of Jews. This new blood libel is dangerous and dehumanizing to all minority groups. As we have seen, attacks on any religious group or minority give license to hatred against all others. The blood is flowing in synagogues, mosques and churches. It is even spilling through the halls of Congress by those who will partake of the blood to gain political ground. Whether by white supremacists or novice liberal Congressional representatives, the Levitical admonition is being ignored.
The vigilance and unity of the Jewish community is needed to shield all minority groups from the daggers of hatred. We begin by being beacons of civility and caring, exemplars of the world in which we hope to live. We must find ways of engagement and discourse that will put the daggers back into their sheaths. We can’t wait. The time to counter anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is now, before blood flows again.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame