I’m not Jewish. But I stand with my Jewish friends. As soon as the news of the October 7 massacre hit, I started to hear the equivocations. Friends who aren’t Jewish and who know little to nothing about the region said, “Well, Israel has done a lot of bad things,” or “It’s just another thing in the ‘cycle of violence.’” It took a minute to process: people were tortured, children, grandparents, whole families taken hostage, and you either think it’s justified or don’t care?
Then the celebrations started all over the world about Jewish death. Before Israel had fired a strike, Leftist groups such as Chicago Black Lives Matter were making the paraglider their logo. A Cornell professor called Hamas’ attacks “exhilarating.” People who call themselves leftists or progressives are calling for Palestine to be free “from River to Sea.” Do you know what that means? It means from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, a territory which includes the state of Israel, a small speck in a giant Arab world. If you are chanting “From River to Sea” at one of your demonstrations, you’re calling for wiping Israel off the planet. That’s genocide.
As I’ve tried to engage my friends and acquaintances who equivocate or justify Hamas’ attacks, I’ve asked them to join me in a thought experiment. We can probably agree that the white population of the United States has oppressed many groups of people, and engaged in genocide against Native-Americans. What if one of the many groups white Americans have oppressed were to take a similar revenge? What if paragliders of Native-Americans landed in the middle of Burning Man and started to rape, murder and take hostage peaceful people enjoying a music festival? What if the victims of systemic racism who live in poverty in the center of American cities, like where I live now, were to go out to the white suburbs and start killing grandmothers and kidnapping babies?
White people generally can’t imagine these scenarios because they’re so insulated that such barbaric acts take place far away, and happen to people who can easily be “othered”—Jews.
Meanwhile, I’m one of the people that this article in Tablet magazine described, “They’re rabidly consuming the headlines, they’re liking people’s ‘Stand With Israel’ stories, they’re privately texting their Jewish friends to ask how they’re doing.” I’ve wanted to do more, but am afraid.
I wrote to a Jewish friend over the weekend, and mentioned that while I’m alarmed by the rise of casual anti-Semitism among friends and acquaintances, I’m afraid to display solidarity with Israel or the Jewish people because I live in a very leftist neighborhood where violence is frequent. A few months ago, I was verbally assaulted on the street while expressing, in a private phone conversation, an opinion about a controversial social issue that’s not popular in my neighborhood. I wasn’t physically harmed—I just had to endure two white women screaming “Fuck you!” at me loudly while I attempted a Sunday morning walk.
When I re-read my email to my friend in the middle of the night, I was struck by the privilege I have, able to hide behind my WASP name and vaguely Scottish appearance. My Jewish friends don’t have that choice. They know that as anti-Semitism rises across the globe, they’re in danger.
My college friend, who’s close to my age (around 50), wrote back, “I think that if you’re under 35, you’ve grown up without much consciousness of anti-Semitism—it’s apparently one of the acceptable “isms.”
Many friends of my age group are the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. One wasn’t able to marry his college girlfriend because her Catholic father said, “I’d hire a Jew to work for me, but I wouldn’t let him marry my daughter.” My older friends and mentors are the children of Jews who were denied entry into Ivy League schools because Jews weren’t allowed then. My parents are both Christian ministers, and they taught me about the Holocaust and the history of anti-Semitism from an early age. They were born in 1945, and remember well. I grew up reading the writings of concentration camp survivors, and learned about the horrors of World War II in school.
The memory of what can happen when non-Jews are silent while anti-Semitism rises fades fast. College friends shared stories of how their grandparents and great-grandparents had survived pogroms, hid in attics, and came as refugees to this country with nothing. I doubt that the young people chanting “From River to Sea” on college campuses now are hearing these stories. If so, would they believe them?
What starts with denying the evil of October 7 won’t end without more violence against Jews all over the world, including here in the United States, unless people who aren’t Jewish speak up. No matter how Israel responds to being attacked anti-Semites will use it as an excuse for violence against Jews in their own countries.
From a friend in Boston: I think it's really important for people on the Left to hear this. Jews in my synagogue are feeling abandoned and betrayed by so many people they previously thought of as allies. I think it's important for these activists to realize that when they refuse to condemn the actions of Hamas (or even celebrate them!), they're doing irreparable damage to their relationships with a group that has historically shown up and fought hard for social justice in this country. Folks in my synagogue who have, time and time again, marched in BLM protests will be far less likely to do so in the future, not because they don't believe black lives matter but because they simply can’t walk in solidarity with people who were happy to throw them under the bus when they needed support.
From a friend in New York: There are so many "Yes, but what about..." folks (who unfortunately tend to be "progressives") who wind up not listening to any of this because "Yes but the Palestinian children." Supporting Jews and Israelis doesn’t have to come at the expense of wanting others to die. Take this: I'm a Jew. I'm a humanist. I don't want any civilians to die. I’ve had problems with the treatment of the Palestinians and the Arabs living in Israel since I spent the summer in Israel as a teenager. I’ve had major problems with the current Israeli government. And when Israel comes under attack, I stand with innocent people and support them. It's not about "colonizing." Colonists have countries to return to. The Jews in Israel are mostly refugees from other genocides and attempted genocides. This isn't Europeans in India. As a Jew, I stand for my murdered and kidnapped global family and still, I cry for Palestinian children. And I cry that my 16-year-old New Yorker child is undergoing her first experiences with anti-Semitism. And I’m relieved that she’s still a 12th grader and not yet on a college campus where nuance isn’t a part of the discourse.
Children are always the innocent victims in war. But I won’t say, “Yes, but…” when it comes to the murder, rape and kidnapping of Jews in Israel or anywhere else. I won’t say, “Yes, but…” when it comes to the terrorizing of young Jewish students on college campuses and unquestioning support for atrocities committed against the Israeli people. People have always found excuses for anti-Semitism. Non-Jews making excuses for anti-Semitism ended in the Holocaust. I will not stand aside for that.