By Larry Brook, editor
If you are reading this magazine, chances are you are now seen as a legitimate target.
Do you attend a synagogue somewhere in our coverage area? Gone on a mission to Israel? Attended or sent your kids to one of the Jewish summer camps in our region? Give to Federation, support the Anti-Defamation League?
Or, heaven forbid, you’re a member or associate of Hadassah, or visited a Hillel house while in college.
In other words, if you are pretty much any random Jew in America today.
You may consider yourself open minded and tolerant, you may think that you are working toward peace and justice in the world. Oh, but no. Your evil has been exposed, and the warning has gone out about your existence.
And a target has been put on your back.
The alarm bells about you were sounded recently by none other than a leading figure with the Council on American Islamic Relations, which considers itself the leading American advocate for Muslim rights and a warrior in the battle against hate and bigotry. By a person who briefly was named to the Women’s March board, but was quickly bounced after her history of antisemitic social media posts came to light.
In a speech to the American Muslims for Palestine national convention in late November in Chicago, Zahra Billoo, CAIR’s San Francisco regional director, told those in attendance that the vast majority of American Jews are their “enemies.” She specifically referenced “Zionist synagogues” — which is the vast majority — Hillel Houses on “our campuses,” the ADL (ironic, since for years CAIR has tried to portray itself as the Muslim version of the ADL, before the ADL became anathema in certain social justice circles) and Jewish Federations, which are the mainstream umbrella group in pretty much every Jewish community of more than a few hundred people.
The frightening aspect is that outside of certain pro-Israel advocacy circles and some Jewish media outlets, there has been barely a mention of this.
Imagine a politician, or, to make a closer analogy, a prominent regional director of the ADL, giving a speech that labels the vast majority of American Muslims or any other group as “enemies.”
We wouldn’t hear the end of it.
And CAIR would be at the forefront of denouncing that speaker — with most Jewish organizations not far behind. But in response to Billoo’s remarks, CAIR has doubled down in defending her, even stating that criticism of her dangerous remarks is Islamophobic.
In other words, “if you denounce our hateful incitement, you’re being hateful and inciting.”
She has since announced that she is taking an already-planned sabbatical, while complaining of a “prolonged Zionist onslaught” against her.
Billoo’s remarks are part of the increased radicalism in anti-Israel circles. Over the last couple of years, Israel has been increasingly referred to as a white supremacist or Jewish supremacist endeavor.
Remember the longstanding policy of not negotiating with terrorists? That has been turned 180 degrees. Calls for a two-state solution, where Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace side by side in their own states, have been falling by the wayside as Israel is considered a foreign European outpost in the Middle East, an illegitimate presence no matter what borders are drawn.
Not only is one not supposed to negotiate with such a regime, but one should not even normalize relations, or even interact with Israel as one would any other country.
Far from being a protest against Israeli policies in the territories, the Boycott Divest and Sanction movement doesn’t really care about Israel’s policies, its aim is the complete dismantling of Israel.
Aside from the tiny fringe groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, the vast majority of the Jewish community disagrees with the idea of dismantling Israel and realizes such actions would result in a massacre as the “colonizers” are dealt with and sent back to “where they came from,” as many in the anti-Israel crowd propose, imagining that they “came from” Europe though the majority of Jewish Israelis have roots in Arab countries that kicked them out. Not to mention those who had been in what would become Israel for generations before the modern state was established, who the activists conveniently label as “Palestinian Jews,” a term used by precisely none of those Jews.
Forget that the vast majority of American Jews lean left and want to see Jews and Palestinians living side by side — even if it is a Jewish state where Arabs live as full citizens as societal equals, and a Palestinian state where its leaders have insisted no Jew would be allowed to reside.
In the mind of the anti-Israel activist, the Jew-free Palestinian state is completely justifiable while pluralistic Israel is racist apartheid.
But in an age where the anti-Israel activists, especially in academia, consider a Jewish state on any square inch of the Middle East to be illegitimate, even a two-state solution is unbearable because it perpetuates said supremacist, colonialist regime, and must be resisted. And yes, resistance means whatever it takes, violence and terrorism (er, freedom fighting) included.
For them, there is no middle ground, no room for agreement. There is only the evil occupier, Israel, which must be dealt with and expelled. And if you disagree with that extreme notion, you are complicit in that evil.
The way Billoo and her cohorts are now publicly framing the argument defines the vast majority of American Jews in those terms.
Sadly, it is a maximalist argument that does nothing to make life better for actual Palestinians and only delays hope of a better future for them, as Israel isn’t interested in committing national suicide.
Billoo’s rhetoric is a double-edged danger for the Jewish world. First, there is the physical danger as more extreme acts against a wider range of Jewish targets in the U.S. are not only advocated, but justified.
If you are fighting racism and genocide, battling ethnic cleansing and apartheid, then what you do claims the moral high ground. You’re fighting for the greater good.
In Europe, there have been rulings that attacks on synagogues are legitimate expressions of political opinion, not hate crimes. American courts recently ruled that a group harassing a Michigan synagogue for years with weekly anti-Israel protests on Shabbat can continue to do so. A prestigious university gave a pass to a student who threatened to light someone on fire who was wearing an Israeli Defense Forces sweatshirt.Imagine a student using a noose to threaten a Black student. Another prestigious university drags its feet over dealing with a student diversity officer (!) who expressed a desire to kill all Zionists.
The other danger is that Jewish youth, especially in college, where this rhetoric is at its most pervasive, will look at what they are being accused of by being Jewish, look at their own humanistic ideals, accept at face value the distortions and outright lies being told about Israel, say “who needs this,” and turn their backs on the community and on Israel. It would be so much easier to just fade into the woodwork and not deal with this.
Who wants to be identified as an oppressor? As a supremacist? Not your typical “let’s all get along” Jewish college student who was raised on the concept of Tikkun Olam.
An alarming percentage already feel it necessary to hide their Jewish identity from peers, or even worse, professors known to be anti-Israel, lest their grades suffer. How much more would it take for them to just walk away?
How has it reached this point?
How has society devolved to the point where social justice activists can label the vast majority of American Jews as enemies and there is no outpouring of outrage, but silence or nodding agreement?
How, in this atmosphere, can so many in the Jewish community pretend that the only threats to the community come from the far-right white supremacists that nobody takes seriously?
And how can so many profess a greater trust in the likes of CAIR, which was established by those with ties to Hamas, than in evangelical Christians who profess unconditional love and support of Israel and the Jewish people, with no conversionary or end-times agenda?
Over the last couple of decades, the anti-Israel movement has become much more strident and extreme, and it has reached the point where they are trying to make Jewish identity toxic.
This problem can not be ignored, and our communal impulse to work with and get along with everyone can no longer keep us from standing up for ourselves. Some might argue that this is no time to burn bridges, but in this case, in the words of Billy Joel, “we didn’t start the fire.”