September 23, 2019

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A rabbi pretends to defend Jews in @USAToday – but he ends up as guilty as the people he attacks

USA Today has an op-ed by Jason Kimelman-Block, who is a rabbi and Director of the “progressive” Bend the Arc Jewish Action.

The article pretends to be against weaponizing antisemitism from the Right. He has a point, but he undermines it by doing exactly what he blames the Right for doing – politicizing antisemitism instead of acknowledging it. In so doing, he is downplaying the experiences and alienating millions of Jewish Americans who are the victims of both left and right wing antisemitism.

…The pattern is by now quite clear. A Muslim member of Congress makes remarks about Israel. A conservative media outlet cherry picks a phrase, a couple of words, spinning opinion into news. Republican members of Congress — like Liz Cheney, Lee Zeldin, and Steve Scalise — launch disingenuous attacks on Twitter or in press releases. Conservative media —like Breitbart and The Federalist — pile on with front-page articles amplifying their blatantly false claims of anti-Semitism.

Then mainstream media outlets get in on the act, with more traditional platforms reporting on on the false accusations, lending them undue legitimacy. Even seemingly neutral headlines further the idea that the member of Congress has sparked a controversy, or is suddenly embattled, while allowing conservative voices to speak on behalf of the Jewish community. All that is before President Donald Trump jumps in with a tweet, continuing his offensive effort to push Jewish Americans to abandon the Democratic Party with fear-mongering and divisive rhetoric.

When Ilhan Omar made her comments about the “Benjamins,” she was not referring to Israel. She was referring to American Jews controlling Congress.  She then went on to accuse Jews of having more loyalty to Israel than to America. Those, plus her “hypnotizing the world” statement, were undoubtedly antisemitic dog-whistles at the very least. To say that this is part of a pattern of remarks about Israel being treated falsely as antisemitism is a lie. To downplay them is to deny Jews the agency to decide for ourselves what is offensive to us – not viewed through the lens of partisanship but the reality of Omar’s statements.

A Jew offering support for Omar after three distinct offensive statements takes himself out of the community of Jews.

Tlaib’s comment about the Holocaust was not antisemitic – but it was offensive to most Jews, nonetheless. She lied about a major event in Jewish history and downplayed her people’s complicity in historic Jew-hatred. The Arab hatred of Jews has cost the lives of tens of thousands of people. Historical revisionism is not something to be dismissed so readily.

Ignoring these real concerns about the statements from members of Congress is insulting.

Here’s how the distraction works: when the waters are muddied, we can no longer see clearly. When threats are everywhere, they are nowhere, and fear can be sown about anyone. Fingers will often point to Muslim or Black leaders, people who have long been scapegoated as a source of danger in our society, and who are thus easy targets for people’s fear.

This is really offensive. If I find someone saying something that insults me as a Jew, I will call it out – no matter what the color, religion, gender or party of the person who says it.

Kimelman-Block is accusing anyone who feels the way I do of being a bigot. Yet he is the one who is saying that the color of a person affects how we should respond to their words.

If racism is treating people differently because of their color, Kimelman-Block is the racist here.

In this way our attention can be shifted from the people responsible for unleashing a wave of white supremacist violence targeting our communities. That’s why within 24 hours of the shooting at Chabad of Poway there were members of Congress and conservative pundits who obscured the shooter’s white nationalist manifesto by directing blame on a Muslim member of Congress and a cartoon in the New York Times International Edition.

…Ultimately, all the faux outrage and manufactured smears have real life consequences: they reduce the time, attention, and resources devoted to tackling the real sources of anti-Semitism that are actively putting my community and others at greater and greater risk.

The best way to respond is to keep the focus where it belongs, on the radical ideology of white nationalism and its normalization in our politics, and to reject efforts to divide our communities from each other. 

 If anyone actually blamed the New York Times for Poway they are obviously wrong. But notice that Kimelman-Block doesn’t even characterize the NYT cartoon as antisemitic. His inability to even hint that there might be antisemitism outside the Right makes his entire essay an exercise in partisanship. It isn’t about antisemitism at all.

 I care about the safety of Jews more than I care about American politics. There is no question that right-wing antisemitism is an immediate danger to Jewish lives – usually, only right-wingers have guns. But left-wing, black and Muslim antisemitism are each real and toxic in their own ways. All of them feed Jew-hatred throughout the nation and makes Jews feel marginalized. This includes those who single out the Jewish state for criticism that is out of proportion to even the worst crimes anyone can accuse it of. It is all the same unhinged hate and it should all be exposed for what it is, no matter who the perpetrator is.

Kimelman-Block is not speaking as a Jew, no matter where he got his rabbinical ordination from. He is speaking as a leftist. He is purposefully downplaying and ignoring the other threats to Jews because they do not come from the far-Right. He does not talk about the near-daily attacks on religious Jews in New York City by blacks. He does not even acknowledge the existence of antisemitism in left-wing circles, even though at the grassroots level it is quite loud and obvious, both in the US and overseas – the far-Left and the far-Right are virtually indistinguishable in Jew-hatred.

Arab and Muslim antisemitism is endemic – and roundly ignored by Kimelman-Block and the Left. The only reason there have not been more Pittsburghs and Poways is because the FBI manages to foil an Islamic extremist plot to blow up synagogues every couple of years. (They tend to favor bombings rather than shootings.)

 Not only that, but left-wing hatred of Israel directly fuels right-wing antisemitism – they routinely use biased Leftist sources like Max Blumenthal or Electronic Intifada to justify their own hate of Jews. The far-Right has embraced BDS just as enthusiastically as the Left. Pretending that the Right’s hate of Israel is somehow antisemitic while the exact same language from the Left is merely political is yet another example of Leftist blindness to the hate on its own side. The loathing of Israel by leftists is psychologically indistinguishable from the loathing of Jews by the neo-Nazis, and to think that they don’t have the same common denominator is to fool oneself.

Beyond that. Jews on campus feel real fear from the Israel-haters who intimidate them and who sometimes break out into violence. Kimelman-Block is minimizing and trashing the feelings of fear of hundreds of thousands of Jews for his own partisan reasons.

Kimelman-Block is weaponizing antisemitism just as much as he accuses the Right of doing, by implicitly saying that Jews who feel victimized by antisemitism from Muslims, BDSers, blacks or Arabs are actually making it all up or secretly in bed with Republicans or some other nonsense.  Both sides are politicizing antisemitism, and the only victims are Jews who are being used as pawns for each side and whose actual concerns are being ignored by the parties who are guilty of whitewashing the hate on their own sides. This essay is just as much a whitewash and a politicization of Jew hatred as anything Trump has done.

If this leftist rabbi actually cared about Jews, this article would not be a polemic defending leftist antisemitism of Ilhan Omar, denying the historical revisionism of Rashida Tlaib, and minimizing the real fear of Jews who live in Brooklyn and Manhattan and on campus – while only going after his side’s political opponents.

Kimelman-Block is using his title of a rabbi not to defend Jews but to alienate them and to push his own politics. Don’t pretend to be speaking as a Jew when all you care about is hating Republicans and not caring about Jews.

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