We are approaching the Easter season that for tens of millions of Christians around the world includes a Good Friday service in which the New Testament crucifixion story is read and sometimes even acted out in services. This story, revisited by Christians annually, portrays Jews as rejecting Jesus and taking responsibility for his death. This ritual served as a reminder to churchgoers of Jews’ collective responsibility for the death of the son of god and was understood to be permission, even incitement from church leaders to go out and beat up or kill Jews. This is part of the centuries-old culture of anti-Semitism that is continually reinvigorated by readings of the Christian Bible. Jews have played a number of distinct roles within western societies but since the consolidation of Christian power in the 4 th century C.E. they have always been exploited, marginalized, scapegoated and vulnerable to violence. Ruling elites in Europe and the U.S. have deliberately and repeatedly used Jews to divert and distract poor, working, and middle-class Christians from seeing the powerful white Christian men who dictate the conditions of their lives.
The deep and long-standing levels of Anti-Jewish oppression in our culture lead to the reality that although 1.7% of people in the U.S. are Jewish, according to 2017 F.B.I. numbers, 54.2% of religiously motivated hate crimes were against Jews and 11.5% of overall hate crimes were against Jews. Examples include Douglas High School in Florida where on February 14, 2018 Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people and injured another 14. Personal accounts of students who attended high school with Cruz have pegged him as an anti-Semite and some of the violent incidents he was suspended for were against Jews. The school itself is more than 40% Jewish. Anti-Semitism probably wasn’t Cruz’s only motivation but seems to have been a significant component of it. Similarly, in the August 2017 white nationalist riot in Charlottesville there were banners saying “Jews are Satan’s children,” t-shirts with Hitler quotes, swastikas, and chants of “Jews will not replace us.” David Duke told the large crowd, “The truth is, the American media, and the American political system, and the American Federal Reserve, is dominated by a tiny minority: the Jewish Zionist cause.” In the media very few non-Jewish sources have highlighted or even mentioned these kinds of anti-Jewish components of the violence in our society.
Currently we are all, Jews and non-Jews, under attack, and the ruling class and its collaborators are using every means they have to exploit and divide us. Anti-Semitism (or as I prefer to name it anti-Jewish oppression-see the following article) has long been an essential tool to mobilize resentment, distract attention from decision-making elites, and disarm Jewish resistance. Fortunately there are a host of new (and older) resources that offer deep understanding of how anti-Jewish oppression works, the harm it does and how Jews and our allies can overcome the divisions caused by it. Now, more than ever, we need each other. I hope this newsletter will provide you with tools for resisting anti-Jewish oppression and building diverse alliances for social justice.
Note: Although it is long, if you read only one article in this newsletter please read “Understanding Anti-Semitism” by JFREJ-Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. Insightful, comprehensive, and nuanced, I think it is essential reading for anyone working for social justice.
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