I recently coordinated a panel on global anti-Semitism. Participants learned about the efforts of the U.S. State Department and the American Jewish Committee in their work urging foreign governments to crack down on the perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks. I was struck by a comment from US Department of State Team Leader of Anti-Semitism and Europe in the Office of International Religious Freedom, Stacy Bernard Davis: “What used to be fringe is now voted into Parliament.”
Sadly, I believe Davis’ message can be extended. What used to be fringe is now… published in the mainstream press… used for votes… sponsored as bus advertisements.
From Lena Dunham’s The New Yorker dog or Jewish boyfriend quiz (dog!? that’s the term Ayatollah Khamenei uses for Israel) to the philly.com column suggesting Bat Mitzvah is about collecting loot, anti-Semitic disrespect now published in the mainstream press is no longer fringe.
Just before the Israeli election, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s choice to motivate Jewish Israelis to the polls by fueling fear and distance from the other was designed to divide peoples for the sake of votes in a democratic election. Xenophobia coming from Netanyahu is not fringe.
This week, SEPTA will be forced to post anti-Islam hate ads that accuse Muslims of hating Jews. These anticipated anti-Islam ads, sponsored by a group led by Jewish extremists, are a painful reminder that Jews are not immune from perpetrating bigotry. As David Brooks recently wrote of Israel and I would say for us all, we cannot become a “mirror of the foe.” For a month until SEPTA can legally change policy, the bus advertisements will remind us that what used to be fringe can now be on the side of a bus.
What might we do when what once was fringe bigotry is now published in the news, used in political campaign and posted on a city bus? Whether hate-speech is anti-Muslim or anti-Jew, we confront hate speech with love speech. On Tuesday, I gathered in Love Park with imams, reverends, priests, and with Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and Reform rabbis at Mayor Nutter’s press conference to stand against anti-Islam hate ads. There, an imam taught that if God wanted us to all be the same, God would have made us all the same! While he felt his fellow-Muslims’ pain, he urged them to act not out of destruction but out of love, as the prophet would teach. Surely, this was a gathering of such love. To sign the petition and learn about how to stand against hate speech with #daretounderstand, visit the daretounderstand website of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia.
This week, the Jewish community prepares for the festival of Passover. The Haggadah commands us to see ourselves as if we personally left Egypt. We remember that we ought to see ourselves as strangers in a strange land, not so that we may be a people of victim-hood, but so that we may be a people of compassion, understanding and justice.
by Rabbi Jill Maderer