By Avner Goldstein
Anti-Semitism did not cease after the Holocaust. Jews do not suffer the same sting of oppression they felt in the mid-20th century, but anti-Semitism is still alive and well, even in Greenville. According to the FBI, 54 percent of hate crimes last year were targeted toward Jews.
Anti-Semitism is often associated as commonplace for those on the right. A Republican candidate in Illinois is a known Holocaust denier and Nazi. President Donald Trump refused to condemn white nationalists when they chanted “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, Va. This kind of anti-Semitism is, in a sense, easier. It is tangible and simpler to identify; it is well-known.
There is a new kind of anti-Semitism, and it is not of the far right. This past week, I participated in Facebook discussions surrounding the Gaza protests in a forum for progressive politics in the Upstate. Many in the group were quick to argue in absolutes: “The oppressed [Jews] have become the oppressors.” This dialogue, which was already wrong in its oversimplification of an overtly complicated conflict, quickly translated into outright anti-Semitism. Many singled out Jewish members, used anti-Semitic slurs against them, trivialized the Holocaust, and were quick to ignore Jews’ pleas to respect the emotional and historical connection Jews have with Israel. Those who offered anti-Semitic remarks were not removed from the group but instead were applauded. Once a valued part of the Upstate’s progressive community, I now feel betrayed.
This means that the while the right’s anti-Semitism is often disguised as anti-globalist, the left’s anti-Semitism often masquerades as anti-Zionism. In fact, anti-Semitism has often been closely linked with anti-Israel and anti-Zionist agitation. Don’t get me wrong: I have and will continue to be a strong critic of the current Israeli government. Still, I fear this absolutist dialogue, which has become less about specific Israeli policy and more a debate about the legitimacy and existence of Israel itself. This kind of rhetoric is dangerous for Jews: It denies the idea that Jews, like anyone, have their own right to self-determination. It ignores Jewish history in the land of Israel. It rejects any Jewish narrative and instead offers conditional listening when Jews share their worries: I will listen to your concerns so long as they align with my already formed opinions on Israel. To be accepted in progressive spaces, Jews are forced to abandon any commitment to Israel.
It also follows a common theme in history where Jews are accepted and embraced so long as they are powerless and weak. When Jews gain authority, however, they are betrayed and vilified. As a Jew who feels betrayed by his progressive community, I plea to you: do not betray us. Do not repeat history.
I cannot help but wonder what it would be like for another ethnic minority in these kinds of discussions. Surely anyone who used anti-black slurs would be properly denounced and removed from any kind of forum. When someone who is black offers their narrative, I listen and do not refute. After all, I am not black and cannot possibly understand what it is like to be black in America. We must stop conditionally listening to Jewish narratives and instead open ourselves. This openness is what is celebrated in progressive dialogue, but why does it come short when applied to Jews?
I have felt like a canary in the coal mine when it comes to addressing anti-Semitism. I want swift denouncement; instead, I get excuses. Until anti-Semitism is recognized as an unfortunately bipartisan problem, it will find new ways to thrive. Greenville’s progressive community needs to rebuild its commitment to Jews and combating anti-Semitism. To do this, just listen to us.
Avner Goldstein is an Upstate resident, Jewish-American, and president of Greenville Students Demand Action. He can be reached at email@example.com.