Anti-Semitism is significantly and unquestionably on the rise. Even among the many vicious acts and inciting words characteristic of these tumultuous, Trumpian times, the marked increase in what many assert as the “oldest of hatreds” is a return to a troubling trope in our history. The statistics, media coverage and lived experience of American Jews reinforce this perception as reality.
And yet, there are many within our society, supportive allies and principled civic leaders, who have spoken out and acted against the resurgence of this dark specter. While I have worked closely with Regina Friedland, director of the American Jewish Committee, Seattle region, and respect her efforts, I take issue with her overgeneralized indictment of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s responsiveness to recent anti-Jewish bigotry [“Why are Seattle’s leaders silent about anti-Semitism?” Nov. 23, Opinion].
The photo used with her piece documented the toxic tagging of our synagogue in 2017. The unqualified support of countless voices from around the world bore out the loving affirmation of the majority over the cowardly cravenness of the marginal. And most critically, Mayor Durkan and the Seattle Police Department responded immediately, as they did after the October 2018 Pittsburgh shootings, with calls of support, provision of resources and a reassuring presence. To claim that a failure to issue news releases in every instance of vandalism, hate speech and threat is an abdication of responsibility in calling out and acting against anti-Semitism is a gross mischaracterization.
At the same time, other elements of Seattle civic leadership pose a more insidious danger to the Jewish community. Friedland correctly decries the anti-Israel rhetoric and actions of many within our city government, aligned with a growing and pernicious trend on the extreme progressive left. This is anti-Semitism by another name when distilled down to its essential message: Jewish people have no right to or need for their own state. The pink-washing film fiasco of a few years ago, in which taxpayer-supported city commissions screened and endorsed a propagandist screed against the state of Israel, is a real and ongoing threat within the corridors of City Hall. Durkan’s vehement objections, and Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s unqualified celebration of the film and its objectives, are an authentic reflection of who stands with religious bigotry (Sawant) and who with its victims (Durkan).
Anti-Semitism is a shape-shifting, timeless evil. It adapts to new circumstances and new eras, and can even subtly insinuate itself into the hearts, minds and arguments of those who righteously claim the mantle of champions for justice. Yet those very risers to the ramparts for all other beleaguered minorities find myriad ways to exempt Jews as objects worthy of their defense and alliance. When assessing the intentions and the impact of those who are fighting this new brand of an ancient poison, we must look to the totality of their words and deeds. To indict our allies for occasional oversights is to give aid and comfort to the greater threats that lie beneath the surface and in plain sight.