There is no place for anti-semitismJan Heine
On October 7, Hamas terrorists attacked Israel and killed 1200 civilians and soldiers, and took 200 hostages. The horrific scenes of this attack have shocked the world. In the weeks since, the Israeli government’s airstrikes in Gaza have killed more than 11,000 people, including almost 4,000 children. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced. Water, food and the power needed to run hospitals are cut off. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is getting more and more dire with every day.1 Many worry about statements by the Israeli government that President Obama characterized as “dehumanizing language towards the people of Gaza.” There is concern that the staggering civilian death toll and the scale of destruction are no accident, but part of a deliberate policy. We are also concerned about the continuing attacks by Hamas on targets in Israel. We posted about this concern last week.
As much as we worry about the situation in Gaza, we must also denounce all forms of anti-semitism. Some people claim that the actions of the Israeli government have the unquestioning support of Jews world-wide, and thus consider all Jews complicit in what is happening in Gaza. We must make it clear that, when we criticize the actions and words of individuals, we are not extending that criticism to all those who share their faith. We must repudiate any suggestion that all Jews are responsible, just because they share the same faith.
Unfortunately, this is reinforced by the Israeli government and its proxies, who denounce any criticism of its policies as anti-semitic. We have seen efforts on college campuses to shut down free speech that is critical of the Israeli government.2 Donors are demanding that “anti-Israel attacks” are curtailed.3 Law firms have threatened to blacklist not just the individual students who speak out, but also all other students at their universities.4 The message is stark: “Support the Israeli government unconditionally, or we will call you anti-semitic.” Threats like that can lead to resentment. And since these voices pretend to speak for all Jews, there is a risk that this resentment is not only directed at the individuals making these threats, but at an entire religion. There is a risk that the resentment merges with the despicable undercurrents of anti-semitism that Jewish people are so familiar with.
It is important to remember that these people do not speak for all Jews. Unlike many religions, the Jewish faith does not have formal leader. Judaism encourages discussion and open-mindedness. I have experienced that myself recently.
When I wrote last week’s post, I was concerned that there would be a backlash. Many of our customers are Jewish. Would some of them attack me online? Call for a boycott of our company? At the very least, unsubscribe from our newsletter and unfollow us on social media? None of these have happened. Instead I’ve received quite a few supportive messages via our suggestions form. Others added comments to their orders thanking me for speaking out. In private conversations, many Jewish friends have expressed their anguish over policies of the Israeli government. To me, that has been incredibly encouraging. It shows that the carefully orchestrated campaign to suppress criticism of the suffering imposed on the people of Gaza is not speaking for a majority. It shows that many are concerned about what is happening in Gaza.
However, I also received this email from a long-time Israeli acquaintance: “Quoting and agreeing with Obama’s despicable interpretation of events in Gaza and Israel is a low point for you and your brand. Just like Holocaust era Germany, there are very few innocents in Gaza. Gazan children learn to hate Jews at their mother’s teats. A huge part of the population in Gaza and the West Bank supported Hamas before their atrocities, moreso now. You have tainted your reputation with your “what Obama Said” article. Virtue signaling to woke lunatics is pathetic. Shame !”
This made me deeply sad and concerned. (You can read my reply below.) I think we can disagree on many aspects of this conflict and its complicated history. But I learned in my history lessons that labeling entire populations, including children, as “not innocent” can lead to disaster. Especially when there is a power imbalance, where one side feels they can act on those sentiments with impunity. (In fact, the state of Israel was founded in part to address the power imbalance Jews had faced for centuries.)
My acquaintance’s email made me realize that speaking out is important, especially when our weapons are used in this conflict, our taxes finance it, and our leaders support it. We need to clarify that these voices do not speak for all of us. At the same time, it is important to remember that this has been the only negative reaction to last week’s post.
My experience also shows that speaking out is not as risky as we are led to believe. The musician Mackelmore said last weekend at a rally in Washington, D.C.: “We have been taught to just be complicit, to protect our careers, to protect our interests, and I’m not gonna do it anymore. I’m not afraid to speak the truth!” If we believe in the basic goodness of humans, then we don’t need to be afraid when we speak out. People will respect our concerns even if they don’t agree with us. And recent experience has taught me that this is true.
Speaking out is especially important when those in power try to scare us. Their over-the-top attempts to silence critics show that they are worried, that they see their grip on the public discourse slipping away. Mackelmore spoke for many of us: We aren’t afraid any longer—because we don’t need to be.
Considering the complex history of this conflict, it can be hard to figure out what to say. Mackelmore clearly felt the same way when he said: “I don’t know everything, but I know this is wrong.” We don’t need to know everything, and we certainly don’t need to pick sides, to say, when thousands of children are killed: “This is wrong.”
I was very encouraged by the story of a Seattle woman who lost her aunt and uncle in the horrific attack by Hamas terrorists and whose relatives are among the hostages. The Seattle Times reported that “she said that she strongly condemns the Hamas attack, which she called a crime against humanity. But also that she’s horrified by the killing of thousands of innocent civilians in Gaza in the weeks since. Moreover, she and her family are appalled the Israeli government has not prioritized the safe release of hostages.”5
Speaking out also means respecting each person as an individual. Respecting their views, even if they are different from ours. We can disagree, but not hate. And we must be clear: When we condemn certain views, we are talking about individuals, and not entire groups, populations, or religions. Anti-semitism, in all its forms, has no place in our world.
This post would be incomplete if I did not mention islamophobia. Hamas is widely recognized as a terrorist organization, and its charter calls for the “obliteration or dissolution of Israel.” This is reprehensible. However, Hamas does not speak for all Muslims. In fact, it does not even speak for all Palestinians, or all inhabitants of Gaza. An opinion poll in Gaza, conducted just before the Oct. 7 attacks, found that only 27% of Gazans named Hamas as their preferred political party. A plurality blamed Hamas, and not Israel, for their misery. Nearly 3/4 said they supported a peaceful resolution to the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict.6
I am deeply saddened and concerned when I read that a 6-year-old boy was killed in Chicago just because he was Palestinian.7 That, at Stanford University, a Muslim student was hit by a car after the driver yelled anti-Islamic obscenities at him.8 That students protesting against the war were spat at, that people stepped on a student’s bag that was adorned with a shape of Palestine.9 All this happened at just one university… So I’d like to amend the headline of this post:
There is no place for anti-semitism, nor for islamophobia.
Update 11/16/2023: This article by Nicolas Kristof in the New York Times explains “what we get wrong about the Israel and Gaza.” He shows why picking sides in this conflict is not helpful, and why we must support the civilian populations on both sides.
My reply to my acquaintance’s message:
Hi [name withheld],
Thank you for reaching out and sharing your viewpoint. I think we can disagree on many aspects of this conflict and its complicated history. But I am saddened, because I learned in my history lessons that labeling entire populations, including children, as “not innocent” can lead to disaster.
I felt that I did not want to suppress your opinion when I wrote a post about the reactions to our original post. So I incorporated it (anonymously, of course) into my new post.
Most of all, I wish you and yours all the best in these difficult times.
In this post, I speak only for myself, not for Rene Herse Cycles or its employees. This post has been updated to reflect the Israeli government’s new, lower estimates of casualties of the horrific attacks on Oct. 7, 2023.
- (1) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/08/thousands-flee-gaza-under-watch-israeli-tanks
- (2) https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/03/opinion/antisemitism-jews-campus.html
- (3) https://www.cnn.com/2023/11/06/business/harvard-antisemitism-israel-ackman-funding-letter/index.html
- (4) https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/02/business/dealbook/law-firms-schools-antisemitism.html
- (5) https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/seattle-woman-with-israeli-relatives-held-hostage-in-gaza-demands-peace/
- (6) https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/13/opinion/gaza-war-children-photo.html
- (7) https://www.cnn.com/2023/10/16/us/chicago-muslim-boy-stabbing-investigation/index.html
- (8) (9) https://www.cnn.com/2023/11/04/us/stanford-university-hate-crime-investigations/index.html