(JTA) — My 95-year-old mother knows a thing or two about trauma. Not only because she is a survivor of Auschwitz but also because she is a psychologist.
“What worries me,” my mother says, “is that we Jews will succumb to our past trauma rather than rise above it.”
I share my mother’s concern.
Jewish Americans face the threats of escalating antisemitism and growing white nationalism at the same time that the Israeli government’s anti-democratic policies are eliciting increasingly harsh condemnation worldwide.
There is no inherent relationship between antisemitism and the outcry over Israeli policies. But when they occur together, they can trigger traumatic memories and confuse our thinking. This confusion can lead to a dangerous conflation of issues at the intersection of Israel and antisemitism.
Prime Minister Netanyahu exploits this confusion to deflect condemnation of his policies. He constructs a misleading equation, portraying severe criticism of Israel as not only a threat to the Jewish state but also to the Jewish people.
To demonize his political opponents, Netanyahu invokes the ultimate act of antisemitism, the Holocaust. He did so when he blasted those negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran and when he reprimanded The New York Times over its criticism of the agreements he reached with far-right political parties. His strategy is to downplay antisemitism on the right and emphatically equate left-wing with right-wing antisemitism to obscure their distinctions.
Some Jewish organizations, perceiving strong criticism of Israel as threatening Jewish unity and the Jewish state, reflexively reinforce that equation. A case in point is Anti-Defamation League chief Jonathan Greenblatt’s approach to anti-Zionism.
Greenblatt used his keynote address at ADL’s annual leadership summit in May to hammer home his assertion that “Anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Full stop.” Over the past two weeks, he has played a leading role in the campaign to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance non legally binding working definition of antisemitism (IHRA) as the sole such definition in the Biden administration’s U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism. In a tweet urging its adoption, Greenblatt proclaimed: “Anything else permits antisemitism under the guise of anti-Zionism.”
Greenblatt was worried about reports that the White House would include other definitions in the strategy, such as the Nexus Document, which addresses “the complexities at the intersection of Israel and antisemitism.” Greenblatt has repeatedly denigrated Nexus by calling it a “pasted-up process organized by activists” and circulating inaccuracies like: “The Nexus definition assumes that unless there is outright violence involved, anti-Zionism is generally not antisemitism.”
In fact, the Nexus Document includes seven examples of anti-Zionist or anti-Israel behavior that should be considered antisemitic and four that might not be. As Dov Waxman, a member of the Nexus Task Force and chair of Israel Studies at UCLA, tweeted: “Nexus clearly identifies when criticism of Israel or opposition to it crosses the line into antisemitism. But because it is clearer than IHRA in this respect, it is less susceptible to being misused and weaponized against Palestinians and their supporters.”
It’s not that Greenblatt doesn’t understand the complexity of these issues. He has taken nuanced and moderate positions on anti-Zionism in the past. But complex formulas impede the use of simplistic equations. If Greenblatt wants to show that anti-Zionism is always an existential threat to both the Jewish state and the Jewish people, he can leave no room for nuance.
Ultimately, the White House acknowledged the significance of utilizing a varied set of resources to combat antisemitism, stating, “There are several definitions of antisemitism, which serve as valuable tools to raise awareness and increase understanding of antisemitism.” The strategy acknowledged that the United States had already “embraced” the IHRA version, describing it as the “most prominent,” and went on to say that it “welcomes and appreciates the Nexus Document” and other efforts.
That formula has angered some supporters of the IHRA definition, including World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, who said: “The inclusion of a secondary definition in addition to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism is an unnecessary distraction from the real work that needs to be done.”
Like Greenblatt, Lauder wants to build a consensus around a simple explanation for a complex situation. But their approach actually diminishes our ability to carry out “the real work that needs to be done” because it weakens our ability to confront the dominant force fueling increased antisemitism in America: white supremacy
According to the ADL, white supremacy is the greatest danger facing Jewish Americans. As President Biden said in his opening remarks when the National Strategy was unveiled: “Our intelligence agencies have determined that domestic terrorism rooted in white supremacy — including antisemitism — is the greatest terrorist threat to our Homeland today.”
“We can’t take on white supremacy, xenophobia, anti-LGBTQ hate, or any form of hate without taking on the antisemitism that helps animate it,” says Amy Spitalnick, the CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and former head of Integrity First for America, which successfully sued the neo-Nazis who organized the deadly 2017 Charlottesville march. “And likewise, we can’t take on antisemitism without taking on white supremacy or these other forms of hate … All our fates are intertwined.”
But Israel’s policies create a dilemma. When many of our potential allies see Israel, they see a country that calls itself a democracy but enacts laws enshrining Jewish dominance over Palestinian citizens of Israel. And they see a country that has denied fundamental human rights to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza for 56 years. So, not surprisingly, they are moved to speak out about these realities.
Criticism of Israel will inevitably heighten in response to the policies and actions of this Israeli government. Some of Israel’s critics may indeed cross a line by using antisemitic tropes or stereotypes or denying Jews the same rights afforded to others, including Palestinians. When they do, they should not get a free pass. Full stop.
But we must resist the temptation to reflexively respond with accusations of Jew-hatred, even when the criticism of Israel is off-base or unjustified. We cannot afford to oversimplify complex issues by conflating political disagreements about Israel with antisemitism. If we do, we risk distracting from addressing the most dangerous instances of antisemitism and bigotry.
Times like these call on us to shed the weight of our past and approach these issues with clear minds and thoughtful consideration. “Sometimes we split the world into good and bad to guard ourselves against difficult realities,” my mother said. “If we can rid ourselves of the bad and make it so the other side is always guilty, then we feel safe. But by doing so, we lose the ability to find a solution.”
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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