Anti-Semitism, Security, and What it Means to Be Protected

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that all 100 U.S. Senators, led in part by Sen. Marco Rubio (R, FL) and Gary Peters (D, MI), sent a letter to the White House urging “swift action with regard to the deeply troubling series of anonymous bomb threats made against Jewish Community Centers (JCCs), Jewish day schools, synagogues and other buildings affiliated with Jewish organizations or institutions across the country”.
I’ve been quite concerned, personally, and communally, about the dramatic uptick in anti-Semitic threats and attacks since the election. And I am glad that all 100 Senators are telling the Trump administration that it needs to do more. However, I am also aware that the proportions are striking here: the Senate — divided and hostile at an historic level — unites in solidarity with our Jewish community in response to a frightening but (thankfully, so far) very low register of violence: robo-call threats that have given no indication of having backing to follow through, but cause fear and disruption of communal life, and scary property damage to Jewish, sacred spaces (broken and vandalized synagogue windows, vandalized Jewish cemeteries). At the same time, Muslim, Indian, Black, immigrant, and LGBTQ communities and individuals have not been received the concern, attention, and care of the Senate, even as they have faced similar, and, in many cases, more direct and lethal violence. And, of course, Black individuals and the Black community, Native Americans and the Native American community, continue to be targeted, kidnapped, beaten, enslaved, and killed, even by law enforcement itself. Somehow, though, it seems unimaginable in the world we inhabit, that the Senate would unite to pressure the White House to engage in swift action to curtail violence targeted against those communities (most of which, of course, have overlap with the Jewish community). Therefore, while I appreciate the Senate’s gesture and statement, I am also distrustful. Throughout history, the main way anti-Semitism has functioned has been for people in true positions of power to pick off the Jews to use as their scapegoats, fig leaves and shields, to protect them from opposition from the main targets of their exploitation and oppression. They want to divide us Jews from other, oppressed, minority communities, making us unsympathetic of their correct claims of abuse by the power structures, until such a point that minority communities direct their rage at the more accessible Jews, rather than at the true, deep sources of their oppression. This has happened for centuries, and it’s happening right now. We Jews have to resist being played as pawns in this way and maintain our solidarity with all oppressed communities, even as we take responsible measures to protect ourselves.

One particular nafka mina (Aramaic, Talmudic term meaning, ‘practical application’) of this idea: we have to resist inviting the police to provide enhanced security in our communities. Doing so is a sell-out and endangerment of the people of color and trans people in our own Jewish community. In the last several years, some voices in mainstream Jewish organizations, including synagogues, JCC’s, and Jewish day schools, have expressed more concern that Jews of Color, especially Black and Latino Jews, as well as LGBTQ Jews, may be underrepresented in general, Jewish communal life, and have begun to review the aspects of their institutional cultures that may communicate that this is not home for those marginalized subsets of the community. If we are serious about that question, then we have to ask: can we simultaneously say that we want, say, Black and Trans Jews, to feel welcome in our shuls while we hire police officers to stand guard and scrutinize who comes in? What would it mean for us to to enhance communal security in ways that further threaten those of our constituents most vulnerable to the danger?
These questions are external, as well. What grounds do we have to expect empathy, solidarity, and support from other groups facing violence and discrimination if we seek out for our protection the body that most threatens their safety and security? If you were in those communities, wouldn’t you see this as an act of abandonment by the Jewish community? We are threatened by the same, burgeoning, white supremacy movement as are Muslim, Black, Latinx, immigrant, and LGBTQ communities — communities which have also been targeted by police. These are the same communities as vulnerable and likely more vulnerable than we are to the current white supremacist uptick, but not protected by U.S. Senate concern, not offered even milquetoast statements of solidarity by the President, and no, not protected by the police. Instead of running to the police, I suggest that our institutions reach out to those communities with whom our lot is actually cast and seek their expertise and experience: facing threats of violence and unable to trust police, and, in some cases, unable to afford hiring police, how have those communities enhanced their security? What do our local mosques do? What do Black churches do, especially in resource-deprived communities? Do they, like the Nation of Islam, provide their own security from within their membership ranks? Is there any good reason that we cannot do that in the Jewish community, other than internalization of anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as weak, disembodied, and bourgeois? Are we more committed to that self-image than we are to offering security to all of our members, including and especially those who are the most vulnerable?

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