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Letter to the Editor: Stand Together Against Anti-Semitism and White Supremacy

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I am grateful to my friend and colleague, Rabbi Dovid Asher, for bringing to light the important connection between anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence against Jews ("Hateful rhetoric can put lives at risk," in the Richmond Times-Dispatch March 24). It is a point that is particularly prescient considering that reports of anti-Semitic incidents have risen dramatically in recent years, according to numerous studies.

Yet while I share the alarm that, sometimes, rhetoric used by some Israel critics evokes long-standing stereotypes and anti-Semitic tropes, I am concerned that the specific focus on U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and others who share her views obscures the far greater threat to the Jewish community's security: namely, the surge of ethno-nationalism and racism that forces on the right, including President Donald Trump, have unleashed in the U.S. and across the globe.

Let us not forget that tropes about Jewish money and political influence featured alarmingly in the campaign ads of Republican candidates during the 2016 and 2018 election cycles, and that the bloodiest attacks against minority religious communities in recent memory were all perpetrated by terrorists inspired by the white supremacist ideology of the far right. Insensitive comments like Omar's are unacceptable and dangerous, but it is similarly crucial to call out the torrent of hatred that the white nationalist right continues to unleash, and that mainstream conservative politicians too often echo.

By narrowly focusing on progressive critics of Israeli policy, I fear we in the pro-Israel community risk ignoring the larger and more malignant reality of far-right anti-Semitism in the United States and around the world today. In doing so, we play directly into the hands of those weaponizing incidents like the row over Omar's remarks, and exploiting Jewish communal sensitivities, for political gain. We also unintentionally alienate allies on the left and unfairly stigmatize Muslims, people of color and other vulnerable minority groups as guilty by association. At a time when so many of us are targeted by the same white nationalist scourge, we must do everything we can to stand together against all forms of hate.

I join in Asher's commitment to fight the very real evil of anti-Semitism, especially when it manifests in corridors of power. And, while I believe there is a place for criticism of Israeli policy and the American pro-Israel lobby, I agree with him that critique that targets the wider Jewish community or denies the right of the state of Israel to exist is indeed anti-Semitic. But more important is the truth that all people of conscience must stand together to end all forms of bigotry and prejudice, whether emanating from the right or the left, whether at home or abroad. And we must similarly assert an enduring commitment to solidarity and relationship with members of all minority communities against the resilient and resurgent menace of white supremacy in our time.

Rabbi Michael Rose Knopf
Temple Beth-El

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