The Question of Antisemitisms: Crowdsourcing an Answer

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, March 8, 2019 / 1 Adar Sheni 5779

Summary: Rabbi Kosak speaks about Representative Omar from Minnesota, and poses a series of questions to his readers. As a sidenote, based on the response to last week’s question, there was not sufficient interest in holding a session on the Israeli elections.
One would have needed to turn actively away from the news to avoid the fracas over newly elected representative, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

Congresswoman Omar has found herself in a maelstrom of critique over a number of her comments, which are evocative of traditional anti-semitic stereotypes that have long been used to justify oppression and hatred of Jews.

“It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.”

“Israel has hypnotized the world; may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”

“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

To some people, these comments are outright proof of harbored antisemitism. After all, Omar has a history of making such comments over several years. During that time, she was coached and mentored by numerous Minnesota Jews as to why such comments were problematic.

Others imagine that Omar is still new to the game of politics and hasn’t learned the art of speaking carefully so that your words aren’t misunderstood (an impossibility, by the way).

There are those who believe that she is taking an unfair lashing because of Islamophobia. Or racism. Or that the Republicans are using this to rile things up, when worse examples of antisemitism arise in their party. Or that Omar is boldly breaking through the taboo topic of Israel criticism. (I can’t think of another country as subject to criticism as Israel, so not sure I find this last point convincing. There is no silence on Israel of which I am aware).

The point is, we find ourselves once again in a really interesting moment of our nation’s culture wars. (Except this time, the Jews have ended up smack in the middle. That shouldn’t really surprise anyone either.)

I have read dozens and dozens of articles, and unsurprisingly, there was nary a surprise in the commentators I saw. What I mean is that everybody’s response was entirely consistent with their current world view. Nobody of note said anything you wouldn’t expect them to say.

To me, that’s normally a warning sign. It indicates that no one has engaged in real thought. Let me be clear. I don’t mean that no one has sat down and pondered this situation. Rather, genuine creative thought is extremely demanding. It requires that we sit down and reject many of the ideas that come to mind. (As Laura says, “Don’t believe everything you think.”)

Meaningful thought means that the thinker needs to surprise themself, or at least be open to that possibility. It means that one should investigate the counterintuitive spark of an idea and see where it leads.

What I’d like to do here, then, is not issue any proclamations of my own. Instead, I want to open up a process I sometimes use when seeking a creative understanding, by posing to you, my reader (and thank you for that), a number of questions.

While the questions are “tuned” for this situation, the method behind it is more universal. If you were to sit and compose answers, you might discover new perspectives on this current moment. That in turn might shed some illumination which could help those around you. In an age where there tends to be more heat than light, that would be a gift.

For anyone feeling so motivated, I invite you to try your hand and send me your answers. If I get a few very different submissions, I’ll collate them and send them out as our own community’s crowd-sourced answer (responses will be kept anonymous unless you indicate otherwise)


Set One
Is there a difference between antisemitism on the right and on the left? What is that difference? How would you describe it? Can you defend this distinction (or lack of a distinction) with hard evidence?

Set Two
How does one draw a line between legitimate criticism of Israel and criticism that harbors anti-semitic underpinnings? Is there a way to accurately measure the criticism of Israel and compare it to criticism lodged against other countries? Have you ever tried to do so, or have you read of careful studies that analyze this?

Set Three
How should society respond to antisemitism? How should Jews? Does every act of antisemitic speech (whether intended that way by the speaker or not) need a response? Extrapolating out, would you apply that same standard to Islamophobia? To any group that has a history of oppression? Is one person’s suffering of greater value so that we must limit our critique when they act inappropriately?

Set Four
How does the Israeli-Palestinian conflict play out in America? In what ways does this encourage Jew and Muslim to discuss the middle-east, and in what ways does it prevent such conversations from occuring? Are American Jews and Muslims controlling how they interact with one another, or are there cultural forces pushing them into their corners? Must one change how one thinks to foster such relationships, or can one be friends and share permanent differences on a topic that is of central importance to both people? How have these Israeli-Palestinian issues played out in your own life? Do you have many friends from the other group? If you are Jewish, for example, do you have Muslim friends with a wide variety of opinions on Israel-Palestine?

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

I think there are enough questions above for this week!

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.

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