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Building an intersectional approach to confront antisemitism

Faith leaders protest together at border
Photo: Naaz Modan / CAIR

Over the last several years, we have witnessed a rise in antisemitic hate speech and violence in the United States and around the world. From attacks on synagogues and the desecration of Jewish graves to the pervasiveness of antisemitic conspiracy theories, Jewish people are faced with persistent bigotry, hate, racism, and violence.

Antisemitism is discrimination against, violence towards, or stereotypes of Jews for being Jewish. It is an insidious form of bigotry that has been used to justify oppression and violence throughout centuries. It is wrong, and it is disturbing to see it so prevalent today.

We are committed to rooting out antisemitism

As a Quaker organization that has been working for peace and justice around the world for more than a century, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) believes that it is critically important that we stand up against antisemitism in all its forms. We hold true to the faith that there is “that of God,” a spark of the divine, in every single person. In our Quaker tradition, that insight calls us to respect the rights and dignity of all people. That is the first principle of AFSC’s work around the world. 

Antisemitism has its own historical context but is also interconnected with ideologies that reinforce white supremacy, xenophobia, and religious bigotry. The struggle to end antisemitism is inseparable from  our work to create a world free from violence, inequality, and oppression. We are committed to creating a future where all people and cultures, without exception, can thrive.

Standing against Jew-hatred and antisemitic violence has been an important commitment throughout AFSC’s history, as well as our present. Before, during, and after World War II, AFSC was at the forefront of efforts to rescue both Jewish and non-Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. We helped people resettle in the United States, where we also worked to confront anti-refugee sentiments. Working with Quakers worldwide and coordinating with other relief agencies, AFSC also helped refugees facing fascist persecution in France, Portugal, and Spain. For this work, we were honored with a Nobel Peace Prize and included in Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial. Over many decades, we have dedicated ourselves to helping societies worldwide and communities in the U.S. overcome all forms of white supremacy, bigotry, and xenophobia, including antisemitism. We’ve spoken out and joined with the Jewish community on countless occasions against antisemitic actions and policies. And we are committed to continuing this work for as long as it is necessary.

Today we see a new wave of authoritarian regimes and populist leaders promoting antisemitic, misogynistic, Islamophobic, racist, and xenophobic propaganda in the U.S. and internationally. We saw these strains of hatred come together clear as day in 2017 at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, when white supremacists marched with torches chanting “Jews will not replace us.” The event ended when a white supremacist killed an antiracist counter-protestor with his car. Soon after, President Donald Trump gave tacit approval to the violence and the racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic messages of the day, saying there were “very fine people on both sides.”

This is the intersection of antisemitism, racism, and misogyny we must work tirelessly to oppose.

While much of the antisemitism we see comes from the far right, we also recognize that it exists across the political spectrum. Antisemitic conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, and religious intolerance of any kind have no place anywhere, and certainly not in social justice movements. It is part of our work to educate our partners and communities to recognize and root out all forms of antisemitism.

Being pro-Palestinian is not antisemitic

We engage this task as an organization that actively works to end abuses of Palestinians’ rights as well. In the aftermath of World War II, AFSC was asked by the United Nations to organize relief efforts for Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip and the Haifa region of Israel. Since that time, AFSC has been active in both Israel and Palestine, facilitating anti-militarism organizing in Israel, working with young people and elders in Gaza and the West Bank, and opposing the grievous human rights abuses and occupation perpetuated by the state of Israel against Palestinians.

Unfortunately, this work is sometimes undermined by organizations who use false allegations of antisemitism to quash legitimate criticisms of the state of Israel. They have attempted to create new definitions of antisemitism that conflate criticism of Israel and/or Zionism with antisemitism. These efforts are dangerous. They identify Judaism with a set of state policies and political identifications, excluding or marginalizing Jews who do not ascribe to those same beliefs, and politicizing what should be a universal struggle to challenge hate. This redefinition has also been used as cover by white nationalists, Christian Zionists, and others who use support for the state of Israel to obfuscate and excuse other antisemitic positions and beliefs that need to be challenged. This has deeply impacted our ability to name and eradicate actual antisemitism.

The politicization of antisemitism also threatens Palestinian freedom of speech and exposes it to even further state sanctions. Palestinians who advocate for their own rights, who speak from their own experience, and who oppose Israeli violations of their rights are charged with antisemitic incitement. Those advocating for Palestinian human rights and freedoms, including many Jews, are accused of antisemitism and silenced. This is wrong and endangers efforts to realize peace with justice.

Antisemitism is a form of bigotry and hatred. Advocating for the rights of the oppressed and dispossessed is an act of inclusion and love.

AFSC advocates for an intersectional approach to addressing antisemitism in today’s world – one that finds common cause between oppressed people and works to rectify injustice, support self-determination, and build lasting and sustainable peace. As the poet Gwendolyn Brooks once wrote, “We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond.”

It is up to all of us to ensure we build communities where all people and cultures have a chance to thrive and grow in community with one another.

 

 

 

 

 

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