From the Rabbi: Difficult Times - Anti-Semitism in America & Authoritarianism in Israel

The midterm elections and recent convictions of January 6th conspirators give us hope that in the United States there is a robust rejection of extremism. We need it!

In the spring I organized a local Anti-Semitism Task Force to work both reactively to address incidents and proactively to prevent them. I’m also working with our Security Committee to update our protocol and offer ongoing safety education and training. As we cautiously begin hybrid events at the Temple, safety is our highest priority. We will have someone trained in our security measures on site for every service, class, meeting or cultural event. Please look for announcements in the coming months and plan to take the training. There will be in-person sessions and also video options. Eureka Police Chief Todd Jarvis is very supportive of our efforts. In July he wrote to me: “I worked closely with the ADL in San Diego and was honored to be included in some great training provided by them in Israel, Washington DC, and locally in San Diego.”

As troubling as it is to hear deranged rants and threats against Jews from insurrectionists, white supremacists, right-wing politicians and Black celebrities, both in public and on social media, it’s important to appreciate that these expressions of anti-Semitism are being soundly condemned by other community leaders. As I write this note, several American mayors are among over fifty mayors and municipal leaders from around the world meeting at the 2022 Mayors Antisemitism Summit in Athens, Greece.

How different world history might have been had mayors across the world rallied against hatred of Jews in the 1930s. It’s encouraging to note that so many leaders and writers are making the connection between anti-Semitism and other forms of violent bigotry. A society that tolerates any form of hatred opens the door to every hatred.

Last year I wrote hopefully about what was briefly called the “change government” in Israel. Tragically, that promising coalition fell apart and now is being replaced with the most right wing, authoritarian government in Israel’s history including the radical Jewish Power party, Otzma Yehudit - Wikipedia.

In an interview with Ha-Aretz, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Reform Movement in America, expressed the shock felt by Jews across the world:

The pending appointments of Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir as national security minister and Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich as finance minister, along with the choice of [Avi] Maoz as “Jewish identity czar,” have “sent shock waves through the global Jewish community,” says Union of Reform Judaism President Rick Jacobs. In particular, the Maoz appointment delivers “a clear message to Reform and LGBTQ+ Jews: You are not wanted here,” Jacobs adds. Such a message threatens to “fray and tear the ties'' between the Diaspora and Israel to an unprecedented extent, he predicts. “Israeli and Diaspora Jews have historically been bound together by shared Jewish values, but this new crop of government ministers wants to abandon two centuries of core Zionist principles,” he charges. Israel's Far-right Coalition Presents Unprecedented Challenge to U.S. Jews - U.S. News -  

Although we share sacred scriptures and thousands of years of history, the Jewish-American and Israeli-American communities have dramatically different material circumstances, cultures and concerns and every decade we move farther apart. There would be nothing wrong with this if there were mutual acceptance. But the new government in Israel includes extremists who vehemently condemn the flexible, open-minded way millions of Americans practice Judaism. The embrace of authoritarianism in Israel will please right-wing American evangelicals (for whom Israel plays a role in their beliefs about a second coming of Jesus), while intensifying animosity toward Israel among left-leaning critics and further alienating young American Jews.  

As the rift between American Jews and the Israeli electorate widens, the prospects for peace and security in Israel and the Palestinian territories grow dim. Israel is suffering waves of violence: Palestinians attacking and killing Jewish Israelis, Jewish settlers and soldiers attacking and killing Palestinians, and violent lawlessness in Arab cities in Israel. Curbing Violence and Crime in the Arab Sector in Israel: Policy Recommendations | INSS There is reason to fear that new government policies will further destabilize the country: Outgoing police minister warns Ben Gvir moves on Temple Mount could spark intifada | The Times of Israel

I worry about being attacked by anti-Semites and white supremacists here in California. And I worry about my rabbinic colleagues and family members at Reform synagogues in Israel being attacked by self-proclaimed Jewish supremacists. Scoop: U.S. unlikely to work with Jewish supremacist expected to be made Israeli minister - Netanyahu unites Jewish supremacist parties ahead of November's election.

It’s a very difficult time. I encourage you all to do whatever nourishes your spirit, treasure our beautiful Jewish traditions, and continue to support cousins and friends in Israel and the many Israeli institutions that are working heroically for justice and peace.