Last week, I received a message from a community member that read, “Happy tears to my eyes seeing your (Marc’s Remarks) email title ‘Good News’…” We need more of that. Thank you for sharing the positivity."
Sadly, it lasted only a few days.
Since then, a school board in Tennessee voted unanimously to ban Maus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from being taught in classrooms because the book contains material that board members said was inappropriate. My home town of Orlando saw neo-Nazis yelling antisemitic slurs from a highway overpass. In Chicago, a Jewish school and synagogue were vandalized. In Washington, D.C., a man was arrested and charged with spray painting swastikas on a train station. And, Canada’s capital, Ottawa, saw protests against vaccine mandates featuring swastikas.
Adding to it is the controversy over Whoopi Goldberg’s comments on The View where she asserted the Holocaust “isn’t about race.” She later explained her remarks, apologized, and was ultimately suspended by ABC.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum responded, “Racism was central to Nazi ideology. Jews were not defined by religion, but by race. Nazi racist beliefs fueled genocide and mass murder.”
I have received mixed opinions from community members about her comments and the reaction she received.
I found Yair Rosenberg’s comments in The Atlantic to be insightful on the subject. He wrote, “Goldberg is not an anti-Semite, but she was confused—and understandably so. In my experience, mistakes like hers often happen because well-meaning people have trouble fitting Jews into their usual boxes. They do not know how to define Jews, and so they resort to their own frames of reference, like ‘race’ or ‘religion,’ and project them onto the Jewish experience. But Jewish identity does not conform to Western categories, despite centuries of attempts by society to shoehorn it in. This makes sense because Judaism predates Western categories. It is not quite a religion, because one can be Jewish regardless of observance or specific belief. But it is also not quite a race, because people can convert in! It is not merely a culture or an ethnicity, because that leaves out all the religious components. And it is not simply a nationality, because although Jews do have a homeland and many identify as part of a nation, others do not."
Then the biggest issue of all, a new report titled, Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians, from Amnesty International UK that accuses Israel of committing apartheid against Palestinians. Here is an important backgrounder developed by the Jewish Federations of North America on the report which outlines what is included in the report and problems with it.
Israel’s Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, responded to the report by saying, “The State of Israel absolutely rejects all the false allegations that appear in the report…The report denies the State of Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people. Its extremist language and distortion of historical context were designed to demonize Israel and pour fuel onto the fire of antisemitism…The State of Israel will continue to promote the values of democracy and inclusiveness, in whose light it was established and continues to exist…I hate to use the argument that if Israel were not a Jewish state, nobody in Amnesty would dare argue against it, but in this case, there is no other possibility.”
The United States government responded with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides tweeting, “Come on, this is absurd. That is not language that we have used and will not use.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “We reject the view that Israel’s actions constitute apartheid...We think that it is important as the world’s only Jewish state that the Jewish people must not be denied their right to self-determination, and we must ensure there is not a double standard being applied.”
Other countries spoke out against the report. German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Christopher Burger said that Berlin “rejects terms such as apartheid as well as a one-sided focus on Israel.” He also noted that against the background of rising antisemitism in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, “anyone campaigning for human rights has a responsibility not to encourage it.”
Multiple Jewish organizations, including the ADL, Jewish Federations of North America, and American Jewish Committee issued this joint statement.
The Amnesty report claims that “Israel has established and maintained an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination of the Palestinian population for the benefit of Jewish Israelis—wherever it has exercised control over Palestinians’ lives since 1948.”
As pointed out by multiple news sources, the key is the mention of 1948, the year Israel was founded. The Amnesty report is not solely about Israeli settlements in the West Bank or housing policies in Jerusalem since 1967 (issues we can have our own thoughts and discussions about), it is making the claim that Israel was created as an apartheid state, it remains so today, and that its establishment is illegitimate.
There is great concern that this report will bolster anti-Israel sentiment and increase antisemitism and anti-Zionism.
Please join the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and sign this letter (you can sign on as an individual as you fill out the form) today to call on the UN Secretary General to make a clear statement that it is unacceptable for UN institutions to use the global platform entrusted to them to unfairly target Israel and make clear that the Amnesty report should not be used by the UN or its bodies to further unfairly attack Israel.
Sadly, hate seems to be everywhere.
February is Black History Month. It is angering to learn about over a dozen bomb threats at Historically Black Colleges and Universities in just the past few days. The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland stands with the African American community in their hurt and outrage over these threats. Let us hope that law enforcement officials quickly resolve this matter and bring to justice those responsible.
In addition, for Black History Month, Jewish Federations have teamed up with OpenDor Media to create a 4-part video series on the (up and down) relations and intersection between the Black and Jewish communities. The first video is here, with upcoming episodes set to drop on 2/6, 2/13, and the final one in early March. We hope you find these videos of interest.
May we all have a Shabbat shalom.