Qanta Ahmed: After Poway, Muslims, Christians, Jews must unite to fight perfect storm of modern anti-Semitism

Seventy-five years have passed since the Holocaust. Saturday afternoon in Poway, California, America was once again reminded that contemporary anti-Semitism is on the rise.

On the final day of Passover, one of the most important Jewish holidays and the one marking the Jews’ survival of ancient Egypt’s genocidal persecution of the earliest Jews led by the Prophet Moses, an American synagogue congregation was forever marked by the murder of a Jewish woman (who gave her life to save her rabbi) and the maiming of other Jewish people while in worship.

The events at the Poway Chabad synagogue underline that even religiously pluralist America is also the site of so much anti-Semitism today.

CALIFORNIA GOV. NEWSOM THANKS TRUMP FOR CALL FOLLOWING POWAY SYNAGOGUE SHOOTING

Expressions of anti-Semitism have increased around the world.  We just never expected them here.

Anti-Semitism continues to be widespread throughout the Arab and Muslim world, propagated by Islamism, the political totalitarian imposter of Islam. Anti-Semitism has a very long history, described by acclaimed scholar Robert Wistrich as “the longest hatred,” referring to anti-Semitism’s inception over 2000 years ago.

Its causes, context, and manifestation constantly evolve. Expression of anti-Semitism is molded by local political, religious, economic, and social climates.

In an email correspondence with me hours after the shooting at the Poway Chabad Synagogue, Christian theologian and Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation, Dr. Stephen Smith, who was in San Diego at the time, described the Poway shooter as a 'Christian killing Jews.' That was based on the killer’s open letter, which was very clear about his motivation.

Smith observed the perpetrator’s open letter, referencing verses from the Bible, detailed an anti-Semitism derived from centuries of West European Christian anti-Semitism, clearly identifying his first motivation as “Christian” and his second as “white heritage” – chilling, especially given the shooter appears to have no formal affiliation as a white supremacist or neo-Nazi.

The statistics today are devastating.

Hate crimes against Jews in America rose by more than a third and accounted for 58 percent of all religion-based hate crimes, according to 2018 data released by the FBI  – an egregious burden on America’s Jews, who form only 1.4 percent of America’s population.

At the same time, awareness of the Holocaust - the greatest crime against humanity that led to the systematic genocide of more than six million Jews by Nazi Germany - is falling. The active denial or willful or otherwise ignorance of history fuels contemporary anti-Semitism on both sides of the Atlantic.

A recent poll of more than 2,000 people in the United Kingdom for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust reveals that 45 percent were unaware of how many people were killed in the Holocaust, and nearly 20 percent said the number was exaggerated.

An earlier study in the U.S. shows that two-thirds of those surveyed between the ages of 18 and 34, did not know what Auschwitz was. Forty percent of all Americans reported being unaware of the Holocaust.

I am a member of the Shoah Foundation, and American Jews have privately disclosed to me that they are fearful to report crimes, and they notice many incidents of hate go unreported to the police, even in New York City.

Anti-Semitic hate crimes against America’s Jews are therefore underestimated.

With the fear of reporting hate crimes and bias incidents against Jews in America and the fading memories of the Holocaust, criticism of Israel has mounted while inhibitions against endorsing anti-Semitic views have weakened.

In a particularly perverse development, social justice movements claiming to advocate for Palestinians have penetrated America’s university and college campuses. The Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement claims to advocate for Palestinians, while it agitates for the unrestricted, generational right of return of Palestinians, which would result in the eradication of the Jewish State. Its core founding documents are bent on the destruction of the State of Israel through the full right of return.

As the memories of the Holocaust fade and criticism of Israel has mounted, many inhibitions have weakened. Anti-Semitism has a global reach with a universal appeal across the political spectrum. Anti-Semitism is expressed as hate speech, lethal violence (and other violence) and the denial,  de-legitimization, and demonization of Israel.

This modern form of anti-Semitism is the “new anti-Semitism.” Scholar Deborah Lipstadt terms contemporary anti-Semitism a  "perfect storm," referring to anti-Semitism coming from the political left, anti-Semitism coming from the political right and anti-Semitism coming from Muslim Islamist ideologues, acolytes, and sympathizers.

Increasingly, we are seeing Islamist anti-Semitism find a home amid the political left, greatly empowering its impact and the impact of anti-Zionist leftist anti-Semitism, particularly in the United States and Britain.

This is what we have seen within Britain’s Labor Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and what we are seeing already in America’s Democratic Party under Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer.

When presidential candidate Bernie Sanders comes to the defense of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s blatantly anti-Semitic remarks (she has openly dehumanized Jews, delegitimized Israel and demonized American Jewry and American-Israel relationships), he silences critics, including dissenting Muslims, with the radioactive charge of a fictional Islamophobia.

In doing so, he is empowering a bigoted  Islamist anti-Semitism, which has found an astonishing firmament in the U.S. Congress amid Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

While coming to the defense of a neo-Nazi sympathizer in Congress would be unthinkable, defending an Islamist sympathizing anti-Semite is now lauded as an act of courage.

Certainly, Israel, like all democracies, is subject to legitimate critique, whether from its domestic population or the international community. But too often condemnation of Israel – as the Democratic far left now pursues through Omar and Tlaib - goes beyond the pale into a denigration and demonization that constitutes anti-Semitism.

Further, while many nations struggle with human rights violations, including the United States itself, their singling out of Israel, while remaining silent on gross offenders including China, North Korea Saudi Arabia and Pakistan among the most frequent and large scale offenders of freedom of religion and expression in the world - reveals an obsessive and hate-driven focus on Israel and a deceitful double standard that forms a ‘political mask’ for a socially approved anti-Semitism.

Facing this perfect storm of contemporary anti-Semitism is not easy, but decent people everywhere can unite. We can unite to repudiate the demonization of America’s Jewish population which is a mere 1.4 percent of the 320 million who call America home.

Finally, supporting the eradication of Israel, denying its right to exist by subscribing to the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement is patent delegitimization. (Both Tlaib and Omar have endorsed the boycott movement ).

Facing this perfect storm of contemporary anti-Semitism is not easy, but decent people everywhere can unite. We can unite to repudiate the demonization of America’s Jewish population which is a mere 1.4 percent of the 320 million who call America home.

We can vote out politicians who pander to or engage in anti-Semitism, and shame politicians who protect anti-Semitism using the political and judicial shield of Islamophobia.

We can demand from our legislators that social media platforms everywhere be prosecuted for hosting and propagating anti-Semitic screeds. Certainly, anti-Semitism is tolerated under the privileges of Free Speech but we do not have to provide anti-Semitism a megaphone and an amplifier. Social media executives who refuse to take down anti-Semitic content must face heavy penalties. In the Rwandan genocide, media executives broadcasting hate speech were held culpable and imprisoned. We must bring the same standard to the propagation of anti-Semitism- which is always lethally genocidal in intent- here in the United States.

We must also pass laws to mandate Holocaust education in every school in the United States, so that denial and ignorance of genocidal anti-Semitism can be dismantled.

All who sympathize with anti-Semitism whether Muslim Brotherhood acolytes, Islamist sympathizers or the anti-Zionist, anti-Israeli far left who are also apologists for Islamists- bear a collective responsibility in the events in Poway.

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Together they have normalized anti-Semitism through the dehumanization and demonization of Jews and empowered acts of lethal hatred.

As an American and as a Muslim, I refuse to tolerate this and I call on all who are empowered to join in the fight against the gathering storm of contemporary anti-Semitism.

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