For months, Jews have been talking about the upsurge in anti-Semitism; polls have indicated American Jews are experiencing unprecedented levels of anti-Semitism and fear its spread.
It was therefore meritorious that a coalition of most of the alphabet soup organizations such as ADL, AJC, JNF, UJA URJ, OU, USCJ and other national groups, such as StandWithUs, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Jewish Democratic Council and many more would sponsor a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol. The goal was to mobilize thousands of Jews and non-Jews to voice their concern about anti-Semitism and demonstrate to elected officials the priority they place on action being taken to combat the growing danger.
Prior to the event, which was headlined, “No Fear: A Rally in Solidarity With the Jewish People,” I was hearing comparisons to the 250,000 people who showed up on the mall to support Soviet Jewry. I don’t think anyone expected that kind of turnout but given that anti-Semitism has a more direct impact on American Jews than the plight of refuseniks, surely thousands of Jews would want to demonstrate they are no less willing to fight bigotry than the BLM movement, which successfully inspired tens of thousands of diverse people across the country.
Shockingly, the crowd that showed up Sunday numbered no more than 3,000, even though free buses were offered for people to come from Baltimore, Boston, New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia.
For all the expressions of concern about anti-Semitism, the country’s largest and most active organizations, which are spending millions of dollars to fight the scourge, failed to convince their members it was worth their time to show the American public that Jewish lives matter. And where, beyond the handful who spoke or attended, were the evangelicals and other non-Jews we are told support us? This was not a day I expected to feel lonely as a Jew.
There were plenty of excuses and finger-pointing. The rally was not organized by any of the major organizations, and it was arranged with too little preparation by inexperienced event planners. It was going to be hot, and there was the prospect of rain to discourage the faint of heart. It was summer, people were on vacation. The pandemic is not quite over.
Rallies are usually too long with too many speakers, and this was no exception. Worse, the speakers were mostly uninspiring people no one ever heard of. For some reason, rabbis were overrepresented, and the organizers must have made a conscious decision to try to be apolitical by not inviting any politicians, and bipartisan by giving the heads of the Republican Jewish Coalition and Jewish Democratic Council of America a chance to show they have at least one common interest.
Then there was the political infighting.
Apparently, early in the planning, the “progressives” were upset because some of the organizers were too right-wing and because support for Israel might be expressed. Groups like Americans for Peace Now and J Street were less concerned about anti-Semitism than association with Zionists. They and others also won’t stand with the Jewish community in fighting anti-Semitism because they reject its definition and refuse to acknowledge the relationship between the demonization of Israel and Jew-hatred.
Organizers tried to advertise their big tent—a concept I thought had finally been abandoned after it became clear years ago that it gives extremist groups the opportunity to pull the entire Jewish communal tent down. This was a textbook example as some groups and individuals couldn’t stomach the idea that access to the tent required agreeing that “we have a right to exist in peace and security as a Jewish people both here in the United States and in Israel.”
The most disturbing aspect of the organization of the rally was the surrender to intersectionality. Jews were rightly angered when Democrats in Congress refused to unequivocally denounce the anti-Semitic ravings of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and, instead, passed a milquetoast resolution that expressed opposition to all forms of bigotry. Consequently, it was mind-boggling to read that organizers of a rally designed to focus exclusively on the threat of anti-Semitism caved into the progressives’ insistence on similarly watering down the emphasis on Jew-hatred by declaring, “This coalition will not tolerate expressions of racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia or any other hate.”
What do any of these forms of bigotry have to do with fighting anti-Semitism?
Of course, Hillel was invoked to remind everyone that Jews can’t be only for themselves, but Jews are already at the forefront of fighting other forms of bigotry.
Fortunately, we do have non-Jewish allies (a few spoke at the rally), but how often do you hear people concerned with those other forms of discrimination express solidarity with Jews? On the contrary, we often see members of the black (e.g., Farrakhan), Muslim (e.g., CAIR) and gay (e.g., Queers for Palestine) communities at the forefront of the demonization of Jews and Israel.
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I’ve never been a big fan of rallies, as they rarely accomplish much if anything tangible. Still, if the numbers are large and vocal enough to reach the ears of decision-makers, change is sometimes possible. Both political parties, which have contributed to the normalization of anti-Semitism by tolerating bigots in their midst, including in the halls of Congress, needed to hear a clear message that was lacking at the rally.
Anti-Semitism cannot be legislated away. Incremental progress can only be made when tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews insist on a zero-tolerance policy towards anti-Semitism. Nowhere is this needed more than on college campuses—the only institutions in the United States where anti-Semitism is not only tolerated but promoted.
The effort is doomed, however, if those allowed inside the tent undermine the fight. By redefining the word to suit their political agendas, and defending anti-Zionism and other forms of delegitimization of Jews and Israel, they serve as Jewish shields for anti-Semites.
Unfortunately, the turnout at the “No Fear” rally sent the unintended message that Jews don’t fear anti-Semitism enough to show up in large enough numbers to demonstrate that we are, in the words of Network’s Howard Beale, “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on US-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books.