How to Be an Ally in the Fight Against Antisemitism

July 14, 2021

Across the country and around the world, the last few years have seen a shocking rise of increasingly open and all too often deadly antisemitism, accompanied by a similar rise in xenophobia, ethnonationalism and hate-based attacks. 

Within the Jewish community, fears of physical or verbal abuse have risen significantly, especially for those of us who are identifiably Jewish and attend Jewish spaces regularly. For those of us who hold other minority identities—including LGBT+ Jews or Jews of color it can feel as though there are very few places where we fit in.

Historically, antisemitism rooted in ethnonationalism and xenophobia has been the greatest threat to Jews’ safety both in the United States and around the world. That continues to be the case today. In recent years, however, Jewish people have also experienced an increasing rate of antisemitic incidents associated with antipathy towards Israel and Zionism, leaving many feeling attacked from all sides. 

Clearly, there is still much work to do to build solidarity and awareness in order to fight the forces of division and to confront the persistent, long-standing prejudice of antisemitism. Here’s how you can be an ally in that fight:

Learn to identify antisemitism at all levels

Sometimes antisemitism is blatant and unmissable, like the crowd in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us!”

Other times it is more subtle, taking the form of language which dehumanizes Jewish people or presents them as a threat or an ‘other’. It can take the form of conspiracy theories like QAnon, which paint Jews as global elites or members of secret cabals working for open borders or seeking to undermine society. It can take the form of ethno-nationalism or white nationalism, forces that led to the Holocaust and other historic violence.

It can also take the form of interpersonal bullying, repeating and amplifying antisemitic tropes or stereotyes, or blurring the lines between Israel and Judaism, and portraying all Jews as responsible or accountable for the actions of Israel.

Wherever and however it occurs, antisemitism has real and damaging effects on individuals and communities, and must not be tolerated or excused.

Confront antisemitism when you see it

Whether antisemitic bigotry is overt or covert, we have to call it out and challenge it at every turn. History teaches us that from events large and small, we cannot be bystanders to antisemitism and other forms of prejudice.

That may mean showing solidarity with a Jewish individual who is facing antisemitism by vocalizing opposition to antisemitic speech or actions, and helping the individual move to a safer space. If it feels very difficult in the circumstances, even simply saying something like “this makes me very uncomfortable” or “I worry that this is sounding quite prejudiced” can act as a circuit breaker.

Allyship may mean confronting a person by asking questions about what they meant by a certain remark, what assumptions they are making and pushing them to explain themselves. It may also mean asking those questions of yourself.

In some circumstances, you may seek to take the time to explain how an action or comment is antisemitic and harmful to both Jewish people and our society as a whole. You can also support individuals facing antisemitism by checking in, offering further support and not seeking to minimize personal reports of antisemitism or individual experiences. If you’re in a position of authority, it’s important to make sure it is understood that antisemitism, in any form, will not be tolerated.

Understand that being Jewish ≠ Supporting the Israeli government

Verbal or physical attacks on Jewish people in response to the actions or policies of the Israeli government are abhorrent, unjustified and antisemitic.

Those who conflate Jewish identity with support for the actions of the Israeli government, or with systemic injustice against Palestinians, ignore the extremely wide and diverse range of views held by diaspora Jews and by Israelis themselves. Actions that seek to blur the line between Jewishness and Israel, including by those who seek to classify fair criticism of the Israeli government as a form of antisemitism, only divide us further and undermine the goal of freedom, security, justice and self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis.

As an ally in progressive spaces, you can acknowledge that, unfortunately, some individuals take critiques of the Israeli state and government as a license to justify antisemitism. Together, we must work to ensure that Jewish individuals and Jews collectively are not vilified, excluded or held accountable for the actions of the Israeli government based on their Jewish identity. We must recognize that we are stronger together, and must work to build a broad and inclusive movement in the struggle for justice, equality and peace.

As an ally in conservative spaces, you can work to ensure that legitimate opposition to Israeli government policies and support for the rights of Palestinians is not conflated with antisemitism. We must recognize the separation between Jewish identity and the Israeli government by being clear that Jews, Palestinians and all people must have the right to freely criticize the actions of the Israeli government in good faith, without being smeared as antisemitic or facing disingenuous attacks. Attacking individuals as antisemitic for expressing fair, valid and genuinely held critiques of the Israeli government undermines the fight against antisemitism and has too often been used to exclude diverse voices and shut down important discussions about Palestinian rights.

Recognize antisemitic stereotypes

From allegedly being stingy with money to controlling the levers of media, finance and power, stereotypes, tropes and canards about Jewish people have been weaponized again and again to whip up fear, anger and violence against Jewish people around the world for centuries.

Being able to recognize and understand antisemitic tropes will enable you to be more sensitive to the impact they have and will put you in a better position to call them out and confront them. We recommend this Vox article for help learning more about the painful roots of many prominent antisemitic stereotypes or tropes.

Learn about the history of antisemitism

Jews have faced oppression because of their religious identity for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Over time its taken many forms, from stereotyping, bullying and discrimination on an individual level, to more systemic forms of persecution including massacres, expulsions and the Holocaust.

Learning and understanding the history of antisemitism is an important part of understanding, recognizing and confronting antisemitism today. Only by understanding the trauma and historic persecution of a people, can we truly empathize with the pain and fear carried from generation to generation.

From historic persecution to more recent events, these reading lists from The Jewish Book Council and Brandeis University offer further resources.

Ask Jewish friends about their experiences

We can’t confront antisemitism together if we can’t talk about it. Be proactive and — if appropriate — ask if you can speak with a Jewish friend about their personal experiences of antisemitism, how you can support them, and how we can all better confront antisemitism and prejudice in the spaces in which we all live and work.

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