Begin Centre panel on anti-Semitism delivers central message: Speak up, fight back

June 10, 2022 by Israel Kasnett -
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The main message that emerged from a panel on anti-Semitism on Monday evening is that Jews everywhere can make a difference, and all people—Jews and non-Jews—can and must fight back against the resurgent scourge of anti-Semitism.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach; human-rights activist and former chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky; and former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer take part in a panel discussion on global anti-Semitism at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, June 6, 2022. Credit: Courtesy

The discussion at the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre in Jerusalem—organized by the Tel Aviv International Salon, the World Values Network and JIC Israel—featured Natan Sharansky, world-famous Soviet dissident, human-rights activist, Israeli politician and former chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel; former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer; and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. The speakers addressed the origins of anti-Semitism, its history and root causes, and what can be done to prevent the further spread of the phenomenon.

Noting how he was warned by others about walking in the streets of Hebron or in Jerusalem’s Arab marketplace, Boteach started the discussion by questioning how much anti-Semitism there is within Israel itself and what can be done about it.

Sharansky, who spent nine years imprisoned in the former Soviet Union, countered that he didn’t believe being afraid to walk in Jerusalem with a kipah is about anti-Semitism, saying he is much more concerned over the idea that Jews cannot walk freely with a yarmulke in the free world.

“Terror does not differentiate,” he said. “Even if you are an Arab living in Jerusalem, you have the same chances of being a victim of those who really want to destroy Israel and to make Israel non-existent.”

Dermer said he believes anti-Semitism in Israel “is a problem, and you have a mixture of nationalistic reasons why these attacks are happening.”

“You have the importing of what was once European anti-Semitism into the Middle East in general and into the Palestinian world, in particular, the demonization of the Jews and these wild ideas against Jews,” he said. “It’s changed in the broader Arab world in Dubai, in the Gulf and elsewhere, but it’s still an acute problem within Palestinian society.”

Responding to Boteach’s question of how to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate criticism of Israel, Sharansky said it is necessary to deploy his methodology that he calls “The Three D’s”: the demonization, double standard and denial of Israel’s right to exist.

People who utilize any or all of these, he emphasized, can be considered to be illegitimately criticizing Israel.

Boteach turned to colleges, questioning whether Jews have “lost the ability to directly influence non-Jewish students on American campuses.”

According to Sharansky, non-Jewish students are influenced by Jews who are fearful to demonstrate their solidarity with Israel. “The best way to influence non-Jewish students is to bring back Jewish students’ pride and feeling of the meaning of their Jewish life, where they are connected to Israel,” he said.

Dermer added that it is necessary to “restore the sense that it cannot be open season on Jews anymore. You have to fight back. You need to make people pay a consequence for going after Jews.”

“No one should be surprised by the return of anti-Semitism,” he said. “And if you are surprised it points to historical ignorance. The real bastions of anti-Semitism are coming from the intellectual classes. I don’t think you’re going to end anti-Semitism, but you have to fight it. And now we have a sovereign state to fight, and hopefully, the Jews in the United States and other Diaspora communities will stand tall, stand proud and fight back because we have the power now to fight, and we should use it.”

‘Jews have the power to defend themselves’

Sharansky also noted that not only is there a silent majority of Jews, but there is a small group of “very vocal intellectual leaders among Jews who deny Israel’s right to exist. We have to mobilize the silent majority of Jews against them,” he said.

Responding to an audience member’s question about whether Israel should be teaching the world more about the Holocaust, Sharansky replied: “Of course, we should. As much as the world wants to hear, even if the world doesn’t want to hear, we have to teach. People say the Holocaust is something that belongs to the past. So we have to show again and again why it doesn’t belong to the past.”

Dermer answered: “We need to learn the lessons of the Holocaust, which is that the Jews have to have the power to defend themselves.”

Another audience member asked what individuals can do to fight anti-Semitism.

Sharansky said, “Start with Jews. Try to convince them it is very important to their own survival. Then it is easy to move to non-Jews the moment you have Jews on your side.”

He explained it is important and necessary to convince Jews who support the anti-Israel BDS movement why it is dangerous to their own survival.

Dermer suggested that people buy Sharansky’s book Fear No Evil because readers can then understand how one individual can stand up to anti-Semitism and change the world.

“Each person has to fight in their little neck of the woods, and you never know what kind of impact it has either on Jews or on non-Jews,” he said. “The problem we have with many young Jews is that the pull of the universal is very strong. And it’s very hard for them to appreciate the particular. What we need to do is get them to understand that those values that they most admire about Western civilization actually come from the Jews.”

Dermer pointed to the cause of social justice sweeping across America.

“Now, there is no more important statement of social justice. The idea of embracing widows to the stranger or caring for the widows and orphans—it all comes from the Jews, and most young Jews don’t know this,” he said.

“We have the ability to engage young people with all the tremendous ideas of Judaism and to make them understand that the bedrock of the values that they cherish the most actually comes with the Jews,” he continued. “Then they’ll have pride in their Jewish heritage and tradition and then that will make them more able to fight against the anti-Semites.”


One Response to “Begin Centre panel on anti-Semitism delivers central message: Speak up, fight back”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    ‘Jews have the power to defend themselves’

    Absolutely and with those who have gone before you leaving their mark watching your back.

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