Elegy for New York

December 1, 2023 by Jeremy Rosen
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I made the mistake, once, of thinking New York was the best place for Jews outside Israel.

Jeremy Rosen

This Shabbat afternoon, at 4 pm a group of several hundred Palestinian supporters marched up Broadway waving banners and flags and chanting anti-Israel slogans past the building in which I live. I can’t begin to describe what emotions it aroused. It was as if someone had painted a swastika on my home. It was personal. Of all the areas in Manhattan to choose to demonstrate in, the Upper West Side is the most Jewish. Why did the New York City Council and NYPD (police) who regulate protests, allow this one to march right through the middle of the most Jewish of Manhattan’s Borough of NYC? Could they not have chosen a different route? This was a direct insult to the Jewish community, particularly on a Shabbat.

I grew up in Britain where antisemitism always lurked beneath the surface in almost every level of British society, in the sneering condescension as well as constant prejudice manifesting itself from soccer supporters, Saturday night drunks, and elites. It was rarely overt. And British Jews felt pretty secure despite tensions over the Mandate. And in those days, there were few Muslims in Britain. And police kept tight control over demonstrations to ensure civility.  Civility is now a thing of the past as demonstrators project hate and elimination. And yet some councils are now banning a public menorah on Channukah for fear of alienating antisemites.

I never thought that small cliques of neo-Nazi fascists were a serious problem. Now it is the alliance of jihadis and socialists. And if we thought you could distinguish between antizionism from antisemitism, it is clear beyond all doubt that you cannot.

I had hoped America would be different despite its own long record of antagonism to Jews. Because of its size, variety of other minorities, religions and intellectual opinions, fighting prejudice. I thought that its public opposition to antisemitism might help. But no, they are defining it in such a way that denying Jews the right to a homeland does not constitute antisemitism. Now quite I am ashamed of how the intellectual and increasingly political worlds have been hijacked by childish, deceitful, and banal theories. I am ashamed of what much of America has allowed itself to become.

Philip Roth envisioned an America taken over by the Nazis in his 2004 The Plot Against America, set at the time of Lindbergh’s pro-Nazi campaign.  Of course, there is no exact comparison. But the issue of what to tolerate goes back a long way. On February 20, 1939, a Nazi rally took place at Madison Square Gardens. More than 20,000 people attended. The same year between 4,000 and 8,000 assembled to support the Nazi organization the German American Bund.

More recently, in 1977, a Chicago-based Nazi group announced its plans to demonstrate in Skokie, Illinois, the home of hundreds of Holocaust survivors. The community rose in protest and the issue went to court, with the American Civil Liberties Union defending the Nazis’ right to free speech. The Union was and has always been the spiritual home of many, notionally, Jews just as we see so many joining the protests against Israel.

On June 14, 1977, Illinois banned the march. But the Supreme Court  declared that the order of the Illinois Supreme Court constituted a denial of the right of free speech and the march could proceed, “public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.“ Nevertheless, the Appellate Court ruled that the swastika was not protected by the First Amendment and they could not display the swastika during their march or other banners of hatred on the march. Something that New York has not adhered to.

The only saving grace is that in the USA, there are States such as Florida where Jewish life is flourishing under a benevolent governor who can tell the difference between political disagreement and hate.

One cannot argue with the Supreme Court. But one can choose to move from a city or State that is insensitive to the concerns of a minority to one that is not. And many New Yorkers are now considering this. The other option is to move to  Israel despite the constant threats coming from Hamas ( which Biden now seems bent on saving) and Hezbollah, whose apologists choose which UN motions to accept and which not. They love to quote the condemning Israel but never those declaring that Israel is an independent state with the right to defend itself.  If a Jew declares he wants to get rid of Arabs, that is genocide, but if Iran and others can declare their desire to destroy Israel at the UN no one bats an eyelid.

In Israel, too, there are issues of free speech and political divides between left and right, religious, and secular Zionists and anti-Zionists. This can make life in Israel stressful, too. But living there is like living at home rather than as a guest.

There may be personal reasons for not being able or wanting to move. For my part, my passion is for the Land of Israel and defending it. I will be buried there. But I still hope to get there long before the Angel of Death comes for me.

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