Opinion | The ‘not enough fear’ rally

Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard (Via JNS.org)

By Mitchell Bard

For months, Jews have been talking about the upsurge in antisemitism; polls have indicated American Jews are experiencing unprecedented levels of antisemitism 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 antisemitism 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 antisemitism 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 Black Lives Matter movement.

Shockingly, the crowd that showed up 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 antisemitism, 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?

[Demonstrators ‘keep the flame’ at rally against antisemitism]

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.

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 antisemitic 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 antisemitism caved in to 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 antisemitism?

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?

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 antisemitism by tolerating bigots in their midst, including in the halls of Congress, needed to hear a clear message that was lacking at the rally.

Antisemitism 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 toward antisemitism. Nowhere is this needed more than on college campuses — the only institutions in the United States where antisemitism 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 antisemites.

Unfortunately, the turnout at the “No Fear” rally sent the unintended message that Jews don’t fear antisemitism 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.”

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