Chizuk Amuno Congregation hosted a group of speakers for an event called “Zero Tolerance – A Panel Discussion on Antisemitism” Feb. 13. Presented by the Baltimore Zionist District, the panel included Bryan Leib, the national director of Americans Against Antisemitism; Sarah N. Stern, founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET); Daniel West Cohen, director of partnerships at Combat Anti-Semitism; and Rebecca Harary, president and founder of CASEPAC (Combat AntiSemitism Everywhere Political Action Committee).
The panel focused on the rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S., arguing that more needs to be done to combat it.
“We are losing the battle against anti-Semitism here in America. … That includes swastikas everywhere,” Harary said. “It includes screaming and yelling, spitting at Jews, hitting them over the head, throwing bricks at their head. A man took his belt off and just, you know, hitting someone against a wall simply because he had a kippah on his head.
“Jew hatred is a disease,” Harary continued. “And if we can come together and overlook our differences, we can fight this.”
Stern referenced an incident in which the Dyke March told someone not to participate because she had a rainbow flag with a Jewish star on it. In 2017, three women were asked to leave the Dyke March in Chicago because they were carrying rainbow flags with Jewish stars in the middle. Two years later, the D.C. Dyke March banned some nationalist symbols, including Israeli flags or flags that resemble Israeli flags. “Jews are all of a sudden told, even if they really espouse wonderful liberal causes, that they have to check their Zionism, or they have to check their Judaism at the door,” Stern said.
Stern stated that there is anti-Semitism on both sides.
“I see it coming also from the extreme radical right,” she said, referring to such individuals as “cockroaches” who “feel very threatened, very insecure.”
Cohen stressed the importance of Jews everywhere, of all backgrounds, working to fight anti-Semitism when they find it in reach.
The panel also targeted social media companies like Facebook and Twitter, which Leib said have allowed purveyors of hate speech to congregate on their digital platforms. Leib argued that there currently was no shared, universal policy for handling hate speech, and that a coalition of social media companies needed to work together and find an effective solution.
The panel also criticized college campuses and professors, while expressing gratitude for “the recent executive order to hold colleges accountable for anti-Semitic attacks on their campuses,” Stern said.
Stern recounted a story she was told by a Jewish student at the University of Texas at Austin. The student claimed that, after challenging an anti-Israel narrative in his Middle East film class, was told by the professor to “check your provincial background at the door.” Stern also said that the professor subsequently flunked the student’s term paper and complained to the dean of being bullied by the student.
“Kids are feeling brutalized by the professors,” Stern said. “Here it’s become the tyranny of one point of view for too many professors.”
Later in the evening, the panel’s attention turned toward Democratic politicians. “How horrible is it,” said Leib, “that when Dov Hikind, my boss, and I went to Rutgers on Sunday to confront [Rep.] Rashida Tlaib, and he got up to say something and to confront her about the blood libel she’s spreading, about her anti-Semitism, within two seconds we were escorted out of the building.”
Additionally, the panel also went after the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. “How many movements are there throughout the world that are boycotting China,” asked Leib. “That are boycotting India? Syria? … I don’t think there’s one movement that boycotts any other country except the only Jewish nation in this world. … Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. If you want to target the only Jewish nation, it’s anti-Semitism. BDS is anti-Semitism.”
While the audience applauded the panel, it was not without its critics.
“I was deeply disappointed by the panel,” said attendee Jaffa Weiss. “I didn’t feel like the speakers offered concrete solutions to anti-Semitism; they were simply plugging their organizations. The solutions they did offer I found rather chilling, such as the blacklisting of professors.”
During the Q&A portion, Weiss stated that at least two panelists had expressed support for President Donald Trump on social media and asked the panelists to “explain their continued support for someone who has overseen a pandemic of white nationalism.” Weiss was told the purpose of the panel was not to talk about politics, which she viewed as a double standard.
According to Weiss, anti-Semitism is “one layer of a general bigotry that’s been in the country the last few years, from anti-Latino sentiments, to anti-black racism, and others. And our survival depends on our ability to work with other communities.”
“This Zero Tolerance panel on Antisemitism was organized by the Baltimore Zionist District in collaboration with 4 leading organizations from around the country,” Baltimore Zionist District Executive Director Caren Leven said in an email. “The purpose of the event was to educate the Baltimore community about the rise of Antisemitism and to unite together as a community. Regardless of our political differences and religious affiliations, we came together as Jews under one roof to learn what can be done to combat Antisemitism in our community.”