Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Antisemitism and the 'Disappearing Jew'

Doug Emhoff and VP Kamela Harris (ABC News)
American Jews are disappearing. At least those that are non observant. That is made obvious by the high intermarriage rate (over70%) among non observant Jews. One would think that the last person to even be interested in fighting antisemitism is a man who cares so little about it that he aids and abets (albeit unwittingly) the destruction of the Jewish people. 

Any Jewish man that marries a non Jewish woman is in essence ending the Judaism for his future generations.  Children of such a marriage are by definition, not Jewish. In fact I would suggest that the danger of intermarriage to future of Judaism is far greater than that of antisemitism.

Which brings me to ‘Second Gentleman’ - Doug Emhoff. For those who are unaware, Mr. Emhoff who is Jewish - is married the current Vice President of the United States, Kamela Harris, who is NOT Jewish.  JTA reports the following: 

The White House will convene a roundtable with Jewish organizations on antisemitism, to be chaired by Douglas Emhoff, the Jewish Second Gentleman. 

Emhoff, whose wife is Vice President Kamala Harris, said that his time on the job has made him more sensitive to Jewish tradition and to threats facing Jews. 

First let me say that Emhoff cannot be blamed for marrying out. He is a “Tinok Shenishba’ a man who is ignorant of Jewish law because of the environment in which he was raised which in all likelihood did not include a significant Jewish education. He cannot therefore be faulted for his lack of observance or knowledge of Jewish Law. It would not surprise me at all if he thought that that there was nothing inherently wrong with a Jew marrying a non Jew.

But the facts are what they are. Even though in his particular case this was a second marriage where there will be no offspring, his example will surely influence younger secular Jews who might – using his example - see nothing wrong with marrying out. 

It is interesting to note that Emhoff has become more aware of Jewish tradition. I understand that this is often the case with many such intermarriages. Which is precipitated by the non Jewish spouse’s desire to learn about their Jewish spouse’s heritage. (Although in this high profile case there were probably other factors involved.) 

I am also pretty sure that Emhoff’s intentions are pure. He clearly wants to fight antisemitism. It’s just ironic that he is himself guilty (by example) of hurting the future of Judaism in America. 

The question arises as to whether he will deal with the antisemitism of the left as he will with the antisemitism of the right. I’m sure he would answer that he will deal with both equally. But it is also true that the left almost always sees the right as the bigger antisemitism problem than that of the left. Underscoring that is what probably precipitated the formation of his roundtable - the right wing  antisemitism of Kanye West and Nick Fuentes - both of whom had a dinner meeting with former President Trump. (Who has thus far refused to denounce those two ‘gentleman’). 

In my view the challenges from the left are more sinister. Since it is often disguised as anti Zionism  it’s more difficult to make that accusation. Making matters worse is the fact that the left tends to excuse anti Zionist rhetoric as having nothing to do with antisemitism. This very point was brought home to me by a Hadley Freeman, a Jewish member of the left who had every reason to excuse her leftist colleagues that way. But she saw the reality and it wasn’t pretty: 

I recently looked up what I’d written during that time and I found a 2016 article in which I mentioned that the Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth was heckled with abuse at the launch of Labour’s antisemitism report (contrary to one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most famous claims, this Zionist can see the irony in that.)

Afterwards, Corbyn chummily chatted with – no, not Smeeth, but the heckler, ending with a friendly, “I’ll call you.”

…I remember lefty non-Jews saying to me back then:

1.     “I don’t think you should write about antisemitism because you obviously feel very passionately about it.”

2.    “What, exactly, are Jews afraid of here? It’s not like Corbyn is going to bring back pogroms.”

3.    “Jews have always voted right so of course, they don’t like Corbyn.”

4.    “It’s not that I don’t believe that you think he’s antisemitic. It’s just I think you’re being manipulated by bad-faith actors. So let me explain why you’re wrong…”

5.    “Come on, you don’t really think he really hates Jews.”

All of the above were said to me by progressive people, people who would proudly describe themselves as anti-racism campaigners. And yet. When Jews expressed distress at, say, Corbyn describing Hamas as “friends”, or attending a wreath-laying ceremony for the killers at the Munich Olympics, or bemoaning the lack of English irony among Zionists, we were fobbed off with snarky tweets and shrugged shoulders.

Therein lies the real danger. It’s probably true that the left has for the most part not done or suggested doing anywhere near the violent antisemitic things the right has. It is clear to me that some on the left are unaware of their own latent antisemitism. Which allows for the kind of comments Freeman experienced. 

Lest anyone think that this kind of thinking by the left is a minority, an AMCHA study cited by David Suissa shows otherwise.  At least as far as impressions made upon Jewish stundents in many college campuses are concerned. Among other things Suissa notes the following: 

1. Incidents involving the suppression, denigration or challenges to the definition of Jewish identity were found on nearly 60% of the campuses most popular with Jewish students, with several schools playing host to 10 or more such incidents in the 2021-2022 academic year.

2. Incidents involving attacks on Jewish identity increased 100% to 200% in the academic year following the Israel-Hamas war, with the number of affected schools also increasing dramatically.

3. Faculty and academic departments played a significant role in attacks on Jewish student identity: schools with academic BDS-supporting faculty were three to seven times more likely to have such attacks, and more than one-third of anti-Zionist challenges to well-established definitions of Zionism, Judaism and antisemitism took place in programs sponsored by academic departments.

4. Jewish anti-Zionist individuals and organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) played a significant role in attacks on Jewish identity, with the presence of a JVP or similar Jewish anti-Zionist group more than doubling the likelihood that a campus will play host to incidents involving the redefinition or denigration of Jewish identity.

Beyond the individual campuses, the most crucial finding in the study is the “insidious phenomenon that has taken root on college campuses of late: a pervasive and relentless assault on Jewish identity that is likely to have dire consequences for the Jewish community in the years to come.”

This does not help matters. With these kinds of challenges facing Jewish students with little Jewish knowledge or background is it surprising that the future of Judaism in America seems doomed?

Doug Emhoff and his roundtable will not be addressing these more serious issues. This does not of course mean that he shouldn’t be dealing with antisemitism itself. Of course he should. And I’m quite happy that President Biden has made fighting antisemitism a centerpiece of his administration. It’s just a matter of priorities. 

That said, all is not lost. Jews will not entirely disappear. We do have a future. It lies in that segment that is both growing and are most likely to perpetuate it generationally - observant Jews. It’s just sad that so many of our people living in America will be the last Jew of their family line.