Anti-Semitism is well defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
As Highland Park residents, and as Jews, we are saddened that our fellow borough residents have been experiencing a significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents. These include several incidents of hate speech and anti-Semitic harassment of individuals on the street, in our schools, at our library and on social media. We have also seen vandalism and property destruction. Nationally, Jewish stores and houses of worship have been targeted by anti-Semites. In response, all the synagogues in Highland Park have been forced to increase security. Unfortunately, the anti-Semitism our residents have experienced has come from both the right and left of the political spectrum.
All too often condemnation of anti-Semitism stops at the obvious [acts]. Condemning terrorist attacks at synagogues in Pittsburgh and San Diego and the JC Kosher Supermarket in Jersey City as anti-Semitic is necessary but only hardened bigots would ever defend these terrorists.
Condemnation of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) Movement as anti-Semitic is as important but is more difficult. There are clearly non-anti-Semitic individuals that criticize the state of Israel and support economic boycotts against it. In the United States, we are blessed with the constitutional right to freedom of speech, which includes, but is not limited to, the right to criticize our government and foreign governments.
However, despite the fact that condemnation of BDS is more complex and difficult than condemnation of the anti-Semitic attacks in Pittsburgh, Poway or Jersey City, condemn it we must. This is because the BDS movement goes beyond legitimate criticism of Israel to denying its legitimacy, existence and the right of the Jewish people to national determination. BDS speakers and advocates routinely demonize, dehumanize and de-legitimize Jews all over the world and such action must be condemned for what it is: anti-Semitism. Finally, recent evidence shows that many of the leaders of BDS are not just passionate political advocates, they are simply terrorists.
This past Sunday night, December 22, the Jewish holiday of Chanukah was celebrated by Jews throughout the world. Chanukah celebrates the victory of a small group of Jews, who, around the year 200 BCE, triumphed over their Greek oppressors, and the miracle of a little oil kindling the lights of the menorah in the Temple in Jerusalem for eight days. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said,
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
We must shine a light on all forms of anti-Semitism to drive out its darkness within our midst, and so we condemn all forms of anti-Semitism. In the face of hate, we must work to increase love of humanity throughout our community. We are committed to working with the mayor, our colleagues on the Highland Park Borough Council and all residents of Highland Park to organize significant programming to educate our community about all aspects of anti-Semitism and to combat its continued spread. It is not easy but it is important and necessary.Josh Fine
Borough of Highland Park