Rising antisemitism cannot be tolerated

Rising antisemitism cannot be tolerated

Talia Zitner

Growing up as a Jew today, I’m lucky enough to not have faced the struggle for survival that my ancestors did. I’m surrounded by a strong Jewish community, which has contributed significantly to my overall identity. I’ve come to realize that my experience as a Jew is perhaps a unique and complicated one.

I’ll never have Jewish holidays off from school. I’m often asked if I speak Hebrew or if I’m from Israel. My nose is made fun of constantly, and I can name multiple instances in which non-Jews have told me Holocaust jokes, thinking I’d find them funny.

During the snowstorm in late March, Ward 8 representative Trayon White posted his reaction on Facebook. White openly said that “DC keep talking about, ‘We a resilient city.’ And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.”

The Rothschilds are a Jewish banking family, who first started their business in the 1760s. Over the past two centuries, they’ve been subject to a wide range of conspiracy theories, which White mentioned. These theories aren’t based on real evidence, and are simply indicative of antisemitism and prejudice.

White deleted the video, but later stated in a conference with other council members, the mayor, and the president of The University of the District of Columbia that, “there’s this whole concept with the Rothschilds controlling the World Bank, as we all know…they really pretty much control the federal government…it’s really about infrastructure and climate control…” No one in the room reacted or pointed out his off-color comments.

I originally felt that this was an example of someone who’s uneducated about Jews. It’s unrealistic to expect those who were not raised by or around Jews to understand what’s offensive and what isn’t. Unfortunately, White has botched all of his efforts to repent for his actions. He donated (although he claims to have no knowledge of it) $500 that was intended for his constituents to an event for the Nation of Islam, where the leader, Louis Farrakhan, said Jews were his enemy. He left a tour of the Holocaust Museum early and abruptly, claiming he had to attend an event in Ward 8 (the rabbi leading the tour later found out that this was not actually the case; White was standing alone on the sidewalk outside the museum when the tour concluded).

This wave of antisemitism does not stop with White. An event to promote unity in DC turned ugly when Abdul Khadir Muhammad, a Mid-Atlantic representative for Farrakhan, hijacked the megaphone and blasted Jewish councilmember Elissa Silverman, calling her and other Jewish organizations, “fake Jews” (an insult I have personally endured, even from other Jews). He ended his hateful speech by referring to Jews as “termites.” The event, hosted by Joshua Lopez, a business consultant, and lobbyist, is indicative of the increasingly normalized acceptance of antisemitic speech within the District. Lopez himself held the megaphone for Muhammad as he spoke.

This behavior is unacceptable and disturbing. To me, it feels as though we are collectively forgetting history. We preach an idea of “never again,” but aren’t given the opportunity for the education necessary to prevent this from happening again. Only seven states in the country require students to learn about the Holocaust. American Jews and their allies must begin pushing for more awareness about antisemitism, especially as it’s on the rise. This isn’t to say that White’s comments will lead to a second wave of Jewish genocide, but ignoring this problem creates a slippery slope. Antisemitism is alive and well. It hasn’t simply ‘gone away’ because Hitler is dead.

In fact, acts of antisemitism around the world have risen by nearly 60 percent in the past year. Just last month, in Paris, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor was murdered by two people in her apartment building. It was ruled a hate crime. Incidents like these have occurred around the world, in all 50 states, and DC. Just last week, I saw a swastika carved into one of the chairs in the Atrium. It’s as though we are regressing into a time when antisemitism was more openly expressed (and acted upon). White’s comments (and those of others) stem from a place that discredits the success of Jews and their families and implies that Jews with power are manipulative and controlling.

I’m finding it harder and harder to accept the apologies of people like White and Lopez. I wanted to believe that White, someone who is supposed to represent the city, wasn’t antisemitic. I’d hoped that people like Lopez, who push for unity, would not tolerate hate speech and further division. I find it unacceptable that none of this has been directly addressed by the mayor of the city, and that no formal action has been taken to help heal these wounds between the city and the Jewish community.

I’m disappointed that the remarks from White will alienate the Jewish and Black communities from each other, especially since they’ve been allies for each other throughout much of American history. As a society, we must recognize instances in which something that is said could be considered offensive or harmful. It is not enough to let these go by us. As a Jew, I deserve to feel protected and safe in my community, just as much as anyone else. I want to see people like White and Lopez learn and grow from this situation, and push for the recognition of antisemitism around the world, in our country, and in our own city.

It is up to young people to disrupt these instances when we hear or see them. We need to check the language of others, our friends, and ourselves. We have the power to stop antisemitism (and other forms of discrimination) in its tracks. Be an ally. Stand up for others. Recognize when you or others are being hateful or offensive. And for Adonai’s sake, stop calling people “fake Jews.”