Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A memorial to those killed in the 2018 attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Andrea Hank)

A memorial to those killed in the 2018 attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Andrea Hank)

After a String of Antisemitic Attacks, a Choice Confronts all Jews

A surge of antisemitism has left us wondering where we can turn, to induce the feeling that rather than exercising solidarity, we should turn inward.

Sarah Jaffe

 by The Progressive

The reemergence of explicit antisemitism in recent years and the spate of violent antisemitic attacks in recent weeks have left Jews in the United States and across the world making the choice between two responses. 

The first is to focus on the uniqueness of Jews, to feel attacked from all sides, to call for more security, to look to Israel for support—to double down, essentially, on ethnonationalism. The second is to understand that the boundaries of whiteness have always been unstable, that at times we have found ourselves (at least, those of us who appear white) on one side of them, at times on the other. Rather than clinging to the privileges of whiteness, the only way we can stop this process is to stand in solidarity with other racialized people and to fight white supremacy in all its forms. 

When I put it this bluntly, of course, this is no choice at all, at least for progressively-minded people. But finding a way to respond has nevertheless presented a challenge. The rise of white nationalism—not just in the United States  but around the world—has meant that American Jews are confronting something with which a generation of us have little firsthand experience. 

It is our job to say “No” to this administration’s moves to define Jewishness under the pretense of combating antisemitism.

Much of our participation in the social movements of the left has been in solidarity with other marginalized people—from the much-vaunted activism during the civil rights movement to today’s Palestine solidarity movement, where Jews mobilize to say that the state of Israel neither speaks nor acts for all Jews. Suddenly we—particularly those of us who have spent most of our lives in cities with large Jewish populations—are confronted with torch-bearing white nationalists chanting “Jews will not replace us.” 

I am myself uncomfortable at times realizing that I am, for the first time in my life, afraid for my safety not simply as a woman but as a Jew. I am used to demurring, to arguing that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic (a line I still hold). 

Meanwhile, the tendency of the right today is to doublespeak about antisemitism, to claim at once to be a friend of the Jews while using antisemitic tropes and refusing to condemn white supremacist marchers. 

The U.K. media, fresh from condemning Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for refusing to quell antisemitism within his party, now turns on a newly elected Jewish Labour MP, Charlotte Nichols, for having said that “fascism has to be physically confronted as it was at Cable Street and elsewhere.” There have even been a spate of attempts to call Bernie Sanders, the Democratic frontrunner with the potential to be the first Jewish president of the United States, antisemitic

All of this is to confuse the issue and to leave Jews wondering where we can turn, to induce the feeling that rather than practicing solidarity, we should turn inward, hide, police our boundaries. This is the wrong choice but it is a choice that many, at this messy conjuncture, are making. 

But in this time of borders and flames, we have another option from another Jewish tradition. The concept of doikayt, hereness, comes from the Jewish Labor Bund, an anti-Zionist, proudly diasporic socialist organization that declared wherever we are, that’s our home. We fight for our homes all over the world, not to enforce borders and lock others out, but to protect everyone’s right to live, peacefully, on a planet that is not burning. It is a concept that prepares us to fight climate change as well as racism, to fight for housing as a human right as well as against wars of aggression. 

As the Trump Administration rattles its saber in an attempt to draw us into war with Iran, we must remember that as a diaspora people it is our job to stand not with the government but with the Iranians it detained at the border. It is our job to say “No” to this administration’s moves to define Jewishness under the pretense of combating antisemitism. We must not allow the right to blame antisemitism on the left and particularly on black people. We must remember that our strength is not in our uniqueness—that way leads to treacherous tropes about Jewish genius like the ones peddled by Bret Stephens—but in our solidarity.


© 2021 The Progressive
Sarah Jaffe

Sarah Jaffe

Sarah Jaffe is a reporting fellow at the Type Media Center, covering labor, economic justice, social movements, politics, gender, and pop culture. She is the author of the book, Necessary Trouble: America's New Radicals (Nation Books/2016).

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Donziger Slams Criminal Contempt Ruling as 'Message of Intimidation' to Human Rights Lawyers

"The United States has now become one of those countries where environmental advocates are attacked, put in jail, or even murdered for doing their jobs successfully."

Jake Johnson ·


Tributes Pour in for Civil Rights Activist Bob Moses, Dead at 86

"May his light continue to guide us as we face another wave of Jim Crow laws."

Brett Wilkins ·


Advocates Condemn Biden Plan to Send 4,000 Inmates Back to Prison After Pandemic

"As a candidate, Mr. Biden said he recognized the problems and injustices of mass incarceration, and he promised to reduce the federal prison population," wrote the Washington Post editorial board. "Here is a chance for him to keep that promise."

Julia Conley ·


As Climate Emergency Batters World, Scientists Meet to Finalize Key Report Ahead of COP26

"The decisions nations make in the next few months will likely determine whether we will or will not ultimately limit global temperature rise at 1.5°C," said the U.N.'s climate chief.

Kenny Stancil ·


'A Race Against Time': Doctors Without Borders Implores Rich Nations to Stop Stalling Patent Waiver

"As the virus continues to claim millions of lives around the world, we cannot afford to lose more precious time."

Jake Johnson ·