Last week I wrote about the centuries-old conflict between Muslims and Jews generally, and the controversies surrounding remarks that Rep. Ilhan Omar made. I concluded by offering to share potential solutions to these dilemmas this week. Then the massacre of Muslims in New Zealand happened.
As you know, a white supremacist stole the lives of at least 50 Muslim worshippers — and wounded at least 50 others — last week. In the wake of this unspeakable tragedy, we have witnessed acts that engender hope for a better future. For example, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh set up a fund to assist the New Zealand victims. This gesture was motivated, in part, by the fact that a campaign called “Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue Victims” raised nearly $240,000 following a similar shooting — whose targets were Jewish — a few months ago.
Interestingly, Jews and Muslims often have similar enemies. Sadly, some Muslims have found common cause with white nationalists against Jews, as evidenced by racist conferences that feature speakers like David Duke. Similarly, some Jews have engaged in anti-Islamic speech and actions. They are aided and abetted by “leaders” like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who earlier this month wrote, “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. … According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people — and only it.” Not to be outdone, President Trump (who is neither Jewish nor Muslim) remarked that there were “very fine people” among the white supremacists in Charlottesville, Viriginia. (One wonders if he was referring to those who chanted “Jews will not replace us,” those who defended traitorous Confederate monuments, or the person who murdered Heather Heyer.) Hate is not confined to one group of people.
Were Omar’s words anti-Semitic? I certainly can argue that questioning Jewish-Americans’ loyalty are in line with the doctrine of “America First.” (Incidentally, those on the far right might be more disturbed by Omar’s very progressive politics than they are by her religion.) Also, as someone who takes the Bible seriously, my view is that the origins of Muslim/Jewish friction are clear. At its base, it is an issue of connection to a relatively small piece of land that both groups of people — who are connected by more than geography — believe that God gave them. No one loves you — or hates you — like your family. I digress …
As a non-Jew, should I be “allowed” to judge whether Omar’s words were anti-Semitic? (As an African-American, I’m sensitive to white Americans telling me what does — and does not — constitute racism.) But, if my status as a non-Jewish person disqualifies me from making such judgments, what do we do with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre? He was not Jewish, but wrote a searing critique, “Anti-Semite and Jew,” that roundly condemned anti-Jewish bigotry. My view is that there are certain racist words and actions that all people of goodwill can — and should — forcefully condemn. This is one part of the solution.
Over the last few years, anti-Semitic attacks have steadily increased in the U.S. and elsewhere, leaving many people concerned about their safety. Similarly, Muslims are justified regarding their concerns about similar types of attacks. Since we are all the “other,” we all must collaborate with our brothers and sisters in publicly responding in love and solidarity to bigotry — as happened following Pittsburgh and New Zealand shootings. This is another part of the solution. (I should add that the noble goal of confronting hate speech should not be used as a ruse to shut down criticism of any group of people that is engaged in wrongdoing. The same is true for any government.)
Finally, we cannot depend on government. With a few exceptions (e.g., the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement), America’s government has obstinately refused to address racism in ways that are honest, thorough and solution-oriented. Is it possible for one to be pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel? To be pro-Jewish and pro-Muslim? Yes, it’s possible. It’s called being “pro-human.”
Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.