First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.
This famous prose by German pastor Martin Niemöller from 1946, often referenced in the context of the Holocaust, is unfortunately of relevance today. As we attempt to address the numerous antisemitic incidents occurring across the seven states covered by our Consulate in Atlanta, I am often perplexed by the relatively scarce number of non-Jewish voices who choose to speak up against these incidents. The few who do choose to speak out often refrain from calling these incidents what they are – antisemitism.
In a recent publication by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), one out of three Jewish Americans indicated that they have avoided publicly wearing, carrying, or displaying items that would easily identify them as Jewish. These sentiments reflect the very disturbing climate of growing antisemitic incidents and attacks against Jews, Jewish institutions, and Jewish businesses.
College and university campuses — which should be dedicated to the gaining of knowledge, intellectual discourse, and the pluralism of ideas — often serve as fertile grounds for expressions of age-old antisemitism. And yet, in today’s context, antisemitic incidents are often dismissed or attributed to “not understanding the meaning” or even just being a “bad joke.” From a historical perspective, we know that targeted hate cannot be tolerated. Similar sentiments have brought about destruction to the Jewish people, most notably the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.
Sadly, antisemitism is not confined to history. Within the last month alone, we have witnessed nation-wide attacks on Jewish Americans, from verbal and written expressions. to the tragic extent of fatalities. Locally, swastikas, the symbol that represented the German Nazi Party and its genocidal goal of exterminating the Jewish people, were drawn in a residential hall of a public university, while in another state within our region, corrections officer trainees posed for a photo performing the Nazi salute. The list goes on. We have seemingly moved from a realm in which antisemitic expressions were considered unacceptable, towards what is alarmingly being perceived by too many as a free-for-all.
The recent federal Executive Order, which aims to combat antisemitism on American university and college campuses, is an important step in addressing the issue. However, legislation alone will never be able to force people to stand up for
morality, to stand up for their fellow human beings. It is on all of us to stand up for what is right, not just on those who are wronged. It is on all of us, not just on the Jewish people, to speak up against antisemitism. It is on officials, religious leaders, and on laypeople. It is on college and university administrations, faculty members and students whose friends and classmates are being targeted. It is on all of us.
As an Israeli diplomat, representing the nation-state of the Jewish people, this rise in antisemitism is of grave concern. It is of grave concern for the Jewish communities, for countless Jewish organizations, and for Jewish students and their parents.
But all too often when antisemitism raises its ugly head, the eyes turn to the Jews and to what they have to say about antisemitism — the Rabbi, the Jewish organization, the Jewish state, the Jewish professor or the Jewish student. Yes, Jewish people, leaders and organizations have a responsibility to be vocal on anti-Semitism, and many do. But in order to effectively address antisemitism, every non-Jewish person and organization must first look inwards and consider what they are doing to stop the ignorance and hatred, to prevent the dangerously imminent bloodshed at the hands of those who hate and those who choose to remain silent.
Some are doing so, but they alone are not enough.
Atlanta native, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and civil rights leader, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” The moral responsibility of speaking up against antisemitism must not be the sole burden of those who are the targets of that hatred. It cannot continue to weigh mainly on Jewish shoulders.
Society, with its much broader shoulders, must step up and stand up for morality, calling antisemitism for what it is wherever it is, and stating in a clear and unequivocal voice that antisemitism in all its forms will not be tolerated. This should not be a matter of concern only for the Jews, it should be a matter of concern for all members of society.
King also said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” When it comes to combating antisemitism, now is the time.
Anat Sultan-Dadon is Consul General of Israel to the Southeastern United States.
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