What can happen here should worry us
The title provokes, intentionally, mistakenly. The book is alarming, right, unfortunately so.
When the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League [ADL]one of the oldest, most respected and responsible of the Jewish defense agencies, warns on his book cover that “America is tipping from hate to the unthinkable” and that “it could happen here” needs attention.
“It” is every Jew’s nightmare. No Jew needs an explanation. “It” is the Holocaust. “It” commemorates the Holocaust by Bullets, the death fields of the German-occupied Soviet Union where Jews were slaughtered, often near their homes. The killers were either special mobile killing units of the Wehrmacht [the German army]Axis armies, local gendarmerie, local anti-Semites, or even neighbors trying to murder and then inherit their property and possessions.
“It” evokes trains waiting in cities to deport their Jews to death camps, where assembly line factories of death were created to murder the Jews and recycle their belongings and even their bodies into the Nazi war economy.
However dire conditions are in the United States at this difficult moment — and I don’t want to downplay for a moment the hatred I see in our society, the fragility of our democracy, the polarization of our politics, the violence of mass shootings and the poison of ours Discourses – the United States is Not Nazi Germany, not for a long time.
But that should be no consolation to any American.
Jonathan Greenblatt is a man to be taken seriously, and so it is unfortunate that in his eagerness to capture the attention of his readers and warn them of what he sees, what he sees in his every day experienced, dare say His essential role takes him to a somewhat irresponsible extreme. Jews, not just Jews but Americans of all persuasions, should be concerned, but they should not panic at Holocaust-level levels.
He certainly knows: Elsewhere in the book he writes: “No expert we have spoken to has argued that genocide, a hate-fueled civil war, or any other breakdown in American society is imminent or even likely .” I agree—yet the conditions are deeply troubling.
So allow me to split this review into two parts, one to examine what Greenblatt is saying with such authority and clarity, and the other to assure readers that we are not living in a moment of imminent holocaust, which should not be confused with the notion that we do not live in a terrible, dangerous, and hateful time when the turmoil of our society should excite, disturb, trouble, or challenge every thinking person.
A word of history may be in order. What else can the reader expect from this reviewer?
Antisemitism differs in relation to its source – religious, political, social, economic or racial.
Anti-Semitism differs in terms of its objective. Religious anti-Semites seek the conversion of the Jews and the end of Judaism. Political anti-Semites want to reduce the political influence of Jews or, in extreme cases, expel Jews and deny them citizenship, the right to live among us. Social anti-Semites want to marginalize the Jews, to exclude them from contact with non-Jews in the so-called “five o’clock shadow” — no informal after-hours relationships, no Jews in our clubs, our bars, our golf courses, our neighborhoods, and certainly not in our homes . Nazism represented racial anti-Semitism and defined Jews biologically – not by the identity they professed, the religion they practiced, the traditions they held sacred, but by blood. Their goal was first annihilation and later what in “Nazi jargon” was called annihilation, what we can call annihilation.
Anti-Semitism differs in the intensity of the hatred of Jews. From Hitler’s first rants in 1919 to his last will and testament, Nazi anti-Semitism ran seamlessly. What has historically made Jews less vulnerable in the United States is that Jews have never been high on the list of people to hate, never the first target for poison. You still aren’t. Let me not compile the list of those who are hated before the Jews. Suffice it to say that it’s best not to be the first or second target.
And anti-Semitism varies according to the stability of society. It’s an axiom; The more stable a society is, the safer its Jewish population is. And the United States in 2022 is not a stable society. There is an ongoing health crisis, an economic crisis, a crisis of democracy, truth, polarization, the legitimacy of institutions including religious, state, universities, schools and courts, a demographic crisis. The list can be continued at will.
Antisemitism varies according to the stability of society. It’s an axiom; The more stable a society is, the safer its Jewish population is. And the United States in 2022 is not a stable society.
Greenblatt understands that the internet is a megaphone and the social networks mean that haters and haters cannot be quarantined. There is a significant support system for haters whose views are reinforced by what they read, who they text with, those whose posts they share.
Greenblatt’s book is balanced. Although he served in the Obama administration and can therefore reasonably be assumed to be a Democrat, he is ready to challenge the anti-Zionist progressives or the pro-Farrakhan left without hesitation or apology. He is ready to attack the demolition culture, especially when targeting Zionists on American campuses and ready to call in the squad. His advice is confident: let the left criticize left-wing anti-Semitism and let the right take their own responsibility.
As the CEO of an organization whose membership and supporters are diverse, he does not shy away from criticizing the Trump administration and the former president himself for unleashing hatred and embracing anti-Semites and white supremacists despite their support for Israel.
The strongest part of the book – alluded to in the book’s subtitle (“And How We Can Stop It”) – is Greenblatt’s Recommendations for action, coalition building and inciting hatred. He is undauntedly determined to protect the safety of Jews, but not just Jews, because he understands that “America cannot be safe for Jews unless it is safe for all people.”
The strongest part of the book is Greenblatt’s Recommendations for action, coalition building and inciting hatred.
He understands anti-Semitism in connection with social hatred and as a global phenomenon. Social change and instability, political unrest, mass unemployment, refugee flows, pandemics and wars increase hatred and fuel anti-Semitism. These conditions are aggravated by a demagogue who stirs up passions, speaks untruths and incites extremists.
Greenblatt also understands the roots of the chant “Jews will not replace us!” in the fear a dominant ethnic group feels at losing its majority or dominant status. In the post-WWII world, and especially after the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, the United States became a more open, pluralistic society. Jews were more welcome, glass ceilings were broken, and women and blacks were trapped. Jews did indeed thrive, and so male dominance of white Christians was challenged.
Ironically, companies have adapted well to the new reality; so does the US military. Both understand that a diverse force must work harmoniously towards this common goal in order to achieve their goal. They must pull together and not tear the organization or the country apart.
Occasionally, Greenblatt exaggerates his case. He describes an incident as “a mob Waving pro-Palestinian flags attacked a group of Jewish men as they were having dinner at a Los Angeles restaurant.” Still, he is far more measured than prominent Israeli columnist Caroline Glick, who covered an event during the Black Lives Matter Labeled protests a “pogrom” in Los Angeles and then castigated the community for underreacting as if it were the great Hebrew poet Chaim Nachman Bialik City of Slaughter reacts to the Kishinev pogrom.
There is an odd, unfortunate omission, as Greenblatt distinguishes between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, but fails to adequately explain how. Since the IHRA and the Jerusalem Declaration have different and divergent definitions of antisemitism, Greenblatt should have considered the matter more carefully.
He is ready to bring us good news. ADL has been conducting a longitudinal study of antisemitism in the United States for generations. In 1964, the percentage of Americans with anti-Semitic views was 29%; In 2020, the percentage was just 11%. But in 1964 anti-Semites were reluctant to express their anti-Semitism and even more reluctant to respond to it. Self-restraint was common: “You may think it, but don’t say it.” Today, hate speech can be a badge of honor, a mark of authenticity. Nonetheless, in the past five years alone, he notes a tenfold increase in reported anti-Semitic incidents, some of which he clearly attributes — but certainly not all — to better reporting.
Religious anti-Semitism is declining. Christianity has openly shown repentance, more dramatically, if quietly. And there is some evidence that American Muslims have begun to understand that politeness in interfaith life is a sign of good citizenship and allows minority religions to thrive, something Jews learned generations ago.
Greenblatt understands that how a community responds to acts of hate is important. It can isolate the hater and allow the forces of courtesy and propriety to triumph. This was certainly the case in Pittsburgh after the Tree of Life murders, when all facets of society, from government to religious leaders, from sports teams to civilian leaders, came together in acts of solidarity. The aftermath made Pittsburgh stronger and increased solidarity between communities.
Greenblatt has been brave in the struggles to get social media to take responsibility for the poison immortalized on their websites, reporting on his struggles with Facebook, his encounters with Mark Zuckerberg, and with Fox News, among others. He is open about the reasons why ADL and other anti-hate groups have been less successful. There was no economic penalty for hosting hate speech. The gains are huge.
Greenblatt believes that we are all responsible for fighting hate in everyday life. He has the ability to summarize what needs to be done in catchy phrases: talk, share facts, show strength. We need to mobilize government and religion, create a sense of security, learn more, make thinking difficult, act.
As Greenblatt clearly demonstrates in this book, and as is evident in our daily news reports, there is much work to be done, and ADL will be there to do it. One leaves the book feeling that its leader is responsible and accommodating, engaging and caring. He understands the problem. This is a good start.
Michael Berbaum is Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies and Director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust at the American Jewish University.