May 21, 2021 — New York
This piece originally appeared in Newsweek.
Perhaps it's fitting that May is Jewish American Heritage Month. After all, despite our success in America and the richness and beauty of our faith and culture, there may be no more consistent part of our heritage as Jews than to be violently attacked, viciously demeaned, and utterly disregarded as we cry out for support. In that respect, some of our fellow Americans have been doing an excellent job marking the month.
On May 10, after years of relative quiet between Israel and Gaza, the Hamas terrorists who rule that enclave exploited a long-running legal dispute in Jerusalem as a pretext to launch a barrage of rockets at Israel, unprecedented in its size. The Israel Defense Forces responded with air strikes to knock out terror targets, and one of those micro-wars that periodically spring up in this conflict ensued. As of Thursday night, May 20, a ceasefire had begun; the worst of the fighting is hopefully over.
At least, it was in Israel and Gaza. But around the world, Jews were paying the price.
At a trendy sushi place on La Cienega in Los Angeles, a group of men whose faces were wrapped in kefiyyehs hopped out of a car flying a Palestinian flag, asked the diners who was Jewish, and then proceeded to physically assault them in what L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti called "an organized, antisemitic attack."
Another such attack took place outside a bagel place (speaking of Jewish American heritage!) in Manhattan's Midtown East. Video shows two men, one of whom is holding an Israeli flag, get clobbered in broad daylight by a mob of at least a dozen people wielding fists, Palestinian flags, and more than a couple glass bottles.
A different video from Manhattan shows Palestinian activists attacking Jews, again in midday, in the Diamond District, this time adding some kind of incendiary device to their arsenal of weapons.
Synagogues across the country have been vandalized. Rallies in support of the Palestinian cause in Michigan, Florida, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere have turned antisemitic. Attendees have waved signs with messages like "Jesus was Palestinian and you killed him too" or "one Holocaust doesn't justify another," indiscriminately turning ancient, blood-soaked religious canards and recent Jewish trauma into verbal weapons with which to bludgeon American Jews who are not, of course, responsible for the actions of another set of Jews 5,000 miles away.
And almost as bad as the violence is the silence around it from major publications. The New York Times hasn't deemed news of these attacks on New York Jews "fit to print," though it did run a short story about the similarly horrific spate of attacks across Europe, including one incident in London in which a caravan of cars draped in Palestinian flags drove through a Jewish neighborhood as its passengers chanted "rape Jewish daughters."
But surely, you might be thinking, regardless of their opinion on how Israel prosecutes its defense war against Hamas terrorists, all political leaders in the U.S. can speak up against these attacks on Jews in American cities, right?
While anti-Zionist gangs beat up Jews in her city, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was providing a quasi-intellectual basis for their actions, defaming Israel as an apartheid state employing indiscriminate force in what she seems to think is a capricious quest to murder as many Palestinian children as possible, instead of a highly restrained military operation tightly targeted on terrorists.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez didn't call for violence, but she carved out an area of respectability for a certain type of antisemitism, and others were only too happy to rush in, fists flying.
It turns out, if you ignore all evidence, turn Israel into the villain in your morality play, and insist that Americans have a "responsibility" to do something about Israel, the thing that they will do is beat up American Jews, throw rocks through the windows of American synagogues, and harass Jews who try to speak up on social media.
And it's not like Rep. Ocasio-Cortez doesn't know that antisemitism is out there. In the midst of her sustained anti-Israel Twitter diatribe, she found time to retweet CNN's Jake Tapper objecting to a right-wing Newsmax host's antisemitic comment. She's capable of seeing antisemitism—but only when she wants to.
She also knows that words matter. Ocasio-Cortez has correctly expressed concern in the past that political rhetoric could endanger her and her colleagues. Unfortunately, her view that overheated demagoguery puts people at risk doesn't extend to Jews.
And AOC is not the only one struck blind by partisanship. Sen. Bernie Sanders published his own dangerous anti-Israel harangue in an Op-Ed which began, "No one is arguing that Israel... does not have the right to self-defense or to protect its people," even as his own supporters were arguing just that on social media.
Comedians John Oliver and Trevor Noah made the same case into their media megaphones, arguing that Israel was wrong to attack the terrorists aiming for Israeli civilians because Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system can prevent most (but not all) civilian deaths from Hamas rockets.
There's more: Rep. Mark Pocan and Rep. Betty McCollum are laser-focused on spreading the contemporary blood libel that Israel indiscriminately murders children. And in the same week that the Pew Research Center found that 80 percent of Jews believe caring about Israel to be an "important" or "essential" part of being Jewish, Rep. Ilhan Omar called support for Israel "disgusting and immoral."
I have always been vocal about calling out antisemitism when it comes from the political right wing. But now I'm seeing it surge on the American left and I have to ask: Where is the outrage?
People like Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Sanders (and too many other progressive members of Congress, unfortunately) are greatly concerned about whether Israel's response to Palestinian terror meets a standard of acceptable "proportionality." But what are the acceptable numbers in America of Jews assaulted and synagogues vandalized? How many Jewish victims before these progressive leaders see the error of their incitement and speak up against anti-Jewish hate?
And why is it that now, every time I hear loud noises from the street outside my apartment on Manhattan's extremely Jewish Upper West Side, I have to wonder whether there's an antisemitic mob gathered below, attacking my neighbors?
Happy Jewish American Heritage Month, I guess.
Seffi Kogen is the Global Director of Young Leadership at the American Jewish Committee.